US-led coalition squeezing ISIS: Kerry
AN INTERNATIONAL coalition battling against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is beginning to win back territory and deprive the extremists of key funds, United States top diplomat John Kerry said yesterday, as he denounced the group's "new level of depravity".
Washington has rallied more than 60 countries in the fight against ISIS, and while Mr Kerry said at a global security conference it would be a long battle, he said there were signs the strategy was working.
Since August, there have been 2,000 air strikes by the coalition, Mr Kerry said at the Munich Security Conference, adding that it had helped to retake some 700 sq km in territory, or "one-fifth of the area they had in their control".
The US Secretary of State did not specify whether the regained territory was in Iraq or Syria, but he added that the coalition had "deprived the militants of the use of 200 oil and gas facilities...disrupted their command structure...squeezed its finance and dispersed its personnel".
"We are forcing them to change tactics," Mr Kerry insisted, pointing to the defeat of ISIS in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane.
"Together, we drove Daesh out," he said, using the group's Arabic name.
"They expected an easy victory, the media was predicting an easy victory... Instead, after a costly battle in which they lost roughly a thousand of their fighters, they were forced to openly acknowledge defeat."
The coalition has been spurred to boost its action following the murder of a captured Jordanian pilot, who was said to have been burned alive in an iron cage, in an action which Mr Kerry called "a new level of depravity".
Referring also to the December massacre of children in a Peshawar school in Pakistan, Mr Kerry said: "Let me be clear, there are no grounds of history, ideology, psychology, politics, economic advantage or disadvantage, or personal ambition that justify the murder of children, the kidnapping and rape of teenage girls, or the slaughter of unarmed civilians.
"These atrocities can never be rationalised. They can never be excused, they must be opposed with every fibre of our being. And they must be stopped."
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is sending a squadron of F-16 jet fighters to Jordan to conduct air strikes against ISIS alongside Jordanian planes, an army source in Amman said.
Jordan launched bombing raids against the extremist group's positions in Syria and Iraq on Thursday in response to its brutal killing of a captured Jordanian pilot, military action that it continued on Saturday.
The UAE suspended flights as part of the US-led coalition conducting air strikes against ISIS in view of concerns about search and rescue capabilities after the pilot was downed.
But UAE fighters would now join raids from inside Jordan, the source said.
"This is a big boost and will be helping our (Gulf) brothers shorten their flying distances and intensify strikes against the militants," the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
UAE state news agency WAM said the Gulf country had ordered a squadron of F-16s to support the Jordanian armed forces in what it said was its "effective participation" in the military campaign against ISIS.
But it did not specify whether the aircraft would be carrying out air strikes from Jordan.
A US official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the UAE would resume missions in the coalition air campaign in the next few days. The official did not provide further details.
The US military declined comment, referring queries to the UAE.
Jordan's King Abdullah has vowed to avenge pilot Muath Al-Kasaesbeh's killing and ordered his commanders to prepare for a stepped-up military role in the US-led coalition against ISIS.
Jordan carried out air strikes for the third day running on Saturday, mainly targeting the militant group's Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, a security source said.
Two security sources close to the military speaking on condition of anonymity said the kingdom had conducted at least 60 raids over the past three days, mainly on targets in ISIS-controlled territory in Syria but also in Iraq.