With Kobani on the Verge, Coalition Brass Will Weigh Ground Forces

Military chiefs from more than 20 countries — many already involved in the fight against the Islamic State and some who are considering joining the group — will meet in Washington early next week to discuss progress on airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as well as plans to create a ground force to consolidate gains ...

Stringer/Getty Images
Stringer/Getty Images
Stringer/Getty Images

Military chiefs from more than 20 countries -- many already involved in the fight against the Islamic State and some who are considering joining the group -- will meet in Washington early next week to discuss progress on airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as well as plans to create a ground force to consolidate gains against the group. However, it might already be too late for the residents of Kobani, the Syrian town on the verge of falling into the Islamic State's hands.

The meeting will be hosted by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from Oct. 13 to 14, according to a U.S. military official who declined to name the countries sending representatives because many nations participating in the bombing don't want to publicly discuss their role. This is the first gathering of coalition military leaders, the official said. The coalition includes the United States, the U.K., France, Belgium, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The gathering comes as the U.S.-led air campaign has carried out more than 350 strikes against the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL -- for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- since President Barack Obama first ordered military operations against the group Aug. 8. Obama's emissaries, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk, are in the region to drum up support for creating a ground force and are scheduled to return to Washington Friday.

Military chiefs from more than 20 countries — many already involved in the fight against the Islamic State and some who are considering joining the group — will meet in Washington early next week to discuss progress on airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as well as plans to create a ground force to consolidate gains against the group. However, it might already be too late for the residents of Kobani, the Syrian town on the verge of falling into the Islamic State’s hands.

The meeting will be hosted by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from Oct. 13 to 14, according to a U.S. military official who declined to name the countries sending representatives because many nations participating in the bombing don’t want to publicly discuss their role. This is the first gathering of coalition military leaders, the official said. The coalition includes the United States, the U.K., France, Belgium, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The gathering comes as the U.S.-led air campaign has carried out more than 350 strikes against the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL — for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — since President Barack Obama first ordered military operations against the group Aug. 8. Obama’s emissaries, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk, are in the region to drum up support for creating a ground force and are scheduled to return to Washington Friday.

While the strikes have blunted some advances by the group, the absence of a ground force to consolidate the gains and the lack of a clear strategy on what comes after airstrikes are hurting the coalition’s effectiveness, according to Western officials involved in the coalition effort. That’s a charge that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated Tuesday after ISIL mounted a sustained attack on the Syrian town of Kobani across the Turkish border that is being defended by Kurdish Peshmerga forces. The city’s fall would dramatically underscore that criticism.

"The terror will not be over … unless we cooperate for a ground operation," Erdogan said in a televised speech in the eastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, according to Agence France-Presse, without indicating whether Turkey will participate in the anti-ISIL coalition. "Months have passed but no results have been achieved. Kobani is about to fall."

Allen and McGurk will meet with the king of Jordan Wednesday and then travel to Cairo to meet Egyptian officials, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a news briefing today. They will be in Ankara Thursday and Friday to discuss the situation in Kobani, she said. However, that particular discussion could become moot if Kobani falls, unless the stepped-up strikes to assist Kobani over the last two days succeed.

The military chiefs gathering in Washington will discuss other regional topics as well, the U.S. military official said. The discussion may cover threats posed by the Khorasan Group, an al Qaeda affiliate that was targeted by airstrikes and one that American officials have said has plans to attack U.S. targets, a Western coalition official said.

Gopal Ratnam is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy, covering the White House, the Pentagon and broader national security issues. A native of India,Gopal has covered topics ranging from child-labor law violations and the automotive industry to the international arms trade, the politics of weapons purchases, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has reported from dozens of countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Most recently he was the Pentagon reporter for Bloomberg News. Twitter: @g_ratnam

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a commission on military-technical cooperation with foreign states in 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a commission on military-technical cooperation with foreign states in 2017.

What’s the Harm in Talking to Russia? A Lot, Actually.

Diplomacy is neither intrinsically moral nor always strategically wise.

Officers with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) wait outside an apartment in Kharkiv oblast, Ukraine.
Officers with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) wait outside an apartment in Kharkiv oblast, Ukraine.

Ukraine Has a Secret Resistance Operating Behind Russian Lines

Modern-day Ukrainian partisans are quietly working to undermine the occupation.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron wave as they visit the landmark Brandenburg Gate illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in Berlin on May 9, 2022.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron wave as they visit the landmark Brandenburg Gate illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in Berlin on May 9, 2022.

The Franco-German Motor Is on Fire

The war in Ukraine has turned Europe’s most powerful countries against each other like hardly ever before.

U.S. President Joe Biden holds a semiconductor during his remarks before signing an executive order on the economy in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.
U.S. President Joe Biden holds a semiconductor during his remarks before signing an executive order on the economy in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.

How the U.S.-Chinese Technology War Is Changing the World

Washington’s crackdown on technology access is creating a new kind of global conflict.