Abu Dhabi (AFP) – US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday for a six-day Gulf tour aimed at galvanising support for Iraq as it battles the Islamic State group.
Washington is eager to see the Gulf Arab monarchies do more to help Baghdad at a crucial moment in its fight against the jihadists.
“The success of the campaign against ISIL in Iraq does depend upon political and economic progress as well,” Carter said ahead of his visit, using another acronym for the jihadist group.
“It’s important that we continue to support” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in his efforts to build a “multisectarian” country, he said. “That’s the challenge in Iraq.”
Abadi is grappling with plummeting oil prices and a political crisis that led to scuffles in parliament this week, hindering his efforts to replace the cabinet.
Carter will hold talks with regional leaders including Saudi King Salman and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and join US President Barack Obama at a Gulf summit in Riyadh on Thursday.
He will also meet US officials overseeing the campaign against IS.
Washington has urged its allies to increase support for the fight against the jihadists in Iraq and Syria.
Although the jihadists maintain a firm grip on vast areas of the two countries, they have suffered some serious setbacks including the loss of Ramadi in Iraq.
Retaking Iraq’s second city of Mosul is among the US-led coalition’s top objectives but the battle is expected to be one of the most difficult yet.
Washington says it has nearly 3,900 troops in Iraq, mostly in training and support roles.
It is said to be preparing to announce a further increase of troops, after deploying a unit specialised in ground raids to capture or kill IS leaders at the start of the year.
At a press briefing at Abu Dhabi’s Al-Dhafra air base, Carter said the United States sought to further strengthen the military capabilities of the Gulf states.
“The president promised last year in Camp David that we would work very hard this year, and we have been, to identify ways that we can work better together,” he said.
“They range from cyber to integrated missile defence to… special operations forces, the kinds of capabilities that they need in order to make the full contribution… to whatever happens here.”