Pentagon & Congress

Tillerson to host meeting of anti-ISIS coalition in Washington

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will host a meeting of nations in the U.S.-led global coalition to fight the Islamic State group in Washington later this month, the State Department said Thursday.

Foreign ministers and senior officials from 68 nations and international organizations are invited for the two-day gathering starting March 22.

The meeting signals the Trump administration's intent to sustain U.S. leadership of the coalition, initiated in 2014 under the Obama administration. The Islamic State group is under growing military pressure in Iraq and Syria. U.S.-backed forces are preparing to battle for the group's self-declared headquarters in Raqqa.

It will be the first full meeting of the coalition since December 2014. The department said the goal is to accelerate international efforts to defeat ISIS in the remaining areas it holds in Iraq and Syria and maximize pressure on its branches, affiliates, and networks. The meeting will also address counterterrorist financing, messaging against ISIS and stabilization of areas liberated from the group, and the humanitarian crises caused by the conflict.

"It's an opportunity for Secretary Tillerson to lay out the challenges that are facing the coalition," department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. "We have seen progress on the ground. Certainly on the battlefield they have lost territory. But how do we leverage that success?"

President Donald Trump has vowed to defeat IS but has been strongly critical of the Obama administration's approach. Pentagon leaders sent a new plan to defeat the militant group to the White House late last month. It outlined a strategy that would likely increase the number of U.S. troops in Syria in order to better advise and enable the U.S.-backed Syrian fighters.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told The Associated Press Thursday that the U.S. risks major damage to its relationship with Turkey, which is a NATO ally and part of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, if the U.S. includes Kurdish forces in the fight to retake Raqqa.

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