Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday they’ve built an international coalition to fight the Islamic State, vowing the U.S. government is committed to "destroying" the militant group – without deploying U.S. troops.
Meeting with an array of foreign and defense secretaries on the sidelines of a NATO summit, the two said the U.S. and the countries agreed “there is no time to waste in building a broad international coalition to degrade and, ultimately, to destroy the threat posed by ISIL.”
Kerry called for a concrete plan by the time the United Nations meets in New York later this month. The group’s goals will include providing military support to Iraq, stopping the flow of foreign fighters, countering the group’s financing, addressing humanitarian crises; and “de-legitimizing” the group’s ideology.
"We’re convinced that in the days ahead we have the ability to destroy ISIL," Kerry said, using the administration’s acronym for the group. "It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years. But we’re determined it has to happen."
Still, Kerry said the plan won’t include any ground troops from the U.S. or other allies, calling that a "red line for everybody here, no boots on the ground."
His remarks to representatives of Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Turkey came on the second and final day of a NATO summit largely focused on the threat posed by the group that has beheaded two American freelance journalists and has threatened to kill a British captive.
Kerry used his remarks to push back at domestic critics who have questioned President Barack Obama’s approach to the threat posed by the group, saying "contrary to what you sort of heard in the politics of our country, the president is totally committed."
He said the administration’s strategy is "becoming more clear by the day" and is aimed at preventing the militants from gaining more territory by bolstering Iraqi security forces.
He said the strategy would include a military component, and said countries could contribute ammunition, weapons, technical know-how, intelligence or advisors.
He said humanitarian efforts over the past few weeks in Iraq and the U.S.’s success at breaking a militant surge toward Erbil has shown "these guys are not 10 feet tall.
"They’re not as disciplined as everybody thinks," Kerry said. "They’re not as organized as everybody thinks. And we have the technology, we have the know-how. What we need is obviously the willpower to make certain that we are steady and stay at this."
Obama caused some confusion earlier this week by first vowing to destroy the militants and then saying they could be degraded to a "manageable problem," but Kerry said there is "no contain policy."
He bashed the group as an "ambitious, avowed genocidal, territorial-grabbing, Caliphate-desiring, quasi state within a regular army" and said leaving it intact would "leave a cancer in place that will ultimately come back to haunt us. "
Kerry said the coalition needs to also target the Islamic State’s financing, calling for coordination among nations’ law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
He said there were "obviously implications about Syria," but did not publicly discuss them. The White House has authorized more than 100 airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq,but has said it has not made a decision about striking the group in Syria, despite mounting pressure from Congress.
British Prime Minister David Cameron offered support for the initiative, saying NATO is "united in condemnation of these barbaric and despicable acts.
"Their threats will only harden our resolve to stand up for our values,"' Cameron said.