CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait (Reuters) - New U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Monday America had the right “ingredients” of a strategy to combat Islamic State, emerging from talks with top U.S. military and diplomatic leaders without hinting at any fundamental shift in the campaign.
After a day of meetings in Kuwait, Carter acknowledged some room for improvement, broadly suggesting some allies could contribute more to the fight and saying the United States needed to be more aggressive on social media combating Islamic State.
But, in comments likely to frustrate Republican critics of President Barack Obama’s strategy who are pressing for major shifts, Carter also signaled the United States was broadly on the right track in Iraq, Syria and beyond.
“We have the ingredients of the strategy,” Carter said, when asked whether he saw the need for a fundamental re-think.”Our efforts to date have already been having some important impacts. Our global coalition is up to the task and so (is) American leadership.”
Carter kicked off the talks addressing the more than two dozen senior American officials he invited to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait as “Team America” in the region. They included General Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. forces in the Middle East and retired General John Allen, Obama’s envoy to the anti-IS coalition.
He also received an operational update from Lieutenant General James Terry, the senior U.S. commander of operations against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Terry was upbeat in comments to reporters traveling with Carter and noted an Iraqi offensive to retake the town of al-Baghdadi.
“My assessment is (Islamic State) is halted, on the defensive,” Terry said.
Carter, in comments to reporters, noted the strength of the coalition but “also the need to leverage further the individual contributions of each” member.
Carter did not single out any countries but U.S. officials have previously made no secret of their desire to extract additional support from allies, including NATO ally Turkey.
Carter also stressed the group’s successful exploitation of social media, which militants use to recruit.
“There are pieces of execution (of the strategy) where I think he believes we can do a better job ... But he fundamentally believes the strategy is sound and is working,” a U.S. defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by James Dalgleish