BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. envoy charged by President Barack Obama with building a coalition to fight the militant group Islamic State warned on Friday that the war against the jihadists was in its early stages.
“The fight will not be easy. There will be ebb and flow on the battlefield,” retired General John Allen told reporters during a visit to Baghdad. “This will take time and requires patience.”
The Islamic State has seized large chunks of territory in Iraq since June, when the Iraqi military collapsed as the militants took northern Iraq’s biggest city, Mosul, and then charged through the Tigris River valley.
The jihadists also control much of eastern Syria, which is embroiled in a three-year-old civil war, and have erased much of the border between the neighboring countries as it pursues its goal of creating a caliphate.
Allen cautioned that launching a campaign to take Mosul was not on the immediate horizon.
“It will kick off within a year. I can’t be more specific. It’s not a single battle. It’s a campaign,” Allen said.
Allen also described the Iraqi government’s hopes to woo Sunni tribes to fight Islamic State as in its early stages.
“There is no cookie-cutter approach to the tribes. Each one has to be taken separately,” he said.
“How that ultimately plays out in terms of what they can harvest from a relationship with the tribes I think is going to unfold over time.”
Allen, mindful of deep suspicion among Iraq’s Shi‘ite majority of the United States’ intent nearly three years after the U.S. withdrew its troops from the county, reiterated Obama’s message that no U.S. combat troops would be sent to Iraq.
“We must build Iraqi capacity to take on the fight. This is why the United States will not send combat troops to Iraq, but instead will continue our support for Iraqi security forces through military advisers training and capacity building,” he said.
Allen, a former military commander in Anbar province in 2007, is expected to visit Belgium, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey on this trip.
Accompanied by his deputy, Brett McGurk, he arrived in Iraq on Thursday to meet Iraqi officials and regional leaders “on U.S. support for and cooperation with Iraq in the fight against ISIL,” the State Department said.
U.S. officials have said Allen’s main purpose is to develop greater support for the coalition, which has conducted air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.
Reporting By Ned Parker; Editing by Larry King