Confronting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is quickly pushing other issues aside to become priority No. 1 at the NATO summit in Wales this week, but that doesn't mean the U.S. and its allies will emerge with a clear plan of attack in Syria.
“They made clear our commitment to working together as allies to confront this threat, and we’re discussing the range of ways in which different countries can contribute to an effort to confront the threat from [ISIS]…to degrade and ultimately defeat that organization,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters Thursday.
So far, aside from a joint open op-ed from Obama and Cameron making clear their commitment to work together to fight ISIS, after the first day of the summit there appears to be no formal declaration or international agreement in the works.
“Day one of the summit should be looked as NATO’s attempt to get its hands around the multiple challenges it faces,” said Doug Lute, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, adding that he considered the first day the “diagnosis phase.”
“In terms of those types of pronouncements, that’s not something we’re seeking as an outcome of this summit,” Rhodes added. “This summit I think is more a chance to get a sense of the commitments countries will make.”
Obama and other leaders planned to discuss ISIS in more depth at a dinner Thursday night and again at a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan planned for Friday.
U.S. officials said engaging NATO allies in a face-to-face forum is an important first step in the process of convincing other countries to help the U.S.-led campaign against the extreme Islamic militant group, one Kerry and Hagel hope to build on with trips to the Middle East planned for after the summit aimed at building regional support for an offensive against ISIS.
But the officials notably only discussed non-combat contributions to fighting ISIS — such as providing arms to the Kurds and participating in humanitarian drops of food and water.
“Different countries are going to make different types of commitments, and that’s very clear,” Rhodes said.
There will be some NATO member states who will focus their efforts on intelligence and law enforcement support while others can work with the U.S. and Iraqi forces involved in humanitarian airdrops, which require military coordination, he said.
Originally, U.S. officials hoped the draw down in Afghanistan and continued commitments to train and support forces there after 2014 would take center stage at the summit.
Even though Afghanistan’s presidential election remains contested and an ongoing audit will decide the winner, both candidates have agreed to sign a bilateral security agreement allowing a residual level of U.S. and NATO forces to remain there to maintain stability.
Russia’s incursion into Ukraine received most of the public spotlight the first day. Kerry and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addressed reporters Thursday, expressing a very cautious optimism that he could attain the beginnings of a peace settlement with Russia with a cease-fire beginning Friday afternoon.
Lute also said member countries will provide more assurances for Ukraine and other Eastern European countries with plans to announce additional assistance to help strengthen Ukraine’s military and more details about how a new 4,000-strong rapid-response force would deploy to different hot spots in response to Russian aggression.