Diplomacy or intervention: What can the US do to end conflict in Syria?

Two meetings held by United States officials Thursday in Brussels and Munich highlighted the US effort to continue its military fight against Islamic State forces, along with the coalition it leads, while working toward peacefully ending the civil war in Syria.

Yves Herman/Reuters
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks at a news conference during a NATO Defence Ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels Thursday in a gathering of the Global Coalition Against ISIL/Daesh.

Amid endeavors to find a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian civil war, the United States is pushing its allies to bolster the military coalition it leads in the fight against Islamic State (IS), also referred to as ISIL.

A meeting of more than 20 defense ministers aligned with the US, including representatives from Saudi Arabia, took place in Brussels Thursday, led by US Defense Secretary Ash Carter. The gathering was focused on the military strategy behind defeating IS in Iraq and Syria, specifically in the strategic cities of Mosul and Raqqa, which are currently held by the Islamic militant group's forces.

In Munich Thursday, US Secretary of State John Kerry managed diplomatic talks along with representatives from Russia and several other countries in an effort to establish a ceasefire in Syria between rebel groups and the Russian-backed government forces of President Bashar al-Assad. The US representatives hope that, through both methods, peace in Syria can be negotiated and the IS forces currently entrenched there driven out.

“Our focus here is going to be on counter-ISIL and that campaign will go on because ISIL must be defeated, will be defeated, whatever happens with the Syrian civil war,” Secretary Carter said in Brussels, per Reuters.

“But it certainly would help to de-fuel extremism if the Syrian civil war came to an end,” he added.

The call for intensified efforts to stop IS comes as US intelligence officials warned of the group’s desire to attack the US this year, calling IS the “pre-eminent terrorist threat.”

Carter’s push for a renewed fight against IS appeared at least somewhat successful, with the US defense secretary saying the ministers had given a “broad endorsement” of the proposed American process, according to The Associated Press.

“I'm very pleased that so many nations have stepped up and answered the call, even in recent days,” said Carter, according to the AP. “But my challenge to coalition members to accelerate our military campaign will not end today, any more than America's resolve to lead and make more contributions itself will end today. It will continue.”

“We will all look back after victory and remember who participated in the fight,” he said.

Few details were provided on the possible timeline for retaking Raqqa and Mosul or what support the coalition nations will offer, but Carter indicated his hope that significant progress in the offensive will be made by the end of next month.

“By then, at the latest, we should begin to see tangible gains from those additional capabilities, from the ones the coalition is already bringing to bear,” he said.

In Munich, Secretary Kerry sought for an immediate, “All or nothing” ceasefire after continued Russian intervention in the Syrian conflict disrupted recently planned peace talks. Despite calls for a truce, Russian warplanes and Syrian government forces continue their assault on the major city Aleppo, where rebel forces maintain a hold.

A Russian proposal for a ceasefire beginning March 1 was countered with a US call to stand down immediately, as the delay could be planned to allow Russia and Syria to conclude their attack on Aleppo and finish the opposition there. The messy diplomacy had one official question the effort, saying “This meeting risks being endless and I fear the results will be extremely small,” according to Reuters.

The Syrian opposition said its side would be willing to proceed with talks as long as Syrian citizens were considered first.

We are with the political process, but we have to see the humanitarian issues are solved,” said Salem Meslet, a spokesman for the rebels, per the AP. “For us it's important to stop the Russian aggression on the Syrian people.”

For his part, Kerry said he hopes to move forward with both sides.

“Obviously, at some point in time, we want to make progress on the issues of humanitarian access and ceasefire,” he said.

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