The US-led coalition is “laying the groundwork” for the “isolation” of Raqa, the Islamic State group stronghold in Syria, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday.
“We have already begun laying the groundwork for our partners to commence the isolation of Raqa,” Carter said after meeting coalition defence ministers in Paris to discuss the aftermath of the planned capture of Mosul from IS in Iraq.
“Today we resolved to follow through with that same sense of urgency and focus on enveloping and collapsing ISIL’s control of Raqa,” he added, using another acronym for IS.
Carter said the coalition would rely on “capable and motivated local forces that we identify and then enable” to wrest the city from the Sunni extremists.
“That is our general strategic approach. We are seeking a lasting defeat of ISIL and a lasting defeat can’t be achieved by outside.
“It can only be achieved by those who live there,” he said, adding: “These will be Syrians enabled by us.”
Carter was among a dozen ministers from coalition members attending the talks, which come a week after Iraqi forces backed by Kurdish fighters launched a major operation to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-biggest city.
Addressing the gathering French President Francois Hollande reiterated warnings about IS fighters in Mosul fleeing across the border to Raqa.
He also urged vigilance over the risk of foreign jihadists returning home from the battlefield.