Leaders gather for France summit on battling the Islamic State

Published September 15th, 2014 - 06:57 GMT

Representatives of 20 nations will take part in the Paris conference – including Iraq’s President Fuad Masum and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – for talks focused on defining the specific role each nation will play in the fight against the militant group.

The meeting gets under way just days after the Islamist group beheaded a British aid worker, the third grisly beheading of a Westerner in recent weeks.

Prime Minister David Cameron vowed on the eve of the conference that Britain will hunt down those responsible for the gruesome killing of David Haines, 44, describing the jihadists as the "embodiment of evil". The UN Security Council also condemned the act as a "heinous and cowardly murder".

The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISILreleased a video on Saturday showing Haines' killing and issuing a death threat against another British captive, Alan Henning. The footage appears to show the same jihadist, speaking with a London accent, who was behind the earlier beheadings and whom UK intelligence is working to identify.

The office of French President François Hollande said the "heinous killing" of Haines was another reason why a global coalition was needed.

US President Barack Obama offered his support for Britain, which he said was an "ally in grief" after two American journalists were also recently beheaded by the jihadists.

Obama has set out a strategy to defeat the Islamic State group that would include air strikes within Syria and expanded operations in Iraq, where the US military has carried out more than 160 airstrikes since early August.

Obama said he foresees training Syria's "moderate" opposition rebels to take on the Islamists inside Syria – a potentially complex task as both the secular opposition and Islamist groups are seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.

Obama also cited plans for rebuilding the Iraqi army, battalions of which fled in the face of the Islamic State group's blitzkrieg across northern and western Iraq in recent months. 

'All bases covered'

Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been on a tour of the Middle East to elicit support for the coalition before travelling to Paris for Monday's talks, said that "all bases" were now covered.

"Every single aspect of the president's strategy, and what is needed to be done in order to accomplish our goal, has been offered by one country or multiple countries, and all bases are covered," Kerry said.

Ten Arab states – including Saudi Arabia – are among the countries backing the coalition.

Kerry told CBS's Face the Nation programme on Sunday that some nations were willing to join the United States in launching air strikes while others had offered to send in ground troops, a prospect Kerry said was not yet under consideration. "We are not looking for that – at this moment, anyway," he said.

Opposition forces will do the fighting on the ground in Syria, helped by US and allied air support, he said. Washington has said it would not coordinate its air attacks in Syria with the Assad regime – the US began calling for Assad to step down in 2011 – but would ensure that Syrian military forces are not targeted.

Australia is among the latest nations to make a concrete troop commitment, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying Canberra would deploy 600 soldiers to the United Arab Emirates, a regional US ally.

Speaking in Paris, a US official said the number of countries signing on to the coalition was "going up almost every hour", bringing in allies from Europe and the Middle East to Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

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