STUTTGART, Germany — A day after a U.S. Navy SEAL was killed repelling an Islamic State offensive in Iraq, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter met Wednesday with representatives from 11 allied countries in an effort to galvanize support for a war soon entering its third year.
“This fight is far from over,” Carter told reporters in Stuttgart. “We were reminded of this yesterday, when an American service member, Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Keating … was killed.”
Carter’s mention of Keating was the first public acknowledgment from the Pentagon of the slain SEAL, who was identified Tuesday by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R).
“This young man found himself in combat and sacrificed for this campaign’s success,” Carter said.
Keating, an Arizona native, was the third U.S. service member to be killed in combat against the Islamic State.
Carter’s comments about Keating came after a closed-door meeting among the Pentagon chief and his foreign counterparts that aimed to tackle some of the next steps in the fight against the Islamic State. The conference involved some of the key countries contributing to the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State, including Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain and Britain. Australia also sent an envoy.
The group of countries has committed the majority of equipment and resources, alongside the United States, that has bolstered coalition efforts in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria.
“There’s common recognition around the table that we all must be prepared to do more,” Carter said.
He said he expects the participating countries to make future military commitments to the campaign, despite much of the discussion’s focus on the Iraqi political situation in Baghdad and strategic developments on the battlefield, including a drive in Syria to locate more local forces that could put pressure on the Islamic State’s self-declared capital of Raqqa, Syria.
On Monday, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg announced that her country would expand its role in fighting the Islamic State by sending Special Operations forces to Jordan to help train “moderate” Syrian rebels who have pledged to fight the extremist group. The troop commitment earned Norway a place at the table for Wednesday’s meeting.
Earlier this year, the war against the Islamic State appeared to have reached an inflection point. White House officials were growing impatient with the pace of the campaign, as Iraqi forces struggled to retake the city of Ramadi and as Islamic State forces remained firmly entrenched in their strongholds of Raqqa and of Mosul, in northern Iraq.
In an effort to galvanize more support for the war in February, Carter met with the defense ministers of 28 countries in Brussels and asked them to “do more” in the fight against the extremist group.
Carter walked away from that meeting touting that “60 percent” of the coalition’s members decided to increase their contributions to the campaign, but almost three months later, it is unclear how many nations have delivered more tangible resources to the fight. The United States currently provides the bulk of troops and carries out most airstrikes against the Islamic State. Wednesday’s meeting, involving roughly half of the coalition, was intended to serve as part of the ongoing dialogue to ensure the coalition’s members are working effectively together. The entire coalition plans to meet again in the summer.
According to a senior U.S. defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss future operations, the key test for the coalition in the coming months will be in the lead-up to the battle for Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq and the main stronghold for the Islamic State in that part of the country.
Before any possible offensive, the official said, the U.S.-led coalition will be expected to support the intricate web of logistics needed to support Iraqi forces. This includes an ever-growing demand for spare parts, a need that officials think will continue grow as the Iraqi forces continue to push farther and farther from their main supply hub in Baghdad.
Last month, President Obama announced that more than 200 Special Operations forces would enter Syria in an effort to capitalize on recent victories by local forces in the north of that country. Meanwhile, the Pentagon approved an increase of troops and equipment in Iraq, including rocket artillery and the potential use of Apache helicopter gunships. Along with the additional equipment and personnel, U.S. advisers will be operating closer to the front lines.