The U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is in Brussels to attend a NATO defense ministers meeting and to meet for the first time with defense ministers of countries that are major contributors to the coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) in Iraq and Syria.
During a briefing Tuesday with reporters traveling with him, Carter said the meeting with his fellow NATO defense leaders is an important milestone on the way to the alliance’s July 8-9 summit in Warsaw, Poland.
A central topic of discussion, the secretary said, “will be NATO in its posture moving from reassurance, which is where we started two years ago, to a full deterrence posture in Europe of aggression — whether [it’s] outright aggression or so-called hybrid warfare — and putting resources behind what I call a new playbook for NATO.”
Meanwhile, NATO defence ministers took steps to strengthen the Alliance defence and deterrence posture on Wednesday. “NATO defence ministers agreed on an enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of our Alliance,” NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said.
NATO defence ministers also reviewed progress in connecting NATO’s Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance assets. “This is a key capability for the NATO Response Force. And it enables quick and informed decisions by our commanders and our political leaders,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.
The U.S. Defense Department’s fiscal year 2017 budget request contains more than $3 billion in European Reassurance Initiative funding — four times as much as in fiscal 2016 — for an increased rotational presence of U.S. forces in Europe and for the purchase, upgrading and positioning of equipment in European countries, Carter said.
Other NATO topics will include Afghanistan, North Africa and the Middle East, and activities in the Arctic, the secretary said.
The second part of the trip will mark the first gathering of defense ministers of major countries that make up the coalition against ISIL.
The counter-ISIL defense ministers conference, also in Brussels, comprises 27 nations, including Iraq and the United States, that provide force contributions to the counter-ISIL campaign. Observers also will attend.
“There have been lots of meetings of the coalition in the past,” Carter said, “[but] I thought it was important to [convene] defense ministers, because … each country can make a contribution to the military campaign.”
Carter said he will brief the coalition military campaign acceleration plan that President Barack Obama sought and approved.
A military campaign plan is necessary, but not sufficient, to defeat ISIL, Carter said. “There are lots of other activities having to do with countering ISIL’s messaging, its finances, foreign fighters and homeland protection,” he explained.
The United States is looking for opportunities to do more in the fight to hasten and accelerate ISIL’s defeat, the secretary said.