Tilllerson: Defeating ISIS is top United States priority in Middle East

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a plan to establish safe zones in war-torn countries to allow refugees to return home, setting the stage for a dramatic shift in refugee policy and a greater USA and Western military footprint in Iraq and Syria.

The United States will set up "interim zones of stability" to help refugees return home in the next phase of the fight against Islamic State (ISIS).

Tillerson also touched on the proposal to create "safe areas" in Syria, describing them as "interim zones of stability" that would be created through ceasefires to improve the safety of resident and displaced civilians. Such a plan-that builds on the military advances being made in Iraq against ISIS-will deter the re-emergence of ISIS successor groups in liberated territories, including the city of Mosul and the surrounding areas.

Tillerson said the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq was down 90 per cent over the past year.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday the U.S. would set up "interim zones of stability" to help refugees return home in the next phase of the fight against ISIS and al Qaida in Syria and Iraq.

Creating such safe havens could ratchet up United States military involvement in Syria and mark a major departure from President Barack Obama's more cautious approach.

Few details of Trump's plan have yet emerged, but he is said to have given US commanders more leeway to conduct risky strikes on their own authority, and civilian casualties are increasing.

Tillerson met with that 68-nation coalition Wednesday in Washington.

"The United States will do its part, but the circumstances on the ground require more from all of you", he said.

US forces are keen that he not repeat the exploit of the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and hide out for years even after his group's last known strongholds have fallen.

Iraqi government troops working with Kurdish forces known as peshmerga and supported by American airpower and military advisers are nearing a full liberation of the city that has been the extremists' main Iraqi stronghold since 2014.

And it is also an occasion for Trump's discreet new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to emerge from the shadows and stamp his authority on the diplomatic side of the joint effort.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Ababi said victory was finally within reach.

In a remark that amounts to a blank check to the USA to wage war wherever it sees fit, Tillerson ominously warned that ISIS could emerge anywhere after it is defeated in the current fighting.

On Oct. 17 previous year, coalition-backed Iraqi troops launched an offensive to retake Mosul from Daesh's so-called caliphate.

Tillerson alluded to the intensified campaign, but said the Trump administration was still refining its strategy. All of us must maintain pressure on ISIS's networks within our own countries and take decisive law enforcement action to stop its growth.

Speaking to the Press Association, he said: "If you come to Iraq, if you come to Syria, and you bear arms against the people of Iraq and the people of Syria, against the sovereign forces of this country in Iraq, we will target you".

The attack also included an unprecedented air assault involving U.S. helicopters landing behind enemy lines - flying about 500 local United States allies and coalition military advisers across the Euphrates River and Lake Assad so they could attack the ISIS-controlled dam and neighboring town and airfield from the south.

Major players in town include Iraq's prime minister, Turkey's foreign minister and a high-level delegation from Saudi Arabia, but some key countries, most notably Russian Federation and Iran, will be missing.

  • Leroy Wright