Kerry: U.S.-Led Airstrikes Damage ISIS, But Fight Will Likely Last 'Years'

John Kerry
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. fight against ISIS "will be measured most likely in years." Brendan Smialowski/Reuters

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The U.S.-led coalition has inflicted serious damage on Islamic State, carrying out around 1,000 air strikes so far in Iraq and Syria, but the fight against the militants could last years, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.

The United States and its allies began air strikes in September after the Sunni militants made large territorial advances. The Iraqi army, Sunni tribal fighters and Kurdish forces have since recovered some ground from the group which in its Arabic acronym is known as Daesh.

"It is much harder now than when we started for Daesh to assemble forces in strength, to travel in convoys and to launch concerted attacks," Kerry said at a meeting in Brussels of some 60 countries involved in the coalition.

"No large Daesh unit can move forward aggressively without worrying what will come down on it from the skies," he added, but cautioned that the campaign would be a long one, saying: "Our commitment will be measured most likely in years."

Kerry declined to comment on reports from officials in Washington that Iran - not part of the U.S.-led coalition, but a neighbor and ally of Iraq - had conducted air strikes.

"Nothing has changed in our fundamental policy of not coordinating our military activity, or any other activity, at this moment with Iranians. We are not doing that," he told a news conference.

At the Brussels meeting, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said his government needed military help on the ground, Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic told Reuters.

"The Iraqis obviously said that they needed help in every form, particularly in fighting on the ground," Pusic said, adding Iraqi troops needed ammunition, arms and training.

Iraq plans to ask NATO to help train its security forces, the military alliance said following a meeting between Abadi and Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the anti-Islamic State coalition said some members had noted the need for "effective ground forces to ultimately defeat" the militants.

State Department officials said the that referred to strengthening moderate rebel forces in Syria.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with a French magazine that air strikes inSyria had not made a difference and the only way to defeat Islamic State was with ground troops. "You can't end terrorism with aerial strikes," he told Paris Match.