BAGHDAD — Coalition airstrikes will not be enough to defeat the Islamic State group, Britain's foreign minister said Monday on his first visit to Iraq, although he also ruled out the use of foreign ground forces.
Airstrikes have halted the advance of the Islamic State group, Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond told journalists in Baghdad speaking alongside Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. But what Hammond calls the "heavy work on the ground" will have to come from the Iraqi government and from inside the Sunni communities occupied by the group.
"The coalition can only deliver effective support to the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces," he said. "The Iraqi people, the Iraqi security forces and Iraqi government will have to take the lead on the ground."
The U.S. military, which withdrew its forces from Iraq in late 2011 after more than eight years of war, first launched airstrikes in Iraq on Aug. 8 to help Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces combat the Islamic State militants who had seized a large swath of land straddling the Iraq-Syria border. Since then, more than a dozen countries have entered the fight, providing air power, weapons or humanitarian assistance to more than a million people displaced by the militant onslaught.
The British government joined the U.S.-led aerial campaign on Sept. 30. However, it has refused to join the air campaign in Syria, where the U.S. has been joined by a coalition of Arab partners. The use of foreign ground troops in the battle against the Islamic State group has been frowned upon, both by the Iraqi government and by those foreign governments providing assistance.
"We always understood that our campaign alone was not effective to be decisive in turning the tide against ISIL," Hammond said Monday, using an alternate acronym for the militant group. "But it has halted the ISIL advance, it has forced ISIL to change its tactics and it is degrading their military capabilities and their economic strength, their ability to exploit oil revenues, for example."
The U.S. military said Sunday it conducted an airstrike southwest of Hit in Iraq's western Anbar province, destroying a militant armored vehicle. It said another airstrike southeast of Hit targeted an armored personnel carrier. Airstrikes were also conducted near the Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Kirkuk, U.S. Central Command said.