Several Arab countries have offered to join the United States in air strikes against Islamic State targets, U.S. officials said on Sunday, indicating a possible widening of the air campaign against militants who have seized parts of Iraq and Syria.
The officials declined to identify which countries had made the offers but said they were under consideration as the United States begins to identify roles for each country in its emerging coalition against jihadists who have declared a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East.
The addition of Arab fighter jets could strengthen the credibility of the American-led campaign in a region skeptical of how far Washington will commit to a conflict in which nearly every country has a stake, set against the backdrop of Islam's 1,300-year-old rift between Sunnis and Shi'ites.
"I don't want to leave you with the impression that these Arab members haven't offered to do air strikes because several of them have," a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters in Paris.
The official said the offers were not limited to air strikes on Iraq. "Some have indicated for quite a while a willingness to do them elsewhere," the official said. "We have to sort through all of that because you can't just go and bomb something."
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry won the backing for a "coordinated military campaign" from 10 Arab countries - Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and six Gulf states including rich rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Kerry, who has been touring the Middle East to try to secure backing for U.S. efforts to build a coalition to fight the Islamic State militants, said on Sunday that he was "extremely encouraged" by pledges of military assistance.
"We have countries in this region, countries outside of this region, in addition to the United States, all of whom are prepared to engage in military assistance, in actual strikes if that is what it requires. And we also have a growing number of people who are prepared to do all the other things," Kerry said in remarks aired on Sunday on the CBS program "Face the Nation."
On the CNN program "State of the Union," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was asked if this coalition would need ground troops beyond opposition forces in Syria and Kurdish and government forces in Iraq.
"Ultimately to destroy ISIL we do need to have a force, an anvil against which they will be pushed - ideally Sunni forces," he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
Kerry reiterated President Barack Obama's statement that U.S. ground troops would not be used against the Islamic State.
"We're not looking to put troops on the ground," Kerry said. "There are some who have offered to do so, but we are not looking for that at this moment anyway," Kerry said. He did not identify the countries.
"This is a strategy coming together as the coalition comes together and the countries declare what they are prepared to do," Kerry said in the interview, taped on Saturday in Egypt.
"I've been extremely encouraged to hear from all of the people that I've been meeting with about their readiness and willingness and to participate," Kerry added.
McDonough also said U.S. President Barack Obama would meet on Tuesday with General John Allen, his newly appointed special presidential envoy for building the coalition against Islamic State. McDonough also said Kerry would testify before the U.S. Congress on the matter this week.
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