US Secretary of State John Kerry called Tuesday for no let up in international efforts against Islamic State militias in Syria and Iraq, amid concerns that a third battlefront against the terrorist group may open in Libya.
The radical Islamist group has made inroads in the north African country. Last week, Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said her country was preparing militarily to counter that threat together with the United States, France and Britain.
There is a need "to push ahead with a strategy that we have learned will work, and to do so relentlessly, giving Daesh no time to regroup, no place to run, no safe havens in which to hide," Kerry said, using an Arabic acronym for the group.
Speaking at a meeting in Rome of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State, Kerry said it had conducted "almost 10,000 airstrikes," killing "more than 90 mid-level or high-level leaders of Daesh since last May."
Since the coalition was launched in late 2014, the Islamic State has lost 40 per cent of territory in Iraq and about 30 per cent in Syria, and "last week" news emerged that it had to cut pay to their militias by 50 per cent, the top US diplomat reported.
However, victory is not yet assured, "and we have seen Daesh playing a game of metastasizing out to other countries – particularly Libya," Kerry said.
Two rival Libyan governments agreed to a UN peace deal in December, but agreement on the composition of a joint cabinet has since proved elusive. Kerry and Italian his Italian counterpart, Paolo Gentiloni, urged Libyans to overcome the deadlock within the next two weeks.
"In Libya, we're on the brink of getting a government of national unity," Kerry said, predicting that will stop the terrorist ascendancy. "The last thing in the world you want is a false caliphate with access to billions of dollars of oil revenue."
At the end of Kerry and Gentiloni's joint press conference, a woman wearing a veil heckled them and was taken away by police. According to Italian news agencies, she told Kerry: "You are the ones who created the Islamic State!"
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius dismissed national press reports that Paris would engage militarily in Libya, deeming it "out of the question" and calling for international sanctions against Libyan individuals blocking government formation talks.
The Le Figaro daily, citing unnamed sources, earlier said "one of the scenarios envisages the use of a combination of special forces, airstrikes and artillery supported by Libyan ground forces." It said any campaign would be less extensive than the one in Syria and Iraq.
Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressed the need to defend territorial gains in Iraq. "It is important not only to celebrate the military victories but also to stabilize the liberated territories," he said.
Kerry said he had urged allies to contribute to a Iraqi stabilization fund, while Gentiloni announced that Italian company Trevi had been awarded a contract to repair the Mosul dam. Rome is planning to send 450 troops to defend the key piece of infrastucture during the works.
"We haven't seen a catastrophe like this since World War II," Kerry said of the Syrian crisis, urging parties at ongoing peace talks in Geneva to agree to an immediate halt to indiscriminate violence, as well as an end to sieges and free access for humanitarian aid.
The Rome talks were attended by 23 nations, including key Middle East actors such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, plus the European Union and the United Nations. Overall, the coalition counts 66 members, including Afghanistan who joined it on Monday.