US hosting 68 countries for major anti-ISIS summit

PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on an executive order signed by U.S. President Donald J. Trump at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection press room in the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington on March 6, 2017. PlayMichael Reynolds/EPA
WATCH Political novelist on the war against ISIS

More than two years into the fight against ISIS, the U.S. is set to convene the largest gathering of the coalition it amassed to take on the terror group.

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will play host Wednesday as foreign ministers from all 68 countries in the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS descend on Washington -- the first time representatives from every country have met since December 2014.

The meeting will focus on reviewing the progress that has been made against the terror group and “accelerating” efforts to defeat and destroy the group in Iraq and Syria, including disrupting their financing and the flow of foreign fighters.

The coalition will also discuss ways to put pressure on the terror groups that claim affiliation with ISIS, in countries like Libya and Egypt, and to deal with those foreign fighters who may return to their home countries as the terror group’s hold on territory falls apart.

Attendees include America’s western allies like the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, as well as regional partners like Iraq, Turkey, and Jordan, and other key allies like Japan, Australia, and Afghanistan. Joining the meetings in the afternoon will be Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has overseen a review of the U.S. strategy against ISIS for the White House, and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi will address the group, as well.

The State Department would not say if any other senior Trump officials would attend, including from the White House, but two months into its term, ministers will be looking to the new administration for its plans.

Coalition forces are making steady progress in Mosul, Iraq, right now as they fight to push ISIS out of its last major stronghold in the country. Across the border in Syria, U.S. Special Forces are assisting Syrian rebels, Kurdish groups, and Turkish armed forces as they prepare for an assault on Raqqa, the terror group’s de facto capital.

The State Department heralded the progress and said the ministers’ summit will look for ways to sustain those battlefield victories and permanently expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria.

“Everyone recognizes there’s been significant progress in the past year, especially. We’ve seen gains made against ISIS across the board, whether it’s in Syria, but certainly in Iraq, liberations of large areas that they previously held,” said State Department acting spokesperson Mark Toner, adding that the summit is “a way to accelerate and focus more on how we can accelerate our efforts.”

What “acceleration” looks like is still unclear, but Sec. Tillerson “will come with new ideas and new approaches and a new way of looking at how to defeat ISIS,” promised Toner.

The Trump administration has previously floated sending more troops to Syria, enforcing safe zones in the country for civilians displaced by the fighting, and coordinating with Russia to target terrorists.

Russia is not part of the Global Coalition and will not be present at the summit.

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