By Jethro Mullen
(CNN) — As world leaders struggled to come up with strategies to combat the threat from ISIS, U.S. military aircraft targeted one of the Islamist militant group’s positions near Baghdad.
An airstrike southwest of the city Monday appears to be the closest the U.S. aerial campaign has come to the Iraqi capital since it began last month, a senior U.S. military official told CNN.
A statement from U.S. Central Command described the action as “the first strike taken as part of our expanded efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions to hit (ISIS) targets as Iraqi forces go on offense, as outlined in the President’s speech last Wednesday.”
An ISIS “fighting position” that was firing on Iraqi security forces southwest of Baghdad was destroyed, the statement said.
‘Any means necessary’
Meanwhile, more than two dozen nations, the Arab League, the European Union and United Nations met in the French capital, calling ISIS a threat to the international community and agreeing to “ensure that the culprits are brought to justice.”
In a statement at the conference’s conclusion, the French government said the participants had agreed to take on ISIS “by any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance, in line with the needs expressed by the Iraqi authorities, in accordance with international law and without jeopardizing civilian security.”
Meanwhile, the leader of Iraq’s Kurdistan region asked for intensified U.S. airstrikes, saying he would welcome foreign fighters and urging Iran and the United States to set aside their differences to fight the Sunni extremists.
ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State, put its brutality on display once again at the weekend — posting a video showing the beheading of British aid worker David Haines and threatening the life of another hostage from the United Kingdom.
It was the third videotaped killing of a Western hostage released in less than a month. The latest killing, ISIS said, was “a message to the allies of America.”
President Barack Obama announced last week that the United States would lead “a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat” and that U.S. airstrikes against ISIS would expand from Iraq into Syria.
The United States has said nearly 40 nations have agreed to contribute to the fight against ISIS, which has seized control of large areas of northern Iraq and Syria. But it remains unclear exactly which countries are on that list and what roles they’ll play.
A creaky coalition
Kerry, who attended the Paris conference Monday, closed out a Middle Eastern trip on Saturday, seeking to win support for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.
In an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Kerry said some nations “are clearly prepared to take action in the air alongside the United States and to do airstrikes, if that’s what they’re called on to do,” but he did not get more specific.
Some nations have also offered to commit ground troops, but “we are not looking for that at this moment anyway,” Kerry said in the CBS interview.
Despite the headline number of around 40 countries offering at least some support, a far smaller group has made specific and public commitments to join military action.
“You have a coalition I would argue of the semi-willing, the disabled, the self-interested and the self-absorbed,” said Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “It’s really going to be difficult, it seems to me, to get everybody focused on the same page.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey said there were still signs of reluctance among Middle Eastern countries.
“There is true international consensus and agreement that ISIS is a real problem that will have to be dealt with,” he said. “But there’s also, particularly in the region, great fear of getting too involved.”
Kurds want more strikes
Iraqi Kurdistan’s President Masoud Barzani — whose Peshmerga forces have taken a significant role in battling ISIS — told CNN’s Anna Coren on Monday that he has not asked for foreign fighters but would welcome them.
He also called on the United States to step up airstrikes and said Iran should play a role in battling ISIS. But that can only happen, he said, if Iran and the United States “put their differences aside.”
Iran has rejected any cooperation with the United States to combat ISIS in Iraq, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said on his Twitter account Monday. “I rejected (the) US offer to Iran about ISIS, because US has corrupted its hands in this issue,” the statement read.
Khamanei accused the United States of planning to use military action against ISIS to “dominate the region.”