WASHINGTON — The president's special envoy for the global coalition to counter Islamic State militants said Wednesday that as the U.S. continues to build up its military options in Syrian, European nations might consider combat operations to battle extremists.
Retired Gen. John Allen's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee comes on the day that Secretary of State John Kerry was heading to Vienna for another round of talks to find a political resolution to the crisis in Syria — a task he likened to charting "a course out of hell."
At the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Kerry offered a dire assessment of Syria's four-year civil war and reiterated Defense Secretary Ash Carter's remarks Tuesday on Capitol Hill about U.S. plans to step up military action against IS. Airstrikes are targeting the remaining 70-miles of the border between Syria and Turkey that the militants still control and the U.S. will help moderate rebels to pressure IS' self-styled capital of Raqqa.
Allen said the U.S. military recently began asking its European allies to join it at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey where the U.S. is being allowed to launch fighter aircraft and surveillance missions in Syria.
"I expect that as time goes on, and as more opportunity becomes available to us, we may well see our European partners become more kinetically involved in Syria," Allen said.
"There may be opportunities in the south as well as in the north where our European coalition partners could in fact play an important role, and I'm thinking special operations," Allen said, adding that additional details could only be provided in a classified setting.
Carter echoed Allen's comments.
"It stands to reason that Europe — both because of the refugee crisis it's experiencing and its fear of ISIL — has a strong interest in the same kind of outcome that we want in Syria, which is a political transition and a defeat of ISIL there," Carter told reporters in a press conference with the Israeli defense minister.
But Carter said while he has talked to the Europeans about the humanitarian crisis and IS, he has nothing to report about possible European ground support operations in Syria.
Allen also predicted that Russia, which he said is in Syria only to prevent the collapse of the Assad government, will eventually lend its support for a political transition.
"The Russians are going to start feeling some serious pain on this. The (Assad) regime forces aren't doing that well under Russian close air support. They are underperforming," Allen said.
"They're probably going to find in the very near future — since they're not going to be able to resolve this militarily — that they want to start to think about a political resolution, and that's why it's important for them to seriously consider getting involved in this conversation that the secretary's trying to set up. He sees this as an opportunity."
Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.