WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry is heading into another round of talks on Syria with the monumental task of charting "a course out of hell."
Kerry is scheduled to depart for Vienna Wednesday, where he hopes to advance a peace process.
FILE - In this file photo, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, second right, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, left, talk to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as the wait for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, not pictured, for a group picture at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria. Iran sits down with the United States, Russia, Europeans and key Arab states for the first time since the Syrian civil war began to discuss the future of the war-torn country. It will also break ground by bringing President Bashar Assadâ€™s main supporter, Iran, to the same table as its regional rivals, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who have been backing many of the insurgent groups. (Carlos Barria, Pool Photo via AP, File)
Before leaving, he offered a dire assessment of Syria's four-year civil war at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
He cited harrowing statistics: one in 20 Syrians killed or wounded; one in five now refugees; average life expectancy down 20 years.
Kerry also said the U.S. was stepping up military efforts against the Islamic State.
He said airstrikes are targeting the 70-mile stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border that militants still control. And the U.S. will help moderate rebels to pressure the Islamic State's self-styled capital of Raqqa.