Bob Casey heads to Mideast to talk about stepping up ISIS fight – Allentown Morning Call

— Sen. Bob Casey is heading to the Middle East over the Presidents Day recess and will be searching for better ways to hold countries in that region accountable in the fight against Islamic State militants.

Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said in an interview that some countries in the 66-member, U.S.-led coalition need to do more to combat ISIS, not only militarily but also in cracking down on the money flowing to militants who control swaths of Iraq and Syria.

In some of the countries that have signed on to work with the United States, there are still individuals who are either directly or indirectly helping ISIS with their financing, Casey said.

“We’ve got to get those guys,” he said. “Just because a guy is a banker and wears a tie doesn’t mean he’s not a combatant.”

Casey’s trip comes as U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is in Brussels delivering a similar message to leaders from more than two-dozen coalition countries. After a meeting at NATO headquarters Thursday, Carter told reporters that nearly all participants either promised new military commitments or said their governments would consider new contributions.

Carter suggested that countries not answering his call to do more may regret their choice when the struggle is over.

“We will all look back after victory and remember who participated in the fight,” he said.

Among those pledging to expand its role was Saudi Arabia, which has participated in limited airstrikes. Its leaders have indicated they could send ground troops, but that offer may be conditioned on the United States also sending troops.

So far, the U.S. military has carried much of the military efforts against ISIS. While 13 nations are participating in the air campaign against militant strongholds in Iraq and Syria, U.S. planes have conducted more than 7,800 of the 10,240 airstrikes.

Casey, who is heading to Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said some Persian Gulf countries “want to have it both ways” by condemning ISIS and joining the coalition, but looking the other way when it comes to some citizens who might be aiding the militants.

He credited Turkey with taking in a disproportionate number of the refugees who are fleeing Syria, but said the country has fallen short when it comes to preventing fighters and money from crossing its border into Syria.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has improved its effort to crack down on those helping to finance ISIS’s operations and perhaps could serve as an example to other countries, he said.

Still, those efforts aren’t enough, Casey said, particularly from the countries that are closest to the main strongholds in Iraq and Syria. Those regional neighbors need to improve their military efforts as well as their internal counter-terrorism strategies, he believes.

“When you’re in a fight on the playground, you have some people who are willing to fight and some people that just want to hold coats,” Casey said. “We don’t need a coalition of coat holders.”

When he returns, Casey said he plans to work on new legislation aimed at ratcheting up pressure on countries to go after the militants’ funding sources.

He’s made progress in one area already: His measure to prevent ISIS from raising money from the sale of stolen antiquities cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month. A similar measure already passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

Casey’s itinerary was still being finished Thursday, according to his staff. The schedule will include a visit to Al Udeid air base near Doha, Qatar, which has been a key hub for warplanes from the United States and other countries conducting nearby airstrikes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Twitter @LauraOlson

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Bob Casey heads to Mideast to talk about stepping up ISIS fight – Allentown Morning Call}

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