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MACDILL MEETING ON ISIS PRAISED

CentCom's leader lauds "hard work" in the fight against the Islamic extremists.

A conference of 200 military planners from 33 nations to discuss strategies on defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria closed Friday at MacDill Air Force Base with military leaders declaring "enormous progress" in the fight against a group that has terrorized the region.

The 10-day conference was held at U.S. Central Command, which has headquarters at MacDill, and ends two days after Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimated it would take four years for a U.S.-led coalition to defeat ISIS.

A focus of the conference was solidifying plans on advising and training Iraqi security forces as they battle the Islamic State, CentCom officials say.

"I ... was very pleased to see the enormous progress made," Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, CentCom commander, said in a written statement. "I am confident that their hard work will pay significant dividends going forward.

"It is through these kinds of collaborations and our continued cooperation that we will achieve our shared objectives, further strengthen relationships between our nations, and improve stability and security in that strategically important region of the world."

Media representatives were not allowed to attend the conference or interview participants, so additional detail is unavailable. CentCom also has declined to identify the nations that participated in the event.

"Our regional partners were particularly impressed by the depth of coalition support and collective will to prevail against (the Islamic State) in order to stabilize the region," British Army Brig. Gen. Gary C. Deakin, deputy director of CentCom strategy, plans and policy, said in a statement.

ISIS has displayed a level of brutality that has caused widespread concern both in the West and the Middle East. The group has released videos of the beheadings of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

Austin has previously estimated the group has between 9,000 and 17,000 fighters. A U.S.-led campaign against ISIS using air power has substantially degraded the group's operations, Austin has said.

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