TAMPA — The fight against the brutal Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has landed at MacDill Air Force Base this week.
U.S. Central Command, which is headquartered at MacDill, is hosting nearly 200 military planners from 30 nations at an "operational planning conference" that opened Wednesday and continues until Nov. 21. CentCom is heading the effort to defeat the extremist group.
In a news release, CentCom said the conference "provides an opportunity for coalition partners to strengthen relationships and further develop and refine military campaign plans to degrade and defeat" ISIS.
"The event is another milestone in U.S. and Coalition military efforts to work together with Iraq and other partners from around the world to eliminate the terrorist group . . . and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community," the command said.
A CentCom spokesman said Thursday that the command, which oversees U.S. military operations in a wide swath of the Middle East, would not allow reporters access to the conference nor grant interviews with participants. Also unavailable is a list of the nations participating.
CentCom's chief, Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, who has become the point man in the nation's fight against ISIS, described the conference in the news release as "historic."
"The nearly 200 participants represent the broad coalition that has come together and is key to the success of our campaign to defeat" the group, he said. "Indeed, it is the coalition that our enemies fear most. And it is the coalition that will get the job done and done the right way, and as quickly as possible. I have every confidence that over the next several days this esteemed group will do tremendous work and through their efforts set the conditions necessary to ensure that (ISIS) is defeated, and long-term security and stability is achieved throughout" CentCom's area of responsibility.
ISIS has achieved 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.