U.S. Marines, Australian Army soldiers, New Zealand Army soldiers, and Canadian Army soldiers observe a target area during RIMPAC exercise 2014.

U.S. Marines, Australian Army soldiers, New Zealand Army soldiers, and Canadian Army soldiers observe a target area during RIMPAC exercise 2014. (Christopher Hubenthal/Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)

U.S. officials are working hard to build a broad, international coalition to combat Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. What’s unclear is whether the international effort will produce a coalition of consequence or one in name only.

At the NATO summit last week, the U.S. announced formation of a 10-nation “core coalition” that includes nine NATO members plus Australia. It has since grown.

In all, about 40 countries have expressed solidarity in the effort, according to the State Department, although some countries have not spelled out in detail what they are prepared to contribute. So far, most contributions from allies have centered on ferrying humanitarian aid into Iraq and limited arming of Kurdish forces in the north.

Major Arab states are all likely to play a role in the fight against the Islamic State, said Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow with the Royal United Services Institute in London.

“The bigger question is what type of cooperation,” he said.

Some Arab states may limit their contributions to allowing the U.S. to use their military facilities to launch airstrikes, Joshi said. But few will likely commit their forces with perhaps the exception of the United Arab Emirates, which is reported to have carried out airstrikes last month in Libya against Islamist-linked militia. The UAE has denied doing so. Jordan may also provide special forces, he said.

It will be difficult for the U.S. to persuade the mostly Sunni Muslim Arab rulers to play a more public role for various reasons, Joshi said. They include fears of Islamic State retaliation and inadvertently boosting the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.

Arab countries in the Persian Gulf also risk domestic political problems due to public sympathy for the Islamic State, which some Sunnis believe are fighting for Sunni interests against Iran and its fellow Shiite allies in the region.

The U.S. has been urging Sunni allies such as Qatar and Kuwait to crack down on donations to the Islamic State by their citizens.

Not on the list of potential partners is Iran, though its interests coincide with those of the U.S. regarding the Islamic State’s threat to the Shiite-led Baghdad government. Nevertheless, Joshi does not expect the U.S. will seek overt cooperation because of Iran’s close ties to Assad and the delicate balancing act with Sunni Arab nations.

“At least publicly, a prominent Iranian role is not conducive to Arab participation,” he said.

For President Barack Obama, the decision to go after Islamic State militants in Syria also creates a dilemma, as doing so could help Assad, who Obama has said needs to relinquish power.

“Whilst it’s true that attacks will serve Syrian ends, it will also serve the ends of Syrian opposition groups, whom Obama has committed to supporting,” Joshi said. The Islamic State may be weakened, “but the opposition will also be getting stronger and that’s bad news for Assad.”

Below is a look at some of the key players and how they are contributing or may contribute to the international coalition or support U.S. operations.

The United States: On Aug. 8, the U.S. began a bombing campaign against Islamic State militants, hitting targets at strategic points in northern and western Iraq. So far, nearly 200 strikes have been carried out. In addition, President Obama announced on Wednesday that he would be sending 450 more U.S. troops into Iraq to work as advisers and to fly surveillance aircraft. That will bring the total number of military personnel in Iraq to 1,600. Obama has said the troops will not take part in ground operations against the Islamic State.

United Kingdom: Britain has dropped humanitarian supplies into Iraq and provided arms to Kurdish fighters and carried out surveillance flights. Government officials have not ruled out participation in the U.S. air campaign. Iraq’s new central government must first prove itself as inclusive, encompassing Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds before British forces get involved, government officials have said.

France: Paris has said it will send arms to Kurdish forces leading the fight against the Islamic State. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday that France “will participate, if necessary, in military air action.”

Germany: Berlin also has agreed to send weapons to semi-autonomous Kurdistan, marking a major shift for a country that has avoided foreign military entanglements since World War II. While it is unlikely Germany would participate in direct military action, it is conceivable that Berlin could take part in an advisory mission if Baghdad were to seek NATO training assistance.

Poland: Poland was named as one of the 10-core nations that are part of the U.S.-led coalition, but what it will contribute isn’t yet clear. Poland possesses experienced, battle-tested troops who have spent the past decade fighting in Afghanistan. Warsaw could contribute some of those soldiers as advisers to Iraqi forces. Like many others in the coalition, Warsaw already has helped in the delivery of humanitarian supplies to Iraq.

Australia: Australian aircraft took part in the initial humanitarian intervention in northern Iraq last month, and Canberra is supplying weapons to forces countering the Islamic State. Australian officials haven’t ruled out joining the U.S. in future airstrikes.

Canada: Canada has provided aircraft to help deliver humanitarian supplies into northern Iraq and has delivered weapons to Kurdish fighters. The Canadian government is also considering sending a small team of military advisers into Iraq.

Italy: The NATO ally took part in initial humanitarian relief efforts in northern Iraq in August. At NATO’s recent summit in Wales, Italy also said it would join the U.S.-led coalition in the effort to counter the Islamic State. It remains unclear whether that support will involve airstrikes or sending in trainers to work with Iraqi security forces.

Denmark: Danish aircraft have delivered both humanitarian supplies and weapons into northern Iraq. Though Denmark is one of NATO’s smallest members, it often is a part of alliance-led military action, including sending forces into Afghanistan and taking part in the Libya intervention in 2011.

Turkey: The NATO member is among the “core coalition,” but its role remains murky. Allies have been pressuring Turkey to tighten controls along its border with Syria, which has functioned as a main transit route for those fighting the regime of Bashar Assad. Islamic State militants have been among the fighters moving through Turkish territory. U.S. plans to strike at Islamic State targets in Syria could undermine Turkey’s main objective in the region, Assad’s removal from power. Meanwhile, the Islamic State is holding about 40 Turkish government officials and aid workers hostage, which also could limit Istanbul’s willingness to play a prominent role in fighting the militants.

Saudi Arabia: U.S. officials say the kingdom on Wednesday agreed to host a program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State militants and the Syrian regime.

Kuwait: The U.S. already maintains a handful of bases in the country, including an air base, a large desert ground maneuver training facility and a forward headquarters for the three-star Army component of U.S. Central Command. Kuwait was the primary logistics hub for the Iraq War. It also donated $10 million in July to help with the growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

Arab League: The league of 22 Arab nations on Monday agreed to confront the Islamic State militarily and politically, but hasn’t elaborated on how it would do so.

Bahrain: The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based here. The U.S. maintains an airfield here and has had access to a second to move heavy equipment used in the war in Afghanistan. Bahrain’s prime minister on Thursday urged Muslim countries to strengthen cooperation to tackle regional threats, but did not mention Islamic State.

Jordan: The kingdom routinely hosts U.S. troops for training, but, despite speaking out against “transnational terrorists,” hasn’t committed to action in Syria.

Qatar: The country hosts two major U.S. installations, one an air base used for bombing missions over Afghanistan and cargo movement through the Middle East, the other an Army base used by Central Command to stage military equipment and supplies. The Qataris have also sent planeloads of aid to help with the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

United Arab Emirates: The U.S. maintains an air base and has access to ports here.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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