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U.S. Defense Chief to Visit Israel, Regional Allies in Bid to Fight Islamic Extremism

Seeking new tactics to better tackle Islamic extremism, United States Defense Secretary James Mattis began traveling across the Middle East and North Africa on Tuesday. His journey includes stops with close allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, and new partners like Djibouti.

The Pentagon first announced the trip last week, saying the defense chief would be discussing ways to “defeat extremist terror organizations,” the Times of Israel reported.

Mattis’ trip begins in Saudi Arabia, which is spearheading the fight against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Riyadh has led coalition airstrikes against the Houthis for the past two years but has not yet succeeded in removing them from Yemen’s capital. The U.S. is considering tipping the balance by providing intelligence, aerial refueling, and other military assistance to the United Arab Emirates, which is helping the Saudis. To date, the United Nations estimates some 50,000 civilians have been killed or wounded in the three-year stalemate in the Middle East’s poorest country.

The White House hopes to expand the American-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria while simultaneously targeting its rival al-Qaeda, whose Yemen branch plots attacks against the U.S. while operating in lawless territory.

Balancing such contradictory goals and internecine conflicts will put Mattis’ plans to the test, which he said at a Pentagon news conference last week are in “skeleton form.”

[Photo: U.S. Department of Defense]