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US Secretary of Defence James Mattis (left), speaks with Kuwait’s Defence Minister Mohammad Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah (second right), during the NATO Defence Ministers’ meeting held at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on Feb 16. (AFP)

BRUSSELS, Feb 16, (Agencies): NATO’s meeting on the global coalition to counter the so-called Islamic State (IS) kicked off Thursday with participation of Kuwait’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al- Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah. “Since September 2014, you have made tremendous strides toward the eventual defeat of IS, retaking the battlefield, countering propaganda, and breaking affiliate networks.

Each contributing in your own ways,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in his opening speech. “Today, IS and terrorism remain among the most pressing challenges we face. While NATO itself is not a formal member of the Coalition against ISIL. Every NATO Ally is contributing to Coalition efforts,” Stoltenberg said. He also noted that NATO is deploying AWACS aircraft in support of Coalition operations and training Iraqi security forces. “Working closely with partners in the Middle East and North Africa to help them secure their borders and territory. Establishing a new regional center in Kuwait to coordinate our work in the Gulf. But we have the potential to do more. Training local forces is one of the best weapons we have in the fight against terrorism and building stability,” Stoltenberg added. “The defeat of IS is a global challenge that requires a generational response. This Coalition has an unwavering commitment to see this fight to its conclusion,” he stressed.

For his part, US Defense Secretary James Mattis said “We are united in this fight to defeat IS,” adding that the meeting aims to orchestrate an international pressure on the terrorist group, which will not be over quickly, but “we intend to accelerate the fight.”

Elsewhere, Saudi security forces have arrested 18 suspects with ties to cluster cells loyal to the jihadist Islamic State group, the interior ministry said on Thursday. They were arrested over the past week during raids on “terrorist cluster cells” in the capital Riyadh, the neighbouring Qasim district and the holy western cities of Mecca and Madinah, a spokesman said. Fifteen of those arrested were Saudi citizens, while two were Yemenis and one Sudanese, said the spokesman in a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency. The suspects, all men, are also accused of aiding two jihadists who detonated explosive belts after clashing with police on January 21 in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, said the spokesman. Security forces seized automatic weapons during the raids, along with knives and more than two million riyals ($533,270), the spokesman said.

Authorities had arrested last month 13 Pakistanis and three Saudis over suspected links to the two jihadists who blew themselves up during a firefight with security forces in Jeddah. The kingdom has witnessed a series of deadly attacks claimed by IS since late 2014, mostly targeting the Shiite minority and security forces, killing dozens of people. Saudi Arabia, a key ally of the United States, was hit by two suicide attacks in July 2016 in Makkah and Madinah. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack near the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, which killed 15 people. No one has yet claimed the attack on Madinah, which left four security guards dead

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