By David Alexander
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Reuters) - The United States supports Arab plans to create a unified military force to counter growing security threats in the Middle East, and the Pentagon will cooperate with it where U.S. and Arab interests coincide, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Monday.
Carter told reporters during a visit to Fort Drum in New York that U.S. military leaders who met with him in Kuwait several weeks ago thought that regional members of the coalition fighting Islamic State militants should be encouraged to do more if they were able.
"So I think if they are willing to do more, in this case with respect to Yemen, then that is a good thing because ultimately it is their region. ... The willingness of the parties there to step up and do more for stability in the Middle East is a good thing," Carter said.
His remarks came a day after Arab leaders meeting at a summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, announced the formation of a unified military force to counter growing security threats from Yemen to Libya.
Previous efforts have failed to produce an effective force, and participation would be voluntary. At least two countries were said to have committed to participating in the force.
Asked if the U.S. military would cooperate with the new force, the U.S. defense secretary said it would, noting that many of the participants, like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, are already bilateral security partners with the United States.
"These are partners and security allies of ours, and when they act in a way that we regard as in our interests as well as theirs we will continue to partner with them as we have been in other matters," Carter said.
(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)