Defeat ISIS Coalition confirms commitment to continued fight
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - The 83-member D-ISIS (Defeat ISIS) Coalition, meeting in Rome on Monday, reaffirmed its commitment to continuing the fight against the terrorist organization.
That stands in marked contrast to Afghanistan, where the US is withdrawing and winding down its fight against al Qaida and the Taliban.
In the ministerial conference of the D-ISIS Coalition—the first in-person meeting in two years, because of the COVID pandemic—the ministers “reaffirmed their shared determination to continue the fight against Daesh/ISIS,” as they said in their final communique, using the Arabic and English terms for the terrorist group.
They also stressed the importance of creating “conditions for the enduring defeat” of ISIS “through a comprehensive, coordinated, and multifaceted effort,” which includes a focus on stabilizing areas that have been freed from ISIS control.
ISIS’ Core in Iraq and Syria: Maintaining the Pressure
The US, and the D-ISIS Coalition more broadly, view Iraq and Syria as the “core” of the terrorist organization. Although ISIS no longer controls territory, the Coalition believes that it is of great importance to keep pressure on ISIS in its core, to prevent its resurgence there.
The ministers also stressed the importance of “stabilization support” in liberated areas. Those areas are inhabited predominantly by Sunni Arabs, and the failure to provide adequate stabilization resources could well feed ISIS’ resurgence.
“The Ministers committed to strengthening cooperation across all Coalition lines of effort in order to ensure that Daesh/ISIS Core in Iraq and Syria, and its affiliates and networks around the world, are unable to reconstitute any territorial enclave or continue to threaten our homelands, people, and interests,” the ministers affirmed.
Although the US has suffered minimally from ISIS’ terrorist attacks, Europe has been particularly hard hit. Notably, in November 2015, a coordinated attack among three ISIS teams in Paris killed 130 people and wounded another 400, making it the single most lethal assault in France since World War II.
The ministers stressed the important role played by regional partners, including Iraq. They “acknowledged Iraq’s efforts to counter Daesh/ISIS’ remnants and prevent its resurgence, and commended the increased capacity of the Iraqi forces to combat Daesh/ISIS.”
However, “appropriate measures to enhance the operational efficiency and coordination of our collective efforts to maintain the necessary pressure on Daesh/ISIS remain essential,” the statement continued.
It stressed that the Coalition is in Iraq “at the request of the Government of Iraq in full respect of Iraq’s unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, and to the benefit of the Iraqi people.” While condemning “the continuing attacks” against the Coalition, it emphasized “the importance of the Government of Iraq protecting Coalition assets.”
Two weeks ago, a summit of the G-7 (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) was held in the UK. The communique from that meeting specifically mentioned the role of the Kurdish Peshmerga in fighting ISIS.
“We commend the Iraqi Security Forces, including the Kurdish Peshmerga, and Government of Iraq in their success against ISIS,” the G-7 said.
However, the D-ISIS Coalition failed to offer the similar courtesy of recognizing the significant Kurdish role in combatting the terrorist organization. The D-ISIS Coalition includes ten Arab states, among them Iraq, which may help explain that difference.
The overwhelming majority of ISIS prisoners in Syria are local: from Syria and Iraq. The latest report from the Pentagon’s Lead Inspector General, a Congressionally-mandated document, which covered the period from January 1 to March 31, 2021, explains, “Most residents of al-Hol,” the largest detention facility in northeast Syria, “are Syrian and Iraqi.” It also notes that “approximately 9,000 are from other countries.”
Indeed, some 31,000 of those detained at al-Hol are Iraqi—roughly half the camp’s 60,000 residents. That is also a point that the late Najmaldin Karim, long-time Governor of Kirkuk Province, emphasized to Kurdistan 24 in a 2018 interview.
As Karim stated, “99 percent [of ISIS in Kirkuk] are local people from Kirkuk.”
“Peshmerga fought [ISIS] bravely, and hundreds of them were killed,” he added. “We have their pictures, their DNA. They’re all from the area,”
Karim was careful to stress that he was only talking about what he knew well—i.e. Kirkuk Province, but it would appear to apply to ISIS more broadly: it is, primarily, a local phenomenon.
As such, its composition would differ from place to place.
Although Iraq has so many of its nationals detained as ISIS fighters, along with their families, in northeast Syria, the Iraqi government has been reluctant to take back any significant number. The same is true with most European countries.
On the eve of the D-ISIS conference, the head of the Coalition’s main partner in Syria, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Mazloum Abdi, called on the Coalition to repatriate the foreigners associated with ISIS whom it holds in detention.
The US has done so and has urged other countries to do the same, a position that Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated at the conference. Speaking alongside Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, Blinken affirmed, “There is a need for countries to take action to repatriate foreign fighters.”
He cited Italy, as well as some Central Asian and Balkan countries, as having done so, and he affirmed, “The strong message coming out of today’s meeting was the need for countries to do more.”
Indeed, before the D-ISIS meeting, Acting US Special Envoy for the Global Coalition, John Godfrey, visited Erbil for meetings with senior officials in the Kurdistan Regional Government, before proceeding on to northeast Syria.
In Syria, he visited al-Hol camp, as well as a detention facility for ISIS fighters in Hasakah. “In all of those discussions,” a State Department Spokesperson explained, “he underscored the United States’ continued commitment to ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, including through support for ongoing stabilization efforts in areas liberated from ISIS.”
Increasing ISIS threat in Africa
There is a growing threat of Islamic extremism in Africa, which is of particular concern to Europe, because of its proximity to that continent.
Three African countries—the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mauritania—have joined the D-ISIS Coalition since its last ministerial meeting, the State Department explained.
For the past eight years, France has taken the lead in fighting Islamic extremist groups, including ISIS, in West Africa. However, earlier this month, following a military coup in Mali, the second in nine months, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a transition away from that military operation, in which over 5,000 French troops had been involved. The French military presence will become more limited, encompassing only several hundred Special Forces as part of a broader European task force.
The conference of the D-ISIS Coalition “noted with grave concern that Daesh/ISIS affiliates” in “the Sahel Region and in East Africa” now pose a significant threat.
It affirmed its commitment “to working with affected countries to address the threats posed by Daesh/ISIS in Africa to ensure the global defeat of the organization.”
However, the communique provided few details, and, presumably, they remain to be worked out.
Editing by John J. Catherine