Global Coalition unyielding against ISIS expansion in Africa – US Envoy

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The Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS has agreed to enhance African member states’ counter-ISIS capabilities as it commits to defeat ISIS affiliates in Africa.

Global Coalition representatives met in Italy this week and updated partners on collective efforts to counter ISIS in northeast Syria, Iraq, sub-Saharan Africa, and Central Asia.

Ian McCary, US Deputy Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, shed light on key strategies and concerns that underscore the Coalition’s renewed focus. “Our coalition reflects a counterterrorism context that increasingly demands civilian-led solutions and the development of lines of effort outside of Syria. Our coalition is regionalising its efforts to move [to] effectively counter Daesh affiliates active in Africa and in the Central Asia region,” he said.

He underscored the coalition’s strategic shift from the exclusive focus on Syria and Iraq to a broader scope that includes countering Daesh affiliates in Africa emphasizing increased engagement which took place at the meeting with Sub-Saharan African states, with delegations from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, and Senegal, and Togo actively participating in the discussions. Italy played a prominent role in the coalition, hosting the meeting and serving as the co-chair of both the Africa Focus Group and the Counter-ISIS Finance Group. A co-chair statement was released, indicating the success of the meeting and collaborative efforts to combat the terrorist threat.

McCary detailed for defenceWeb the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS’ commitment to tackling the threat from Africa, systematically. The successful meeting in Cotonou, Benin, held on 15 November, was cited as an example of this approach. He said plans for follow-on meetings in various regions demonstrate a nuanced response to the dispersed geographical challenge.

Expressing regret over recent developments in Niger, McCary highlighted the removal of President Bazoum and the consequential impact on counterterrorism efforts. Urgent diplomatic efforts are underway to restore political stability and resume effective counterterrorism cooperation.

McCary told defenceWeb that he acknowledges Nigeria’s pivotal role as the chair of ECOWAS and stressed the significance of Nigeria’s contribution to regional security. He expressed confidence in continued counterterrorism cooperation with Nigeria, emphasizing its importance in the broader strategy.

Türkiye, co-chairing the coalition’s Foreign Terrorist Fighter Working Group, hosted a productive meeting in October. The focus was on disrupting terrorist movements in Africa, displaying the coalition’s commitment to addressing the global threat posed by ISIS. He said, “We have a dialogue with Türkiye, about other theatres in which we’re confronting Daesh, including in Africa. Türkiye also has a great deal of interest in what’s happening there, in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Regarding international will against distraction, despite global challenges, McCary highlighted a strong international will to remain focused on defeating ISIS. The coalition remains steadfast in refining tactics and deploying necessary tools to ensure Daesh cannot threaten international security in the future. “We’re determined that we’re going to remain steadfast in our operations to defeat Daesh,” said McCary.

A highly regarded ISIS expert of consequence, in Washington, DC, spoke to defenceWeb on Tuesday afternoon and highlighted key factors in the evolution of ISIS: Initially, increased pressure on ISIS in the Levant, particularly in Syria and Iraq, was a factor leading to the group’s expansion in Africa. This pushed the group to exploit weak governance, financial networks, and foreign fighter influence in vulnerable regions. The US faces the challenge of not only countering ISIS but also Chinese, Russian, and Turkish activities and influence in Sub-Saharan Africa, was discussed. The need for an agile foreign policy was stressed, focusing on addressing fragility collaboratively, and countering terrorism collectively.

Key takeaways underscored by the ISIS expert are issues of chronic fragility, coupled with governance challenges, which provided fertile ground for ISIS to flourish in different countries in East Africa, West Africa (Sahel), Central Africa, and southern Africa, explained the ISIS expert.

The national security threat to the US is tied to interconnectedness, with investments in addressing fragility abroad seen as preventive measures against potential domestic threats, particularly in terms of US immigration and its border security.

“It came up during FBI Director Christopher Wray’s testimony today in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s that the threat to the United States from terrorists that are coming from overseas is still real,” the ISIS expert said.

Agility is identified as a crucial foreign policy attribute, emphasizing the need for collaborative efforts, involving entities like the State Department, USAID, DOD, Treasury, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, to address fragility.

Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on U.S. foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe