While the US is working on its military withdrawal from Afghanistan, members of the global coalition fighting the group “Islamic State” met on Monday to plan future steps against the extremist group.
The meeting took place just one day after the US air strike against Iran-backed militias near the Iraqi-Syrian border
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio jointly chaired the meeting of high-ranking officials from the seven-year-old, 83-member bloc. Participants took stock of current efforts to completely defeat ISIS, the remains of which remain a threat in Iraq and Syria and show signs of recovery in parts of Africa.
Alongside significant other international priorities, including taming the coronavirus pandemic and stepping up the fight against climate change, the coalition hopes to stabilize IS-liberated areas, hold foreign fighters accountable for their actions, and fight extremist embassies.
Blinken and Di Maio urged representatives of the 77 other countries and five organizations that make up the coalition not to be on guard.
“We need to step up the coalition’s action and enlarge the areas in which we can act,” said Di Maio.
Outside Iraq and Syria there has been an “alarming” increase in IS activity, particularly in the Sahel, Mozambique and the Horn of Africa. He called on the coalition to create a special mechanism to deal with the threat in Africa.
Blinken noted that despite their defeat, IS elements in Iraq and Syria “are still seeking large-scale attacks”.
“Together we must remain as committed to our stabilization goals as we are to our military campaign that led to victory on the battlefield,” he said.
Blinken announced a new US $ 436 million contribution to aid displaced people in Syria and surrounding countries and called for new repatriation efforts – and rehabilitation or prosecution – of approximately 10,000 IS fighters who continue are detained by the Syrian armed forces.
“This situation is simply untenable,” said Blinken. “It just can’t last indefinitely.” However, none of the countries present made a new commitment to repatriate their citizens and it was unclear whether the number of detainees could be significantly reduced in the near future.
Blinken also announced sanctions against Ousmane Illiassou Djibo, a Niger native who is a key leader of the IS offshoot in the greater Sahara region. Djibo has been labeled a global terrorist, which means that his US is frozen and Americans are banned from any transactions with him.
In addition to the IS meeting, foreign ministers from countries concerned about the wider conflict in Syria met in Rome before a critical UN vote on maintaining a humanitarian aid corridor from Turkey. Russia has refused to re-authorize the canal despite stalled peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel groups.
Two senior US officials said Blinken told the Syria conference that the US believes the corridor needs to be re-approved and widened to prevent further deaths. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity for not having the authority to publicly discuss the private diplomatic talks, said Blinken had made it clear that any US-Russian cooperation in Syria would depend on Moscow agreeing to the extension. However, Russia was not present at the meeting.
Last week, the UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pederson, said there were worrying signs that the Islamic State could become stronger in the country and called for cooperation to be stepped up to counter this. Pederson also joined calls for new international talks to end the Syrian civil war.
Since the outbreak of the conflict in Syria in March 2011, numerous high-level gatherings aimed at ending the fighting and leading the country towards political transition have failed. The United Nations, the United States, Russia, and many other countries support a 2015 Security Council resolution advocating a roadmap for peace in Syria that calls for a new constitution, followed by United Nations-monitored elections.
Blinken, who also met with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and President Sergio Mattarella on Monday, welcomed the state of American-European relations, noting that Italy, France and Germany – the three countries he was visiting on his current European tour – the only members are NATO, the Group of Seven and the European Union.
“We share a deep commitment to promoting democracy and human rights,” he said. “We see the same major challenges on the horizon. And we know that we cannot tackle it alone. “
Blinken and Di Maio downplayed the differences between the US and Italy on China, saying there is increasing awareness of the complexities and dangers of dealing with Beijing.