Blinken warns war against ISIS is not over

Global coalition must stay committed to defeat of terrorist group, US Secretary of State says in Riyadh

U. S.  Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks as he meets with GCC Foreign Ministers at the GCC Secretariat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, June 7, 2023.  (Ahmed Yosri / Pool via AP)
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the war against ISIS is not over, during his visit to Saudi Arabia.

“Extremists are attempting to seize opportunities to launch attacks again,” Mr Blinken said in Riyadh on Thursday, following a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

“We must stay committed to our goals to ensuring stability in countries targeted by ISIS.”

Regional and world leaders gathered on Thursday in the kingdom to discuss ways to confront ISIS activities across the world.

Mr Blinken is set to have separate meetings on Thursday with Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council President Rashad Al Alimi and Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen.

Mr Blinken is on a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he has already met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and senior officials such as Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan.

He said the safe return of foreign ISIS fighters stranded in Iraq and Syria to their homelands must be ensured.

“This is a priority to reduce numbers in displacement camps across the region,” he said on the final day of the visit to the kingdom.

Mr Blinken warned that ISIS fighters and their families staying in displacement camps across the region could lead to the group's resurgence.

He called on the dismantling of Al Hol refugee camp, one of the biggest in Syria. The site holds more than 50,000 people.

Mr Blinken said Washington was committed “to defeating ISIS and getting rid of the scourge of terrorism”.

He called on the international community to shore up efforts to combat terrorism in Afghanistan and Africa.

“We are monitoring the emergence of ISIS's attempts to restart its activities in Afghanistan,” he said.

Mr Blinken also announced sanctions against two ISIS GDP leaders who were designated as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists”

Prince Faisal said Riyadh was calling for the need to “dry up” ISIS funding.

“We must work to prevent ISIS from exploiting any opportunity to return,” he said.

“This can be done by establishing a number of centres to combat terrorism and extremist ideology.”

The kingdom will “make every effort to support the international coalition against ISIS” and “co-ordinated efforts to root out terrorism will continue”, Prince Faisal said.

He called on world leaders to work together “to prevent ISIS from exploiting any opportunity to return”.

The UK's Minister of State for the Middle East, Tariq Ahmad, participated in the meeting and outlined London's support to counter the terrorist threat of ISIS.

This includes an £88 million ($110 million) contribution towards continuing efforts for counterterrorism, stabilisation and socioeconomic development in north-east Syria and Iraq in the next five years.

“Though territorially defeated, ISIS is a threat that continues to destroy lives – not only in liberated areas of Iraq and Syria, but also in Afghanistan and parts of Africa where its affiliates are active,” Mr Ahmad said.

The Jordanian Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, said Amman would remain an active partner in the coalition. He reaffirmed Jordan's commitment to fighting terrorism and extremism in the region.

Aymenn Al Timimi, an expert on terrorism and fellow at the Middle East Forum, told The National ISIS is no longer a significant threat in the region.

“In Iraq, for example, the group’s operations are essentially at an all-time low because the pressure has been effectively kept on them,” he said. “In parts of Syria the group is more active – in the central desert regions – but it is still low-intensity.”

However, the militants' expansion in sub-Saharan Africa is a bigger concern, he said.

“The group is either exercising some territorial control – Sahel region and parts of Lake Chad area – or simply growing in lethality as an insurgent force – eastern areas of Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Mr Al Timimi said the global coalition would most likely work through local forces to combat ISIS insurgencies where viable, rather than posting large numbers of foreign troops to parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

The US has led the global coalition against ISIS since the terrorist group seized control of large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

On Thursday, the GCC said it was committed to “confronting [ISIS] on various fronts”.

After the ministers' meeting, GCC Secretary General Jassem Al Budaiwi said he would help to “dismantle networks and confronting global ambitions, in a way that contributes to creating a collective understanding among the members of the International Coalition”.

Updated: June 08, 2023, 2:57 PM