ROME (AP) – As the United States prepares for its military withdrawal from Afghanistan, members of the global coalition fighting the Islamic State group gathered on Monday to plan next steps against the extremist group.
The meeting took place just a day after the United States launched airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias near the Iraqi-Syrian border
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio co-chaired the gathering of senior officials from the seven-year bloc and 83 members. Participants took stock of ongoing efforts to ensure the complete defeat of ISIS, whose remnants still pose a threat in Iraq and Syria and have shown signs of resurgence in parts of Africa.
Amid other important international priorities, including containing the coronavirus pandemic and stepping up the fight against climate change, the coalition hopes to stabilize areas freed from ISIS, repatriate and hold foreign fighters accountable for their actions. actions and fight against extremist messages.
Blinken and Di Maio urged representatives of the other 77 countries and the five organizations that make up the coalition not to let their guard down.
“We need to step up the action led by the coalition, increasing the areas in which we can operate,” said Di Maio.
Outside of Iraq and Syria, he said there was an “alarming” increase in ISIS 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 “still aspire to carry out large-scale attacks.”
“Together, we must remain as committed to our stabilization goals as we did to our military campaign which resulted in victory on the battlefield,” he said.
Blinken announced a new US contribution of $ 436 million to help displaced people in Syria and neighboring countries and called for a new effort to repatriate – and rehabilitate or prosecute – some 10,000 IS fighters who remain in jail by the Syrian Defense Forces.
“This situation is simply untenable,” said Blinken. “It just can’t go on forever. However, no country present has made a commitment to repatriate its citizens and it is uncertain whether the number of detainees can be significantly reduced in the short term.
Blinken also announced sanctions against Ousmane Illiassou Djibo, originally from Niger, who is a key leader of the Islamic State branch in the greater Sahara. Djibo has been designated a global terrorist, which means that all of his United States is frozen and Americans are barred from any dealings with him.
In addition to the ISIS meeting, foreign ministers from countries concerned about the wider conflict in Syria gathered in Rome ahead of critical UN vote on whether to maintain humanitarian aid corridor from Turkey. Russia has resisted re-authorization of the channel amid stalled peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel groups.
Two senior US officials said Blinken told the conference on Syria that the US believes the corridor should be re-authorized and extended to prevent more deaths. The officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private diplomatic conversations publicly, said Blinken had made it clear that any US-Russian cooperation on Syria would depend on Moscow’s acceptance of the extension. Russia, however, was not present at the meeting.
Last week, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pederson said there were worrying signs that Islamic State could gain strength in the country and called for increased cooperation to counter it. Pederson also joined calls for new international talks on ending the civil war in Syria.
Since the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011, many high-level rallies aimed at ending the fighting and guiding the country towards a political transition have failed. The UN, the United States, Russia and many other countries back a 2015 Security Council resolution endorsing a roadmap for peace in Syria that calls for a new constitution followed by UN-supervised elections .
Blinken, who also met Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and President Sergio Mattarella on Monday, praised the state of US-European relations, noting that Italy, France and Germany – the three countries he has visited on his current European tour – are the only members of NATO, the Group of Seven and the European Union.
“We share a deep commitment to promote democracy and human rights,” he said. “We see the same big challenges on the horizon. And we recognize that we cannot face it alone.
Blinken and Di Maio played down the differences between the United States and Italy over China, saying there was a growing awareness of the complexities and dangers of dealing with Beijing.