Anti-extremist coalition looks to future role after Daesh defeat

The German air force has 4 Tornado reconnaissance aircraft and an Airbus A-310 aerial refueling tanker aircraft operating out of the base as part of the “Counter Daesh operation.” (AFP)
Updated 14 January 2018

Anti-extremist coalition looks to future role after Daesh defeat

WASHINGTON: With Daesh all but vanquished from its self-proclaimed “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, the US-led coalition that has been fighting the extremists for more than three years is transforming its mission.
Eager to avoid a repeat of 2011, when America completed its troop withdrawal from Iraq only to watch in horror as Daesh later overran swathes of the country, the coalition is focusing on what it must do to stop a extremist re-emergence.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently told reporters the mission now is shifting toward stabilization and making sure an “ISIS 2.0” can’t pop up, using an alternate acronym to refer to the extremist group.
Already, the Pentagon has said it will stay in Syria “as long as we need to.”
“The longer term recovery is going to take a lot of effort and a lot of years after what (Daesh) did, because they forcibly kept innocent people in the midst of the combat zone, and that meant the residential areas took damage, the public areas — everything took damage,” he said, adding that a most pressing need is to clear cities and terrain of innumerable bombs, mines and booby traps.
America hastily convened a coalition in 2014 after Daesh swept across vast tracts of Iraqi and Syrian territory, terrorizing residents and leaving a trail of murder and atrocity in their wake.
The US military began bombing them that summer with the immediate goal of stopping Daesh from reaching Baghdad after they’d seized a string of major cities including Mosul and Tikrit.
Today, the coalition boasts 70 nations as well as international organizations like NATO and Interpol.
Though some alliance members are there in name only, bigger countries like Britain, France, Canada and Australia are helping in the skies and on the ground.
A State Department official said some coalition members can play an increased role now that the main campaign is over, including by countering Daesh propaganda, sending in police trainers and providing funding.
Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said that ideally, “you are going to have different partners taking on many different aspects of the stabilizing mission, the part that they do well.”
With Daesh now cleared from 98 percent of the terrain they once held, nations like France and Australia have begun pulling some military assets — including planes and artillery — from Iraq and Syria, and the Pentagon has said the tapering off of bombing missions means it has more resources to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan.
But the coalition is keeping an indefinite presence to help Iraqis get the support and training they need, and to protect a Kurdish-Arab alliance who fought against Daesh in Syria.
“If we were to repeat the mistakes that we made when the Iraq War came to a close then we are very much likely to see a repeat of the tragedies that followed,” warned Steve Warren, a retired Army colonel who was top spokesman for the coalition between 2015 and 2016.
“They need to morph into a stabilization force, there’s no question.”
America has about 2,000 troops in Syria and more than 5,000 in Iraq, augmented in both countries by coalition members who have provided commandos and military trainers.
But where Iraq now has a cohesive military and some degree of political stability, Syria is mired in civil war and President Bashar Assad is working with Russia and Iranian militias to maintain control of areas once in the hands of rebels or Daesh.
That means the US must keep boots on the ground in Syria to protect fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces who it backed to fight Daesh.
“Unless we want to cede eastern Syria to the Iranians, (the coalition) needs to be there,” Warren told AFP.
“Not necessarily the US — it’s other partners who have skin in this game, which includes every country in Europe,” he added, referring to the refugee crisis that has gripped the continent in part because of Syria.
Additionally, extremist groups the world over are rebranding themselves under the Daesh banner, meaning the anti-Daesh coalition will have a role beyond the Middle East, including in African nations.
Last year, four new African nations signed up to the coalition: Djibouti, Niger, Cameroon and Chad.
“Pre-existing terrorist organizations like in the Philippines, like in Bangladesh, like in the Sinai and Afghanistan, they have basically rebranded themselves and started flying the ISIS flag in order to gain attraction and resources,” the State Department official told AFP.
US military officials stress the fight against Daesh is not over, and warn of the extremists in Iraq and Syria returning to a more traditional insurgency.
“Their repressive ideology continues. The conditions remain present for Daesh to return, and only through coalition and international efforts can the defeat become permanent,” coalition commander Lt. Gen. Paul Funk said, using an Arabic acronym for the group.

Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2018

Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

  • “Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said
  • The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday

JEDDAH: Truce monitoring observers will be deployed in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday as the first 24 hours of a UN-brokered cease-fire passed without incident.

The Redeployment Coordination Committee comprises members of the Yemeni government supported by the Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi militias backed by Iran, and is overseen by the UN. 

The head of the committee will report to the UN Security Council every week.

Deployment of the observers is the latest stage in a peace deal reached after talks last week in Sweden. Both sides in the conflict agreed to a cease-fire in Hodeidah and the withdrawal of their forces within 21 days.

“Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said on Tuesday.

Local authorities and police will run the city and its three port facilities under UN supervision, and the two sides are barred from bringing in reinforcements.

UN envoy Martin Griffith said the committee was expected to start its work swiftly “to translate the momentum built up in Sweden into achievements on the ground.”

The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday. Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. 

“We are hopeful that things will go back to the way they were and that there will be no aggression, no airstrikes and lasting security,” said one, Amani Mohammed.

Another resident, Mohammed Al-Saikel, said he was optimistic the cease-fire would pave the way for a broader truce. “We are hopeful about this cease-fire in Hodeidah and one for Yemen in general,” he said. “We will reach out in peace to whoever does the same.”

The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution that asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to submit proposals by the end of the month on how to monitor the cease-fire.

The resolution, submitted by the UK, “calls on all parties to the conflict to take further steps to facilitate the unhindered flow of commercial and humanitarian supplies including food, fuel, medicine and other essential imports and humanitarian personnel into and across the country.”