The territorial defeat of ISIS’s so-called caliphate in 2019 was a major victory. In the years since, some eight million people have returned to their homes and basic services have been restored. But the threat from ISIS remains, as the Foreign Ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS/Small Group acknowledged in a joint communique after their recent virtual meeting.
The ministers noted increased ISIS activities in Iraq and Syria; the danger posed by ISIS affiliates across West Africa and the Sahel, as well as the emerging threat in East Africa. They also noted the challenge of ISIS foreign fighters who are in custody in Iraq and Syria.
At a press conference prior to the meeting, U.S. Acting Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS John Godfrey declared that the detention centers housing these ISIS foreign fighters “are a growing issue.”
The Syrian Democratic Forces continue to secure about 10,000 ISIS fighters, including roughly 2,000 Iraqis and 2,000 foreign terrorist fighters, in makeshift detention facilities. “As these detainees await repatriation and prosecution in their home countries,” he said, “our local partners need support to help ensure humane and secure detention conditions.”
Separate from the detention facilities for ISIS foreign terrorist fighters, there are concerns pertaining to the humanitarian camps for displaced persons, including the family members of ISIS foreign fighters. Al-Hol is the largest of these humanitarian camps.
Acting Special Envoy Godfrey pointed to the recent killings of Al-Hol residents. “They reflect a persistent threat from ISIS and its criminal affiliates to innocent civilians in Al-Hol,” he said.
In response to the challenges at Al-Hol, between March 28 and April 2, the Syrian Democratic Forces initiated an operation to degrade and disrupt ISIS activities inside the humanitarian camp and to improve security for civilians.
Acting Special Envoy Godfrey called the situation “an international problem that requires an international solution.” He said, “We urge the international community to consider how they might support both humanitarian agencies which are providing to those populations now, as well as consider the repatriation of their own citizens to relieve the burden on our local partners.”
International cooperation was emphasized throughout the Coalition to Defeat ISIS’ ministerial meeting. In its joint communique, the Coalition “reaffirmed its belief that a comprehensive and collective effort remains necessary to achieve a full and enduring defeat of Daesh/ISIS worldwide.”