The International Coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS), a group made up of more than 80 countries and created to defeat the terrorist organization in the regions of Syria and Iraq, met this Monday in Rome after almost two years of not doing so (the last was to have been in March 2020). The situation in the world had changed enormously since the last time: the Islamic State in that area is practically defeated and the pandemic has frozen the movements of terrorists and troops. There was much to discuss, starting with the current usefulness of the coalition once the terrorist organization in the region for which it was created was almost defeated. The main decision was to shift the focus and pressure from intelligence to Africa, where tensions are rising right now.
The meeting, chaired by the Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, and the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, welcomed about twenty ministers of the sector and received new members such as the Central African Republic, Congo, Mauritania and Yemen , which will be added to the 79 states. More than 40 foreign officials, in addition to the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, and the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, participated in the meeting in which the change of objectives was proposed.
A group of European countries, led by Italy, proposed that the coalition use all the accumulated experience in Syria and Iraq to face the threat in African regions such as the Sahel. A movement that will involve the immediate creation of a working group and that Spain strongly supports, as confirmed by the Foreign Minister, Arancha González Laya, to this newspaper after her intervention at the meeting. “Today the capacity of the Islamic State in Syria or Iraq is ‘residual’. The efforts have worked and it is time to reconquer the population, de-radicalize. But we see how terrorism is moving from north to south and from east to west. We want to apply all of this to areas of great relevance to Spain such as the Sahel ”, he pointed out after the meeting with his counterparts.
The key was whether the US, whose interests are to a greater extent in the Middle East, would support the measure. Blinken, who had met with Pope Francis in the morning, was quick to confirm it. “We strongly support Italy’s initiative to ensure that the coalition focuses its experience on Africa, while continuing to keep its eyes wide open on Syria and Iraq,” said the Secretary of State in a tone of cordiality with the rest of the countries that has been unusual over the years. of the Trump Administration.
The vision of Blinken and the Biden government, however, is not to neglect the areas of Syria and Iraq, as he himself insisted again during the press conference after the meeting. The global fight against the Islamic State has made it possible to achieve “significant results”, which show what can be achieved “together”, but there are still some 10,000 of its foreign fighters in Syria, which represents “an unsustainable situation”, the secretary warned. of State.
The US concern is reflected in the bombing carried out this Sunday against militia positions “supported by Iran”, as he himself pointed out at the press conference, in border areas between Syria and Iraq. “With the actions taken yesterday we have shown that the president (Joe Biden) is willing to act if necessary to protect the interests of the United States, to protect ours,” he argued, while stressing that “these self-defense actions, to prevent attacks, they are a clear message ”that trusts that it has been“ understood by those to whom it is directed ”.
Italy and Spain, aware of the interests and agenda of the US, have a special interest in this change in the coalition’s roadmap (both countries share other appointments on the international agenda and Di Maio and González Laya will visit Israel and Palestine coming soon). Beyond security issues, the impact of Islamic terrorism in regions such as the Sahel, but also in the eastern zone, reaching the north of Mozambique, also materializes in the migratory flows that both countries have received in recent times. “What happens in those territories is crucial. They are the neighbors of our neighbors ”, points out González Laya. “At the moment we are not talking about military personnel, but about sharing intelligence information and above all, about applying some of the things learned on issues such as terrorist financing,” he insisted.
The agenda had not stopped, but the pandemic stopped the movements of the troops and also of the terrorists. Something that can be a certain mirage, warns the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs. “It has been positive and negative in that sense. The decrease in intensity is due to what we have experienced this year and a half. But do not be under any illusions. In areas like Mozambique, Cabo Delgado, the situation has worsened ”.