Instability in critical regions along with Russia exerting its influence have been complicating the fight against terrorism while ISIS continues to exploit grievances to further the group’s goals, Acting Director of the Office of the Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Dexter Ingram said during a Homeland Security Today webinar Tuesday.
In regions where ISIS has experienced growth such as Africa “there are true believers but there are folks that need employment, that need life purpose, having access to what is right, having a real imam explain what Islam is about, having someone guide you in the right direction,” he said, noting that civil unrest, financial hardship, and grievances are among the “complicated issues” that could make terrorist groups more attractive to some or create more fertile ground for extremist growth. “When you don’t have wheat, you’re not going to want to support the local government. If they don’t support the local government, then we have instability.”
Among those complications, Ingram said, are political will and economic interests playing a different role in each of these countries and Russian non-state actors moving into Africa.
“I get concerned when groups like Russia influence partners that we want to work with,” Ingram said, noting as an example former Soviet bloc countries. “That’s really unfortunate because these counterterrorism issues affect Russia as well.”
The United States announced the formation of the coalition on Sept. 10, 2014, shortly after the Islamic State declared their caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria. The five lines of effort underpinning the coalition have been providing military support to partners, impeding the flow of foreign fighters, stopping financing and funding, addressing humanitarian crises in the region, and exposing the true nature of ISIS. The coalition is currently 85 members strong.
In May, the coalition convened for the first time in Africa in Marrakesh, Morocco, where ministers “stressed the importance of addressing underlying causes to insecurity in Africa, while reiterating that any lasting solution to halting the spread of Daesh/ISIS on the continent will rely primarily on national authorities, as well as sub-regional and regional efforts and initiatives that acknowledge and address the political and economic drivers of conflict,” as they said in a joint communique after the meeting, which noted that their No. 1 priority is “ensuring the enduring defeat of Daesh/ISIS in Iraq and Syria” along with addressing “the common view that ISIS-Khorasan is a growing threat to the South and Central Asian region.”
“The Ministers emphasized the need to address the global Daesh/ISIS threat through holistic and comprehensive coordination of efforts, which are a hallmark of the Defeat Daesh/ISIS Coalition. Such efforts include the initiatives forwarded by the Defeat Daesh/ISIS Coalition Working Groups, including Communications, Counter ISIS Finance, Foreign Terrorist Fighters, and Stabilization,” the communique continued. “The Ministers also recognized the importance of finding sustainable solutions to the root causes of terrorism and violent extremism conducive to terrorism and underlined the importance of ensuring the meaningful inclusion and participation of women, youth and other marginalized populations in these efforts – noting the important role of civil society, including women’s organizations and youth-led organizations in preventing and combating terrorism and violent extremism conducive to terrorism.”
Ingram said that the coalition “has great convening power but that doesn’t mean the coalition can do it all,” and must work with countries that aren’t part of the coalition for myriad reasons, such as internal political reasons or fear that joining could make them a target for attack. That cooperation is critical in tracking the movement of terrorists across borders.
“We want to keep communicating what we know to partners,” he said.
That includes ensuring law enforcement agencies are up to speed with access to some of these systems to help identify terrorists. Ingram said that information sharing is improving not only in the United States but across international borders.
A key challenge is the borderless terror training and incitement that occur online, inspiring lone wolves anywhere in the world to commit attacks in a process that’s “almost impossible to stop.”
It’s this evolution of ISIS that underscores the need for cooperation among the coalition partners.
“Whenever you have 85 organizations and countries not everybody is going to agree on the same thing,” Ingram noted. “Turkey has a different idea on what’s happening in Syria than we do.”
To stay focused on the coalition’s goals, Ingram stressed the need to “make sure that everybody is seeing and hearing the same picture.”
“It takes all 85 partners across the board,” he said.