June 20, 2019

The Global Coalition announces the military defeat of the Islamic State

By Guido Lanfranchi.

After a long campaign, the Global Coalition against ISIS declared that the Islamic State has been militarily defeated. Yet, the organization will continue to pose a threat in the Middle East and beyond, and efforts to counter their narrative and actions are still very much needed – the Coalition warned.

At the end of March 2019, the years-long campaign to deprive the Islamic State of its hold on territory in the area across the Syrian-Iraqi border finally came to an end. The campaign has been jointly managed by a coalition of 74 countries and 5 international organization, named the Global Coalition against ISIS, in cooperation with the Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which have been operating on the ground on the two sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border. Since the beginning of the operations in 2014, over 111.000 square kilometres of territory have been freed from the Islamic State’s control, thus taking 7.7 million people out of the group’s control – official data provided by the Coalition show.

In the wake of the liberation of Baghouz by the SDF, British Major General Christopher Ghika, Deputy Commander of Strategy and Information for the Coalition, exposed the Coalition’s view to the press. While welcoming the military defeat of the Islamic State and its deprivation of controlled territory, Maj. Gen. Ghika warned that “this is not the end of them [the Islamic State], nor of the military campaign against them”. As it has been denied territorial control, the Islamic State is now set to turn into an underground movement – he noted, warning that such development would still pose a major threat to countries in the region and beyond, as the group is expected to still rely on around one thousand active fighters. 

As a result – Maj. Gen. Ghika announced – the Coalition will not stop its efforts. First of all, the countries active in the Coalition will continue to support, not least through direct military training, both the Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces, in order to ensure that local forces will be able to fight any threat that might emanate from the Islamic State’s cells in the two countries. To this end, the Coalition will keep a certain number of troops on the ground – Maj. Gen. Ghika noted, although declining to specify any figure in this regard.

The continued engagement of the Coalition will be broader than its military training – Maj- Gen. Ghika stressed. He underlined the importance of countering the narrative of the Islamic State, with a view on winning the hearts and minds of the group’s silent supporters. In addition to that, he noted that work will be needed to disrupt the international network supporting the group, as well as to ensure that displaced people will be able to return to their homes. 

Moreover, much work will need to be done to ensure that those who have committed crimes will be held accountable. Currently, a large number of fighters and civilians associated with the Islamic State is being held in Syria. As among these fighters there are several foreign nationals, it will be important to reach an international consensus on how to deal with the cases of these people – Maj. Gen. Ghika said, stressing however that the decision to readmit or not foreign fighters in their countries of origin will depend on the will of sovereign national governments.

In the wake of the military defeat of the Islamic State, many challenges still lie ahead, and the Global Coalition against ISIS will have to face the hard task of trying to tackle them.

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