Monday July 22, 2019
Home Lead Story U.S.-Backed S...

U.S.-Backed Syrian Democratic Forces Celebrate The Death Of Self-Declared “Caliphate”

“The threat remains,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter. “The fight against terrorist groups must continue.”

0
//
Syria
Smoke rises from a strike on Baghuz, the last of the Islamic State group's holdouts in Syria, March 22, 2019. VOA

For consecutive nights, bombs rained down on the last scraps of Islamic State-held territory, lighting up the night sky over the northeastern Syrian town of Baghuz.

By Saturday morning, all that remained was a landscape littered with burned-out vehicles, abandoned campsites and other provisions the last of the terror group’s fighters and their families left behind.

On one of the few buildings that still stood, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces raised their flag and celebrated the death of a self-declared caliphate that inflicted terror and death on the people it tried to rule.

“After five years of fighting, we stand here to declare the physical defeat of ISIS and the end of its public challenge over all humanity,” SDF Director General Mazloum Kobani told officials and coalition partners at a ceremony to mark the long-awaited victory, using an acronym for the group.

FILE - Mazloum Kobani, commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), speaks during an interview in the countryside outside the northwestern Syrian city of Hasakah, in a province of the same name, Jan. 24, 2019.
Mazloum Kobani, commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), speaks during an interview in the countryside outside the northwestern Syrian city of Hasakah, in a province of the same name, Jan. 24, 2019.. VOA

“We announce today the destruction of the so-called Islamic State organization and the end of its ground control in its last pocket in Baghuz region,” he said.

Yet in between the applause and the music of a marching band, SDF commanders and coalition officials paid tribute to the SDF forces, which paid for the victory in blood and treasure — an estimated 11,000 killed in the campaign to roll back IS, which at its height controlled nearly a third of Syria and almost as much of Iraq.

And even until the end, sometime Friday night into Saturday morning, IS put up a vicious defense, using suicide bombers and even children as human shields in an attempt to cling to one last scrap of land over which they could fly their black flag.

The fate of the last of the IS fighters, perhaps several hundred of the terror group’s most hardened and devoted followers, was not clear Saturday.

Observers on the ground said some appeared to have surrendered following the airstrikes that began Thursday night, targeting IS positions next to the Euphrates River and another sliver where IS fighters were backed up against a cliff overlooking the town.

By early Saturday, the airstrikes seemed to focus solely on the area by the cliff, where SDF and coalition officials said the IS fighters might have access to an extensive system of tunnels that helped to hide tens of thousands of people, the last of whom surrendered earlier in the week.

The first indications the fight against IS in Baghuz had ended came early Saturday, said SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali, using Twitter to announce the “total elimination of so-called caliphate.”

Only about 12 hours earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump made a similar declaration, telling reporters traveling with him aboard Air Force One that IS had been “100 percent defeated.”

But Trump’s announcement was quickly rejected by U.S. defense officials and the SDF, who said fighting had not yet ended and more airstrikes were being called in.

On Saturday, Trump again hailed the victory over the terror group in Baghuz.

“ISIS’s loss of territory is further evidence of its false narrative, which tries to legitimize a record of savagery that includes brutal executions, the exploitation of children as soldiers, and the sexual abuse and murder of women and children,” he said in a statement.

“While on occasion these cowards will resurface, they have lost all prestige and power,” he added. “They are losers and will always be losers.”

On Saturday, the SDF’s Kobani was careful to note that while IS’s caliphate had finally been brought down, the danger was far from over, with numerous IS “sleeper cells, which continue to present a great danger in our region and the wider world.”

Top U.S. defense and intelligence officials repeatedly have warned that the terror group had long been planning for the demise of its caliphate, and that a clandestine insurgency already had taken root.

“While this is a critical milestone in the fight against ISIS, we understand our work is far from complete,” acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said in a statement. “We will continue our work with the Global Coalition to deny ISIS safe haven anywhere in the world.”

One senior defense official warned IS still has, at minimum, “tens of thousands” of fighters and supporters across Syria and Iraq, and that much of the group’s senior leadership, including self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains at large.

FILE - Men suspected of being Islamic State fighters wait to be searched by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Baghuz, Syria, Feb. 27, 2019.
Men suspected of being Islamic State fighters wait to be searched by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Baghuz, Syria, Feb. 27, 2019. VOA

There also are concerns that IS has thousands more supporters and sympathizers — including upward of 60,000 people who have surrendered since the SDF and coalition launched their final assault last month.

So, too, there are concerns about more than 1,000 foreign fighters being held by the SDF, which has asked repeatedly that they be taken back and prosecuted by their home countries.

“These folks are unrepentant,” the official said. “The seeds for a future caliphate or certainly a persistent clandestine insurgency exist in these large numbers of people who … are looking to reposition for future perpetuation of ISIS in some form or fashion.”

Speaking Saturday at the victory ceremony near Baghuz, the U.S. adviser to the coalition pledged Washington would not abandon the SDF or its other partners, even though Trump has said most of the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria will be leaving.

“We will continue to support the coalition’s operations in Syria to ensure this enduring defeat,” William Robak said. “We will do what is necessary in the region, including here in Syria and across the globe, to ensure the defeat of this threat.”

France and Britain also reaffirmed their commitment, though disagreements with the U.S. over the next steps remain.

Also Read: Netflix Testing New Mobile-only Subscription Plan For India

“The threat remains,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter. “The fight against terrorist groups must continue.”

“We will continue to do what is necessary to protect the British people, our allies and partners from the threat Daesh poses,” said Prime Minister Theresa May, using an alternate acronym for IS. (VOA)

 

Next Story

Nigeria, Cameroon Vow to Tackle Terrorism

The Cameroon-Nigeria Transborder Security Committee has as prime objective strengthening border security for both countries. It was created in 2012 in Nigeria

0
terrorism
Cameroon and Nigeria agreed on Friday to take further measures to boost multifaceted cooperation in the fight against terrorism along their shared border. Wikimedia Commons

Nigeria has promised to assist Cameroon in combating the separatist crisis rocking the central African country’s English speaking region. The pledge, made during a security meeting, has been described by Cameroon authorities as reassuring, following accusations that separatist fighters in Cameroon were being trained in Nigeria, and that weapons they use are brought in through the neighboring country.

Brigadier General Emmanuel Adamu Ndagi, leader of the Nigerian delegation to the Cameroon-Nigeria transborder security meeting that ended in Yaounde Saturday, says his country has been seriously affected by the separatist crisis in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon.

The closure of parts of the border has led to a sharp decline in food imports, like sorghum, rice and onions, to Nigeria on one hand, while basic commodities exported from Nigeria, like fuel, are hard to get into Cameroon. Ndagi says because of the security, economic and humanitarian threats caused by the separatist war, Nigeria will support Cameroon in bringing peace to its troubled regions.

terrorism
Delegates respect the Cameroon and Nigerian anthem during the Yaounde security meeting in Camerron, July 6, 2019. ( Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

“The current political upheavals in that region will not be allowed to affect our cordial relations,” said Ndagi. “We will continue to support your efforts to bring lasting peace to the region. This will facilitate the return of Cameroonian refugees that have crossed the border into Nigerian territory. We must reduce vulnerabilities along our borders that are being exploited to perpetrate transnational organized crime notably terrorism, proliferation of small arms and light weapons as well as piracy.”

When Cameroon declared war on the armed separatists in November 2017, it said gunmen were attacking border localities in Cameroon’s southwest and escaping to Nigeria, where some of them were trained. Nigeria denied the assailants were crossing over from its territory into Cameroon.

In January 2018, 47 separatists, including Ayuk Tabe Julius, head of a group from Cameroon’s Angolphone regions pushing for a breakaway from the French-dominant country, were arrested in Abuja, Nigeria, extradited and jailed in Cameroon.

Paul Atanga Nji, territorial administration minister and Cameroon’s leader of the delegation to the security meeting, says in spite of the collaboration, the separatists continue to use porous borders to import weapons through Nigeria, making the security situation very uncertain.

terrorism
Weapons used by separatist fighters suspected to have been made in Nigeria and brought into Cameroon, June 6, 2019. ( Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

“The security situation along our common borders has all of a sudden become a cause for concern,” Nji said. “These threats take the following forms. Secessionist tendencies, illegal exploitation of natural resources, conflicts between boarder communities, highway robbery, drug and human trafficking, illicit trafficking of fire arms, agro pastoral conflicts etc.”

The UNHCR says that by December 2018 there were more than 32,000 Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria’s Cross River state. Nigeria’s longest international border is with Cameroon. All along the 1,975 kilometer border there are violent crises. Nigeria’s northeast states of Borno and Adamawa continue to have Boko Haram terrorist attacks.

As the Yaounde security meeting was going on, Kildadi Taguieke Boukar, governor of Cameroon’s Adamaoua region that shares a boundary with Nigeria’s Taraba state, announced renewed conflicts with Nigerians escaping farmer-herder clashes to Cameroon.

“There is a conflict along some tribes in Nigeria’s Taraba state. About 100 people from Nigeria flee [have escaped] to our territory around Kontcha division [administrative unit and], there is agro-pastoral [farmer-herder] conflicts,” Boukar said.

terrorism
Paul Atanga Nji, head of Cameroon delegation (left) and Brigadier General Emmanuel Adamu Ndagi, leader of the Nigerian delegation (right) in Yaounde, Cameroon, July 6, 2019. ( Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

Nigeria has not confirmed the renewed violence, but confrontations erupted last year in Cameroon’s Adamaoua region between farmers and Nigerian cattle ranchers who had escaped tribal wars in Taraba state.

ALSO READ: US Institute of Peace Trains Kenyan Women to Help Fight Terrorist Radicalization Campaigns

The Cameroon-Nigeria Transborder Security Committee has as prime objective strengthening border security for both countries. It was created in 2012 in Nigeria. Cameroon and Nigeria agreed on Friday to take further measures to boost multifaceted cooperation in the fight against terrorism along their shared border.

They did not disclose details of how their cooperation will be carried out, but they said they would share information regularly to stop terrorist activities including Boko Haram attacks and separatists fighting for the independence of an English-speaking sate in Cameroon. They said they would make it difficult for criminals to leave Nigeria for Cameroon and vice versa. (VOA)