Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has said he wants to set up an international task force to counter the threat posed by the spread of ISIL (ISIS)-affiliated groups across the African continent.
Co-chairing a meeting on Friday of the global coalition fighting ISIL alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Di Maio said there are fears that the group can “regain strength”. He also warned against the alliance letting down its guard, despite the fact the ISIL fighters had lost much of their territories in Iraq and Syria.
“With the support of the USA and many other partners, I proposed the establishment of an Africa task force to identify and stop [ISIL]-related terrorist threats on the continent,” Di Maio told reporters, standing alongside Blinken.
“We must step up the action undertaken by the coalition, not by shifting our focus but by increasing the regions in which we operate – not just the Middle East but Africa.”
Blinken said he supported the Italian initiative.
“Let me just say very clearly that we strongly support Italy’s initiative to make sure that the coalition against Daesh [ISIL] focuses its expertise on Africa, while keeping our eye closely on Syria and Iraq,” Blinken said.
“With all of the reasons that we just cited, we decided this is of significant importance, and I think we heard a strong consensus today on the part of our coalition partners to do just that,” he added.
ISIL gains in Africa
ISIL affiliates have claimed gains in recent weeks in Nigeria, the Sahel, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), helping to offset significant setbacks in the Middle East, where the group initially gained prominence.
Di Maio said African countries that were not initially part of the 83-member anti-ISIL coalition, including Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mozambique, had been invited to Monday’s gathering – the first in-person meeting of the alliance for two years.
The coalition said in a statement that it was also welcoming new members to the group – Central African Republic, DRC, Mauritania and Yemen – to join the 78 countries and five organisations that already belong to it.
Di Maio did not give further details of what the proposed Africa task force would do.
However, it would likely look to build on work carried out by French forces in the Sahel region since 2013. President Emmanuel Macron said this month France’s operation would come to an end with troops now operating as part of broader international efforts in the region.
Macron said details of the changes would be finalised by the end of June after consultations with the US, European states involved in the region, and the five Sahel countries – Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
Meanwhile, Blinken on Monday also urged countries to take back some 10,000 ISIL fighters held in detention in camps run by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), saying the situation was “untenable”.
He also announced a new US contribution of $436m to assist displaced people in Syria and surrounding countries.
“It just can’t persist indefinitely. The United States continues to urge countries of origin, including coalition partners, to repatriate, rehabilitate, and where applicable, prosecute their citizens,” Blinken said in opening remarks to the meeting.