Homeland Security

Joint Chiefs Chairman: Local Forces are Greatest Weapon Against ISIS

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday that the greatest lesson the coalition has learned in the toppling of the caliphate is that local forces are the greatest weapon against the Islamic State.

Iraqi security forces, aided up to the city limits by Peshmerga per pre-offensive agreement, liberated Mosul in July after a nine-month battle.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led force including Arab, Assyrian, Yazidi, Turkmen and other ethnic forces, began the offensive to liberate territory surrounding Raqqa in November 2016 and freed the city from ISIS this month.

“Probably the key takeaway is we realize that the most effective action against these groups is local action,” Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters after a meeting with representatives from 75 countries, as well as NATO and the European Union, to discuss the challenges of violent extremism. “But that local action has to be informed by the nature of the threat, which is a transregional threat, so cooperation globally is important. And then, also, our global efforts have to be informed by local information as well.”

Dunford said the coalition discussions on the terror fight moving forward “walked the globe” with talks on “West Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the networks that actually connect violent extremist organizations from the Western Hemisphere to Southeast Asia.”

Brett McGurk, for the past two years the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, declared that ISIS “is down, really, to its last 10 percent of territory.”

“Everything that has been retaken from them has held. And over 6.6 million people have been liberated from ISIS overall in this campaign,” he said. “…Foreign-fighter flows into Syria have nearly stopped. There was 40,000 just a few years ago. This flow has nearly stopped. And also, foreign fighters are unable to get out of Syria. And we believe we’ve cut their revenue down to the lowest level ever, and their outside sources of funding are now entirely severed.”

“Just look at ISIS’s own propaganda. About a year ago they started to stop saying come to Syria. At the time they said go to Libya,” McGurk added. “Then they stopped saying go to Libya; they said go to the Philippines. Now they can’t go to the Philippines. So they’re running out of places to go.”

Dunford stressed that “small numbers of ISIS leaders are attempting to leverage local insurgencies,” allowing the crumbling caliphate to stake out new havens.

“And so we see in Africa a number of local insurgencies that rebranded themselves and pledged allegiance to ISIS over the past year. And then, you know, what they’re looking for is a small number of foreign fighters’ leadership that may try to make their way to what we call safe havens,” the general said.

“…Two years ago the narrative was the establishment of a physical caliphate — you know, a perfect Islamic world, and they were trying to incentivize young people from around the world to join them. And I think today we can safely say that that narrative doesn’t have much credibility.”

McGurk noted that coalition training classes for Syrian fighters “are all full.”

“We have more recruits than we can train. So it’s really kind of taken on a really positive momentum, a snowball effect, so we feel pretty good about that,” the envoy said.