Blinken Urges Stronger Focus Against Islamist Groups in Africa

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged an 83-member alliance against Islamic State to step up its focus on operations in Africa, while working to prevent a resurgence of the militant organization in Iraq and Syria.

Blinken, speaking in Rome on Monday at a ministerial meeting he co-hosted of the Global Coalition to Defeat Isis, said the group had been a critical element in achieving the “territorial defeat” of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“Ensuring the enduring defeat of Isis also means effectively confronting Isis threats outside of Iraq and Syria, in places where Isis has recently focused its efforts,” he said, mentioning “countries on the front-lines of the Isis threat in Africa.”

“Let’s use today’s discussion to try and expand on Coalition plans for effective dealing with the threat in Africa,” Blinken told the foreign ministers and senior government officials at the meeting. He also called for stabilization assistance across Iraq and Syria “to ensure that Isis does not have a resurgence in these countries.”

Nations including France have been fighting Islamist insurgents who have threatened state authority and investors’ interests in West Africa’s Sahel region, at the southern fringe of the Sahara desert.

Blinken also announced new sanctions against a senior leader of an affiliate known as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. That group, operating along Niger’s border with Mali, has been targeting civilians, fueling concerns that local self-defense militias are engaging in the fight against the jihadists, the International Crisis Group said last month.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, co-hosting the gathering with Blinken, also called for a stronger focus on Africa.

“Even if the Daesh threat in Iraq and Syria remains central to the Coalition’s task, we cannot avoid tackling its global ramifications especially in the African continent, and specifically in Sahel whose stability is crucial for Europe and the broader Mediterranean,” Di Maio said, using another term for Islamic State.

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