Members of the Global Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State met in Rome, Italy, on Monday for the first time in two years. Photo courtesy of Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab/Twitter
June 29 (UPI) -- The United States and its global partners in a coalition aimed at defeating the Islamic State reaffirmed their commitment to fulfilling their objective as the terrorist organization makes gains in the African continent.
The 83-member Global Coalition to Defeat IS met in Rome, Italy, on Monday for the first in-person meeting in two years, during which they issued a joint statement reaffirming their resolve against IS and committing to increasing focus on Africa where they said the terrorist organization's expansion threatens security and stability, especially in the sub-Saharan region.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio put forward plans during the meeting with the support of the United States for an Africa task force to identify and curb IS terrorism on the continent and to determine what measures can be put in place.
"Now we are fearing the expansion and spread of [IS] in Africa," he told reporters during a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday.
Di Maio explained that it is not a shift in focus from the Middle East to Africa but an increase in the areas the coalition will operate.
The foreign minister said he had recently been to Niger and Mali and witnessed "the cry for help of those communities" as many villages encompassing huge territories have fallen into the hands of the terrorists.
He explained that it does not mean they will stop fighting IS in Syria and Iraq, but an increase in resources to Africa is needed.
Since IS' so-called caliphate in Syria was destroyed in 2019, "a number of terrorist cells" have been observed proliferating in the Sahel region, he said.
Blinken told reporters that the United States "strongly" supports Italy's task force plan to increase activities in Africa while maintaining the coalition's activities in Syria and Iraq.
"This is of significant importance, and I think we heard a strong consensus today on the part of coalition partners to do just that," he said.
Because of the expansion in Africa, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mozambique were invited to join the ministerial meeting as observers. Meanwhile, the coalition welcomed the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritania and Yemen into its ranks.
Blinken warned the coalition during his opening remarks at the ministerial meeting that IS remains a threat in Syria and Iraq despite its defeat, stating its remaining elements still "aspire to conduct large-scale attacks," calling on members to reaffirm their commitment to Operation Inherent Resolve, the NATO mission in Iraq and civilian-led counterterrorism activities.
He also renewed the U.S. call on nations to repatriate their nationals who joined the ranks of IS but were detained.
Some 10,000 IS fighters remain in Syrian Democratic Forces' detentions.
"This situation is simply untenable," Blinken said. "It just can't persist indefinitely."
As Blinken was meeting with the coalition, the State Department announced it designated Ousmane Illiassou Djibo, a native Nigerien and IS leader in Mali, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, freezing his U.S. property and prohibiting U.S. citizens from doing business with him.
Blinken in the statement said Djibo, who also goes by the name Petit Chapori, directed Islamic State in Greater Sahara members to develop a network to kidnap and attack Westerns in Niger and surrounding areas.
The State Department said Djibo has also participated in assaults on local forces.
"This designation is part of our continuing effort to counter [IS] financing in Africa," Blinken said during his remarks.