Senior commander warns that hardened foreign fighters form backbone of remaining ISIS forces in Syria
US-led coalition fear refugee influx as Idlib assault looms
A senior leader of the coalition to defeat ISIS has warned that a looming Syrian government offensive to capture the rebel stronghold of Idlib risks triggering a humanitarian disaster. He
Maj Gen Felix Gedney, deputy commander of the Global Coaltion, highlighted concerns that the Kurdish-dominated region of north-east Syria would struggle to cope with an influx of displaced people fleeing the fighting.
“It is a source of major concern. Our concern is obviously for humanitarian needs for the people of Idlib primarily but also for the potential movement of where the population will move to,” said Maj Gen Gedney. “Being prepared that if they were to move into the area of north-east Syria is something we are focused on. Idlib is not in the area the coalition is operating but it absolutely has the potential to impact on (Kurdish Syria.) We need to make sure Idlib is the last battle,” he said at the UK’s defence ministry.
Maj Gen Gedney was speaking as the coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces launched their assault on the final stretches of ISIS-held territory deep in the Syria desert. He conceded the offensive would take “a few months” and said hardened foreign fighters comprised a large proportion of the remaining ISIS contingent. Some 600 foreign fighters also were being held in SDF-run jails in the north east of Syria he added.
“We believe there is a significant concentration of foreign fighters in the final area around Hajin where operations have just begun. This is the last territory held by Daesh in the coalition area of responsibility. We expect Daesh to put up a hard fight, but are confident the SDF, the most capable force against Daesh in Syria, will prevail,” said Maj Gen Gedney.
“It is an important milestone against Daesh in Iraq and Syria as we complete the liberation of all the territory Daesh held in its fake caliphate. It will signify the final destruction of Daesh’s corrupt dream. Those were seduced into joining Daesh, and in particular from overseas, will be either dead or wallowing destitute in facilities in north-east Syria and Iraq,” he added.
Despite this, Maj Gen Gedney warned that military success would not solve anything, describing ISIS as a global threat fully capable of growing back and damaging any illusions of calm as they move into insurgency mode.
“Unfortunately, the cost of reconstruction in Iraq and Syria is dauntingly high. The pace of stabilisation is currently too slow. The international community and the government of Iraq need to do more to provide for the people of Iraq and north east Syria in order to provide them hope for the future,” he said.
“(ISIS) are an evil organisation and have proven to be a very adaptive, ruthless and resource enemy. They brutalised the people of Iraq and Syria and represent a very threat to our own security,” Maj Gen Gedney added.