Islamic State Threat Remains High Despite Military Setbacks, Political Affairs Chief Tells Security Council

SC/12392
8 June 2016
7708th Meeting (PM)

Islamic State Threat Remains High Despite Military Setbacks, Political Affairs Chief Tells Security Council

Russian Federation Says Report Ignores Non-Coalition Efforts, Turkey’s Role

The threat posed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and its associates to international peace and security remained high despite military setbacks in Iraq and Syria, financial pressures and international efforts to defeat them, the senior United Nations political official told the Security Council this afternoon.

“ISIL is yet to be strategically or irreversibly weakened,” Jeffery Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said in a briefing.  “The inflow of arms and ammunition directly or indirectly into ISIL-held territory remains a serious concern.”  Reiterating the Secretary-General’s call for unity and action, he stressed the commitment of the United Nations to continue helping Member States implement the relevant Council and General Assembly resolutions in the face of the common threat.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s second strategic-level report on the gravity of the ISIL threat (document S/2016/501), he said the group’s recent military setbacks could be a factor behind the marked increase in the return rate of foreign terrorist fighters.  Given recent developments, ISIL was believed to be moving into a new phase of operations, including by elevating the role of its affiliates, moving funds beyond its traditional areas of operation and increasing international attacks.  The attacks on Paris last November and Brussels in March demonstrated the important role that returning terrorist fighters could play in ISIL’s operations.

For the first time, ISIL’s core functions were under financial pressure, which had caused the group to try and compensate for lost oil revenues by imposing higher rates of “taxation” and through extortion, he said.  The smuggling of antiquities was another major source of funding, although exact figures on that activity were hard to calculate.  ISIL may try to increase funding streams through increased kidnapping of international hostages, by moving funds internationally through formal and informal channels, and by converting local currency into commodities such as gold, which could more easily be moved internationally.

He went on to say that foreign terrorist fighters continued to join ISIL in Syria and Iraq from States around the world, including through “broken travel” techniques and the use of stolen or falsified documents.  The report highlighted evolving aspects of the threat posed by ISIL, including by gaining control of territory in Libya, which risked becoming a hub for the group’s expansion in the wider Maghreb and Sahel regions and beyond.

In Afghanistan, ISIL had demonstrated its ability to hold limited terrain and conduct attacks in cities beyond its traditional core territory, he continued.  Information and communications technology played an essential role in allowing the group to conduct operations, and sexual violence helped it recruit and maintain fighters, while terrorizing populations and shredding the social fabric of affected communities.

Since publication of the Secretary-General’s initial strategic report on 29 January, he said, Member States had continued to update legislation in response to resolution 2178 (2014), strengthen State capacities to investigate and prosecute complex terrorism-related cases, identify barriers to the sharing of terrorism-related financial information, improve border management and develop approaches to countering recruitment and preventing violent extremism.

The Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force had finalized the plan required by the Security Council for countering the flow of terrorist fighters, he said, noting that the plan contained more than 30 project proposals.  It addressed the entire life cycle of the foreign terrorist fighters phenomenon, and had a total budget of $100 million to $120 million over three to five years.  Only 10 per cent of funding for the plan had been identified thus far, and some projects had commenced, which meant that additional funding would be required.

He said that since January, the Task Force had implemented specialized capacity-building programmes to counter terrorism financing and strengthen border controls, developed the Counter-Terrorism Prosecutors’ Network and begun a project on private sector engagement in responding to the terrorists’ use of information and communications technology.  In the field, he said, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) had prepared an assessment report on its efforts to counter ISIL in that country.

Vitaly Churkin (Russian Federation) said that while it was very important to implement resolution 2253 (2015), the Secretary-General’s report did not indicate any steps to meet that goal.  It focused on anti-ISIL military action by coalition forces, giving the impression the United States led all such efforts, while ignoring the actions of other States.  That type of philosophy was wrong, he said, pointing out that significant damage had been inflicted on ISIL’s capacity by Russian air forces, demining in the historic citadel, and the destruction of its resource base — more than 200 oil-production transit facilities and over 2,000 routes for smuggling into Turkey.  Russian attempts to combat the chemical threat had also been disregarded, he said, questioning the purpose of asking for data when the report did not include information provided by the Russian Federation on the elimination of ISIL leaders.  He said it was unacceptable to disregard the efforts of the Armed Forces of Syria, emphasizing the importance of conveying an objective view of the situation in that country.  Without consolidating efforts to combat terrorism, the threat would remain significant, he warned.  It was particularly important that forces inside Syria clearly state whether they were with the terrorists or against them.  Some groups had violated the ceasefire, he noted.

Such developments were due to interference by outside forces trying to undermine the Russian Federation’s efforts, he continued.  Syrian forces were combating jihadists on a large scale in Aleppo.  Kurdish neighbourhoods were targeted daily by Al-Nusra Front, which thought it could act without consequences while using civilians as human shields.  Meanwhile, the terrorist threat had increased beyond Syria’s border in the past year.  “The Syrian-Turkish border needs to be closed immediately,” he emphasized, pointing to evidence that it was being used by terrorist forces instead of for transporting relief aid.  The Secretary-General’s report also ignored Turkey’s role in providing financial and other support, he said, voicing worry about its unsanctioned movements in Syria and Iraq and its creation of walls along the border.  Calling for more information in that regard, he stressed that an objective, balanced and impartial report by the Secretary-General would contribute greatly to strengthening the United Nations monitoring regime, as called for in resolution 2253 (2015).

The meeting began at 3 p.m. and ended at 3:21 p.m.

For information media. Not an official record.