The future U.S. fight against terrorists will be to train and advise partner militaries to take them on and prevent them from establishing safe havens in their countries, according to top U.S. officials.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford laid out that vision at a little-reported gathering of chiefs of defense of more than 70 nations at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, last month.
As the Islamic State (ISIS) loses its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, the terrorist group is searching for new safe havens in ungoverned spaces, officials said. The group first unsuccessfully tried to re-establish itself in Libya, then the Philippines, and is now trying to re-establish itself elsewhere in Africa, Dunford said.
The group is trying to do so by leveraging local insurgencies, he said. Over the past year, ISIS has allowed extremist groups in Africa to pledge allegiance to and rebrand themselves as ISIS, giving ISIS leadership new places to create safe havens.
Part of the fight will also be increasing intelligence sharing among partner militaries, Dunford said, to cut the “connective tissue” between these extremist groups, making it difficult for them to thrive.
“At this point in the campaign, I think it’s about ISIS attempting to leverage insurgencies that exist in various parts of the world, and then our efforts to keep these groups from actually being connected and being effective at sharing tactics, techniques, procedures, money, foreign fighters, and those kinds of things,” he told reporters at a press briefing after the conference.
“The next phase for us more broadly is to expand our information and intelligence sharing,” he said.
He said it was “premature” to discuss additional U.S. forces or capabilities for Africa or other regions, particularly while the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is not over.
He said the “end state” is each country or region’s local forces being able to deal with these groups with a minimal amount of international support.
He predicted it would be a “generational struggle.”
“I think there’s going to be some degree of international support required in many of these locations for some time to come, just given the governance issues and the economic issues that they confront. But getting that down to a minimum level makes this a sustainable effort,” he said.