What's In Blue

Posted Mon 6 Feb 2017

Briefing on the Evolution of the ISIL Threat

Tomorrow (7 February), the Security Council will be briefed by Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, on UN counter-terrorism efforts in support of member states against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), followed by consultations. The briefing will be based on the 1 February strategic-level report of the Secretary-General (S/2017/97) requested by resolution 2253 of 17 December 2015.

The report highlights the overall territorial, military and financial decline of core ISIL, while raising concerns regarding the potential for the emergence of affiliates in the areas where ISIL fighters may disperse and resettle under pressure from places such as Iraq, Syria and Libya. The Secretary-General also warns against ISIL-inspired attacks that, although originally reported as carried out by ‘lone actors’, are conducted with the support or resources of ISIL or its affiliates.

The Secretary-General further outlines how the effectiveness of measures in place to counter ISIL—such as those designed to curtail travel and transit, financing or the use of information and communications technologies—continues to be hindered by deficient implementation by member states and insufficient coordination. Council members might be interested in discussing how they can encourage member states to dedicate more resources to these matters, a recurring concern reflected in the several resolutions adopted in 2016 emphasising the importance of increased coordination on counter-terrorism.

The report focuses particularly on the ISIL threat in Europe, North Africa and West Africa, mentioning several countries which are not formally on the agenda of the Council. The meeting provides an opportunity to discuss factors that may increase the vulnerability of these states to the threat of ISIL, which would be particularly useful given ISIL’s encouragement to its followers and sympathisers outside conflict zones to perpetrate attacks. Other issues raised in the report that may be discussed are the emergence of new income streams for ISIL, the return of foreign terrorist fighters from places such as Syria and Iraq, and conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated by ISIL, especially against vulnerable groups such as women and children.

Council members may be interested in receiving an update from Feltman on the efforts of the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) and its Executive Directorate (CTED) in countering and preventing violent extremism. Working with other UN actors and member states, the CTC is expected to present a proposal to the Council by 30 April for a “comprehensive international framework” to counter the narratives used by ISIL and Al-Qaida. This proposal, requested by an 11 May 2016 presidential statement, is expected to include a counter-narrative campaign, as well as options for coordinating the implementation of the framework and mobilising resources as necessary. In the past, Council members have expressed different perspectives regarding how to strike a balance between preventing violent extremism and respecting state sovereignty, and between developing counter-terrorism strategies and upholding human rights.

Until the adoption of resolution 2253 in December 2015, most counter-terrorism-related discussions were held in the Council’s subsidiary organs (namely the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee and CTC). However, since then, these discussions are taking place more often at the Council, a trend championed by Russia and motivated by a desire for the Council itself to tackle such an important issue regularly. This new approach may constitute an effort to place more emphasis on strategic thinking and less on implementation measures. From a political standpoint, it seems to have provided an opportunity for Russia to give visibility to its counter-terrorism efforts in Syria and to publicise allegations of Turkish involvement in violating the assets freeze on ISIL. In 2016, some Council members questioned the usefulness of these meetings. Given the change in Council membership, the improved relationship between Russia and Turkey, and the duplication of some of the information already discussed at the subsidiary level, some Council members may want to assess the usefulness of maintaining this format. Furthermore, in the past, some Council members have attempted to get the Monitoring Team of the Al-Qaida/ISIL Sanctions Committee to brief Council members on the evolution of the threat, and this initiative may be raised again.

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