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TERROR WARS
Trump visits Centcom, with sights on battling Islamic State
By Andrew BEATTY
Macdill Air Force Base, United States (AFP) Feb 6, 2017


Islamic State on the defensive: UN report
United Nations, United States (AFP) Feb 6, 2017 - The Islamic State group is militarily on the defensive, facing a drop in revenue from oil and extortion and a shrinking ability to attract new recruits, according to a new UN report released Monday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned however in the report to the Security Council that IS jihadists continue to pose a grave threat and are "partially adapting" to losses on the battlefield.

"ISIL is militarily on the defensive in several regions, notably in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the Syrian Arab Republic," said the report sent to the council on Thursday.

IS finances are on a decline, forcing the militant group to operate on a "crisis budget," it added.

Illicit oil sales, mainly from oil fields in Syria's Deir Ezzor province, dropped from as much as $500 million in 2015 to $260 million last year.

The report urged governments to be vigilant of IS efforts to find new revenue streams, citing concerns that journalists and aid workers traveling to areas recaptured from the jihadists could be targets for kidnapping.

The flow of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria has slowed considerably, because of security measures taken by governments and also due to the "diminished attractiveness" of the group, said the report.

Several member-states are reporting that many hardened foreign fighters will remain in Iraq and Syria as most of those who intended to leave have already done so.

"The ability of ISIL to attract new recruits has diminished, and fighters are increasingly leaving the battlefield," it said.

The council will meet Tuesday to discuss the report as President Donald Trump has ordered US generals to draw up a new plan to defeat the radical extremists.

Iraqi forces are making strides in their offensive to drive the Islamic State from Mosul, the country's second city seized in 2014 and proclaimed as the capital of a caliphate stretching into Syria.

In response to the military pressure, IS communication and recruitment "are increasingly moving towards more covert methods, such as the use of the dark web, encryption and messengers," said the report.

"The group continues to encourage its followers and sympathizers outside conflict zones to perpetrate attacks."

President Donald Trump on Monday paid his first visit to US Central Command, meeting officers who will form the tip of the spear in implementing his new strategy to defeat the Islamic State group.

After a three-day break at his Mar-a-Lago estate in southern Florida, Trump stopped off at Centcom headquarters in Tampa on his way back to Washington.

The Republican president, now in his third week on the job, was due to have lunch with enlisted soldiers and deliver remarks in the early afternoon.

The military command is responsible for an area that includes the Middle East and Central Asia.

It plays a key role in Operation Inherent Resolve -- the US-led mission to "degrade and defeat" the Islamic State group -- which has resulted in 17,861 strikes across northern Syria and Iraq since August 2016.

Apart from seizing territory and declaring a caliphate, the Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for attacks in Africa, Europe, the United States, Southeast Asia and across the Middle East.

It's seen as influencing attackers in San Bernardino, California, who killed 14 people in December 2015, and the attacker of an Orlando nightclub, who left 49 dead in June last year.

In late January, Trump ordered generals to begin a 30-day review of the US strategy to defeat the Syria and Iraq-based militant group.

Trump had made fighting "radical Islamic terrorism" a central plank of his election campaign and the issue is emerging as the organizing principle of his foreign and domestic policies.

He used potential cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State group as a reason to embrace Russia and has tried to implement an order banning refugees and nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

The ban has spurred an unprecedented battle with the courts. On Sunday, Trump tried to pin the blame for future attacks on the federal judge who has temporarily blocked his executive order.

"Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!" Trump said.

He did not offer evidence for the suggestion that would-be terrorists are flocking to the country.

Most experts express more concern about Americans becoming radicalized and carrying out IS-inspired attacks, rather than the group dispatching clandestine agents around the world.

Hundreds of Trump's own diplomats have voiced their opposition to the ban.

- Taking the fight to ISIS -

The contours of Trump's policy to fight the Islamic State group abroad are still coming into focus.

On January 28, he signed a presidential memorandum that called for a review including any "recommended changes to any United States rules of engagement."

That could foreshadow a tougher approach, but it is one that some experts believe could fuel radicalization.

During Trump's first days in office, US special forces carried out a raid against Al-Qaeda in Yemen which resulted in the deaths of one US soldier, 14 jihadists and as many as 16 civilians.

Trump also called for the "identification of new coalition partners" -- a likely nod toward Russia.

Moscow has deployed aircraft, naval assets and troops to Syria, but has so far trained its fire on rebels with the aim of propping up Bashar al-Assad's regime.

After substantial territorial gains, IS is now on the back foot, struggling to hold onto the Iraqi city of Mosul and with its "capital" in Raqa under threat.

But the battle is approaching a fork in the road.

Trump has reportedly shelved his predecessor Barack Obama's plans for taking Raqa with the help of Kurdish forces and must soon decide how to proceed.


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