WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States’ top military officer said on Tuesday that little progress had been made in dealing with the underlying conditions that have given rise to armed Islamist militants, even as military gains have been made against groups like Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“Little progress has been made in addressing the underlying conditions that lead to violent extremism,” said Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
U.S.-backed forces and Iraqi militias liberated nearly all of the territory that Islamic State, also known as ISIS, once controlled in Iraq and Syria.
“Challenges remain in our political, our military, our intelligence, and our law enforcement cooperation despite the fact that we’ve had some positive trends and cooperation; clearly there is much more to be done,” said Dunford, who was speaking during a conference countering violent extremism.
One of the issues facing U.S.-backed forces in Syria is the large number of foreign fighters being detained.
The U.S. military says the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters led by the Kurdish YPG militia, is holding about 700 foreign fighters and attempting to repatriate them to their home countries.
Speaking with reporters later on Tuesday, Dunford said the detained foreign fighters came from 40 different countries and progress to try to repatriate them had been slow.
“The challenge has been there’s not only political issues but … legitimate legal framework issues for addressing this in many of the countries,” Dunford said in a press conference.
He added that none of the more than 80 chiefs of defense from around the world at the conference were able to commit to doing something about the problem.
In a report earlier this year, the State Department warned that Islamic State, al Qaeda and its affiliates have adapted by dispersing and becoming less vulnerable to military action after the United States and its partners made “major strides” against the armed Islamist groups.
Islamic State, al Qaeda and their affiliates “have proven to be resilient, determined and adaptable, and they have adjusted to heightened counterterrorism pressure in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere,” the report said.
“Perhaps the greatest challenge facing us today is the danger of complacency,” Dunford said.
In a sign of the threat militant groups posed, the U.S. military said on Tuesday an air strike killed 60 militants from the Islamist al Shabaab group in Somalia.