Islamic State fighters add complications to U.S. counterterrorism mission in Philippines
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A growing diaspora of battle-hardened Islamic State fighters fleeing lost territory in Syria and Iraq have returned to the southern Philippines, providing a major complication just as the Trump administration quietly ramps up a U.S. counterterrorism operation in the Pacific island nation.
There are more Islamic State-affiliated foreign fighters in Southeast Asia, especially from jihadi groups based in the southern Philippines‘ autonomous Muslim Mindanao region, than there ever were battling U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq during the height of the U.S.-led wars there, according to figures compiled by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
A State Department assessment puts the Philippines for the first time among the five countries with the most terrorist attacks. The Philippines, along with Afghanistan, India, Iraq and Pakistan, were the sites of nearly 60 percent of terrorist attacks last year, State Department officials said in their latest assessment of terrorist activity around the globe.
“ISIS, al Qaeda and their affiliates have proven to be resilient, determined and adaptable,” said Ambassador Nathan Sales, the State Department’s top counterterrorism coordinator. “They have adjusted to heightened counterterrorism pressure in Iraq, Syria, Somalia and elsewhere.
“Foreign terrorist fighters are heading home from the war zone in Iraq and Syria or traveling to third countries to join [Islamic State] branches there,” he said in the report.
Source: Washington Times