international analysis and commentary

How an emerging Arab coalition is fighting ISIS


The killing of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh and 21 Egyptian Copts at the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS), last March, were two episodes marking a turning point that enhanced the Arab world’s urgency to join efforts in the fight against the terrorist organization. The tragic events left Jordan and Egypt indignant and ever more determined in their resolve to obliterate the terrorist organization. As for the North African countries, namely Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, they are similarly exasperated by the phenomenon and its repercussions. Furthermore, Libya’s current state of instability and anarchy has allowed the Islamic State to prosper, spread and impose its authority in a land that could be a bridge to the rest of Africa and to a greatly coveted target, Europe.

Jordan was one of the first Arab countries to join the international coalition against ISIS, and that is how its martyred pilot fell into the hands of the organization. The government in Amman vowed to avenge its hero’s death, and the response was swift and is ongoing. In a joint effort with the US, Jordan offered its bases and military resources to train moderate Syrian rebels to combat ISIS in Syria. According to the Tunisian newspaper Al-Chourouk, further international cooperation has recently been displayed in the military support Jordan has offered Libya by giving General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan army (representing the internationally-recognized Tobruk government) five fighter jets to assist in the assault on the Islamic State in the Libyan town of Derna.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and General Haftar agreed during their last meeting in Egypt to join efforts and launch a coordinated war against the Islamic State militants in Libya. In a statement to Reuters, the Head of Libya’s Air Force, Saqr al-Jaroushi, said that Libyan jets have recently launched airstrikes on ISIS fighters in Derna. Libyan Army spokesperson Mohammed Hijazi added that the army succeeded in controlling all access to Derna and will be able to block all the routes the militants use to receive weapons, while warships have been deployed along Derna’s coast to stop boats from delivering weapons from Sirte. Hijazi stated that there will be no negotiations with the militants and asked Derna’s residents to cooperate. He explained that the assault will start with intense airstrikes, likely to last more than a month, targeting ISIS positions and weapons caches. The airstrikes will be followed by a land operation conducted by Libyan ground troops, just as 4,000 Egyptian troops will be controlling the borders.

Tunisia and Algeria have also shown utmost will and determination to join efforts in the fight against ISIS and its local allies. Tunisian Interior Minister Mohammed Najem Gharsalli was quoted as saying that a joint plan has been agreed upon between Tunisia and Algeria to safeguard their countries’ security and cooperate militarily to the greatest extent. He reiterated that the two countries’ security interests are intertwined.

Ever since the terrorist attack on the Bardo Museum on March 18, 2015, Tunisia has been leading a relentless offensive against terrorism. Towards the end of March, Tunisian forces carried out a remarkable counterterrorism operation in Sidi Aich that led to the death of nine terrorists – including Luqman Abu Sakhr, the leader of the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade. Later in April, Tunisian forces launched an assault on the terrorists of the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade in the town of Kasserine that lasted for a few days and resulted in the deaths of 14 terrorists. Three Tunisian soldiers were also killed in the battle.

As for Morocco, it has recently established a Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ) as an offshoot of its Domestic Intelligence Agency (DGST). On March 24, this newly formed bureau, also known as the “Moroccan FBI”, dismantled the largest terrorist cell the country has uncovered in years and arrested 13 terrorists; the network spread across nine cities.

These Arab countries have clearly identified a common enemy and a common need to eradicate it. If they continue to make this battle an Arab Sunni fight against an organization that spreads terror in the name of Sunni Muslims, they might be able to discredit the notion of a tyrannical and neo-colonial West that only wants to attack and humiliate Muslims.

According to Suddeutsche Zeitung, German intelligence has revealed that ISIS has lost control of all but one oil field in Iraq due to coalition strikes and repeated clashes with Iraqi Kurds. This sign of weakness, and others that have emerged in recent months even among confusing and sometimes contradictory information, could be used to the advantage of this newly-formed Arab coalition that seeks to mirror a NATO-type organization. It remains to be seen how fruitful these joint efforts will be in the face of a relentless gruesome monster such as ISIS, in its various local incarnations.