ISIS Remnants Scrambling to Yemen, Libya, Africa, Indonesia, Philippines, Congress Is Told

By Susan Jones | December 7, 2017 | 5:45am EST
Mark E. Mitchell is Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict at the Defense Department. (Photo: Screen grab/Senate Homeland Security Committee)

( - The United States, working with partner nations, successfully has expelled Islamic terrorists from Iraq and Syria, but -- as President Trump himself noted on Wednesday -- "the bad news (is), they go all over the place."

Where are they going? Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked Mark Mitchell, an acting assistant secretary of defense, at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday:

"The areas that we've seen that are the most troubling and provide the most potential for ISIS in particular to establish a new base -- first of all would be Yemen, which has -- as I think everybody on the committee's well aware -- has a failed government and is wracked by a civil war,"  Mitchell replied.

"Even when it was not at civil war, there was extensive conflict within the society and support for Al Qaida. And now we've seen some support for the Islamic State there, in -- excuse me -- in Yemen."

Mitchell continued: "Libya, another failed state -- already, we've seen ISIS attempt to establish a foothold there. They have not been successful. We've managed to strike some of their training camps and set them back pretty significantly. But it's an area where I think we'll see them continue.

"And then in the Sahel, Southern Libya, Mali, Niger -- the vast ungoverned spaces there are areas that we're particularly concerned with."

Mitchell also mentioned the Philippines as "an increased area of concern," given the ISIS seizure of Marawi City.

"And then Indonesia, increasingly, has become a haven for Islamist extremists," he said. "And we've seen it not just in the -- in the society at large, but also in the government."

Mitchell said Indonesia does not arrest foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria, so they return to the general population. "Some of them do get arrested for other crimes, but we're concerned that prisons are serving as a source of radicalization. So the threat in Southeast Asia is definitely a concern for us."

The United States continues to fight both ISIS and al Qaida in Afghanistan as well.

Mitchell agreed with Sen. Johnson that it is part of U.S. Defense Department strategy  to "get ahead of the extremist movements" in West Africa, North Africa, Somalia and parts of Asia.

That effort made headlines in early October, when four American soldiers were ambushed and killed by Islamic militants in Niger.  Even some members of Congress said they were unaware of the U.S. troop presence in Niger. The DOD is still investigating the attack and has not yet released its conclusions.

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