US official urges allies to combat ISIS ideology

2014-10-27 20:41
FBI image of an English-speaking individual, who was seen in a propaganda video released in September of 2014 by the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. (FBI, AFP)

FBI image of an English-speaking individual, who was seen in a propaganda video released in September of 2014 by the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. (FBI, AFP)

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Kuwait - The United States is pressing Arab nations and other allies to do more to counter the Islamic State group's slick propaganda campaign, with a top American envoy on Monday describing efforts to combat the extremist messages as a vital pillar in the fight to defeat the group.

The Islamic State group that has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria and declared a self-styled caliphate, or Islamic empire, in areas under its control embraces social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube.

Hollywood-style film clips and other elements of its media campaign boost the group's credibility among disaffected but plugged-in young Muslims and helps it promote its conquests, inspire sympathisers and attract new recruits.

Speaking at a gathering of anti-ISIS coalition partners in the oil-rich Gulf nation of Kuwait, retired US General John Allen said it is up to all members of the alliance to "clearly, forcefully and consistently" reject the group's ideology and offer alternatives to it.

Allen, who is tasked with coordinating the US-led coalition, characterised the fight in the communications sphere as a crucial element of an overall strategy that also includes confronting the group militarily and attempting to cut off its finances.

"It is only when we contest ISIL's presence online, deny the legitimacy of the message it sends to vulnerable young people and expose ISIL for the un-Islamic cult of violence it really is... that ISIL will truly be defeated," he said, using an alternate acronym for the group.

The Islamic State group produces online magazines and polished propaganda videos that make use of multiple camera angles, computer graphics and sophisticated editing techniques.

One video released by its Al-Furqan media arm earlier this year included aerial footage apparently shot from a drone over the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which it now holds. In another twist, the group cast a British journalist it holds, John Cantlie, as a sort of talk-show host speaking in a series of videos about the group.

'Information coalition'

Allen was joined in Kuwait by Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, who told reporters that an "information coalition" is needed to complement the military campaign.

"Whatever we do collectively on the battlefield needs to be amplified on the information battlefield," Stengel said.

The United States and its allies have carried out hundreds of airstrikes against the Islamic State group since August.

Washington is also trying to find ways to choke off the group's finances, which are estimated to include earnings of about $1m a day from black market oil sales alone. The group also makes money from extortion rackets and other criminal enterprises.

While the group is not believed to rely heavily on outside donations, American officials have urged Kuwait and Qatar in particular to do more to stop private fundraising for extremists.

"We need to work with all of our partners in the region to close down formal and informal sources of support," US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said during a visit to Cairo on Monday.

"We in the United States are determined to work with all of our allies in the region, not just on a military basis but on a financial basis, to make sure that these sources do not continue to flow in and become a permanent source of funding," he added.

Sulaiman al-Jarallah, undersecretary at the Kuwati Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Monday his country is fighting terrorist financing and has created a special task force to combat the problem.

US-allied Gulf nations including Qatar and Saudi Arabia also took part in the Kuwait conference, as did representatives from Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, France, and Britain.

So did the United Arab Emirates, which hosts air bases used by the coalition and is among the regional states that have carried out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria. One of its top diplomats echoed the American officials' message.

"We will not be able win this war against IS and terrorism and lose the battle of public opinion," Anwar Gargash, the Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs, told delegates. "We have to win on all fronts: on the ground and also by winning hearts and minds against terrorism."

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