US Special Envoy foresees decades-long fight against ISIS

DESPITE increasing battlefield successes, the fight against Islamic State could take decades and individual nations have to take measures to defend their homeland meanwhile, says President Barack Obama's Special Envoy for the coalition tackling the menace.

"I can see the defeat of ISIL in Iraq, just that it can take a while," said retired General John Allen, using the acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. "In Syria, it is more complicated...this is not a fight to be measured in days or weeks but years, and potentially, decades."

Gen Allen, who retired as commander of US Forces in Afghanistan as well the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force there, was speaking in an interview while on a swing through the region that includes stops in Malaysia and Australia. In September, he was appointed the US President's Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.

Last June, with fighters of the Islamic State pouring down the the valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, the situation looked very grim and Iraq's territorial integrity was in doubt. However, since the repulse began in September with air power, governments involved have begun to see success.

"We took the ISIL head on. In a very short time they were decidedly defeated in a number of places," Gen Allen said, adding that tactical blunders made by the rebels had also sowed disaffection within their ranks. The success of the counter-offensive, which included measures to turn off the financing spigots, was also showing up in the reducing attractiveness of the ideology of the Islamic State. In some places like Mosul, a city 400 km north of Baghdad, rebel fighters have seen their stipends cut.

"Foreign fighters are increasingly disillusioned and seeking to come home. There are increasing reports of foreign fighters being executed," he said. "A couple of years ago, donations to ISIL were significant but because of the work we've done with our partners a lot of the donor activity has shrunk and been conscripted. At this point, donations are not a significant source of revenue for them."