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U.S. Department of Defense

December 11, 2020
By Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

Centcom Commander: Middle East Refugee Camps Rife for Extreme Ideology

The consequences of not tackling the problem of Middle Eastern internally displaced persons and refugees is going to produce enormous long-term extremism for the region and the world, the commander of U.S. Central Command said.

Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. made his remarks virtually today at the Defense One Annual Outlook Summit.

The general said the United States has two critical interests in the Centcom area of responsibility: first, maintaining and improving security and stability of the region, including the freedom of navigation; and second, eliminating the terrorist threat to the homeland, which emanates from the region.

And with the terrorist threat comes internally displaced persons who seek shelter and safety in refugee camps.

"Today across the Centcom region, wherever you find conflict, you'll find internally displaced persons, and you'll find refugees who fled violence wherever you find IDPs," he said.

The commander also said, one will find distress and suffering where local communities often bear the brunt of supporting IDPs for years on end.

While coalition donors and international relief organizations provide tremendous support to large IDP and refugee populations in the region, long-term solutions remain elusive as long as the underlying conflicts continue, he noted.

"Beyond the suffering of the human soul, there's the potential for IDP and refugee camps to become fertile ground for the propagation of radical ideologies," the general emphasized.

Large camps in Syria, in particular, have become areas of systemic indoctrination of IDPs and refugees who are hostages to the receipt of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ideology.

"This is a larger strategic problem, and it's not going to be addressed by military means," McKenzie said.

Instead, what's required is global resources, along with regional and local government commitment to resolve the repatriation of foreign fighters and families and the reintegration of IDPs, he said.

Refugees living in their home communities are in the best interest of the international community, the Centcom commander said.

"Unless we find a way to do this, a way to repatriate and reintegrate [IDPs] into home communities and support reconciliation solutions for conflict victims — many of whom have been living in traumatic and challenging circumstances — we're buying ourselves a strategic problem 10 years down the road when these children grow up and become radicalized," McKenzie emphasized.

If the problem of IDPs isn't addressed now, he said, "we're never going to really defeat ISIS or the many other extremist ideologies in the region. The ideology will continue well into the next generation. And we're going to have to do this all over again. And that's not a prospect that I'm actually comfortable with."

"[The problem] won't be solved by this combatant command. It won't be solved by the Department of Defense, and it's not going to be solved by the United States alone. But … If we don't act, we're going to pay a heavy price down the road," McKenzie said.

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