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After the Caliphate: U.S. Strategy on ISIS

On November 14, 2019, representatives from 31 members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS met in Washington to discuss a new phase in the fight. ISIS was dealt serious blows with the loss of its territorial caliphate in March 2019 and death of its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, in October 2019. But ministers from coalition partners warned that the group continued to pose a threat. “The fight against ISIS is a long-term test of will, a test of civilization against barbarism,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He said the United States would continue to take a leading role both in military operations and in stabilization efforts to ensure that ISIS does not have space to reconstitute itself.

The ministers emphasized that the continued detention of thousands of ISIS-related individuals, including foreign fighters, in northeast Syria was a pressing security and humanitarian issue. Senior ISIS operatives were reportedly planning mass prison breaks in fall 2019. The ministers also noted that no ISIS branches had renounced their allegiance to the core group. The following are statements by U.S. and coalition officials on the fight against ISIS since Baghdadi's death.

Joint Communique by Ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS

November 14, 2019

Over five years of military and civilian engagement, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, with its partners, have liberated Iraq and northeast Syria from Daesh/ISIS’s grip.  At its peak, Daesh/ISIS controlled nearly 110,000 square kilometers of territory, including major cities in both Iraq and Syria and attracted more than 40,000 foreign terrorist fighters. The Coalition campaign has liberated approximately 7.7 million people from Daesh/ISIS’s control.  Coalition members have helped raise over $20 billion in humanitarian and stabilization assistance in support of the Iraqi and Syrian people, and trained and equipped more than 220,000 security and police personnel to stabilize local communities.  In the most recent Coalition success, U.S. forces raided the compound of Daesh/ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, resulting in his death.

These successes have come at tremendous sacrifice:  tens of thousands of local partners in Syria and Iraq have died while fighting Daesh/ISIS, and more than 100 Coalition service members have given their lives as part of the Defeat Daesh/ISIS mission.  In the past days, some Italian soldiers of the Coalition have been seriously wounded by an IED attack in Iraq.

Today, these achievements and Daesh/ISIS’s enduring defeat are threatened.  The Coalition thus must maintain unity of purpose and cohesiveness in Syria and Iraq.

We, Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Small Group, affirm our common willingness and continued resolve to address a new phase in this fight by pursuing our joint effort against Daesh/ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

We, Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Small Group, urge all actors operating in northeast Syria to continue to be vigilant against threats of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, to maintain the progress achieved by the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, to act together against any threats to this outcome and avoid security vacuums in the region that Daesh/ISIS may exploit.  Continued detention of Daesh/ISIS-related individuals, including Foreign Terrorist Fighters, in northeast Syria remains to be of paramount importance.  International law, including international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians and international human rights law must be upheld under any circumstances.

Despite the challenging situation, we reaffirm our full commitment to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh/ISIS.  We reiterate the importance of maintaining and allocating adequate military and civilian means and resources to sustain Coalition momentum and success against Daesh/ISIS in Iraq and Syria and to best safeguard our collective security interests, in pursuit of the ongoing military campaign.  This will enable us to counter any attempt by Daesh/ISIS to reconstitute or enhance its capacity to plan and execute attacks against our countries as well as our partners and allies.  This also includes continuing to train, advise, and support legitimate partner forces in the region engaged in the fight against Daesh/ISIS’s remaining cells and networks in both Syria and Iraq while respecting international law.

We reiterate the importance of ensuring accountability for all Daesh/ISIS terrorists and we commit to promoting their safe and humane detention and eventual prosecution.  We will continue our efforts to hold accountable Daesh/ISIS terrorists, including to prevent those detained, hiding underground, or sheltering beyond Coalition control, from returning to the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, or relocating elsewhere and plotting attacks against other countries.  Information sharing via bilateral and/or multilateral law enforcement channels like INTERPOL, will continue as a key component in this endeavor.  We remain committed to promoting efforts to ensure that accused terrorists, including those of foreign nationality, are treated appropriately and tried consistent with international law and fair trial, and we urge the custodians of the detained Daesh/ISIS fighters to treat them humanely at all times, and in accordance with international law.

There remain a considerable number of foreign terrorist fighters and their families who are kept in custody in Syria and Iraq.  We are committed to establishing or supporting existing effective accountability mechanisms in close coordination with the countries of origin for foreign terrorist fighters.

We highlight the importance of stabilization support for liberated areas from Daesh/ISIS in Iraq and those in Syria that remain out of the Syrian regime’s control and where the rights of the local population are not being ignored or violated.  We call on all members to insist on a robust supply of humanitarian assistance to all people in need.  We urge all actors operating in northeast Syria to refrain from any action that could lead to change in the demographic structures in northeast Syria, and to commit to ensure that refugees and internally displaced persons created since the outset of the conflict in Syria should only return in a safe, voluntary and dignified manner in accordance with the standards adhered to by UNHCR; that they are guaranteed freedom of movement; and that full, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access to all areas in the region is verifiably granted.

We commend the continuing commitment of the Government of Iraq in its fight against Daesh/ISIS and reaffirm our dedication to assisting at their request their ongoing efforts to secure an enduring defeat of the terrorist organization.  While the Government of Iraq and the Coalition have liberated all territory once held by Daesh/ISIS, Daesh/ISIS remaining elements continue to exploit seams between security forces and vulnerable populations.  In addition to the Coalition’s support for Iraqi Security Forces, as well as the Peshmerga, we will continue supporting the Government of Iraq and the UN’s stabilization and humanitarian efforts, including for the more than 1.5 million displaced persons.

Despite Daesh/ISIS’s territorial setbacks in Iraq and Syria, none of its branches has renounced its allegiance to Daesh/ISIS.  These branches have served as trans-regional enablers, providing support to organize, plan, raise funds, communicate, recruit, train, produce media, and plan external operations.  The global Coalition must also remain vigilant and work against the threat of Daesh/ISIS branches and networks around the world, upon the request or prior consent of the country or state in which Daesh/ISIS branch or network exists, and while fully respecting international law.  By reaffirming our commitment to combatting Daesh/ISIS’s ideology to prevent its re-emergence, recruitment and expansion, we will continue to support local voices that offer an alternative vision to Daesh/ISIS’s propaganda, and will further redouble our efforts to deny Daesh/ISIS space to exploit social media and the Internet.

          We will encourage other members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS to adopt the same guidelines.

We welcome the offer by Italy to host in 2020 the next meeting of the Ministers of the full Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

Secretary Michael R. Pompeo At the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Small Group Ministerial

November 14, 2019 

SECRETARY POMPEO:  You all know we must keep taking the fight to ISIS.  So do we.  The United States will continue to lead the Coalition, and the world, on this essential security effort.

That leadership under President Trump began right after he took office.  I had a different job at the time.  He went out to the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters the very first day, less than 24 hours after he was inaugurated, and he pledged his support for whatever the agency needed to take out Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the entire caliphate.

And a few months later, he empowered American military commanders to pursue the fight more aggressively than ever.

Our troops did that, in conjunction with many of you in this room – partners and friends and the Coalition.  We did it both on the ground and in the air in Iraq and Syria.  The caliphate was 100 percent destroyed in March of this year.  We should all be very proud of that.

Our diplomats here at the State Department, too, have worked with you all as members of the Coalition to stabilize liberated areas, get humanitarian relief to its destinations, and make sure that ISIS cannot gain new footholds.

American leadership continues on each of these missions today.

Last month, we achieved what the President talked about that day:  We took out al-Baghdadi and his would-be successor.  Ask each of them whether there’s a deficit in American leadership countering ISIS.

Today we’re watching the space once occupied by this fraudulent caliphate like a hawk.  That’s why we’re maintaining our residual presence at Tanf, in southern Syria, and our capacity to conduct air operations.

We’ve repositioned some of our troops in northeast Syria and in the broader region as well, to make sure that ISIS will never get a second wind and to prevent ISIS from recapturing the oil fields.

We’ve gotten assurances from Coalition partners and our partners on the ground on their responsibility for foreign fighters, and we’ll hold them to account.

We’re also maintaining humanitarian assistance and stabilization programs to ameliorate the conditions in which ISIS would re-emerge.

And we’re continuing to pursue a diplomatic resolution of the Syrian conflict with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 as the guide so that stability can, one day, return to this war-torn land.

I’m proud of the work that my team has done and what the Trump administration achieved.  But you all know – it’s why we’re here today – this is not our story alone. 

This Coalition – the group assembled here today – has been one of the most successful multilateral undertakings of the century.  We beat back a jihadist dream – a would-be terror state in the center of the Middle East – and we saved millions of people from tyranny unlike anything that the world has seen.

And our good work continues with our stabilization and recovery efforts.  We’re working with women like Samia, a mother of five and a beneficiary and employee of a Coalition-funded, Iraqi-led stabilization initiative.  She and others conduct quick rehabilitation of essential infrastructure, and in one instance, a primary school in Mosul.

Samia is proud to help Iraqis get past the ISIS nightmare.  This progress has been possible thanks to the United States and 27 other Coalition partners’ provision of more than $1.2 billion to fund the more than 3,000 stabilization projects in 31 liberated towns and districts across Iraq.  Stories like Samia’s show that it is a worthy investment.

But we can’t stop now.  We must make sure that ISIS never again flourishes.

That work begins with carrying out justice against those who deserve it.  Coalition members must take back the thousands of foreign terrorist fighters in custody and impose accountability for the atrocities that they have perpetrated.

Our efforts to help displaced Iraqis helped facilitate the safe and voluntary return of more than 4.3 million civilians in – since April of 2015.  We want them all to return home.  That’s why the Coalition needs to fulfil the significant UNDP Funding Facility for Stabilization shortfall to restore essential services and refurbish critical infrastructure.  We’ll all need help in the northeast of Syria as well.

Lastly, there’s a growing concern about the ISIS threat outside of Iraq and Syria.

Recently, we agreed at the working level that West Africa and the Sahel would be a preferred initial area of focus for the Coalition outside of the ISIS core space – and with good reason.  ISIS is outpacing the ability of regional governments and international partners to address that threat.

We’re planning a Coalition meeting that will focus on specific support that partners can provide across that region.

Know this:  That work will not – that initiative will not – detract from the mission ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  It will complement existing military efforts.  And we will develop and coordinate our efforts in close cooperation with countries of the Sahel.

The fight against ISIS is a long-term test of will, a test of civilization against barbarism.  I know where we all stand.  Let’s work together to make sure that our enemy knows that, too.  Thank you, again, for coming and for all your contributions past, current, and future. 

And I’d now like to invite Secretary General Stoltenberg to make remarks. 

SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG:  Thank you so much, Secretary Pompeo.  And many thanks, Mike, for hosting us all here today and for your leadership in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. 

Let me start by congratulating United States on the successful action of your special forces against ISIS lead al-Baghdadi.  I think this is really a milestone in our efforts against international terrorism.

All NATO allies are part of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.  Together, we provide significant support, including with air surveillance and training.  The coalition has made significant progress.  Millions of people and vast territories have been liberated. 

But the fight is not over.  ISIS is still a threat.  The situation in northern Syria remains fragile and difficult.  It is well known that there are differences between NATO allies when it comes to the situation there, but at the same time we agree on the need to safeguard the gains we have made against our common enemy, ISIS, and to support UN-led efforts to achieve a sustainable political solution.

We also agree on the need to continue to build the capacity of partner forces to strengthen the resilience against terrorism.  We partner with Iraq to help them build, train, and educate their security forces so they can ensure ISIS does not return. 

NATO also contributes to the fight against international terrorism in other ways, not least through our training mission in Afghanistan.  We train and advise Afghan security forces to help them fight terrorism and to ensure that ISIS does not gain the foothold in Afghanistan that they lost in Iraq and Syria. 

And NATO is also helping other countries, such as Jordan and Tunisia, build their local counterterrorism capacity, because prevention is better than intervention and building local capacity is one of the best tools we have in our common fight against terrorism.

U.S. Designates ISIS Facilitators in Advance of Counter ISIS Finance Group Meeting

November 18, 2019

Today, the United States sanctioned nine individuals and organizations who were providing material support to the terrorist group ISIS in the Middle East and South Asia.  ISIS remains a threat to global security and stability, and the United States continues to work closely with the countries of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS (D-ISIS) to ensure we are protecting our people from this heinous terrorist group. 

On November 14, 2019, the United States hosted a D-ISIS Small Group Ministerial to reaffirm our unity and common purpose in securing ISIS’ enduring defeat.  The work of the D-ISIS Coalition remains vitally important to these efforts and the ministerial exemplifies our commitment to maintaining pressure on ISIS, to destroying its remnants in Iraq and Syria, and to thwarting its global ambitions. 

The United States has made significant progress in disrupting ISIS’ financial networks, and it will continue to adapt as ISIS looks for new ways to generate and move funds.  We will also work with our partners in the Counter ISIS Finance Group and the United Nations to nominate additional ISIS targets to the UN ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qa’ida Sanctions List. 

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