Trump Administration on ISIS, Al Qaeda
Updated March 1, 2018
On January 20, within minutes of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the White House issued the “America First Foreign Policy” manifesto. “Defeating ISIS and other radical Islamic terror groups will be our highest priority,” it read. On January 28, after about a week in office, he released a memorandum directing his administration to “develop a comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS.” The following are remarks by President Trump and excerpts from U.S. officials on combatting ISIS, al Qaeda and other extremist organizations and state sponsors of terror.
President Donald Trump
“Central Command and Central [Special] Operations Command are at the very center of our fight against radical Islamic terrorism. America stands in awe of your courage. …”
“We’re up against an enemy that celebrates death and totally worships destruction – you’ve seen that. ISIS is on a campaign of genocide, committing atrocities across the world. Radical Islamic terrorists are determined to strike our homeland as they did on 9/11; as they did from Boston to Orlando, to San Bernardino. And all across Europe, you've seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe it's happening. It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported and, in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that. ”
“So today, we deliver a message in one very unified voice: To these forces of death and destruction, America and its allies will defeat you. We will defeat them. We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism, and we will not allow it to take root in our country. We're not going to allow it. ….”
—February 6, 2017, in a speech to Coalition Representative and Senior U.S. Commanders
“We’re doing what has to be done. We’re being strong on vetting, we’re being strong on coming into the country. It’s very easy if you just let it be the way it was, but the FBI has over 1,000 investigations going on right now on terror and terrorism. They’ve never had anything like that before. And that’s been reported all over the place.
And frankly, we have to have a safe country. But I think I’ve done very well.”
—February 5, 2017, in a radio interview by Jim Gray on Westwood One Sports Radio
“And I will never forget that my responsibility is to keep you – the American people – safe and free.
That’s why last week I signed an executive order to help keep terrorists out of our country. The executive order establishes a process to develop new vetting and mechanisms to ensure those coming into America love and support our people. That they have good intentions”
—February 3, 2017, in the President’s Weekly Address
“We have seen unimaginable violence carried out in the name of religion. Acts of wanton slaughter against religious minorities. Horrors on a scale that defy description. Terrorism is a fundamental threat to religious freedom. It must be stopped, and it will be stopped. It may not be pretty for a little while. It will be stopped.”
—Feb. 2, 2017, in a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast
“The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror. To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion- this is about terror and keeping our countries safe.”
—Jan. 29, 2017, in a statement regarding recent Execute Order concerning Extreme Vetting
“In a successful raid against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) headquarters, brave U.S. forces were instrumental in killing an estimated 14 AQAP members and capturing important intelligence that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world.
Americans are saddened this morning with news that a life of a heroic service member has been taken in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism. The sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces, and the families they leave behind, are the backbone of the liberty we hold so dear as Americans, united in our pursuit of a safer nation and a freer world. …”
—Jan. 29, 2017, in a statement
“I am establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. We don't want them here. We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”
—Jan. 27, 2017, according to CNN
“But we're going to do great things. We're going to do great things. We've been fighting these wars for longer than any wars we've ever fought. We have not used the real abilities that we have. We've been restrained. We have to get rid of ISIS. Have to get rid of ISIS. We have no choice. Radical Islamic terrorism. And I said it yesterday -- it has to be eradicated just off the face of the Earth.”
—Jan. 21, 2017, in a speech at CIA Headquarters
“Defeating ISIS and other radical Islamic terror groups will be our highest priority. To defeat and destroy these groups, we will pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations when necessary. In addition, the Trump Administration will work with international partners to cut off funding for terrorist groups, to expand intelligence sharing, and to engage in cyberwarfare to disrupt and disable propaganda and recruiting.”
—Jan. 20, 2017, in America First Foreign Policy statement
“We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”
—Jan. 20, 2017, in the Inaugural Address
Defense Secretary James Mattis
“As far as Iran goes, this is single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, and I think it is wise to make certain that Iran recognizes that what it is doing is getting the attention of a lot of people, and we have responsibility, along with the rest of the nations that want to maintain stability to be absolutely clear with Iran in this regard. It does no good to ignore it.”
—February 3, 2017, in a Joint Press Briefing with Minister Inada in Tokyo, Japan
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Secretary Tillerson: Defeating ISIS is the U.S.’s number one goal in the region. pic.twitter.com/IRMK5AUccb
— Department of State (@StateDept) March 22, 2017
Good morning, and thank you all for traveling to Washington, D.C. to participate in this counter-ISIS/Daesh ministerial conference. It is indeed encouraging to see the attendance. When the forces of ISIS and Daesh tune into their TVs and their computer monitors, they will see the strength of a combined 68 nations and organizations. Together, we share a resolve to deal ISIS or Daesh a lasting defeat. Our coalition is united in stopping an ISIS resurgence, halting its global ambitions and discrediting its ideological narrative. And we’re ready to grow stronger and stay aggressive in this battle.
President Trump, in his recent address to the joint session of Congress, made clear that it is the policy of the United States to demolish and destroy this barbaric terrorist organization. That is what we are going to do.
Many of us here today represent countries who know ISIS’s carnage firsthand. In fact, today marks one year since 32 innocent people were killed and 300 wounded in attacks in Brussels. The Belgian foreign minister is home commemorating this solemn day for his country, but we are grateful to have the ambassador from our ally, Belgium, joining us today.
In the same month as the attack in Brussels, a child was killed and 600 Iraqis were injured in an ISIS chemical weapons attack in Taza, just south of Kirkuk. ISIS has carried out horrific attacks in the streets of Paris and Istanbul, each planned from its headquarters in Raqqa. The United States has also experienced attacks inspired by ISIS on social media, a phenomena we are working to combat together and which will be a major point of discussion among us today.
As we commemorate and mourn for the victims of ISIS’s hatred, let us also honor them with unwavering dedication to victory. The great commonality among we who have gathered today is a commitment to bringing down a global force of evil, and I emphasize the word “commitment.” The success of our mission depends on a continual devotion to our stated objective of defeating this terrorist organization.
In the run-up to this meeting, we identified over $2 billion in humanitarian, stabilization, and de-mining needs for liberated areas in Iraq and Syria for 2017. I’m pleased to announce that we have surpassed that total in dollar pledges. Let’s fulfil our pledges so we can quickly disburse the funds we need to carry out operations for the rest of the year.
Reflecting on the past year or so, we should be encouraged by the significant progress we as a coalition are making. In addition to the latest meaningful financial contributions, the flow of foreign terrorist fighters into Syria and Iraq is down 90 percent over the past year. It is harder for terrorists to get in, and more importantly, harder for them to get out to threaten our homelands.
Turkey has pushed ISIS off the Turkey-Syria border through Operation Euphrates Shield. This entire border is now inaccessible to ISIS, and we will ensure that it stays that way. Nearly all of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s deputies are now dead, including the mastermind behind the attacks in Brussels, Paris, and elsewhere. It is only a matter of time before Baghdadi himself meets the same fate.
The Libyan Government of National Accord-aligned fighters from Misrata routed ISIS in Sirte, depriving ISIS of its only territory outside of Iraq and Syria. We are pleased to have representatives of the Libyan Government with us here today.
In Iraq and Syria, our partners on the ground have liberated 50,000 square kilometers of territory from ISIS, freeing nearly two-and-a-half million people in cities, villages, and towns. Most importantly, the liberation of all of this territory has held. ISIS has recovered none of it.
Seventeen coalition members are producing content in five languages to counteract ISIS’s propaganda and attack on its online presence. These efforts have yielded a 75 percent reduction of ISIS content on the internet in one year, and the takedown of 475,000 ISIS-linked Twitter accounts.
In Iraq, more than one-and-a-half million Iraqis have now returned to their homes in areas that had been under control of ISIS. The displacement flow outward has been reversed, and this is a trend we must ensure continues. And neighboring countries closest to the conflict, like Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, have undertaken a widespread humanitarian response to the regional refugee crisis, including the acceptance of millions of refugees, many of whom they are working to reintegrate into normal life in their own nations.
We especially should recognize the Republic of Iraq. Prime Minister Abadi, who is with me on stage, has shown commitment and courage, often visiting the front lines to encourage his troops and ensure that people are being cared for after the battles. His desire for stability and inclusive governance drives his vision for the future of Iraq.
The ongoing Iraqi-led retaking of Mosul is pushing ISIS out of a key stronghold and liberating more than a million civilians. Iraqi forces, many trained by our coalition, are performing heroically and placing protection of civilians at the forefront of their military plan.
This Mosul campaign could not have succeeded without the cooperation between the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga. I am pleased to see a representative from Kurdistan Regional Government, Mr. Fuad Hussein, here today with Prime Minister Abadi. It is this close cooperation between the Iraqi people and their leaders that hastens ISIS’s ultimate defeat and ensures it can never return to Iraq.
Hard-fought victories in Iraq and Syria have swung the momentum in our coalition’s favor, but we must increase the intensity of our efforts and solidify our gains in the next phase of the counter-ISIS fight. Degradation of ISIS is not the end goal. We must defeat ISIS. I recognize there are many pressing challenges in the Middle East, but defeating ISIS is the United States number one goal in the region. As we’ve said before, when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. We must continue to keep our focus on the most urgent matter at hand.
At this moment, we are still in a phase characterized by major military operations. The expansion of ISIS has necessitated a large-scale military response, and our offensive measures are reclaiming areas in Iraq and Syria in which ISIS has had a large and destructive footprint. Our end goal in this phase is the regional elimination of ISIS through military force. The military power of the coalition will remain where this fraudulent caliphate has existed in order to set the conditions for a full recovery from the tyranny of ISIS. Under President Trump’s leadership and with the strength of this historic coalition, our common enemy will remain under intense pressure.
Soon, our efforts in Iraq and Syria will enter a new phase defined by transition from major military operations to stabilization. In this transition to the stabilization phase, our coalition will continue to clear land mines and return water and electricity – the basic elements that permit people to return to their homes. We will pursue regional diplomatic solutions for the underlying political and sectarian disputes that helped ISIS to flourish. The coalition and future partners will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to affected communities as necessary.
We appreciate the work of the UN-managed Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization, which has helped Iraq return home over half a million displaced persons in Anbar province alone. Continuing coalition support for police training will be essential, as will be coalition support for demining and clearing hazardous materials.
We will continue to facilitate the return of people to their homes and work with local political leadership. They will provide stable and fair governance, rebuild infrastructure, and provide the essential services. We will use our diplomatic presence on the ground to facilitate channels of dialogue between local leadership and coalition partners. These initiatives are working well in Iraq, and we are working to tailor a similar approach specific to the challenges in Syria. While a more defined course of action in Syria is still coming together, I can say the United States will increase our pressure on ISIS and al-Qaida and will work to establish interim zones of stability through ceasefires to allow refugees to go home.
As a coalition, we are not in the business of nation-building or reconstruction. We must ensure that our respective nations’ precious and limited resources are devoted to preventing the resurgence of ISIS and equipping the war-torn communities to take the lead in rebuilding their institutions and returning to stability.
A successful stabilization period will improve daily life for millions of people. Today in east Mosul, stabilization projects are clearing rubble, clearing land mines, restoring water services and electricity, and nearly 30,000 boys and girls are now back in school. These efforts are being led by Iraqis locally in cooperation with the central government under the leadership of Prime Minister Abadi.
A successful stabilization phase will set the stage for a successful normalization phase. In the normalization phase, local leaders and local governments will take on the process of restoring their communities in the wake of ISIS with our support. The development of a rejuvenated civil society in these places will lead to a disenfranchisement of ISIS and the emergence of stability and peace where there was once chaos and suffering.
But none of this will happen automatically. We all need to support this effort. To date, in Iraq and Syria, the United States provides 75 percent of the military resources supporting our local partners in their fight against ISIS. For humanitarian and stabilization support, the ratio is reversed, with the United States providing 25 percent and the rest of the coalition providing 75 percent.
The United States will do its part, but the circumstances on the ground require more from all of you. I ask each country to examine how it can best support these vital stabilization efforts, especially in regard to contribution of military and financial resources.
As we stabilize areas encompassing ISIS’s physical caliphates in Iraq and Syria, we also must prevent their seeds of hatred from taking root elsewhere. The loss of territory in Iraq and Syria has forced ISIS to extend its current branches and build new bases of operations in countries around the world. Already we are seeing ISIS-linked cells from the Pacific Rim to Central Asia to South America. Just this month, dozens of people were killed and wounded when members of ISIS disguised as doctors attacked a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan.
We know military strength will stop ISIS on a battlefield, but it is the combined strength of our coalition that will be the final blow to ISIS. In order to stay ahead of a global outbreak, we must all adopt the following countermeasures: First, continue to persist with in-country counterterrorism and law enforcement operations. All of us must maintain pressure on ISIS’s networks within our own countries and take decisive law enforcement action to stop its growth. ISIS is connected across every continent, and we must work to break every link in its chain. INTERPOL is the newest member of our coalition and is critical to closing all routes through which ISIS terrorists seek to travel and threaten our homelands.
Second, we need greater intelligence and information sharing within our own domestic intelligence agencies and among our nations. Our information sharing as a coalition has prevented a number of attacks, and this must expand and accelerate regardless of departmental or international rivalries. One example of this is West African nations who have put aside national differences to combat Boko Haram. Let us build on this good example.
We also must look this enemy’s ideology in the eyes for what it is: a warped interpretation of Islam that threatens all of our people. As His Majesty, King Abdullah II of Jordon, has recently said, and I quote, “Everything they are, everything they do, is a blatant violation… of my faith.” ISIS fighters are not all from poor or impoverished communities. Many come from middle class or even upper class backgrounds, drawn to a radical and false utopian vision that purports to be based upon the Quran. Muslim partners and leaders of their faith must combat this perverse ideological message. And we are grateful that so many have and are ready to take up this responsibility.
Lastly, in tandem with our aggressive push-back on the ground in multiple countries, we must break ISIS’s ability to spread its message and recruit new followers online.
A “digital caliphate” must not flourish in the place of a physical one.
As we have seen from attacks in Nice, Berlin, Orlando, and San Bernardino, the internet is ISIS’s best weapon for turning a recruit into a self-radicalized attacker. As traveling to Iraq and Syria as a fighter has become more difficult, ISIS’s new call has become, and I quote, “Stay where you are…wage war in Daesh’s name wherever you live.”
ISIS’s handlers around the world spend their days at keyboards communicating with a would-be terrorist, methodically feeding a recruit’s deranged desire to develop local networks or carry out attacks in their own countries.
We are making progress, but we need to do more to attack this threat. Our Coalition’s 24/7 counter-messaging hubs in the UAE, the UK, and Malaysia are having an impact, and these types of efforts should be replicated and expanded elsewhere.
Counter-messaging efforts should continue both in the online arena and on the ground in countries where religious leaders have opportunities to speak out against radicalization. Our Muslim partners, particularly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have important roles to play in combatting the message of ISIS and other radical Islamic terrorist groups.
We all should deepen cooperation with the tech industry to prevent encrypted technologies from serving as tools that enable extremist collaboration.
We need the global tech industry to develop new advancements in the fight, and we thank those companies which are already responding to this challenge. We must capitalize on the extraordinary advancements in data analytics and algorithmic technologies to build tools that discover ISIS’s propaganda and identify imminent attacks.
Researchers in the United States are already developing tools for sweeping the dark corners of the internet for ISIS material, but they need help to get to their destination even faster. Later on, we will hear at lunch from Ali Jaber, who will speak in great detail on how to achieve victory in this arena.
But let me be clear: we must fight ISIS online as aggressively as we would on the ground.
In closing, ISIS presents an ongoing challenge to our collective security, but as we have seen, it is not more powerful than we are when we stand together. We must thwart ISIS as it tries to maintain a presence on the ground and in cyberspace. We must enhance cooperation and border security, aviation security, law enforcement, financial sanctions, counter-messaging, and intelligence sharing. And we must keep making the investment in liberated areas in Iraq and Syria to help innocent people rebuild and stabilize their communities.
Right now, this means continuing to clear explosives, restore water and power, deliver humanitarian and resettlement assistance, and forge partnerships with the local leaders who reject extremism. Our time today is an opportunity for the open and honest exchange of information and encouragement. As allies dedicated to defeating a common enemy, we should strive to understand and respect one another’s perspectives and adopt the ideas that will achieve our mission.
Most of all, now is the time to strengthen our shared commitment to security and invest in a fight in which we all have a stake.
—March 22, 2017, at the Ministerial Plenary for the Global Coalition Working to Defeat ISIS
“America’s promotion of international religious freedom demands standing up for the rights of the world’s most vulnerable populations. ISIS’ brutal treatment of religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East has drawn a great degree of attention over the last few years. The 2016 Annual Report details these atrocities.
ISIS has and continues to target members of multiple religions and ethnicities for rape, kidnapping, enslavement, and death. ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controlled. ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities. The protection of these groups – and others who are targets of violent extremism – remains a human rights priority for the Trump Administration.”
—August 15, 2017, in the preface of the International Religious Freedom Report for 2016
“As we make progress in defeating ISIS and denying them their caliphate, their terrorist members have and continue to target multiple religions and ethnic groups for rape, kidnapping, enslavement, and even death.
To remove any ambiguity from previous statements or reports by the State Department, the crime of genocide requires three elements: specific acts with specific intent to destroy in whole or in part specific people, members of national, ethnic, racial, or religious groups. Specific act, specific intent, specific people.
Application of the law to the facts at hand leads to the conclusion ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled.
ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.
More recently, ISIS has claimed responsibility for attacks on Christian pilgrims and churches in Egypt.
The protection of these groups – and others subject to violent extremism – is a human rights priority for the Trump administration.
We will continue working with our regional partners to protect religious minority communities from terrorist attacks and to preserve their cultural heritage.”
—August 15, 2017, in remarks
CIA Director Mike Pompeo
“There have been times the Iranians have worked alongside Al Qaeda.
But there have been connections where, at the very least, they have cuts deals so as not to come after each other. That is, they view the West as a greater threat than the fight is between them two along their ideological lines. And we, the intelligence community, has reported on this for an awfully long time. It is something we are very mindful of.
And, with the defeat of the real estate proposition in Syria and Iraq for ISIS, we watch what's going on in Idlib. You've got ISIS folks, Al-Nusra Front, Al Qaeda folks up in the north. We're watching to see if there aren't places where they work together for a common threat against the United States.”
“We have one stated policy from the president, that's very clear with respect to South Asia, and the threat that not only the Taliban presents there but the Haqqani network, Al Qaeda, ISIS, in Afghanistan, the increasing Russians.
The president's made an unconditioned commitment—that is, no-timeline commitment— to defeating the threat to the West from radical Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan. I am confident that the intelligence community will continue to deliver an understanding to the president, such that he can shape the policies he's going to follow in Syria. To push back not only against Iran, but the Syrian regime, and to ensure that the Abadi government in Iraq is successful as well.”
“It would be foolish to predict that there was going to be no son of ISIS. It seems that that would be—you'd be betting against historical fact. Whether they call themselves ISIS or ISIS 2.0 or whatever you want to call the name, the threat—this threat from radical Islamic terrorism is real, it remains—the fall of the caliphate is great news, it is an historic achievement, to be sure. But it—it's partial at best.
You talked about all the places ISIS operates—the Philippines, Southeast Asia, the list is long—we'll talk about things that they are capable of doing, wholly apart from the regions in which they operate. They still have the capacity to control and influence citizens all around the world. Technology enables it, and their desire, to even do these small-scale attacks—I've spent a lot of time with my British counterparts, they have suffered this more than we have.
Small-scale attacks, directed from afar, motivated—pick a term. I often hear folks talk about lone wolf. I prefer not to use that term because it is seldom the case that they were completely individual, acting autonomously. It is almost always the case that the ideology that drove them was driven by someone who had great intent to deliver that idea into their head.
It is an incredibly difficult adversary. Those attacks have shorter lead times. The tools that we have developed to take down networks are less likely to be successful. Although, in many cases, have achieved the end of taking down particular plots. But I think we would all be foolish to believe that the fact that the command post, and the thousands of folks operating out of particular geographies, is no longer a possibility for ISIS, at least in those places was going to be the end of the threat to the United States. It's still very real.”
“So ISIS' capacity to conduct an external operation remains, but I wouldn't put ISIS—I think you started your question with ISIS. I wouldn't put them in a singular bucket. AQAP—Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula—has, for a long time, had this mission statement which includes the taking down of a commercial airliner bound for a western country.
Certainly, amongst those would be the United States. You've seen Homeland Security take some actions, security measures surrounding that. Those are in response to perceived threats, I think, measured appropriately. But make no mistake about it, the intent still remains, the capability remains and we worry, too, that there is capability that we just don't see.”
National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster
“So what we would like to see in Iraq is a stable Iraq that is not aligned with Iran. And what we would like to do is continue to assist the Iraqis to do what the president has told us to work with allies and partners to do. Which is to destroy ISIS and to not permit another group like ISIS, another Takfireen or Salafi jihadist group to come back by doing three fundamental things. Deny them safe havens and support bases, cut off their funding, and defeat the ideology, right?
And eliminate this draw of vulnerable populations into these kind of organizations. And so the fight in Iraq is relevant to that, but it's also relevant to ensuring that Iraq emerges from this horrible period of conflict strong, right?
The United States has a strong interest in a strong Iraq. I would say that others who are operating within Iraq who were subverting Iraq, Iran in particular, are attempting to keep Iraq perpetually weak and are applying to Iraq what you might call a Hezbollah model where you have a weak government, a government that is deliberately weakened and a government that is reliant on Iran for support while Iran grows malicious and in the illegal arm groups that lie outside of that government’s control.
And malicious and terrorist groups that can be turned against that government if that government takes action against Iranian interest.”
“But what Iran relies on and what groups like ISIS, these attack-fearing groups, rely on is, they rely on ignorance. Because you need a certain degree of ignorance to foment hatred. And then use that hatred to perpetuate violence against innocent people.
And that, in turn, creates conditions where no one's being educated and communities are pitted against each other and they're vulnerable to the demagoguery of these people.
So it's, fundamentally, we have to work to break that cycle. And those who are perpetuating that cycle, at the top of that list are, you know, groups like ISIS, al Qaeda and its affiliates, and then, right with them, is IRGC. Hezbollah.”
Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly
“During his first two weeks in office, President Trump issued executive orders to secure our borders, enforce our immigration laws, and protect the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States. The President has gotten right to work, fighting on behalf of American families and workers—and these moves will strengthen our national security.”
“This executive order establishes the foundation for securing our southern border by providing the tools, resources, and policy direction for DHS’s dedicated men and women who are responsible for securing the border—to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.”
“A third executive order, signed by the President on January 27, will protect all Americans from certain foreign nationals who intend to commit terrorist attacks in the United States by preventing such individuals from exploiting our immigration laws.”
“As the President has stated, “Homeland Security is in the business of saving lives, and that mandate will guide our actions.” These executive orders further that goal by enhancing border security, promoting public safety, and minimizing the threat of terrorist attacks by foreign nationals in the homeland.”
“As a nation, control of our borders is paramount. Without that control, every other form of threat—illicit drugs, unauthorized immigrants, transnational organized crime, certain dangerous communicable diseases, terrorists—could enter at will. DHS was created to prevent terrorist attacks against the United States. The principal means of prevention within the United States is effective border control, denying admission to aliens who seek to harm Americans or violate our laws, and countering efforts to recruit individuals to undertake terrorist acts.”
“Within DHS and our Federal, State, local, and international partners, we must expand our vetting of those seeking to enter our country—particularly of those individuals from high-risk countries—including refugees. We currently lack a comprehensive strategy with uniform screening standards to prevent terrorists from entering the country. Unfortunately, our country has recently admitted some foreign nationals without an adequate understanding of their allegiances and intentions.”
—Feb. 7, 2017, in written testimony for the House Committee on Homeland Security
“Furthermore, this is not, I repeat, not, a ban on Muslims. The homeland security mission is to safeguard the American people, our homeland, our values and religious liberty, it is one of our most fundamental and treasured values. It is important to understand that there are terrorists and other bad actors who are seeking to infiltrate our homeland every single day. The seven countries named in the executive order are those designated by congress and the Obama administration as requiring additional security when making decisions about who comes into our homeland. As my predecessor Secretary Johnson liked to say, it is easier to play defense on the 50-yard line then it is on the 1 yard line. By preventing terrorists from entering our country, we can stop terror attacks from striking the homeland. We cannot gamble with American lives. I will not gamble with American lives. These orders are a matter of national security, and it is my sworn responsibility as Secretary of Homeland Security to protect and defend the American people. And I have directed departmental leadership to implement the president's executive orders professionally, humanely, and in accordance with the law.”
—Jan. 31, 2017, in a Media Availability
In a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Secretary Kelly “discussed the mutual prioritization of continued security cooperation, particularly as it relates to the pressure Jordan faces from regional threats and protecting Jordan’s northern border with Syria from foreign terrorist fighters. Secretary Kelly and King Abdullah II spoke about the importance of countering violent extremism, and Secretary Kelly pledged his support to work with Jordan to confront the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).”
—Jan. 30, 2017, according to a Department of Homeland Security Readout
General Joseph Votel
Commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)
As we have seen with the ongoing campaign to defeat ISIS, diminishment of the physical organization does not equate to the dismantlement of their virtual presence. To the contrary, terrorist organizations’ activities in cyberspace enable them to remain relevant despite setbacks on the battlefield, while reaching out to direct, enable, and/or inspire audiences well beyond the region’s geographic borders. Countering the “virtual caliphate” will require a concerted ‘whole 5 of government’ effort led by the people of the region. We can support our partners’ activities, but their voices and influence will be required to achieve enduring positive results. …
Operation INHERENT RESOLVE (Iraq and Syria). The Counter-ISIS (C-ISIS) Campaign has entered its third year and we are on track with the military plan to defeat the terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria. Our “by, with, and through” approach and operational level simultaneity strategy are working, and our partner forces continue to build momentum across the battlespace as we pressure the enemy on multiple fronts and across all domains. Together we are forcing the enemy to deal with multiple simultaneous dilemmas (e.g., ground operations, airstrikes, cyber activities, information operations, and discrete interdictions of resource flows). This is putting increased pressure on their operations and command and control capability while stretching their limited resources.
The strength of the C-ISIS Campaign is the C-ISIS Coalition consisting of all branches of service and our Interagency and international partners, and the many contributions they willingly make to the fight against our common enemy—“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Without the support of the Coalition, our “by, with, and through” approach would not be doable.
Our stand-off fires, including Coalition air and artillery, remain another lynchpin of the CISIS Campaign. Improved intelligence has enabled the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) to increase the number of deliberate strikes conducted in recent months, targeting ISIS’s infrastructure, oil revenue sources, etc. Over the past year, the Coalition’s precision effects campaign has removed dozens more ISIS senior leaders from the battlefield, attrited large portions of the organization’s forces, further disrupted its command and control capability, and greatly degraded its pool of resources and access to replacements and personnel reinforcements. As the campaign progresses, and as ISIS shifts actions and behaves increasingly like a terrorist organization, hiding amongst civilians as a force protection measure, we will continue to make the necessary adjustments to our air operations. We want to target the enemy effectively, while also ensuring that we minimize collateral damage. International law requires it; and, when America’s sons and daughters go to war, they go with our values. Thus, it is imperative that when we conduct operations we do so in such a way that we limit the loss of innocent lives.
While we continue to make great strides towards countering ISIS trans-regionally, we recognize that we are dealing with a highly adaptive enemy. In particular, ISIS’ use of chemical weapons and its evolving application of available off-the-shelf technologies that include unmanned aerial systems now used for both observation and to achieve lethal effects, poses a growing threat. For example, ISIS has reportedly used chemicals, including sulfur mustard and toxic industrial chemicals, in attacks more than 50 times in Iraq and Syria since 2014. Although the threat of chemical weapons has not slowed the Counter-ISIS Campaign, ISIS could further develop its chemical weapons capability. We are committed to working with partners to locate, secure, render harmless, eliminate or destroy any chemical and biological weapon materials found during the course of operations in Iraq and Syria, and to effectively remove this threat from our troops and civilian populations.
We will defeat ISIS militarily; however, a lasting defeat of this enemy will not be achieved unless similar progress is made on the political front. Instability all but guarantees a resurgence of ISIS or the emergence of other terrorist groups seeking to exploit conditions to advance their own aims. We remain fully committed to the “whole of government” approach and continue to ensure our actions are synchronized with and supportive of the efforts of our partners across the Interagency and the International Community.
The military campaign plan to defeat ISIS is on track in both Iraq and Syria. The coalition’s “by, with and through” approach is proving effective. Recognizing that ISIS will be defeated militarily, we want to ensure that we have an enduring posture in the region to support and enable partners’ efforts to preserve security and stability. Iraq remains an anchor in the region and we would be wise to continue to support their efforts going forward. We have a willing partner in Iraq and Prime Minister al-Abadi has clearly articulated a desire for 20 continued U.S. support post-ISIS. We are working with the GoI to finalize a Five-Year Plan to ensure enhanced cooperation. This presents an opportunity to preserve gains achieved to date, while strengthening key relationships and countering malign influence in the region.
The Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia (KSA)] is a key regional leader, calling upon partner nations to join them in addressing regional challenges, including Iranian malign influence. Having actively supported the fight against ISIS in the early stages of the campaign, KSA shifted its priority of effort to Yemen in 2015 where it leads the coalition against the Saleh- and Iranian-backed Huthis, who continue to pose a threat to Yemen’s internal stability, security in KSA’s southern border region, and the flow of commerce through the Bab al Mandeb Strait. The Saudis also are concerned about the threat posed by VEOs operating in Yemen, including the al Qaeda affiliate, AQAP, and the ISIS affiliate, IS-Y. We are principally focused on helping KSA to improve its target development and accountability processes in order to reduce incidence of civilian casualties, while also providing them with focused logistics and intelligence sharing support. Our longstanding partnership with KSA remains critical to maintaining stability in the region given their influence in the GCC and among many Muslim-majority countries. Our mil-to-mil relationship represents the strongest component of that partnership and continues to serve as the foundation for productive collaboration. By continuing to provide opportunities for the Saudis to enhance their defense capabilities, mainly through our substantive training and exercise program and 36 robust FMS valued at $109B in open cases, we aim to improve interoperability while effectively addressing challenges in pursuit of our shared security goals and objectives.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was among the first countries to join the Counter-ISIS Coalition in 2014. While their primary focus has since shifted to support the ongoing KSA-led military campaign in Yemen, UAE continues to provide support to several of the C-ISIS Coalition’s key lines of effort, including counter-messaging, counter-financing, and stemming the flow of foreign fighters. …. We value our strong relationship with the Emirates and seek to build upon our robust mil-to-mil relationship, including by concluding a new Defense Cooperation Agreement that could serve as a foundation for expanded, mutually beneficial defense cooperation. We will work to expand our collaboration, specifically in the areas of security cooperation and foreign military sales. Additionally, we will work with the Emirates to promote their leadership role among partner nations in the region.
With its strategic location, control of the Suez Canal, enduring peace treaty with Israel coupled with a religious and cultural Pan-Arab influence, Egypt remains a stalwart partner in pursuit of shared Middle East policy objectives that include counter-terrorism, counter-violent extremism, and improved regional stability. Of particular concern is the threat posed by the ISIS affiliate, IS-Sinai which conducts frequent attacks against the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF) and security services. While the EAF has managed to contain violence in the Sinai Peninsula without a comprehensive strategy to defeat IS-Sinai, we have a vested interest in helping them to effectively address this threat to ensure that the Sinai does not become a safe haven for extremist elements, including by providing additional bilateral military and security training.
The Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) and the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) continue to make key contributions in support of the Counter-ISIS Campaign. With U.S. and coalition assistance, the JAF have fortified Jordan’s borders with Iraq and Syria, while enabling the International Community’s ongoing efforts to address the burgeoning humanitarian crisis manifesting inside of Jordan (~650,000 refugees) and in two camps located along the border in southern Syria (~55,000-65,000 IDPs) . It is imperative that we remain actively engaged with our Jordanian partners. Jordan provides a much-needed moderate Islamic voice in the region and is a trusted intermediary in efforts to advance progress between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Lebanon remains a key partner in our efforts to counter violent extremism in the Central Region, and their ground forces offer one of the greatest returns on investment in the region. They are routinely countering groups that include ISIS and Al Nusra Front, denying them freedom of movement, and strengthening the country’s border defenses with our continued support. U.S. security assistance to Lebanon has enhanced the Lebanese Armed Forces’ (LAF) ability to counter malign influences and terrorist elements operating within the country. A strong and capable LAF acts as a counterweight to the militant arm of Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), while diminishing LH’s claim as the sole “resistance” in Lebanon.
Building Partner Capacity. Building Partner Capacity (BPC) is essential to achieving our objectives in the Central Region. To improve stability in the USCENTCOM AOR and mitigate 49 the need for costly U.S. military intervention, we must be forward-leaning and empower our partners to meet internal security challenges and work collectively to counter common threats. BPC is a lower-cost alternative to U.S. boots on the ground, has longer-term sustainability, and is necessary for interoperable, combined coalition operations. As such it represents a high return investment in the future of the Central Region. By building capacity and enabling partners to assume a larger role in providing for the stability and security of their sovereign spaces, we will enhance regional stability while still maintaining our critical access and influence in the region. Other tangible by-products achieved through our BPC efforts include enhanced interoperability, improved security for forward deployed forces and diplomatic sites, continued access and influence, and more professional regional militaries comprised of forces learning the importance of rule of law and compliance with human rights norms. Continued support of key partners engaged in the ongoing military campaign to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria is particularly important. As important as long-term regional stability is BPC’s focus on the threat environment and shaping the region is critical to better prepare and deter and counter state and non-state aggression. Our key partners’ ability to procure U.S. weapons and equipment and increase interoperability with U.S. and coalition forces is critical to our success. Any reduction of U.S. assistance risks undermining our allies and creating a security vacuum for exploitation by state and non-state actors with counter-U.S. or violent intentions.
Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS). The enemy Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) threat and employment in the USCENTCOM AOR is rapidly evolving. Numerous non-state actors including ISIS, al Qaida, Taliban, Lebanese Hezbollah, and Fatah al-Sham are using both commercial-off-the-shelf and military drones to conduct operations against U.S. and coalition forces. This threat has evolved from reconnaissance and surveillance missions to weaponized drone attacks resulting in battlefield casualties. State actors continue to increase the sophistication of their UAS with all countries in the USCENTCOM AOR utilizing various classes of UAS for operations. Given the evolving threat, the need for an effective CounterUAS capability that can defeat all classes of UAS remains a top priority. To address this problem, USCENTCOM is working with various Defense agencies and Industry through the Joint Urgent Operational Need (JUON) process to develop and acquire an effective system to employ against UAS. The ability to rapidly respond to this emerging threat is critical to mission success and requires increased funding to promote innovative solutions with expedited testing and rapid acquisition.
Global Engagement Center – The best way to defeat an idea is to present a better, more appealing idea to vulnerable and undecided audiences. The State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) effectively coordinates, integrates, and synchronizes messaging to foreign audiences designed to undermine the disinformation espoused by violent extremist groups, including ISIS and al Qaeda, while offering positive alternatives. The Center is focused on empowering and enabling partners, governmental and non-governmental, who are able to speak out against these groups and provide an alternative to ISIS’s nihilist vision. To that end, the Center offers services ranging from planning thematic social media campaigns to providing factual information that counters disinformation to building capacity for third parties to effectively utilize social media to research and evaluation. (57)
Iraq Train & Equip Fund (ITEF). Iraq’s ability to defeat ISIS requires professionalizing and building the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), including military or other security forces associated with the Government of Iraq, such as Kurdish and tribal security forces or other local forces with a national security mission. Most notably, the ongoing Coalition Military Campaign to defeat ISIS relies on indigenous Iraqi Security Forces to conduct ground operations against the enemy and liberate ISIS controlled territory. They have risen to the task and are making progress in this ongoing endeavor. While the initial training and equipping of the ISF focused heavily on developing Iraqi Army (IA) Brigades to conduct offensive operations, future efforts will shift to sustainment of combat capability and hold forces to ensure that liberated areas remain under the control of the GoI and that these forces are able to counter remaining ISIS pockets and any other VEOs which may emerge and attempt to fill the void created by the defeat of ISIS. These hold forces will be a combination of local tribal fighters and police forces.
Syria Train & Equip Program. Protecting the United States from terrorists operating in Syria and setting the ultimate conditions for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in that country will require the continued training and equipping of Vetted Syria Opposition (VSO) forces. Additional recruitment, retention, resupply, and support are central to our strategy to defeat ISIS in Syria. Our revised training approach is proving successful, improving the effectiveness and lethality of the force on path to a projected strength of up to 35,000 by the end of fiscal year 2017 and growing to 40,000 in 2018. Procurement and manufacturing lead times for non-standard weapons and ammunition and delivery from various foreign vendors complicates the already complex train and equip mission, so we appreciate as much flexibility as possible in authorizing and appropriating funds for this effort. The SDF and VSOs continues to advance in defeating ISIS and holding and defending liberated areas, while also assisting local authorities in providing humanitarian and security assistance to the populace.
Coalition Support. The authorities and funding that underpin our ability to effectively conduct Coalition operations, including in support of partners whose contributions are critical, but who lack the resources to participate without our assistance, are key to our continued success. The Coalition Support Fund (CSF) provides the authority to reimburse certain Coalition partners for logistical and military support provided by that nation in connection with Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan operations. The CSF also funds the Coalition Readiness Support Program (CRSP) which authorizes supplies, the loaning of equipment, and specialized training assistance to coalition forces. The CSF relieves the operational burden on U.S. forces and enhances the visibility of Coalition presence. This authority remains critical to our strategic approach to Coalition operations, including, but not limited to, the ongoing military campaign to defeat 61 the terrorist organization, ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and our transition in Afghanistan.
Going forward, we want to ensure commanders engaged in the Counter-ISIS missions can provide immediate, but limited, small scale humanitarian assistance to ISIS liberated areas, until national and international relief agencies can provide that support. Our responsiveness is critical to quickly stabilizing those areas in order to begin the holding phase of the campaign and to counter ISIS messaging.
—March 9, 2017, in a statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee
Ambassador Nathan A. Sales, Coordinator for Counterterrorism
"This week we hosted a conference on international efforts to defeat ISIS using civilian tools and law enforcement tools. As we defeat ISIS on the battlefield, the group is adapting to our success. It’s important to understand and to emphasize that the fight is by no means over. It’s simply moving to a new phase. We’re moving from a predominantly military effort to an increasingly civilian and law enforcement effort. It’s increasingly important for us to supplement our military lines of effort to defeat ISIS with civilian tools, civilian initiatives that can ensure the group’s enduring defeat.
So yesterday I opened the discussion by sharing an overview of what the United States has been doing in this space to counter ISIS using law enforcement and other civilian capabilities. So let me give you a summary of three of the key tools that we highlighted.
First of all, terrorist designations and sanctions; second, the use of passenger name record data to secure borders; and third, biometrics to screen for terrorists who might be trying to board planes or cross borders.
So first of all, I announced the decision by Secretary Tillerson to designate seven ISIS-affiliated groups and two ISIS-affiliated leaders. The groups are ISIS-West Africa, ISIS-Somalia, ISIS-Egypt, ISIS-Bangladesh, ISIS-Philippines, the Maute Group, and finally, Jund al-Khilafah Tunisia. The two individuals are Mahad Moalim, who is a leader of ISIS’s Somalia affiliate, as well as Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who is a leader in the ISIS West Africa affiliate.
These terrorists, both groups and individuals, have spread ISIS’s bloody campaign to all corners of the globe. I’ll give you a few examples. In December of 2016, ISIS-Egypt bombed Cairo’s Coptic Christian cathedral, an attack that killed 28 people. ISIS-Bangladesh murdered 22 people in a July 2016 assault on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka. The Maute Group is responsible for the siege of the Philippines city of Marawi and the September 2016 Davao market bombing, which killed 15 people and wounded 70 others.
Yesterday’s designations joined the eight other ISIS-affiliated groups that we previously designated. We have listed these groups and individuals to illuminate ISIS’s global network and to emphasize once again that the campaign against ISIS is far from over. These designations will deny ISIS the resources it needs to carry out terrorist attacks because we don’t just want to stop the bomber, it’s also essential to stop the money man who buys the bomb.
Second, during the conference, we also discussed passenger name records, or PNR. PNR is the information you give an airline when you book a ticket – a phone number, an email address, a seat assignment, and so on. It’s an incredibly powerful counterterrorism tool. PNR can help analysts identify suspicious travel patterns, flagging threats that otherwise might have escaped notice. It can also illuminate hidden connections between known threats and their unknown associates. Let me give you just one example.
In December of 2009, a U.S. citizen by the name of Faisal Shahzad received explosives training in Pakistan for people affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban. In February of 2010, Shahzad arrived to JFK on a one-way ticket from Islamabad. He was referred to secondary because he matched a PNR targeting rule, so customs officers interviewed him and released him. Three months later, on May 1st, 2010, a car bomb failed to detonate in Times Square. Investigators tied Shahzad to the car. Customs then placed an alert for Shahzad in its system. So when he booked a flight to flee the country, the system flagged it and he was arrested at JFK as he attempted to fly to Dubai. He was convicted, and he’s now serving a life sentence.
The PNR system that the U.S. uses, and indeed pioneered, is now an international obligation. Last year, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2396 – unanimously, by the way – and at the instigation and urging of the United States. This new resolution requires all UN members to develop the same kind of system that the United States has been using for years. We used this week’s discussions at the conference to urge other countries to live up to their obligations under this new Security Council resolution and develop and deploy those systems quickly.
Finally, at the conference we discussed biometrics. Biometrics are a critical tool for verifying that travelers really are who they say they are. Terrorists will try to mask their true identities using any number of subterfuges, aliases, fake passports, and so on. It’s a lot harder for them to fake their fingerprints, and that’s why we collect biometrics from visitors to this country. We take their fingerprints, we take their facial scans, and we use that data to run against our watch list of known and suspected terrorists. Here’s one example. Just a few weeks ago, authorities arrested a man in Oklahoma who was suspected of trying to join al-Qaida. They were able to identify him because his fingerprints matched those taken from a document retrieved in Afghanistan. It was an application for al-Qaida’s Farouq camp, which is where four of the 9/11 hijackers were trained.
Again, thanks to UN Security Council Resolution 2396, this civilian tool is now a global norm. The resolution requires all UN members to collect biometrics to spot terrorists if they attempt to board planes or cross borders. We’re urging our partners to implement this obligation as quickly as possible.
So in conclusion, our discussions this week covered these three tools and a number of other civilian capabilities that we’re using along with our partners to defeat ISIS. ISIS is a resilient organization, and it’s an organization committing – committed to continuing its fight against us notwithstanding the loss of its so-called territory – so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq. It’s incumbent upon us in the United States, along with our international partners, to adapt to meet that new challenge. As the military phase of this struggle in Syria and Iraq winds down, we’ll be standing up and reinforcing our civilian and law enforcement capabilities to defeat this group in an enduring way."
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask about the new designations you announced as part of this, the ISIS affiliates. Does the decision to list them all separately from the general ISIL designation reflect the belief that they are more autonomous than they used to be? And can you speak to how closely the – you believe they cooperate with sort of like an ISIS-central if there is still one?
AMBASSADOR SALES: I think what we’re seeing is ISIS becoming increasingly decentralized. I mentioned a moment ago about how ISIS is evolving and adapting, and I think their trend towards decentralization is a good example of that. You’re seeing groups from all corners of the world motivated by the same bloody and deadly ISIS ideology who are using the same sorts of techniques targeting innocent men, women, and children, targeting soft targets, and so we wanted to designate groups across the world to remind – well first of all, to reflect reality that ISIS is a global network that spreads its propaganda and spills blood on a global basis, and also to draw attention – to draw the world community’s attention to the fact that just because the false caliphate in Iraq and Syria has fallen, that doesn’t mean that ISIS is powerless. And it’s very much to the contrary. We’re seeing a decentralized network fan out across the globe to continue the bloody work.
QUESTION: Did you make any progress in the past two days convincing these other countries who attended the conference to take their captured foreign terrorist fighters and prosecute them? I know that’s been an issue for a lot of them and they’re hesitant to do it. ..."
AMBASSADOR SALES: First of all, on the international front, we’ve been very clear here at the State Department with our friends around the world that they shouldn’t look to other countries to solve their problems for them. If a country sees its citizens traveling to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS, it’s up to that country to prosecute those individuals rather than expecting the SDF to do it or the Iraqis to do it or, ultimately, the United States to do it. So we’ve been consistent in our expectation, in communicating our expectation to our partners that they shouldn’t look for other people to solve this problem, but rather should conduct these prosecutions of their citizens themselves.
QUESTION: First of all, you talked about decentralized control, and that brings up the question of the leadership of ISIS and Mr. Baghdadi. Do you have a sense how much control he or those around him have? There have been a number of reports about his injuries. Can you give us a sense of how much you think he actually is running ISIS today?
And secondly, have you seen the movement of ISIS fighters who who once were within the caliphate to places like Idlib, whether they joined other groups, whether it’s al-Qaida or other militias? Do you have a sense that there is a kind of graying of who is ISIS and who is al-Qaida?
AMBASSADOR SALES: Let me address that second question or group of questions first. So ISIS was born out of al-Qaida in Iraq. The relationship between ISIS and Iraq – or, sorry, al-Qaida in Iraq and ISIS has been a complex one over the years. But as ISIS has lost territory, we’re concerned that battle-hardened veterans who’ve experienced combat in the war zone might take their talents to other organizations. Whether their units were destroyed or whether they became disenchanted or demoralized or whether they became persuaded by other strands of terrorist ideology, there’s always a risk that they might migrate to other organizations, al-Qaida included. I don’t have any intelligence to share with you on the extent to which that is actually happening, but it’s certainly a general concern that we have and that we’re very much focused on.
On the second part there, I have to defer to colleagues in the Intelligence Community who could speak more authoritatively than I could on that – or not, as the case may be. As far as the relationship between ISIS core and ISIS networks and affiliates around the world, we’re facing a really complex series of threats because in addition to those regional entities like ISIS-Bangladesh or ISIS-Philippines that have a measure of autonomy in planning operations, planning attacks, we also have to continually worry about core ISIS’s ambitions to carry out attacks outside the conflict zone – the external operations of the sort that we saw in Paris in November of 2015 and in Brussels in the spring of 2016.
So as ISIS metastasizes around the world, the threat becomes more complex, and that’s exactly why we had this conference here in Washington this week to remind our allies and partners of the need to continually take action now in a civilian space to take the fight and keep the pressure on the dispersed tentacles, but also the core as well.
QUESTION: Do you have a sense that ISIS core is still – despite the fact ISIS is spreading out, still maintains a significant degree of command and control that would allow them or is allowing them to plan and carry out attacks? What has the use of the PNR and the biometrics – what is it showing you about the patterns of movement for either foreign fighters or would-be jihadists in terms of how they’re flocking to these different groups around the world and where they’re going? And in Africa specifically, to what degree are groups like ISIS and al-Qaida affiliates competing with each other for operatives or competing with each other to get more jihadists to their side, more experienced fighters to their cause?
AMBASSADOR SALES: Well, on the movement question, I think some of the countries to which ISIS fighters might travel or from which they might come, a number of those countries have not yet stood up PNR systems of the sort that we have in the United States and of the sort that a number of our close partners have. So it’s difficult for those countries to authoritatively track the movement of persons across their borders, especially including the movement of possible foreign terrorist fighters or other terrorists. That’s one of the reasons why the United States led the effort in the UN Security Council to make mandatory the obligation for all UN members to collect and use PNR data to develop those systems that we have here in the United States, and that Europe – the European Union has directed EU member-states to implement by May of this year.
As far as the competition between ISIS or al-Qaida is concerned for recruiting new members or peeling off disaffected members of the other organization, that’s certainly a concern. The schism between, the split, the difference between the two organizations’ tactics – all of that heightens the sense that they are competing for one – against one another for adherence.
And from the United States standpoint, that’s not a great position for the rest of the world to be in. We live in a world where we confront the threat of ISIS core, we live in a world where we’re increasingly seeing a dispersed ISIS network that’s capable of mounting attacks whether independently or in coordination with each other. And to that we add a resilient al-Qaida that has largely been out of the headlines in recent years, but that certainly has the capability and intent to conduct mass casualty attacks of its own.
—Feb. 28, 2018, in a State Department press briefing
U.S. State Department Fact Sheet: The Global Coalition – Working to Defeat ISIS
March 22, 2017
Since its formation in 2014, the Global Coalition has worked diligently to reduce the threat ISIS poses to international security and our homelands. Coalition members are united in common cause to defeat ISIS through a robust approach, including working by, with, and through local partners for military operations; supporting the stabilization of territory liberated from ISIS; and, enhancing international cooperation against ISIS’ global objectives through information sharing, law enforcement cooperation, severing ISIS’ financing, countering violent extremist recruitment, and neutralizing ISIS' narrative. The Coalition is also engaged in broad-based civilian efforts to provide humanitarian aid to communities suffering from displacement and conflict, and supporting stabilization efforts in territory liberated from ISIS. The Coalition’s combined efforts have diminished ISIS’ military capability, territorial gains, leadership, financial resources, and on-line influence.
The 68-member Global Coalition is the largest international coalition in history. It is a diverse group, in which each member makes unique contributions to a robust civilian and military effort.
THE MILITARY CAMPAIGN
Twenty-three Coalition partners have over 9,000 troops in Iraq and Syria in support of the effort to defeat ISIS. Working by, with, and through our local partners, the Coalition has made significant progress in denying ISIS safe haven and building the military capacity of those engaged in direct action against ISIS.
Coalition operations have liberated 62 percent of the terrain ISIS once controlled in Iraq and 30 percent in Syria, including key cities in both countries. The number of ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria is at its lowest level since the group declared its “caliphate,” down by more than half since its peak in 2014.
Coalition air assets have conducted more than 19,000 strikes on ISIS targets, removing tens of thousands ISIS fighters from the battlefield and killing over 180 senior to mid-level ISIS leaders, including nearly all of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's deputies, his so-called ministers of war, information, finance, oil and gas, and his chief of external operations. Beyond fighters, these precision airstrikes are targeting ISIS external attack plotters, military commanders, administrative officials, facilitators, and communicators, as well as its energy assets, command and control facilities, and bulk cash storage facilities.
The Coalition has supported our Iraqi partners to achieve significant progress in the fight to retake Mosul. Iraqi Security Forces officially liberated eastern Mosul on January 24, 2017 and now are making significant territorial gains in the western portion of the city. To date, Coalition efforts have trained nearly 90,000 Iraqi Security Forces members, including Iraqi Army soldiers, Counterterrorism Services soldiers, Kurdish Peshmerga, federal police and border security soldiers, and tribal volunteers. Coalition members have also donated some 8,200 tons of military equipment to our Iraqi and local Syrian partners in the fight against ISIS.
With the support of the Coalition, our Syrian partners have liberated over 14,000 square kilometers of terrain in Syria, including more than 7,400 square kilometers of territory since isolation operations around Raqqa began on November 5. We are now pressuring ISIS in Raqqa, its external operations headquarters, from where ISIS is plotting against Coalition member interests around the globe. Turkish-led and Coalition-supported operations have also cleared more than 2,000 square kilometers of territory, including removing ISIS off the remainder of the Turkey-Syria border, cutting off a critical transit route for foreign fighters to Europe. As part of these efforts in Syria, the Coalition has helped train thousands of Syrians who have joined the fight to defeat ISIS.
THE CIVILIAN EFFORT
STABILIZATION, HUMANITARIAN, AND ECONOMIC ASSISTANCE
Since 2014, Coalition members have provided more than $22.2 billion in stabilization, demining capabilities, economic support, and humanitarian assistance in Iraq and Syria – all of which guard against a resurgence of ISIS. Last July, at the Iraq Pledging Conference held in Washington, partners pledged more than $2.3 billion for humanitarian assistance, stabilization, and demining in Iraq. The Coalition expects to raise approximately $2 billion for these efforts in Iraq and Syria for 2017.
Coalition support for stabilization programs is crucial as we seek to hold terrain taken from ISIS and provide for people in liberated areas. Support for stabilization efforts is a strategic investment in the fight against ISIS. As a result of this support, local partners in Iraq are holding ground against ISIS, restoring services, clearing schools and clinics of explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices, helping families return home once they are ready, providing security, and contributing to re-establishing the rule of law in liberated areas. ISIS criminals have perpetrated some of the worst international crimes the world has seen in decades and members of the Coalition are documenting these atrocities and working toward holding members of ISIS accountable. Iraq has requested additional assistance to support domestic capacity in pursuing accountability. Internationally, coalition partners are exploring ways to also hold ISIS members accountable for international crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity with international investigative mechanisms.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), working on the ground in Iraq with local partners, has implemented more than 350 projects to date, all of which have achieved their intended objectives on time and at cost. The first projects for Mosul have already started in the outskirts, and $43 million in prepositioned equipment is being deployed. The provision of civilian security by trained police is also critical to the stabilization effort. Five countries have joined the Italian-led effort to train more than 7,000 Iraqi police to date, now graduating approximately 900 new police officers each month.
Iraq’s central government has proven its improved capacity to handle a range of important issues, to include supporting local governance, maintaining security, providing electricity and other essential services, managing the economy, defending its territorial integrity, and upholding the rights of all Iraqis irrespective of their ethnicity, gender, religion, or beliefs. Iraq’s success in rehabilitating liberated communities is due in part to the partnership it forged with Coalition members that has enabled the UNDP to provide more than $240 million in stabilization programs over the last two years.
In Iraq, the Coalition supports and enables Government of Iraq-led military operations to ensure that cities are liberated and secured in a sustainable manner. By working with the United Nations and in partnership with the Government of Iraq, aid organizations have worked to ensure that humanitarian assistance is staged prior to military operations and in preparation for outflows of internally displaced persons (IDPs). By pre-positioning emergency assistance, identifying local hold forces to provide post-ISIS security, establishing a demining capacity, and implementing quick-impact stabilization projects, we have seen a significant reduction in Iraq’s IDP population and helped create conditions that facilitate voluntary, safe, and dignified IDP returns. In total, more than 1.5 million Iraqis have returned to their homes. UN stabilization projects, funded by Coalition partners, have helped set the conditions for the return of more than 500,000 IDPs to Anbar Province alone, including to the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. In eastern Mosul and surrounding areas, more than 70,000 IDPs have returned voluntarily to their homes, the Ninewa Provincial Council has also returned, and the UN has initiated stabilization operations. We will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need throughout the country while stabilization programs are ongoing.
Ten Coalition Members are on tap to meet one-third of Iraq’s demining costs through 2018. Canada, Denmark, and Germany provided generous funding that has allowed Janus Global Operations to clear an estimated 1.7 million square meters of at least 21,248 kilograms of explosive hazards in Iraq’s Anbar Province. UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is similarly working to demine liberated areas, while also focusing on building local demining capacity. Janus and UNMAS have coordinated closely with UNDP and the Government of Iraq to support stabilization planning for Mosul.
As the Coalition-backed forces make rapid progress in military operations to isolate Raqqa, we are applying lessons learned from Mosul to facilitate the stabilization of liberated territories in Syria. Since the start of the Coalition-supported Raqqa campaign last November, military operations have generated approximately 35,000 IDPs. Approximately 27,000 have already returned home following expeditious clearance operations by Coalition-supported C-ISIS forces. The majority of IDPs continues to flee towards, and seek refuge in, areas cleared by Coalition-supported forces, where they have been assisted by host communities and supported by NGOs. The UN and NGO partners have provided assistance to tens of thousands of IDPs in this area since November.
Humanitarian and stabilization efforts are also reaching civilian populations in the liberated cities of Jarabulus and Manbij. In Manbij alone, the Coalition facilitated the delivery of more than 200 metric tons of food to 2,400 families. With Coalition support, over 200 schools have been cleared of explosive remnants of war, 400 schools have reopened, over 70,000 children are back in school, markets are open and bustling, and local medical and social services have resumed. There is now a longer-term effort by a commercial partner to survey, mark, and clear key infrastructure areas in Manbij, while simultaneously training a local Syrian capacity. We intend to expand this project to cover the road to Raqqa and, eventually, Raqqa City.
MULTILATERAL INITIATIVES TO COUNTER A GLOBAL THREAT
ISIS has deliberately fostered interconnectedness among its scattered branches, networks, and supporters, seeking to build a global organization. It continues to provide guidance and funds its branches and networks, has carried out attacks well beyond the territory it directly controls, and retains a robust online presence. Coalition partners have recognized the importance of being networked together to effectively counter this global threat and coordinate efforts to disrupt and degrade ISIS activities. Coalition members and other partners have taken steps to strengthen their capacity to share information, while building and reinforcing partnerships with multi-national organizations like INTERPOL and EUROPOL, and among national agencies like Financial Intelligence Units.
In addition to humanitarian and stabilization assistance, the United Nations has developed a Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, and nations around the world are working to implements its recommendations. The Coalition is also pressing for full implementation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions requiring states to take certain actions against ISIS, such as preventing arms transfers or the provision of funds. The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) has developed a series of initiatives, training programs, and global good practices to address the lifecycle of a violent extremist. Such steps are essential to curbing ISIS’ ability to operate freely across international borders.
Building resistance to extremist propaganda and countering terrorist use of the internet is vital to our effort. Counter ISIS content is now more prevalent online and pro-ISIS content is declining in open forum social media channels. This is a terrorist group that is increasingly struggling in the face of an increasingly organized and sophisticated set of initiatives by the Coalition.
Global Coalition member countries are producing national responses and coordinating counter ISIS communications efforts regionally and globally. The Global Counter ISIS Coalition Communications Working Group (led by the UAE, UK, and U.S.) regularly convenes over 30 member countries with media and tech companies to share information and strategies to counter violent extremist messages online and present positive alternative narratives: its last meeting in London on February 28 was attended by a record 38 countries.
The Communications Working Group also supports a network of messaging centers that expose, refute, and combat online terrorist propaganda. These centers harness the creativity and expertise of local actors to generate positive content that challenges the nihilistic vision of ISIS and its supporters. The Counter-ISIS Communications Cell in London and the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi lead the Coalition’s efforts to tackle ISIS propaganda.
The Global Coalition is actively engaged with the private sector in these efforts. For example, the Global Engagement Center, an interagency entity within the State Department, uses online technology to target potential recruits of terrorist organizations and redirect them to counter ISIS content. In addition, videos developed by partners across the Coalition for a recent campaign targeting vulnerable audiences in Tunisia, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia were watched more than 14 million times. The effort has since expanded to other nations, including Libya, Jordan, and France. And Twitter has suspended more than 635,000 ISIS- related or affiliated accounts that have been shown to abuse their platforms since the middle of 2015. We are making it increasingly difficult for ISIS to spread its poisonous ideology among vulnerable audiences.
We remain focused on growing our online presence. Global Coalition Twitter accounts in Arabic, French, and English continue to increase their number of followers. The Coalition Communications Cell in London, with staff from 10 countries, guides our public global messaging through daily media packs that are distributed to 850 government officials in 60 countries worldwide.
Coalition collaboration on financial intelligence and broad-spectrum information sharing has supported our military effort to damage or destroy more than 2,600 ISIS energy targets. Coalition airstrikes against energy assets have impeded ISIS’s ability to produce, use, and profit from oil. Coalition airstrikes have also targeted more than 25 ISIS bulk cash storage sites, destroying tens of millions—and possibly hundreds of millions—of dollars.
Additionally, the Coalition has worked closely with the Government of Iraq in its efforts to prevent ISIS from abusing its financial system. The Government of Iraq has cut off over 90 bank branches in ISIS territory from the financial system and Iraq’s central bank has created a list of over 100 exchange houses and money transfer companies operating in ISIS-held areas or with links to ISIS. The entities on this list are now banned from accessing U.S. banknotes through the central bank’s currency auctions, and the list has been shared with regional regulators and through FIU channels. The Government of Iraq, with the support of Coalition partners, also banned the distribution of government salary payments in ISIS-held areas, denying ISIS the ability to tax these funds.
The Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group (CIFG)—made up of nearly 40 members and observers—has also adopted an assessment of cross-border financial flows into Iraq and Syria that will enable Coalition members to better prevent ISIS from exploiting money transfer mechanisms. CIFG is finalizing a report on ISIS branch financing that will provide Coalition members with a baseline understanding of financial linkages between ISIS core and its global branches, and of branch financing mechanisms. CIFG is also leading global efforts to ensure full implementation of the multiple UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit all forms of financial support to ISIS, including funds raised from kidnapping for ransom, illicit trade in stolen cultural heritage objects, and sale of natural resources.
COUNTERING FOREIGN TERRORIST FIGHTERS (FTF)
The flow of foreign terrorist fighters (FTF) to Iraq and Syria, many of which joined ISIS, is down significantly over the last year after peaking in 2014. This decline has been dramatic, prolonged, and geographically widespread. Significant milestones include: 1) Securing of the Syria-Turkey border as of November 2016; 2) the EU’s adoption of a Passenger Name Recognition (PNR) protocol; 3) 31 non-EU members implementing enhanced traveler screening measures; and 4) countries enacting measures in UN Security Council Resolution 2178 (2014) to strengthen their response and abilities to counter foreign fighters and prosecute related crimes.
More than 60 countries have laws in place to prosecute and penalize FTF activities and create obstacles to traveling into Iraq and Syria.
At least 65 countries have prosecuted or arrested foreign terrorist fighters or FTF facilitators.
At least 60 countries and the UN now pass fighter profiles to Interpol.
There were more searches of Interpol databases in November 2016 than in all of 2015.
At least 26 partners share financial information that could provide actionable leads to prosecute or target FTFs.
At least 31 countries use enhanced traveler screening measures.
Since the flow of foreign terrorist fighters has diminished, the challenge has evolved. Now, countries are grappling with foreign terrorist fighters returning home as well as coping with those individuals who aspire to travel, but cannot get to Iraq and Syria and thus aim to initiate attacks in their home countries. A key component to addressing returning foreign terrorist fighters is rehabilitation and reintegration. Countries are focused on strengthening their capacity to assess, classify, house and manage returning foreign terrorist fighters within their prison systems.