On July 21, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, and Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Brett McGurk described progress in the fight by the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh. Kerry said that driving ISIS from its territory in Iraq and Syria “will mark a critical turning point” in the campaign, but acknowledged that ISIS will continue to pose a threat through its global network. The following are excerpts of their remarks.

Secretary of State John Kerry
 

So my colleagues, I don’t need to tell any of you that this meeting today is obviously timely.  We’re all aware of the terrible attacks that have taken place in recent weeks perpetrated by Daesh directly, others by some people who claim to have been inspired by Daesh.  But these savage assaults against civilians, against innocent women, men, children, against people of different nationalities, different religions – these are exactly why this coalition came together and it is why this coalition is united and determined in our efforts to defeat Daesh and end this upheaval in our lives and in the order and structure that we have all worked so hard to achieve since the end of a World War. 

So let me be clear right up front: We are engaged in an historic effort.  Nothing like this coalition has ever before been assembled.  And we’re not following a manual on antiterrorist coalition-building, we’re writing it.  We’re daily working together, sharing ideas, and in fact, learning more each day about a very different kind of challenge.  The challenge of the last century defined mostly by state-on-state competition for territory or power.  This is non-state actors who are challenging the very foundation of that structure.

Less than two years have passed since President Obama first summoned us into this coalition.  At the time – I ask you to remember – Daesh was on a rampage, sweeping across parts of Syria, and overrunning city after city in Iraq.  You could see their Toyotas and their flags flying as they simply drove through villages, seemingly unstoppable.  Commentators speculated about the possibility that the national borders of the region would be permanently erased and that Daesh might soon encircle and lay siege to Baghdad.  The leaders of Daesh, enriched by their plunder and emboldened by success, even claimed to have established a caliphate and to be the rulers of all Islam.

This morning, every single one of us awoke to a far different picture.  Our coalition and our partners on the ground have driven Daesh out of nearly half the territory it once occupied in Iraq and 20 percent in Syria.  Our airstrikes have degraded Daesh’s leadership, put pressure on its supply lines, disrupted its ability to carry out offensive military operations.  And security along the Syria-Turkish border has tightened, and we have squeezed Daesh’s revenue streams by hammering its oil facilities, tanker trucks, and cash storage sites.  Earlier this month, the Iraqi Army took control of Qayyarah Air Base, about 40 miles south of Mosul, by far the largest city remaining under Daesh control. 

In the face of such setbacks, the number of Daesh fighters has gone down by at least a third, recruiting has slowed, and defections have increased.  So today, we can look forward without exaggeration to a time when Daesh is driven completely out of Iraq and Syria.  Now, we know it isn’t going to be easy.  We know we have a lot of work to do.  We know we’re going to have to prepare carefully and move ahead relentlessly – in close coalition with our partners – in order to defeat Daesh in Mosul and Raqqa and the points in between.

But make no mistake: the day that happens will mark a critical turning point in the fight against Daesh.  Without a territorial base, Daesh will no longer be able to boast about a caliphate – its narrative will change, it will have to change, and our narrative will change.  It will no longer have a base of operations to which it can invite foreign terrorist fighters.  The Daesh that has existed for the past two years will be no more once we arrive at that moment.

But everybody here knows that Daesh is still going to be dangerous.  Unlike some violent extremist groups, Daesh is resilient and realistic enough to know when it needs to change.  So what we are seeing now is a concerted effort by Daesh to transform itself into a phony – from a phony state into some kind of global network whose only real purpose is to kill as many people as it can in as many places as possible. 

Stopping them under those circumstances remains a challenge.  We understand that.  The terrorists don’t need a big budget to launch an indiscriminate attack, especially against a group of civilians at a soccer field, a night club, a bakery, a beachside resort, or on a train.  They don’t need to do a lot of planning if they have no wish to hide their identities or plot an escape or live to the next day.  They don’t need a vast organization if their strategy is to use social media to inspire people they don’t even know to then carry out a murderous and suicidal attack.

And I want to emphasize that Daesh is not pursuing a passive strategy.  On the contrary, it is seeking to expand its reach by developing expertise in more languages and by establishing contacts in additional countries and regions.  It is looking for areas of vulnerability and it will be eager to try to exploit them.  And that is why this will be an ongoing effort and challenge.

What does it mean for us?  Well, the answer begins with communication.  That is why we started today with a briefing from General Clapper.  Information-sharing has always been a big part of what the coalition does and it has played a key role in our effort to prevent foreign terrorist fighters from traveling to Syria and Iraq.  But it is also clear now that we have to do more.  The United States already has information-sharing agreements with 55 international partners in order to identify and track suspected terrorists.  At least 50 countries now provide profiles on foreign terrorist fighters to Interpol.  And in recent years, 40 have approved or updated laws in their own countries to more effectively identify and be able to prosecute such fighters.

Looking to the future, we have to keep breaking down the structural and the bureaucratic barriers in order to be able to exchange up-to-date information even more quickly and more widely – so that a border guard in Southern Europe has the same data about a terrorist suspect as an airport security officer in Manila, or an FBI agent in Boston, or a domestic law enforcement adviser on the Arabian Peninsula.  Our shared purpose has to be to connect the dots as rapidly as possible so that we are able to identify potential terrorists and intervene before they strike.

Meanwhile, we must do all that we can as a global community to wage a holistic campaign against the root causes of violent extremism.  Everybody here understands this challenge.  We have country after country – excuse me – in which we have young people – in many countries, 60 to 65 percent is under the age of 30 or 35, certainly; 50 percent under the age of 21 – and if they don’t have jobs, if they don’t have opportunity, if their political space is confined, then all of those things can feed extremism. 

We have to do more – all of us – to come together on a global basis to help change the future for some of those people and to deprive the violent extremists from the recruiting fields that they infest today.  We have to do more to assist countries that need help in providing opportunity for their citizens.  And I think everybody here has come to understand we don’t do that as a matter of altruism or just goodness; we do it because it is also deeply in our security interest.  There is no over there anymore, just over there, somehow separate.  We are all connected, and therefore we all need to work to protect each other’s security by investing in each other’s futures.

We have to pursue efforts, underway across the globe, to counter Daesh’s messaging and to emphasize that Daesh’s many crimes have absolutely no basis whatsoever, no justification in religion, logic, history, or law.

Now, these initiatives that we have undertaken to date are having an impact.  They are having an impact.  And a recent study by the U.S. Global Engagement Center indicates that anti-Daesh content on the internet – anti-Daesh content – now far exceeds pro-Daesh content.  This was not the case even six months ago.  We’re aware that people can become radicalized for any number of reasons.  And that is why it is so important that we tilt the odds further in the right direction by countering Daesh’s hate-filled narratives with facts and by giving hope to people who are the most vulnerable and the most open to despair.

So, my friends, the surviving leaders of Daesh want their followers to spill blood, to murder the innocent, and to inflict suffering.  And never before in history has a summons of such comparable viciousness without any identifiable, more recognizable purpose been proclaimed on such a global basis.  So it’s only right that a unique coalition has come together to oppose that deadly summons. 

Unlike Daesh, our rallying cry is directed not at the worst instincts of human beings but rather at what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels” of human nature.  And there is a reason for that.  The countries and people represented in this room do not come here with an interest in hating.  Our only interest is in justice and law and security and peace.  And we want our citizens to be safe, our economies to grow, and our nations from across the globe to collaborate in solving problems that endanger us all.

That stark contrast in goals spells the difference between Daesh and this coalition.  It marks the dividing line between a modern form of barbarism and civilization itself, and it gives us all the motivation that we need to persist until we prevail.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter
 

This morning, I’d like to briefly review our coalition military campaign and the very productive discussion we had yesterday. 

Our coalition’s military campaign plan has three objectives and the first is to destroy the parent tumor of ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  As recent attacks remind us, ISIL’s safe havens threaten not only the lives of the Iraqi and Syrian people, but also the security of our citizens around the world.  And the sooner we defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the safer our countries will be.  But while it’s necessary to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, it’s not sufficient.  Since this cancer can – and in some cases, Afghanistan and Libya, for example, it has metastasized, not to mention the intangible geography and terrain of the internet.

So our second objective is to combat ISIL’s metastases everywhere they emerge around the world. 

And the third objective – a very important one – is to support, which we do as defense ministers, our national government’s efforts – diplomatic, economic, homeland and border security, intelligence, law enforcement, to protect our homelands and our people.  All three of these objectives are necessary.

In January this year, we updated our comprehensive coalition military campaign plan to meet these three objectives.  Our campaign’s strategic approach is to identify and enable capable and motivated local forces who can deliver ISIL a lasting defeat with our strong, mighty support.  Only local forces can deliver and sustain such a defeat.  U.S. and coalition forces can enable them with our vast military power, but it’s local forces who must hold and govern territory after it’s been retaken from ISIL and restore a decent life to the people who live there.

Now, over the last year, we’ve pursued a number of deliberate decisions and actions to accelerate this coalition military campaign plan and hasten ISIL’s lasting defeat.  A year ago, we put our campaign entire – in its entirety in Iraq and Syria under one single command.  I charged Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland as the overall operational commander.  Then we introduced a series of accelerants to help us gather momentum. 

And of course, we asked all our coalition countries to make additional contributions to the campaign, which they did, which you did.  As we did so, we also set in motion a series of specific and deliberate steps through the winter, the spring, and now the summer – the first plays of the game, as President Obama called them.  And since then, play by play, town after town, from every direction and in every domain, our campaign has accelerated further, squeezing ISIL and rolling back towards Raqqa and Mosul.  By isolating those two cities, we’re effectively setting the stage to collapse ISIL’s control over them. 

We see that on the ground.  In Iraq, I saw firsthand last week during my visit we’re enabling the dedicated Iraqi Security Forces, and Peshmerga, led by Prime Minister Abadi and supported by Kurdish Regional President Barzani.  And after clearing Ramadi and establishing a staging base in Makhmour, the Iraqi Security Forces moved on to liberate Hit, Rutbah, and Fallujah.  Then early last week, they seized the strategically important Qayyarah West Airfield, which is a critical logistical springboard for the effort to collapse ISIL’s control of Mosul.

And in Syria, we’re also seeing results.  After seizing Shadadi, a critical junction on the road between Mosul and Raqqa, our partners on the ground have now surrounded Manbij City, which is one of the last junctions connecting Raqqa to the outside world, and a key transit point for external plotters threatening our homelands. 

We’ve also been pressuring ISIL by systematically eliminating their key leaders and their financial base.  In addition to taking out key ISIL ministers and capturing one of the principals of ISIL’s chemical warfare enterprise, we’ve killed over 20 of ISIL’s external operators who were actively plotting to attack our personnel and our homelands.

And wherever our local partners have moved, whether in Anbar, Nineveh, or Manbij, we’ve taken out ISIL’s field commanders.  And meanwhile, we’re continuing attacks on ISIL’s economic infrastructure, from oil wells and trucks to cash storage sites.  And we’re taking the fight to ISIL across all domains, including cyber.  Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of our local partners and our service members and additional contributions from the nations all around this room, we’ve seized opportunities, reinforced success, taken the fight to the enemy, but we’re not going to rest. 

Yesterday, we also reviewed and agreed on the next plays in our campaign, which of course we’re not going to discuss publicly yet, but let me be clear:  They culminate in the collapse of ISIL’s control over the cities of Mosul and Raqqa. 

Next, we identified the capabilities and the support required to execute those next plays.  Since our first full defense ministerial in Brussels in February, our nations, including the United States, thanks to the President Obama, have provided even more support to accelerate the campaign as our local partners have made advances in the theater. 

But we’re all going to need to do more.  The United States, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, Finland, and several others have recently committed, some as recently as yesterday, to contribute even more to the military campaign.  It’s encouraging to see so many countries continue to be willing to do more.  And there are others as well who will make their contributions public in due course.

Of course, even when we win this fight – and let there be no doubt that we will – there’ll still be much more to be done.  There’ll be towns to rebuild; there’ll be services to re-establish and communities to restore.  Such progress is critical to ensuring that ISIL, once defeated, stays defeated.  And so we must ensure that when that time comes, the Iraqi and Syrian people have what they need to hold, stabilize, and govern their own territory. 

For that reason, we cannot – let me repeat that – we cannot allow the coalition stabilization and governance efforts to lag behind our military progress.  That was one of the biggest strategic concerns voiced at yesterday’s defense ministerial and it will surely be discussed again here today.  And that’s a good thing, because making sure there’s no such lag must be a strategic priority. 

And for that reason, I commend Secretary Kerry and his team and many of your countries’ civilian and diplomatic agencies for the work you are doing to enhance stabilization and governance efforts, including raising more than $2 billion at yesterday’s pledging conference to assist Iraq with humanitarian aid, demining, immediate stabilization, and longer-term recovery.

Of course, as I said earlier, destroying ISIL’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria is necessary but it’s not sufficient.  That’s why yesterday we also discussed how we can continue to combat ISIL wherever it might attempt to take hold and how our military campaign can best support our national government’s efforts to respect – to protect our respective homelands and our people.

Let me close by saying thank you to all of you in this room, my partners, friends, for your commitment to this fight, for your work on the counter-ISIL campaign, our conferences this week.  I look forward to the conversations today and to the commitments our nations will be making to ensure that together – together – we will deliver ISIL the lasting defeat it deserves.

Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Brett McGurk
 

So I want to focus my brief comments today on the non-military side of the Mosul campaign, because the liberation of Mosul is now in sight, and we must, as a coalition, get it right in supporting our Iraqi partners.

So let me start with some good news.  Since we came together as a coalition less than two years ago, forces we have supported on the ground have taken back nearly 50 percent of the territory Daesh held in Iraq and over 20 percent of the territory Daesh held in Syria.  And more importantly, to date, Daesh has not reclaimed any of these territories.  They have all held.  And in most areas, civilians are now returning to their homes. 

This is due to a comprehensive humanitarian and stabilization effort that our coalition launched nearly 18 months ago.  I want to commend Germany and the UAE for leading our stabilization working group and UNAMI and UNDP in Iraq for its extraordinary efforts on the ground.  I also want to commend and thank Italy for its leadership in police training from the earliest days of this very difficult effort to ensure that a local hold force is ready to secure the ground retaken from Daesh.  And finally, the Government of Iraq, under leadership of Prime Minister Abadi, for emphasizing the principle of decentralization and empowering local people at the local level to secure their areas, care for their citizens, and ensure that Daesh can never return.  The results have been impressive.  Two years ago, Tikrit was controlled by Daesh.  It was a scene of mass atrocities with thousands of Iraqi military cadets massacred at the hands of terrorists.  Today, Tikrit is being controlled by local police and 95 percent of the population has returned to their homes.  One year ago in Ramadi was controlled by Daesh.  Iraqi forces faced what seemed an impossible mission to take it back.  Daesh planted IEDs and booby-traps in homes throughout the city.  Today, Ramadi is liberated.  Nearly 70,000 residents have returned to their homes, and thanks to our coalition efforts – and particularly I want to commend Norway – we have a world-class de-mining program underway, clearing the streets as we speak to allow life to return and stabilization projects to begin. 

In other areas, the record is not as positive.  In Sinjar, for example, the situation on the ground remains politically divisive, the population is traumatized, and we have yet to begin stabilization projects in that important city.  In Fallujah, we hope to see the population begin returns over the coming weeks, with an aim to return 40,000 over the coming months.  But until that happens, the jury is still out on whether the post-liberation phase will be as successful as we have seen in Ramadi and Tikrit. 

So Mosul will be the ultimate test.  We must apply every lesson learned, we must ensure that resources are available and ready, and we must act with urgency across all of our lines of effort.  And let us remember, Mosul is where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his phony caliphate in June of 2014.  And if we get this campaign right on the ground in all aspects, it is where we can begin to seal its fate.  Mosul will be the most complex operation to date.  There are over a million civilians inside the city.  The city and its environs before Daesh was diverse, with Sunnis, Christians, Shia, Kurds, Arabs, Shabaks, and Turkmen living in close proximity to one another.  All of these components must now have an appropriate role in liberating their own territory through an organized and well-integrated political-military plan. 

The planning is now well underway, and on the non-military side, we’re focused on four key areas.  First, we need a political agreement on the disposition of forces that will be used in the liberation; second, a unified plan on the humanitarian assistance; third, an agreed program for stabilization; and finally, an agreed plan for post-Daesh governance in Mosul.  So these four areas – the disposition of forces, the stabilization, the humanitarian, and governance – are how we must organize and plan together over the coming weeks. 

And I’ll highlight briefly where we stand in each area.  First, given the rich diversity in Mosul, it’s important to have a broad political consensus on the distribution of forces for the operation.  And thanks to meetings that were held last month between representatives from the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government – and we’re pleased to have representatives from both Baghdad and Erbil here today – these agreements are getting in place.  The operation will be led by Iraqi Security Forces, with a role for the Kurdish Peshmerga, and critically, 15,000 local fighters from Nineveh province.  The Government of Iraq has allocated these 15,000 positions and agreed to pay their salaries, and our coalition has agreed to begin to help train and get them ready for the fight, and that process is now getting underway.  

We commend the Government of Iraq for emphasizing the need for local forces to have a role in liberating and holding their own territory.  This is critical to lasting success.  It’s the model that has begun to show results in Anbar, where 20,000 locally recruited fighters are serving alongside Iraqi Security Forces in addition to 14,000 local police.  And we intend to use the same model for Mosul.

Second, regarding the humanitarian plan, the Government of Iraq has appointed its talented minister of migration and displacement to oversee a unified and coordinated plan in cooperation with the United Nations.  There’s tremendous work here to do.  The UN has predicted that this will be the most complex humanitarian operation undertaken this year.  It will require dynamic creation of IDP centers as the campaign unfolds, streamlining local processes to ensure rapid delivery of aid, standardized security screening so we can protect against any human rights abuses, and close coordination between national, regional, and provincial authorities.

The resources required for this operation will outstrip the capacity of the Government of Iraq.  There’s an immediate appeal now from the UN for $284 million just to pre-position supplies, and that appeal just went out yesterday.  And that is why yesterday’s pledging conference, where our coalition raised over $2 billion for the humanitarian and stabilization response in liberated areas, was so important.  And we’re grateful for the extraordinary contributions that have been pledged to date.  The meeting yesterday was exactly what was needed to build a foundation for a successful campaign to liberate Mosul and ensure that those who have been living under Daesh’s terror will receive the aid they need from the Iraqi Government and from our coalition when Daesh is defeated.

Third, as the humanitarian response focuses on immediate care for IDPs, the stabilization line of effort focuses on returning people to their homes and ensuring that Daesh’s defeat is lasting and permanent.  Based on lessons learned in Tikrit and Ramadi, we estimate 50 to 100 million dollars will be required for the immediate stabilization in Mosul.  These funds will be allocated on a project-by-project basis transparently under the innovative and highly successful Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization.  Pledges of support for this fund will be put to use now immediately, pre-positioning mobile generators, preparing distribution of life-saving aid, and identifying projects that will be turnkey ready as soon as the streets are cleared and safe.

Safety in the streets of Mosul, we want to make sure, is provided by local police, the people of Mosul who know the neighborhoods, and we hope to triple the number of police trainers from our coalition over the coming weeks.  This coalition police-training effort, led by Italy, with recent announcements of support from the Czech Republic and Australia and others, is thus more important than ever.

Finally, as in Ramadi and Tikrit, governance will be a critical indicator of lasting success.  Responsibility will be given to local officials with governor of Nineveh taking on a prominent role.  Mosul will be more complex, however, due to local political disagreements and challenges to the governor’s authority.  As a coalition, we must encourage all parties to put aside local disputes and focus on the immediate task at hand: defeating Daesh in the heart of its phony caliphate with the entire world watching, and the stakes could not be higher.  So this will require intense and active diplomacy by our diplomats on the ground in close coordination with our Iraqi partners in Baghdad, Erbil, and in Nineveh province.

At bottom, as the military campaign plan comes together, these four non-military components – the political agreement on the disposition of forces, the unified humanitarian plan, stabilization, and local governance – must keep pace. 

I believe, thanks to the pledging conference yesterday, the meetings we’re having this week, that that foundation is being set.  The liberation of Mosul and Raqqa is now an achievable objective, and it’s one we must get right.  Liberating these areas will not only free millions from the terror of Daesh, it’ll make the world safer by denying Daesh safe haven to plan attacks, denying its access to resources, shuttering its propaganda outlets, and exposing its false claims to a historic caliphate.

Two years ago, when we first met as a coalition in Jeddah, this looked impossible.  But thanks to our work to date, it is now possible but is still not inevitable.  The unexpected will happen.  We must remain flexible, adaptive, be prepared to respond to rapidly changing events in a dynamic and highly uncertain environment. 

As a former American president and the general who led the liberation of Europe in World War II, Dwight Eisenhower, famously said, “The plan is often useless.  It’s the planning that is indispensible.”  And by planning together as a coalition over the coming weeks, by pooling resources, ensuring our nonmilitary lines of effort keep pace with our military progress, we can and will remain steps ahead of Daesh, and we’ll provide partners on the ground, who will be doing the fighting, the best chance they have to deal these terrorists their most significant and, as Secretary Carter said, lasting defeat yet.