Mr. Landberg: All right. Well, good morning, everybody, and thank you, Zed, for helping to organize this call. So we just finished a ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS this week in Marrakech. It marked a number of accomplishments in the ongoing fight to defeat ISIS wherever they seek to take root. This was the first ministerial held in Africa, and we were really grateful to our Moroccan hosts and co-chairs, who played a leading role in regional and global counterterrorism efforts just generally, and then in the Global Coalition have been really stepping up pretty considerably.
So we were also proud to welcome Benin as the 85th member of the coalition, and I think it was an important milestone because this is the first time we’re holding the ministerial in the continent of Africa and it really signifies the ongoing evolution of the coalition’s counter-ISIS mission. The continent has suffered from an expansion of ISIS branches and networks that are driving instability, violence, and division, and so it was really great to include Benin and have a really significant African contingent here for the ministerial.
We had 13 African delegations, and the United States strongly supports adding African leadership to coalition functions. We need African leadership and African voices at the table to ensure our security assistance is targeted to where it’s needed most. The United States, and as such the Department of State and the Counterterrorism Bureau, but working with our interagency allies, we are going to be investing about $119 million in counterterrorism assistance in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s really on top of about $250 million in CT-related assistance over the last three fiscal years. So we are increased in this every year, and we’re looking to use it to improve capabilities of our partnered civilian, law enforcement, and judiciary with the goals of disrupting and apprehending, prosecuting, and convicting terrorists across the continent.
While this renewed focus on Africa is important, the coalition is committed to preventing the resurgence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. While the group has been considerably weakened there, it remains a threat and is still carrying out terrorist attacks at a concerning rate. We had a lot of discussions about that yesterday in the ministerial. The January attack on a detention facility in Hasakah, in northeast Syria, was really a wakeup call and a reminder of their intent to reconstitute in the region.
So yesterday the State Department Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland announced that the U.S. Treasury Department will be issuing a general license today to facilitate private economic investment activity in non-regime-held areas liberated from ISIS in Syria to bring in more income to help these communities to rebuild and recover. By addressing the underlying issues that have allowed ISIS to recruit and exploit local grievances, we will reduce one of the key drivers of radicalization. And to that end, the United States is also supporting stabilization efforts in the region. Over the past year alone, the United States has provided more than 45 million in stabilization assistance for northeast Syria and over 60 million in stabilization support for Iraq, and this is really in conjunction with our coalition partners where we raised over $600 million in stabilization support last year, and our goals for this coming year are even more ambitious.
So finally, the coalition recognized the lethal threat posed by ISIS-Khorasan in South and Central Asian countries. The United States is committed to providing counterterrorism and border security assistance to our partners, especially in Central Asia, to help them confront these threats, and we’re urging other members of the coalition to join us in building these capacities to help the region confront and contain the threat of ISIS-Khorasan.
So yesterday we had discussions of all these issues. I – on our side, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland was our lead and the co-host and co-chair of the event along with Moroccan Foreign Minister Bourita, and then my counterpart on the Moroccan side, Ismail Chekkori, and I were the ones who actually served as the moderators for the three sessions.
So with that, I think I have a few minutes for – six minutes specifically – for questions, and happy to take them.
Moderator: Thanks, Chris. This one was pre-submitted by Ruud Elmendorp, who’s in Nairobi. And Ruud asks specifically, what programs does the United States and the coalition have specifically in Morocco to defeat ISIS? And he cites, for example, countering violent extremism projects and the like.
Mr. Landberg: Yeah, so we’ve been working collaboratively with Morocco for many, many years, and we do have quite a bit of programming related to, for example, rehabilitation and reintegration of foreign fighters and other types of law enforcement-focused programming. But I will say that Morocco has sort of evolved into a leader in its area and does a lot of its own capacity-building work. They have a UNOCT office here and they collaborate with UNOCT to train regional forces.
So Morocco also is a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, the GCTF, and plays a major role in that entity, which is sort of a UN-related entity, and also was a founding member of the current coalition. So we work closely with Morocco diplomatically in our engagement on counterterrorism issues, and that’s, frankly – I mean, our programming here is important, but that’s at least as significant if not more significant as our diplomatic – how we’re leveraging each other’s capabilities to counter terrorist threats globally.
Moderator: We have Chimtom, who’s a Cameroonian correspondent, and he asks specifically that the Government of Cameroon is fighting an insurgent movement that they label as terrorists. Cameroon has also signed cooperation deals with separatists in Nigeria, and that seems to be destabilizing the region. And to the strategic importance of the area and separatist fighters and presence of ISIS in places like the Gulf of Guinea, what is the coalition doing to combat this?
Mr. Landberg: Zed, I’m sorry, could – I didn’t quite hear the last part of that question. I heard what is the coalition doing, but before that? Sorry.
Moderator: Before we let – what is specifically the coalition doing in the Gulf of Guinea given the complex nature of the – of several insurgent movements as well as the presence of ISIS and Boko Haram?
Mr. Landberg: So let me – the focus on Africa for the coalition is fairly new. It really has developed over the last year, although obviously Africa has been dealing with terrorist threats and related instability for quite a while and there have been a lot of – the partners of African countries like the United States and others who have been working with our partners in sub-Saharan Africa to deal with this for a while. But from the coalition’s perspective, we are not yet at the point where we’re dealing specifically, like, with a specific region of the world. What we’re looking to do is actually focus on three areas – we call them the three B’s, which is supporting our sub-Saharan African countries on biometrics and on use of battlefield evidence and also on border security.
And so what we’re going to be doing is many of the members of the coalition are already working in these areas, and we’re leveraging each other’s knowledge and capabilities and deconflicting and coordinating our programming so that we can help our African partners in really a more coordinated and effective way.
So I think we are – we are deeply concerned about the spread of instability in West Africa and certainly are looking to support countries like Cameroon, which is an important member of the coalition, in helping them to deal with the threats they’re facing.
Moderator: Excellent. Thank you very much, Chris. And given the – given your time constraints, we’ll let you go.
Mr. Landberg: I can take – I can take one more.
Moderator: Great. Just give it a moment.
Mr. Landberg: Are we waiting on a question?
Moderator: We are indeed waiting on a question. One moment.
Mr. Landberg: Okay.
Question: Sorry, I have a question but I didn’t raise my hand, but is it —
Moderator: Yes, please do.
Question: — okay if I jump in now?
Moderator: Please do, please do.
Question: Hi, this is Jared Malsin from The Wall Street Journal. I had a question about the status of some of the foreign detainees in the prisons in Syria that were captured after the territorial defeat of ISIS. I understand there’s a large proportion of Russian and Chinese detainees out there. I was wondering if you could speak to that. How many Russians and Chinese are there, and what are the issues that the U.S. is encountering in terms of trying to repatriate those people? Thank you.
Mr. Landberg: So we work with our local partners to support them in managing the detainee population as well as the much larger IDP population of really associated family members of the ISIS fighters that are detained. I mean, the total number of fighters is in the 10,000 range in the Hasakah – in the Hasakah region in multiple facilities, and plus about 60,000 or so associated family members. Yes, the populations from Russia and China do make up a significant portion of the foreign, non-Iraqi, non-Syrian fighters, and we – well, our role – and this is both State Department and Department of Defense – is facilitating countries that want to or are interested or able to at least consider repatriating their citizens, both the fighters and family members, and we can look to facilitate that.
We’re not doing that with Russia and China at the moment. The United States, of course, if we’re going to be involved in any kind of repatriation, we’re going to be demanding humane treatment and security assurances. So at the moment that’s really not a possibility with those two partners given the populations in Hasakah.
We are actively working with all of our partners, especially in the coalition, on pressing them to take back their foreign terrorist fighters and associated family members. It was, like, one of the main themes of what Victoria Nuland said yesterday, and of course what I was repeating, but our Secretary of State and many others have, like, reiterated this theme with many of our partners. The United States has taken back all its citizens. I think there are maybe a few that we’re trying to find, but all of our – most of our citizens, which was only about 30, a little bit over 30, and that included a little bit – 10 or so adults, and we’ve prosecuted most of the adults.
So we’re trying to lead by example and we’re definitely pressing our partners to do the same because, really, it’s an unsustainable situation in Hasakah and we’re very concerned about it. And like I said in my opening, the January attack was a perfect example of the risk.
Moderator: Excellent. Thank you very much, Chris. I believe you are right at time.
Mr. Landberg: So, with that, I’m sorry I can’t stay. But Doug Hoyt, who knows the coalition much better than just about anybody, will stay for a few minutes more. And best of luck to all of you. Thank you, Zed. And I’m muting and then turning off.
Moderator: Thank you, Chris. We’ll give Doug a moment to turn his camera on. We’ll – folks, we’re going to give our next speaker a moment to boot up here.
Mr. Hoyt: Good morning, everyone. My name is Douglas Hoyt, and as Chris noted and – that he noted, I’m the Acting Deputy Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. The way the coalition works is that the secretariat function, so to speak, for the 85-member coalition actually lives within the U.S. Department of State, and the office that handles those functions, including working closely with the government – with the Kingdom of Morocco and the ministerial, that actually lives in that very office.
So I would actually just like to say up front just how very pleased we were with the ministerial. I think we had, especially given the times, I think we had between 40 and 50 foreign ministers who attended, and we had almost – I think we had almost between 70 and 80 actually total delegates. So it was just a terrific event and we wanted to congratulate and did congratulate the Kingdom of Morocco and Foreign Minister Bourita for putting on such an event.
I know Chris did an opening statement that included some of our topline points, but I’m available to you certainly to talk over anything that you might want to discuss with me. So, please go ahead.
I wanted – I did want to go back to the question that someone asked about the Gulf of Guinea. That’s actually a very good question, and Chris noted that we – this Africa Focus Group, which I’m happy to discuss, is a reasonably new initiative, but actually a priority area to begin with. It’s really preventing the spillover of terrorism and terrorist activity that’s happening in Mali and Burkina Faso into the coastal states. And actually, we don’t have a lot of membership in the coastal states except that Guinea is a member, but also Benin just joined yesterday. So I think that you’ve put your finger on certainly a priority area moving forward.
But as Chris noted, the actual Africa Focus Group, which is a sub-ministerial subgroup of the coalition, met for the very first time in December in Brussels. We had a working-level meeting in Rome in March and then we had the meeting two days ago, the day before the ministerial here in Marrakech.
Moderator: Thanks for that, Doug. Our next question is from Younes Boumehdi, who wrote to us in French. He’s from Hit Radio. The question is: “What is being done to protect young people, especially in the Maghreb and the Sahel, from the influence of obscurantist ideas?”
Mr. Hoyt: Well, one – we talked about that the coalition itself was really designed to counter ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and as we move into other theaters to counter ISIS we have to have individual strategies to counter them. And I think especially the emphasis in the Sahel, because the emphasis in the Sahel actually will be on counter-messaging. I know that the coalition is going to launch a counter-ISIS messaging in Nigeria anytime now, maybe within a month, maybe within two months, but that’s just a start. So the coalition itself will probably continue to launch platforms against what we see as the vulnerable youth certainly in the Sahara and the trans – in the Sahel and trans-Sahara region.
So what we’re emphasizing with communications is it’s not top-down, it’s bottom-up. So we start at the local level and we work with member governments and we tailor this messaging in language and customs and traditions and what’s going on here, and we very much want the African members out front on that.
Moderator: Thank you for that. We’ll give folks just a moment. And we’re running up on the end of our time as it is, so I think we’ll have time for one more question perhaps, before concluding remarks.
All right. I think we’ve done such a thorough job here of describing our policy that we’ve – we’re not encountering further questions. So with that, Doug, I’ll invite you to, of course, give your concluding wrap-up points.
Mr. Hoyt: Okay. Well, thank you very much, and I’m certainly available through our press people to answer any follow-up questions that you might have. Just in concluding, though, I will keep it brief. I want to once again congratulate the government – the Kingdom of Morocco for hosting this ministerial. The Coalition to Defeat ISIS is an interesting mechanism. The bar for entry really is that your government needs to commit to countering ISIS. And it really has been a year of extraordinary change for the coalition.
We, as I mentioned before, were designed to counter ISIS in the core of Iraq and Syria. Iraq is emerging as a counterterrorism partner of members in the region. Any military presence in Iraq now is in an enabler and an advisory role, so the Iraqi Security Forces are very much in the lead and very capable of countering any ISIS cells that are within Iraqi territory. It’s difficult to solve the ISIS issues in Iraq without addressing the problems that are across the border in Syria, in northeast Syria. And as Chris noted, as Under Secretary Nuland noted, again, the United States very much favors repatriating detainees that are in – that are third-country nationals, so to speak, in northeast Syria as well as ISIS families there in the Al-Hol camp. It’s a very, very difficult situation; it’s a very, very difficult thing to do, but we see the long-term solution that’s really the only one.
As we look at the increasingly deadly and large ISIS affiliates on the continent of Africa, and especially in the sub-Saharan region, the coalition again made a collective consensus decision to start looking at ISIS-West Africa, ISIS-Greater Sahara, Mozambique, DRC, Somalia, and really to start over the next year or two years seeing how we can bring some of the lessons learned from Iraq and Syria onto the ISIS* continent and put it in an African context with African leadership, and I think we’ve started down that road. The mechanism of the Africa Focus Group is led by the United States and Italy and Morocco and Niger, and it’s very important that the leadership stays on the African continent with this – those who know how to counter terrorism in their own regions need to be in the driver’s seat.
So I think we had a very good ministerial yesterday, as Chris mentioned. We have a stabilization effort that’s ongoing in northeast Syria and portions of Iraq, and we are also going to focus on civilian-led counterterrorism capability in sub-Saharan Africa. And then when it goes over to ISIS-Khorasan, obviously we’re not having any kind of – anything to do with the Taliban, but as Under Secretary Nuland said, we’re going to continue to engage with countries in the region to try and prevent that group from developing external capabilities.
So it’s a tall order, and I think I’ll stop there. I can take any final, final questions you have, but if that’s it, I’ll wrap up.
Moderator: Actually, we’ve got a follow-up from Jared Malsin. “Can you put a number on the number of Russian and Chinese nationals in ISIS detention facilities in Syria?”
Mr. Hoyt: I can’t, no. Yeah, I can’t. Those numbers – I can’t.
Moderator: All right. With that, folks, if there are final questions, please ask them now. And there doesn’t appear to be any more. So with that, thank you very much for attending. Thank you very much, Doug Hoyt, for taking the time to do this.
Mr. Hoyt: Anytime. Thank you.