MODERATOR:  Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing.  Today we’re very honored to be joined by Ian J. McCary, the deputy special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

Finally, a quick reminder that today’s briefing with the deputy special envoy is on the record. And with that, let’s get started.  Deputy Special Envoy McCary, thanks so much for joining us this evening and I’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks.

MR MCCARY:  Thank you very much, John, and thank you to our colleagues in the press corps for your interest. We just wrapped up a meeting today of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, political director-level meeting, which is a meeting that we have once a year.  The meeting was hosted this year by the Italian foreign ministry and we had over 40 delegations present today.

Our coalition reflects a counterterrorism context that increasingly demands civilian-led solutions and the development of lines of effort outside of Syria.  Our coalition is regionalizing its efforts to move effectively counter Daesh affiliates active in Africa and in the Central Asia region.

Successfully achieving these objectives includes increased coalition engagement with Sub-Saharan African states, and today we had with us representatives of Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Kenya, and Senegal, as well as non-member states from Central Asia, including Uzbekistan.  All of these states sent delegations to participate with us in this event today.

Italy has played an outstanding leadership role within the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS, including by hosting this meeting today and by serving as the co-chair of the coalition’s Africa Focus Group and also the coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group.  And I think we ended today with a very successful meeting and we have released a co-chair statement that you’ll be interested in reviewing.  And I’d be glad to field any questions that you may have.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Deputy Special Envoy. We’ll go first to a submitted question from Gabriele Steinhauser from The Wall Street Journal in South Africa: “How is the departure of French troops from Niger affecting the war against ISIS and terrorism more broadly in the Sahel?”

MR MCCARY:  Well, I do think we regret the developments in Niger over the past few months.  Niger had been a premier counterterrorism partner for the United States and other countries with the Global Coalition.  We had extraordinary cooperation with them, and I think we’re making a lot of progress in defeating ISIS elements, ISIS affiliates, and other violent extremist groups in that region.

And we do regret the developments and the coup that led to the removal of President Bazoum, and we’re hoping and working closely with our partners and with ECOWAS and other regional partners and international partners to achieve a political solution there so that we can get back to the sort of counterterrorism cooperation that we enjoyed before.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir. We’ll actually go to a live question now.  Pearl Matibe. Pearl, you have the mike.  Pearl, go ahead, if you can unmute yourself.

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you so much, John. Good morning, Mr. McCary. It’s good to talk to you again. I’m glad to see that there was a good contingent of African states at your meeting.  Could you speak a little bit about Nigeria’s role?  Any successes or challenges that you see in succeeding in your efforts?

MR MCCARY:  Well, Nigeria is – was present in our meeting today, and of course, Nigeria, as the chair of ECOWAS, plays an extremely important role in regional security.  We have very good counterterrorism cooperation with Nigeria, and I expect that will continue going forward.  Nigeria has been a member of the global coalition for many years, and obviously, given their geography, the resources that they have, and their – the challenges that they face, we’re going to continue to engage closely with Nigeria.  Clearly that’s a very important element of the solution there.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We’ll go to the next question – actually another live question – from Diyar Kurda.  Diyar, please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, John. Hi, Ian.  I have two questions, one question about what’s the level of Turkish drone attacks’ impact on your operations and local partner in northeast Syria, and what engagements you have with Türkiye on that.

And the second question, if you could speak about your assistance and engagement with KRI Peshmerga forces in this fight against ISIS.  How do you see the return of Peshmerga minister to his office, as he was resigned for a long time ago?  Thank you.

MR MCCARY:  Well, I would say Türkiye is a very important member of the Global Coalition, and they were represented at – they sent several senior officials to the meeting today, and Türkiye is extremely active in the Global Coalition.  In fact, they co-chair our – they co-chair our Foreign Terrorist Fighter Working Group and hosted an important meeting of the working group that took place in Istanbul at the end of October.  We have very close engagement and communication with our Turkish counterparts on all issues, and there are areas – there’s a great deal of overlap and common ground with our Turkish partners, and there are some areas of disagreement as well, but we’re determined to continue to develop our counterterrorism cooperation with the Turkish government.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir. We’ll go to submitted questions now.  From Joseph Haboush from Al Arabiya English in the U.S.:  “With almost 80 attacks since October 17th, do you believe the current U.S. approach has deterred malign actors or states, including Iran, which the U.S. has attributed these attacks to, from not negatively impacting Washington’s fight against ISIS?”

MR MCCARY:  Yeah. Well, as Joseph mentioned, we’ve been outspoken in our attribution of those attacks and our rejection of the very unconstructive role or malign role that Iran and its proxies have been playing in northeast Syria, as well as in other parts of the Middle East.  But we are also absolutely determined that we will not be deterred in conducting our Defeat ISIS operations in northeast Syria.  We are applying the resources and implementing the tactics necessary both to defend our forces against any such attacks and to continue our campaign against the remnants of ISIS/Daesh in that region.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We’ll go to another live question now: Soran Khateri. Soran, please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hello, sir. Do you hear me?

MODERATOR:  Yes, we hear you. Go ahead.

QUESTION:  So, in recent days, local reports suggest that there has been rising activity of ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.  Do you believe that it’s somehow related to the Gaza war first, and second, the attacks by Iran-aligned proxies against U.S. forces in both of the country – I mean, Syria and Iraq?

MR MCCARY:  Yes. Well, let me first say that we have an extraordinary partnership with the Iraqi Security Forces, and we have a lot of confidence in their capability – their capabilities to defend Iraqi sovereignty and defend their people against any threats from remnants of Daesh in Iraq.  And we’re also continuing unabated or undeterred our operations to defeat Daesh elements that may remain in northeast Syria.

We do believe that Daesh is seeking opportunities to exploit the violence between the conflict between Israel and Hamas for its own purposes.  But again, we’re determined that we’re going to remain steadfast in our operations to defeat Daesh.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We’ll go to another live question – Michael Hernandez.  Michael, I believe you have your hand up.  Michael, if you can unmute, otherwise we’ll go to – oh, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Can you hear me now?

MODERATOR:  Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, great. Thank you, Ambassador, for doing this.  I wanted to follow up on an earlier answer you provided to us, saying that you are determined to continue to develop our counterterrorism cooperation with the Turkish government.  I wanted to see if you could outline any verticals or areas in which you are trying to do just that.  Thank you.

MR MCCARY:  Well, like I said, the Turkish Government is one of the co-chairs of the coalition’s Foreign Terrorist Fighter Working Group, and they hosted a very productive meeting at the end of October in which we took stock of our ongoing efforts to disrupt and intercept terrorist movements, including potential movements of Daesh affiliates into or out of Afghanistan.  And we have a dialogue with Türkiye, conducting – about other theaters in which we’re confronting Daesh, including in Africa.  Türkiye also has a great deal of interest in what’s happening there, in Sub-Saharan Africa.

And we’re also – with regard to combatting the threat from the so-called Daesh-Khorasan, we have a – we’re working closely with our Turkish partners to take – make the best use of their very good relationship with Central Asian states and tightening cooperation among coalition partners to help build capacity of Central Asian states as they take measures and we work with them to build their capacity to contain and defeat so-called Daesh-Khorasan.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ambassador.

MR MCCARY:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir. Pearl Matibe, you have your hand up again.  Do you have a follow-up question or —

QUESTION:  John, yes, I do. Thank you so much. The information being shared is actually very valuable.  Mr. McCary, you mentioned earlier that the Global Coalition is regionalizing your efforts.  I wonder if you could just kind of break that down a little bit. How will this be operationalized?  What does that look like?  Are you institutionalizing anything?  And I know – maybe if you could make a comment on the Country Reports on Terrorism that were just released last Thursday, I’d appreciate that too if you could tack that on, if you have enough time.  Thank you so much.

MR MCCARY:  Well, thank you, Pearl. In terms of the regionalization, what we mean by that is that obviously when the coalition started, all of the focus was on defeating the so-called territorial caliphate which Daesh had created in northeast Syria and Iraq, and all of the attention was on that particular theater.  And the threat has evolved significantly.  The challenges in northeast Syria in particular and also in Iraq persist, but they’re of a very different nature than they were back in 2014 to 2019, roughly, period.

And then we have worked over the past few years to increase the coalition’s focus on Sub-Saharan Africa and also Central Asia.  And with regard to Africa, we had a very successful meeting of the coalition’s Africa Focus Group in Niamey, Niger, back in March.  And that was a very productive meeting at which we developed the four-point action plan in which we’re – the four pillars of which being capacity building, counterpropaganda, counterterror finance, and countering malign influences and the disinformation associated with some of the malign actors in Sub-Saharan Africa.

But we also decided, as we reflected on the results of the meeting in Niamey, that the challenges in – on the African continent alone are so dispersed geographically that it made sense to break the problem apart and deal with it more piece by piece.  And consequently, we decided to have a meeting in Cotonou, Benin, which we had on the 15th of November, in which we focused exclusively on the nature of the threat and on the needs of our partners, our counterterrorism partners, in the coastal West African states and the Sahel.

And I think we’re going to have follow-on meetings, perhaps in other parts of Africa where we also bring coalition attention to other parts of the African continent.  And also, of course, there’s a lot of follow-up to do in West Africa and the Sahel following up on our meeting in Cotonou.  So that’s just an example of what we mean by regionalization.

And likewise, we’ve tightened our focus on the threat from so-called Daesh-Khorasan or ISIS-Khorasan.  And as I mentioned, Türkiye hosted a very productive meeting in late October in Istanbul, in which the Foreign Terrorist Fighter Working Group focused on the ongoing challenges of disrupting terrorist movements and dealing with the displaced people who need to be repatriated in northeast Syria, and also talked a great deal about the nature of the threat and steps we can take to counter and undermine and ultimately defeat so-called ISIS-Khorasan.

MODERATOR: Thank you, sir, for those remarks.  Unfortunately, we have run out of time.  Thank you to everyone who has joined us.  And special thanks to the Deputy Special Envoy Ian McCary for joining the call as well.  Deputy Special Envoy, can I turn it back to you for any final thoughts, if you have any?

MR MCCARY:  Well, now, thank you, John. I appreciate the interest from our colleagues in the press.  And we’d be happy to field more questions or do more tailored interviews as colleagues might be interested in.  I think we’re going to, in 2024, continue to increase our efforts.  And a takeaway from the meeting today is that there – in spite of all of the many other challenges that are crowding the global agenda today, there’s still a very strong international will not to be distracted in our efforts to defeat ISIS and to continue to refine our tactics and deploy whatever tools we need to deploy to ensure that Daesh can’t threaten international security in the future.

MODERATOR: Thank you, sir, for those final thoughts. Shortly we will send the audio recording of the briefing to all the participating journalists (inaudible) transcript as it is available.  Thanks again for your participation.  We hope you can join us again for another press briefing in the near future.  This ends today’s briefing.

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U.S. Department of State

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