Remarks at the Counter-ISIL Meeting
Secretary of State
Good morning, everybody. Thank you very, very much for being here. Can everybody hear?
Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. Prime Minister, Excellencies, welcome everybody. I just want to begin the meeting by stressing that despite the location, this is not a NATO event. And as you noticed, there are no signs or any evidence other than the location, which is purely a matter of logistics but nobody is meant to misinterpret.
This is the first ministerial-level meeting of the anti-ISIL coalition, and we’re very, very grateful for everybody finding the time to be here. Many have traveled some significant distance to be here. Frankly, this impressive turnout reflects a shared determination to degrade and defeat ISIL, or to use the Arab term, Daesh.
Two and a half months ago, this didn’t exist. This is the work of two and a half months, and it reflects an extraordinary rapid coalescing of effort. And frankly, it is important that everybody reflect on the fact that this is not cosmetic; this is a reflection of actions that have taken – have been taken by more than 62 countries and entities in order to respond to the challenge of Daesh.
I’m very pleased that we’re going to have a chance to hear from Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi, whose government and citizens are on the front lines of this battle. And we’re very grateful for the steps that he has taken. Just yesterday he announced a significant agreement on the oil revenues. As everybody knows who’s been involved with Iraq, for years now that has been a long-sought goal and it’s a very significant achievement among many. In addition, there have been significant visits in recent days. Abdullah bin Zayed, Foreign Minister of the Emirates, Prime Minister Davutoglu of Turkey, others have visited Iraq and begun to indicate a new moment in the relationship with Iraq and indeed within the region.
We’ll also hear from General Allen, our special envoy, who will update us on the five public lines of effort that we are engaged in. And we will hear from many of you and we want to hear from people. We don’t want this to be a speechifying session. We would really like to have a dialogue so that we can digest the best thoughts about ways to do things better, things that haven’t been done that should be, or things that could be done differently. We want to plan carefully for the months ahead. And we will hear, including from representatives from Kuwait, Bahrain, Morocco, who have sponsored key gatherings themselves on key issues like communications, money, foreign fighters. These gatherings are just one indication of the dynamic leadership role that the Arab states are playing in the work of this coalition. The Arab states are taking leadership, and this leadership is both necessary and appropriate given that the geographic center of gravity of our global effort is in the Middle East.
One outcome of this meeting will be a statement that encompasses our message that we are united in moving ahead on all fronts and that we will engage in this campaign for as long as it takes to prevail. And there’s a reason that we are confident that we will, and that is all of you around this table, the members of this coalition. Our countries differ in geography, history, background, culture, but we all recognize a common threat, and Daesh is a danger and a threat to the interests and the values of all of us.
In opposing these terrorists, our diversity is, in fact, a source of remarkable strength because it gives us the credibility and the breadth of reach to move against Daesh not only in Iraq and Syria, but to counter any support that might exist for it around the world. Our coalition has been together now for less than three months, as I mentioned, so we recognize the hard work that remains to be done.
Our commitment will be measured most likely in years, but our efforts are already having a significant impact. The roughly 1,000 coalition air missions that we have flown have reduced Daesh’s leadership and inflicted damage on its logistical and operational capabilities. In much of Iraq, Daesh’s earlier momentum has dissipated. With coalition support, Iraqi forces have regained ground at Mosul and Haditha dams. They have retaken territory in the vicinity of Tikrit and expanded the security perimeter around the Baiji oil refinery. In the north and west, Kurdish troops are battling bravely and Sunni tribal fighters are beginning to come on board.
We also continue to strike targets in Syria, where Daesh has seen its command facilities attacked, its oil infrastructure damaged, and its siege of Kobani blocked. It is much harder now than when we started for Daesh to assemble forces in strength, to travel in convoys, and to launch concerted attacks. No large Daesh unit can move forward aggressively without worrying about what will come down on it from the skies.
In coming weeks, the coalition’s train, advise, and assist missions for Iraqi Security Forces will expand. Air strikes will continue as necessary. Step by step, Iraqis are mobilizing to reclaim the land that they have lost, and as the prime minister will attest, to develop the kind of broadly representative government they must have in order to succeed.
We are therefore encouraged by the significant progress this government is making to implement its national program and to unite against Daesh. Just yesterday, the government reached a breakthrough agreement with the Kurdistan region on managing oil exports and revenue that I mentioned earlier. It also issued an order to release detainees being held without formal charges. These initiatives take strong leadership, as exhibited by Prime Minister Abadi, and they will help the work of our coalition.
Meanwhile, there are many ways to contribute to the work of this coalition. The United States is constantly looking for the means to enhance the effectiveness of our actions, and I am confident that each of the coalition members represented here is going to do the same. This matters because the rise of Daesh was rapid, but it, in fact, has left those terrorists very exposed. What was relatively easy for them last summer has become more difficult. Daesh casualties are going up by the day. Muslim leaders across the globe are speaking out against the killers who have sought to hijack a whole faith, and Daesh’s repellent nature is becoming more evident with every ugly execution and every former recruit’s admission of being duped into believing Daesh is something that it most clearly is not.
The leaders of Daesh recently asked their followers to unleash volcanic eruptions of hate in every country. Our own rallying cry is not so dramatic, but it is far more responsive to the needs of people everywhere, and especially in the Middle East where suffering and violence have gone on for far too long. Our coalition does not summon hate, but rather the courage to build a future that is based on shared interests, shared values, and a shared faith in one another. That contrast in goals marks the dividing line between barbarism and civilization, and it explains both why we dare not fail and why we will succeed.