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Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Ministerial Opening Session

JUNE 8, 2023

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Faisal, thank you so much.  Thank you for hosting us today and thank you – and thanks to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its significant contributions to our shared work to defeat ISIS as a founding member of this coalition and through its leadership today.  And it’s so good to see so many colleagues here with us in Riyadh.

Since we came together in 2014, our coalition has grown into an 86-member force, bringing together countries and organizations from every part of the world.

Together, we have achieved the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  We’ve taken out or captured its leadership.  We’ve prevented large-scale attacks.  And we’ve invested billions in stabilizing liberated areas and rebuilding the region.

Our progress is a testament to the strength of this coalition – and the courage of our partners on the ground.

But for all our progress, the fight is not yet done.  So today, I’d like to briefly focus on what we see as the most urgent areas for focus to achieve the enduring defeat of ISIS.

First: stabilization assistance across Iraq and Syria.  Poor security and humanitarian conditions, lack of economic opportunity – these are the fuel for the kind of desperation on which ISIS feeds and recruits.  So we have to stay as committed to our stabilization goals as we’ve been to our military campaign that resulted in the victory on the battlefield.

Today, we’re announcing a funding goal for the Stabilization Pledge Drive of just over $601 million – and I’m announcing that the United States is committing $148.7 million to that fund.  This support will meet critical needs that Syrians and Iraqis themselves have identified, addressing vulnerabilities previously exploited by ISIS, closing gaps in local needs, including for essential services, education, community reintegration, accountability for crimes.

Second: repatriations of foreign terrorist fighters and their family members.  Repatriation is critical to reducing the populations of both displaced persons camps, like al-Hol, and detention centers holding nearly 10,000 ISIS fighters, 2,000 of whom are from countries other than Syria and Iraq.

Failure to repatriate foreign terrorist fighters risks the possibility that they could again take up arms and attempt to restore ISIS’s so-called “caliphate,” terrorize communities that we’re working to stabilize and rebuild, and potentially threaten our homelands.

Al-Hol currently hosts 50,000 displaced persons, most of whom are women and children, half of whom are under the age of 12.  Some of these children know nothing other than life in al-Hol.  Leaving these children in camps condemns them to lives marked by danger, the denial of basic health care, the denial of education – the denial of hope.  So even as we prioritize addressing the serious security and humanitarian needs at al-Hol and other camps, we know that repatriation is the only durable solution.

We are, fortunately, making some progress.  Last year, more foreign nationals were repatriated from northeast Syria than in the previous two years combined.  So far in 2023, 14 countries have repatriated over 2,000 of their nationals – including hundreds of children who are now able to have a new chance at life.

We’re grateful to the many countries who have stepped up: the Iraqi Government, which since 2021 has led the way, bringing home nearly 5,000 of its nationals from northeast Syria, including hundreds of fighters; countries, including in Central Asia, which have brought home many of their nationals; Kuwait, which serves as a critical transit hub for these repatriations.

The United States stands ready to assist with repatriation, providing diplomatic and logistical assistance, as well as aiding with rehabilitation, reintegration, and, where applicable, investigation and efforts to ensure accountability through prosecution.

Our third area of focus as a coalition must be keeping pace with the evolving threat.  The security situation throughout the Sahel and much of West Africa has deteriorated significantly over the past several years.  (Inaudible) farmers ambushed in North Kivu province.  Today, Africa is home to nearly half of global terrorism deaths.

Our Africa Focus Group – joined today by the newest member of the coalition, Togo – is helping crystalize our focus on the terrorist threat in the region.  That was very much on display in Niamey, where 38 coalition members and observers recently came together to boost regional collaboration, including by endorsing the Focus Group Action Plan.  That will strengthen border security, collect biometrics of terrorists, counter ISIS propaganda and financing, and more.  The United States is supporting these efforts – and has just pledged $130 million to enhance civilian counterterrorism capacity in sub-Saharan Africa, including over $22 million for partnerships with Coastal West Africa.

At the same time, we remain vigilant against the evolving threat posed by ISIS-Khorasan.  All of us are determined to see to it that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.  I’m grateful to the United Kingdom for its work on this front.  The United States is bolstering our collective efforts with over $30 million in new counterterrorism programming for Central Asia, coming on top of $50 million we’ve invested in capacity building for the region.

Finally, we remain focused on cutting off ISIS’s ability to raise and move funds across multiple jurisdictions, including the General Directorate of Provinces.  Today, I’m announcing the designation of two ISIS GDP leaders as Specially Designated Global Terrorists – the Iraq-based Bilad al-Rafidayn Office emir and a Sahel-based al-Furqan Office senior leader.

The global community – so much of it represented here today – faces no shortage of security challenges.  Recent years have demonstrated the progress that we can achieve with steadfast determination.  I’m confident that today will advance the collective commitment to defeat ISIS and finally eliminate the scourge of terrorism around the world.

Thank you very much.