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Opening Remarks at Counter-ISIL Defense Minister Meeting

Good morning, my friends.  It’s very good to see you.  We have here represented all – every single member – of the international coalition to combat ISIL – almost all of them represented at the ministerial level, the defense minister level.  And I’m very grateful for each and every one of you for taking the time to be here, and travel the distance that you did.  It’s good to see so many friends around this table.  And this is a time – this is a very important time for us to meet, and it’s an important time to show our solidarity as friends.

Thanks to this global coalition, our clear and deliberate military campaign plan, our dedicated local partner forces, and the sacrifices of our militaries’ members, we now have momentum in this fight and we have clear results on the ground.  And today, we’ll make the plans and commitments that will help us deliver ISIL a lasting defeat – the defeat it deserves.  We’re going to destroy both the fact and the idea of an Islamic state based on ISIL’s barbaric ideology.

Our coalition’s military campaign plan, as you all know, has three objectives.  The first is to destroy ISIL’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria.  That’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient.  As recent attacks in our homelands remind us, ISIL’s safe havens threaten not only the lives of the Iraqi and Syrian people, but also the security of our citizens in other countries.  And the sooner we defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the safer our countries will be. 

So we have a second objective also, which is to combat ISIL’s metastases everywhere they emerge around the world.  And we have a third and very important mission, which is to help protect our homeland, along with law enforcement and intelligence officials. 

Now, in January of this year, we all – those of us at this table – updated our comprehensive Coalition Military Campaign Plan to meet those three objectives.  Our campaign’s strategic approach is to identify and enable capable and motivated local forces who can deliver ISIL a lasting defeat.  Only local forces can deliver and sustain such a defeat, by holding and governing territory after it has been retaken from ISIL.  

And we’ve pursued a number of deliberate decisions and actions to accelerate this plan and hasten ISIL’s defeat. 

This time last year, we put our coalition military campaign plan for Iraq and Syria under one single command, charging Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland as the overall operational commander.  Then we introduced a series of initial accelerants to help us gather momentum.  And of course, we asked all our coalition countries to make additional contributions to the campaign, and 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 in the summer – the first plays in the game, as President Obama called them – that we would accomplish as soon as possible to put ISIL on a path to a lasting defeat.  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 it back towards Raqqa and Mosul.  We’re isolating those two cities and effectively setting the stage to collapse ISIL’s control over them.

We see that on the ground.  In Iraq, as I saw firsthand last week during my most recent visit there, we’re enabling the dedicated Iraqi Security Forces and the Peshmerga led by Prime Minister Abadi and supported by Kurdish Regional President Barzani.  And after clearing Ramadi and establishing a staging base in Makhmur, 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 Shaddadi – a crucial 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 the 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 homelands and our personnel.  And wherever our local partners have moved – whether in Anbar, Ninewah, or Manbij – we’ve taken out ISIL’s field commanders.  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 servicemembers, and additional, timely coalition contributions from those gathered here, we’ve seized opportunities, reinforced success, and taken the fight to the enemy.

But we must not rest.  We need to make the plans and the commitments to build on our momentum and deliver ISIL’s lasting defeat.   Today, we need to review – and agree on – the next plays in our campaign, which General Votel, who’s doing an extraordinary job on this campaign, will walk us through on a map, and we’ll discuss them in detail.  And then we’ll identify the capabilities and the support required to execute those next plays. 

Since February, our nations, including the United States, have provided even more support to accelerate the campaign, as our local partners have made advances.  In fact, two-thirds of our coalition members have pledged or already made additional military contributions since then, while many other members and nations have contributed vital economic, political, and humanitarian support. 

But we’re all going to need to do more.  Today, we’ll identify both our enduring and emerging requirements and review our detailed metrics matrix of national contributions, which you’ve seen before – going through it row by row, column and column, and country by country.  We must ensure that our partners on the ground have what they need to win and fight and then hold, rebuild, and govern their territory.

This last point, the need to ensure that our economic and political campaigns do not lag behind our military progress – do not lag behind our military progress – is critical and a significant strategic priority.  We’ll discuss it today, and then again tomorrow at the State Department with our Foreign Minister colleagues. 

Of course, as I said earlier, destroying ISIL’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria is necessary, but it’s not sufficient.  ISIL’s influence and activities continue to pose a threat – in Afghanistan, where I was last week, as well as in Libya, and elsewhere.  Today, we’ll also discuss how we can continue to combat ISIL wherever it might attempt to take hold, and how our military campaign can best support our national governments’ efforts to protect our respective homelands and our people.

That’s a full agenda and this is a critical moment, and today is an important opportunity to build on our momentum and deliver ISIL a lasting defeat.

Before we begin our discussions, let me ask my friend and colleague, French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian, to make a few opening comments as well.

Jean-Yves, you have been a great leader, a critical partner, a strong leader, and a staunch ally in this fight.  I want to offer again my condolences to the French people and the French government for your nation’s losses in last week’s attack in Nice, our total solidarity with the French people, and our admiration for your strong personal leadership.  The floor is yours, Jean-Yves.

Thank you.