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Opening Remarks at Counter-ISIL Foreign and Defense Minister Meeting

Well, good morning, everyone.

And thank you, John. Thank you for that very comprehensive and forward-looking and absolutely on target depiction of the threat we face but also the problem that's represented in this room and the certainty of victory.

It’s great to join so many friends and colleagues here today, allies and partners. I know Jim Clapper was here earlier this morning for a briefing.  Jim, I want to thank you for your hard work and leadership here.

And I particularly want to thank John Kerry for that introduction, that wonderful speech, for hosting us today, and for all his work to counter ISIL and to end the civil war in Syria.

I can ask for no better partner in government, John.  And, at a critical time in the world, the United States – and all our allies and partners – can ask for no finer, more dedicated, or more tireless a diplomat than you.

Now, while we’ve held Counter-ISIL defense minister meetings before – including yesterday’s very productive meeting at Joint Base Andrews – today’s discussion is the first we’ve held together with our diplomatic and civilian counterparts.  That’s important, because we know that defeating ISIL is more than a one-country, a one-military, or a one-ministry job.  We all have work to do, and we all have to work together.

And this is a critically important time for our counter-ISIL campaign.  Thanks to our global coalition, our clear and deliberate military campaign plan, our dedicated local partner forces, and the hard work and sacrifices of our countries’ military personnel, we now have momentum in this fight and clear results on the ground.  And this week, we’re making the further plans and the further commitments that will help us deliver to ISIL the lasting defeat that it deserves.  Together, we’re going to destroy the fact and the idea of an Islamic state based on ISIL’s barbaric ideology.

This morning, I’d like to briefly review our coalition military campaign and our very productive discussion we had yesterday.  

Our coalition’s military campaign plan has three objectives.  First, to destroy the parent tumor of ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  As recent attacks remind us, ISIL’s safe havens threaten not only the lives of the Iraqi and Syrian peoples, but also the security of our own citizens.  And the sooner we defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the safer our countries will be.  But while it’s necessary to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, it is not sufficient since this cancer can and in some cases – Afghanistan and Libya, for example – it has metastasized not to mention intangible geography and terrain of the Internet

So our second objective is to combat ISIL’s metastases everywhere they emerge around the world.  And the third objective, a very important one , is to support, which we do as defense ministers, our national governments’ efforts – diplomatic, economic, homeland and border security, intelligence, law enforcement – to protect our homelands and our people.  All three of these objectives are necessary.

In January this year, we 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 with our strong, mighty support.  Only local forces can deliver and sustain such a defeat.  U.S. and coalition forces can enable them with our vast military power, but it’s local forces who must hold and govern territory after it has been retaken from ISIL and restore a decent life to the people who live there. 

Now, over the last year, we’ve pursued a number of deliberate decisions and actions to accelerate this Coalition Military Campaign Plan and hasten ISIL’s lasting defeat.  A year ago, we put our campaign in its entirety in Iraq and Syria under one single command, charging Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland as the overall operational commander.  Then we introduced a series of accelerants to help us gather momentum.  And, of course, we asked all our coalition countries to make additional contributions to the campaign – which they did, which 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 the summer – the first plays of the game, as President Obama called them.  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.  By isolating those two cities, we’re effectively setting the stage to collapse ISIL’s control over them.

We see that on the ground.  In Iraq, as I saw firsthand during my visit last week, we’re enabling the dedicated Iraqi Security Forces and 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 our 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 personnel and our homelands.  And wherever our local partners have moved – whether in Anbar, Ninewah, or Manbij – we have 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 contributions from the nations all around this room, we’ve seized opportunities, reinforced success, and taken the fight to the enemy.  But we are not going to rest. 

Yesterday, we also reviewed – and agreed on – the next plays in our campaign, which, of course, we’re  not going to discuss publically yet.  But let me be clear: they culminate in the collapse of ISIL’s control over cities of Mosul and Raqqa. 

Next, we identified the capabilities and support required to execute those next plays.  Since our first full defense ministerial in Brussels in February, our nations, including the United States thanks to President Obama, have provided even more support to accelerate the campaign, as our local partners have made advances in the theater. 

But we’re all going to need to do more.  The United States, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, Finland, and several others have recently committed – some as recent as yesterday – to contribute even more to the military campaign.  It’s encouraging to see so many countries continue to be willing to do more. And there are others as well, who will make their contributions public in due course.

Of course, even when we win this fight – and let there be no doubt that we will – there’ll still be much more to be done.  There will be towns to rebuild, there will be services to reestablish, and communities to restore.  Such progress is critical to ensuring ISIL once defeated, stays defeated.  And so, we must ensure that when that time comes, the Iraqi and Syrian people have what they need to hold, stabilize, and govern their own territory. 

For that reason, we cannot – let me repeat that – we cannot allow the coalition’s stabilization and governance efforts to lag behind our military progress.  That was one of the biggest strategic concerns voiced at yesterday’s defense ministerial, and it will surely be discussed again here today. 

And that’s a good thing…because making sure there’s no such lag must be a strategic priority.  For that reason, I commend John, his team, and many of your countries’ civilian and diplomatic agencies for the work you are doing to enhance stabilization and governance efforts, including raising more than $2 billion dollars at yesterday’s pledging conference to assist Iraq with humanitarian aid, de-mining, immediate stabilization, and longer-term recovery. 

Of course, as I said earlier, destroying ISIL’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria is necessary, but it’s not sufficient.  That’s why, yesterday, we also discussed 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.

Let me close by saying thank you to all of you in the room, my partners, friends for your commitment to this fight, and for your work in the counter-ISIL campaign and at our conferences this week.  I look forward to the conversations today – and to the commitments our nations will be making – to ensure that together, together we will deliver ISIL the lasting defeat it deserves. 

Thank you.