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Remarks by Secretary Mattis and Secretary-General Stoltenberg to the Defeat ISIS Coalition, Brussels, Belgium

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS: Well, thank you, excellencies, fellow ministers, Secretary-General. Thank you for having us here in the -- the new NATO headquarters. And I would just say that we look forward to your remarks in just a moment.

Since our last meeting in November, all territory held by ISIS in Iraq has been liberated. Our compliments to the minister from Iraq. Well done. And our Iraqi colleagues have successfully held democratic elections free from ISIS-inspired violence. What a dramatic change in circumstance we have witnessed 2014, 2017, 2018.

Our military campaign in Syria continues. A little over 100 hours ago our partner forces began the first of several offensives into ISIS' diminished physical caliphate. As operations ultimately draw to a close, we must avoid leaving a vacuum in Syria that can be exploited by the Assad regime or its supporters.

Despite the successes of the last year, my message to you -- and I've already heard your message to me; they have been consistent -- our fight is not over. We must deal ISIS an enduring -- not just a territorial -- defeat.

The NATO training mission approved yesterday is a step in the right direction. We look forward to working with the new government of Iraq on this, as we assist a key partner in denying our common terrorist enemy any chance to recover.

(inaudible) -- Staffan de Mistura's achieved success in advancing the Geneva political process we all signed up for under the security -- United Nations Security Council resolution would be a strategic blunder, undercutting our diplomats and giving terrorists the opportunity to recover.

Every battlefield is also a humanitarian field, even after the fighting stops. To ensure a lasting defeat and prevent an “ISIS 2.0” requires all elements of our collective national power.

Initiating and maintaining stabilization activities are essential. If citizens cannot return to normal life in communities cleared of explosives and debris, then those conditions that initially allowed ISIS to take root return.

While coalition members have contributed generously, short-term shortfalls remain. Continued support on an urgent basis will augment local security in liberated areas, setting the conditions for the safe return of refugees and providing stability as we move to a long-term political solution.

Each of us also has an urgent responsibility to address the foreign fighter detainee problem. We all must ensure captured terrorists remain off the battlefield and off your streets by taking custody of detainees from our countries, or quickly coming up with other suitable options.

We in the U.S. face the same problem, and we are working diligently to find a way to solve it. Abrogating this responsibility is not an option, as it plants the seeds for the next round of violence against innocents.

As we have repeatedly demonstrated, our greatest weapon against this enemy and our greatest strength remains our unity. It is critical that the strong spirit of collaboration, fostered by this now-75-member coalition, be preserved as we transition from combat to stabilization operations, so other locations do not suffer consequences we have witnessed in Iraq, Syria, Philippines and elsewhere.

In Kuwait in February, our foreign minister signed the guiding principles of the Defeat ISIS Coalition, in recognition that -- and I quote from those principles -- "ISIS remains a serious threat to the stability of the region and to our common security," unquote.

The guiding principles provide a vision for the future of the coalition, and reinforced our whole-of-government approach. Today, we plan to follow these guiding principles with a joint statement highlighting our commitment to coordinate efforts to confront ISIS globally.

While we are nearing the defeat of the so-called physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, terrorist operations elsewhere have increased. I have asked Minister Parly to provide us some insights while we're here today on Africa, as well as on France's brilliantly led Sahel campaign. And that will further our discussion.

In closing and before I turn the mike over to the secretary-general, the U.S. remains committed to the conditions-based approach, underpinned by our shared investment in shared security, an approach that is reinforced by, with and through assistance from local partners to help consolidate our hard-earned military gains.

Groups like ISIS cannot be allowed to exist. Today's meeting provides an opportunity to recommit ourselves to this mission.

I know I will learn more by listening to you, and I look forward to hearing your plans to address destabilization effort that lies ahead.

Thank you, Secretary-General.


Thank you so much and to all of you: welcome to NATO’s new headquarters. Welcome to this new meeting room.

And I would like to start by thanking you, Secretary Mattis for your personal leadership, and also for the leadership of the United States. And I also would like to pay tribute to Special Envoy McGurk for his tireless efforts. And under your watch, the coalition has made tremendous progress.

Millions have been freed from oppression. And ISIS is a shadow of its former self. But we all know that ISIS has not yet been defeated. It continues to pose a deadly threat. So we must remain vigilant, agile and proactive. NATO has been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism for a long time, not least through our engagement in Afghanistan.

So this is a top priority for NATO. And for all NATO Allies.

One of the best weapons we have in the fight against terrorism is training local forces. And building local capacity to strengthen resilience against terrorism. Since January 2017, NATO advisers have been working in Iraq, overseeing training activities and working with the Iraqi authorities to reform their security institutions. We have been training Iraqi security forces in several areas, including counter-IED, explosive ordnance disposal and de-mining.

In March, I saw for myself in Besmaya the excellent work these teams are doing.

At the request of the Iraqi government and the Global Coalition, NATO will soon launch a new training mission in Iraq, with several hundred personnel. We will train Iraqi instructors and develop Iraqi military schools. This new mission will make our current training efforts more sustainable, with better resourcing and a well-established process for Allies to contribute forces. This support will help Iraqi forces defend their country, and prevent the re-emergence of ISIS.

NATO has an untapped potential to do more training and more capacity-building. As we move forward, we will continue to coordinate with others, including the Global Coalition, the European Union, and the United Nations and individual allies and partners.

So once again, welcome to this new headquarters and I look forward to participating in this meeting on the coalition.
Thank you so much.