40-nation summit plans next moves against Islamic State

July 21, 2016

WASHINGTON — An unprecedented 40-nation summit on combating the Islamic State focused Thursday on a goal of bolstering the military campaign against the extremist group and countering propaganda it spreads to recruit fighters from around the world.

“We are engaged in a historic effort,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said of the anti-Islamic State coalition. “Nothing like this coalition has ever before been assembled. We’re not following a manual on anti-terror activities. We’re writing it.”

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said this meeting is the first we’ve had together, with foreign and defense ministers.

“We now have momentum on the ground with clear results, and this week we’re making further plans, clear commitments to help us destroy (the Islamic State),” Carter said.

Carter said the coalition’s first priority is “to destroy the ISIL tumor” but that isn't enough.

The coalition also plans to help police and local security forces prevent terrorist attacks at home, he said.

On the battlefield, “only local forces can deliver ISIL a lasting defeat,” he said. “U.S. military forces can enable them, but only local forces that whole territory and govern can engage ISIL and deliver a lasting defeat.”

Kerry said the ministers heard a briefing by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that described the Islamic State's battlefield losses and its plans for the future.

The coalition’s work has retaken half the territory once held by the Islamic State, Kerry said. Airstrikes disrupted its ability to conduct military operations, and the joint effort has “squeezed (Islamic State) revenue streams” by targeting its oil storage sites, tanker trucks and oil production sites, he said.

“In the face of such setbacks, the number of fighters have gone down by a third, recruiting has slowed and defections have increased,” Kerry said.

While the day is coming when the Islamic State no longer controls territory in Iraq and Syria, the group is preparing for a new phase of conducting terror attacks elsewhere, Kerry said.

“What we’re seeing now is an effort ... to transform itself from a phony state to some kind of global network whose only real purpose is to kill as many people as possible,” he said.

Kerry opened the event with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who co-hosted a funding conference Wednesday that raised $2.1 billion to help Iraq restore stability to territory it regained from the Islamic State.

The ministers have come “to take stock of where we are” in the campaign, and to focus on next steps, especially retaking Mosul, said Brett McGurk, President Obama’s special envoy to the coalition.

“Mosul is now increasingly coming upon us. We have it in sight, but we have to do it right,” McGurk said. “Militarily, it has to be very well planned. We have to have a stabilization plan ready to go and resourced. We have to have a humanitarian plan ready to go and resourced. The local governance plan has to be ready to go.”

McGurk, speaking Tuesday to reporters on a conference call, said the ministers will also focus on the fight against the Islamic State in three dimensions: Taking back territory in Iraq and Syria, tracking and countering the Islamic State's foreign fighter and propaganda networks, and stabilization and governance in areas liberated from the militant group.

The fight against the Islamic State is unprecedented in its scale, with 40,000 foreign fighters having poured into Syria over the last four years to fight with the radical Islamic State group, McGurk said.

“That’s almost twice as many we saw that went to fight in Afghanistan in the ’80s. We, of course, know where that led to,” he said. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States were launched by al-Qaeda from ungoverned regions of Afghanistan.