What Obama Administration is Doing to Fight ISIS

President Obama, in his final State of the Union, addressed the ISIL/terror threat saying, "But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed. And that’s exactly what we’re doing." © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Obama, in his final State of the Union, addressed the ISIL/terror threat saying, “But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages — they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That is the story ISIL wants to tell. That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don’t need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions. We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin/News & Photo Features

Clearly, the Republican candidates for President are using their own ignorance and the ignorance of most Americans concerning what the US is doing to combat ISIL and terrorism in order to sow fear that they are betting will profit them in gaining votes. 

Most significantly is the truth behind President Obama’s statement from the 2015 State of the Union and this year’s State of the Union, that the US-led coalition has stopped ISIL’s expansion and in fact, has regained 40 percent of the populated territory it once controlled in Iraq and more than 10 percent of the populated territory it once controlled in Syria. And you have to wonder what the Republican candidates would do differently. Even their own words, though filled with bravado and threats, do not really suggest doing anything more than the US is already doing: building a coalition, training and supplying fighters, striking targets including oil facilities and training camps. And the US would be more successful in cutting off their funding sources if the Republicans in Congress would confirm Obama’s nominee to lead the Treasury Department’s efforts to cut off the funding that ISIS and other terrorist organizations need to carry out attacks (Adam Szubin was nominated more than 230 days ago, see more). 

The United States has also been the leader toward a diplomatic effort to accomplish the essential political transition in Syria, and also the leading donor of humanitarian aid to Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Here is a Fact Sheet from the White House that describes what the US is doing (highlights added): 

FACT SHEET: MAINTAINING MOMENTUM IN THE FIGHT AGAINST ISIL 

Over the last year, the 65-member Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, led by the United States, has intensified the fight to liberate ISIL-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria and has made significant progress in its campaign to degrade and destroy this abhorrent terrorist group. 

As we move into 2016, President Obama and the broader Administration remain fully committed to eliminating the threat posed by ISIL and will continue to pursue a strategy that strikes ISIL at its core, degrades its networks, and constrains its prospects for expansion. We must be patient and flexible in our efforts; this is a multi-year fight and there will be challenges along the way. But we are united with our Coalition partners and are making progress together to degrade and destroy ISIL.

Background

  • In the summer of 2014 ISIL had surged into Iraq, directly threatening Baghdad and Erbil, including locations where U.S. personnel were located, and calling for the systematic destruction of the Yezidi people. We witnessed atrocities, beheadings, crucifixions, and immolations. ISIL is like no terrorist threat we have confronted before.
  • ISIL has not had any major strategic victories in Iraq or Syria since May 2015. In fact, with the Coalition supporting local partners on the ground, ISIL has lost approximately 40 percent of populated territory it once controlled in Iraq and more than 10 percent of the populated territory it once controlled in Syria. 
  • ISIL is being defeated by brave local forces in Iraq and Syria who are reclaiming and defending their villages, cities, and ultimately, their countries, with the support of the United States and our Coalition partners.  ISIL’s freedom of movement across borders has been significantly reduced and we are making progress in cutting supply lines between ISIL strongholds in ar-Raqqah and Mosul.

Military Efforts

  • U.S. and Coalition military efforts to degrade and destroy ISIL have ramped up significantly throughout 2015.

o   Seventeen Coalition members have joined the United States in deploying military personnel to assist the Iraqi government in building partner capacity and train, advise, and assist missions. To date Coalition partners have trained nearly 17,000 Iraqi security forces.

o   Twelve Coalition members have conducted over 9,500 air strikes in Iraq and Syria, including over 630 in support of the liberation of Ramadi by Iraqi Security Forces. These airstrikes have taken out over 3,450 ISIL vehicles and tanks, over 1,120 artillery and mortar positions, 1,170 oil infrastructure components to include tanker trucks, oil storage tanks, collection points, and well heads, and more than 13,500 fighting positions, checkpoints, buildings, bunkers, staging areas and barracks, including 39 training camps, in Iraq and Syria. 

o   In December 2015 alone, Coalition airstrikes killed dozens of senior ISIL leaders, including external operations planners, explosives facilitators, financial emirs, and other key positions.

o   Most recently, the ongoing progress in Ramadi illustrates an empowered Iraqi military working side-by-side with local Sunnis to retake their city.  While there is still a great deal of work to be done to secure and hold Ramadi, the Iraqi Security Force have dealt a blow to ISIL.

o   In Syria, Kurdish and Arab groups aligned against ISIL seized Kobane, Tal Abyad, al-Hawl, and the Tishreen Dam, cutting ISIL’s access to all but 98 kilometers of the Turkish border and helping to isolate ar-Raqqah.

o   Nineteen Coalition nations have provided supporting aircraft, including transport, surveillance, and aerial re-fueling capabilities.

o   We have made significant progress in degrading ISIL’s ability to benefit from energy resources. The Coalition has conducted 68 airstrikes in Operation Tidal Wave II in Syria, targeting oil infrastructure, supply lines, and hundreds of tanker trucks that transit oil directly from ISIL. These strikes have taken out key fields in Deir-ez-Zour that once accounted for more than half of ISIL’s monthly oil revenue.  Coalition strikes have reduced ISIL oil revenues by about 30 percent since November 2015.

Political, Stabilization and Humanitarian Efforts

  • The United States continues to support the Iraqi government’s progress toward effective and inclusive governance, stabilization efforts, and reconciliation.

o   Over a dozen Coalition partners have collectively contributed over $50 million to the Funding Facility for Iraq Stabilization.

o   The retaking of Tikrit in April 2015 and the successful return of 90 percent of its residents to date provided valuable lessons that will guide stabilization efforts in newly liberated areas.

o   The U.S. and our Coalition partners, working with the Iraqi government, have now retrained more than a thousand Iraqi police officers to provide security in liberated areas.

  • The United States also continues to be the largest single-country donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, providing more than $5.1 billion to date.

o   In Syria, the U.S. Government has provided more than $4.5 billion to date and USAID is providing emergency assistance to 5 million Syrians every month, including 4 million people inside Syria. USAID is also providing food assistance to Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.

o   In Iraq, the U.S. Government has provided more than $603 million in life-saving humanitarian assistance for the Iraqi people including critically needed relief items, food, shelter, clean water, and medical services.

  • The United States continues to lead the international diplomatic effort to reach a negotiated political transition that removes Bashar al-Asad from power and ultimately leads to an inclusive government that is responsive to the needs of all Syrians.  The Asad regime’s continued brutality against the Syrian people drives the influx of foreign fighters who join extremists’ ranks, including ISIL.  Also, the Asad regime’s purchase of oil from ISIL and its unwillingness to target extremists have helped ISIL and other terrorist groups to flourish.

o   So long as Asad remains, foreign fighters will continue to flow into Syria.  This is why we have brought together partners in the region, Europe, Russia, and Iran to work towards a negotiated end to the conflict in Syria.

o   Members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) have agreed to a notional timeline for a political transition, which was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council in December 2015.  

Civilian Efforts to Counter ISIL

  • The United States and our Coalition partners have made progress stemming the flow of foreign fighters, and disrupting ISIL’s propaganda machine and its financial networks.

o   The Counter ISIL Coalition Working Group on Foreign Terrorist Fighters (WGFTF), co-led by the Netherlands and Turkey, is working with member countries to implement the obligations and recommendations set forth in UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2178.  Today approximately 45 countries have enacted laws or amendments to create greater obstacles for traveling into Iraq and Syria, at least 35 countries have arrested foreign terrorist fighters or aspirants, and 12 countries have successfully prosecuted foreign terrorist fighters.

o   At least 50 countries plus the United Nations now contribute foreign terrorist fighter profiles to INTERPOL, a 400 percent increase over a two-year period.  Fifty-two countries are sharing foreign fighter profiles through INTERPOL’s Counterterrorism Fusion Center, and the United States has bilateral arrangements with 40 international partners for sharing terrorist travel information.

o   To counter ISIL’s online propaganda and recruitment network, the State Department has launched a Global Engagement Center to integrate and synchronize our communications against violent extremist groups, including ISIL and al-Qa’ida. This new center will shift focus on countering violent extremist messaging away from direct messaging and toward a growing emphasis on empowering and enabling partners, both government and non-government, across the globe.

o   The Counter ISIL Finance Group (CIFG), which the U.S. co-leads with Italy and Saudi Arabia, is an integrated part of the broader Coalition and made up of 30 members worldwide focused on disrupting ISIL financing.  As part of its ongoing work, the CIFG is specifically focusing on information exchange, targeting ISIL’s oil revenues, combatting the financing of ISIL affiliates, and addressing ISIL sales of antiquities, among other topics.

o   The United States chaired a special meeting of the UN Security Council with finance ministers in New York on combating ISIL finance and all forms of terrorist financing.  At this meeting, Security Council finance ministers unanimously adopted a Security Council resolution that improves the international community’s ability to disrupt ISIL financing and to counter the financing of terrorism more broadly.

Domestic Efforts

  • Since 2014, the Department of Justice and the FBI have arrested approximately 65 individuals in ISIL-related matters.
  • Domestically, since the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) last February, the United States has strengthened our efforts to prevent extremists from radicalizing and mobilizing recruits.

o   The CVE Task Force announced in January 2016 will be a permanent interagency task force hosted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with overall leadership provided by DHS and the Department of Justice, with additional staffing provided by representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Counterterrorism Center, and other supporting departments and agencies. The CVE Task Force will (1) integrate whole-of-government CVE programs and activities; (2) leverage new CVE efforts (3) conduct ongoing strategic planning; and (4) assess and evaluate CVE programs and activities.

o   The DHS Office for Community Partnerships continues to find innovative ways to support communities that seek to discourage violent extremism and undercut terrorist narratives.

  • In 2015 alone, the Treasury and State Departments sanctioned more than 30 ISIL-linked senior leaders, financiers, foreign terrorist facilitators, and organizations, helping isolate ISIL from the international financial system.
  • The U.S. government worked closely with Iraqi authorities to ensure that approximately 90 bank branches within ISIL-controlled territory in Iraq are completely cut off from the Iraqi and international financial systems.
  • Working with the Federal Reserve and the Central Bank of Iraq, we have put in place information exchanges and safeguards to deny ISIL access to U.S. banknotes.  This led to the isolation of key exchange houses within Iraq that previously had access to several million dollars.  As part of this effort, the Government of Iraq has prohibited over 100 exchange houses located in ISIL-controlled territory or associated with ISIL from accessing the currency auctions, disrupting one of ISIL’s primary means of accessing and moving its funds.

“Over the next six months we will continue to accelerate our counter-ISIL strategy across all of our lines of effort. We will work with Coalition partners to drive out ISIL from the remaining stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border it has seized; clear and stabilize the Euphrates River Valley; cut off the remaining connections between ar-Raqqah and Mosul; increase the number of Iraqi Sunnis in the fight against ISIL by integrating them into the army, local police, and tribal mobilization structures; as well as advance the stabilization of newly liberated areas, facilitating the safe, voluntary return of thousands of internally displaced persons and restoring local communities. ”

“For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology,” President Obama said during the State of the Union,. “With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.”

But he added, “If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  Take a vote.

“But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment — or mine — to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.”

For more information on the President’s strategy to fight ISIL and the work the Global Coalition is doing, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/isil-strategy.

 

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