Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you, Under-Secretary Feltman, for your briefing.
Defeating ISIS is an urgent priority. As noted in the Secretary-General’s report, the international community has made notable progress in degrading ISIS, but we have a long road ahead to ultimately defeat it. In Iraq and Syria, thanks to the efforts of the U.S.-led Global Coalition, ISIS has not retaken any territory from Coalition forces since May 2015.
Overall, local ground forces, with the support of the Coalition, have liberated over 4 million people – 2.7 million in Iraq and 1.4 million in Syria. They have retaken more than 55,000 square kilometers of territory from ISIS – about 66% of the populated territory ISIS once held in Iraq and 47 percent of the populated territory it once held in Syria. This is real progress. While ISIS is losing territory and the ability to fund itself, we must stay vigilant to counter the evolving threat that ISIS poses across the globe. We need to maintain pressure on regional and local safe havens.
To advance this work, I’d like to emphasize today three lines of effort: first, cracking down on ISIS’s finances; second, addressing the threat posed by its foreign terrorist fighters; and, third, countering ISIS’s terrorist messaging.
Isolating ISIS from the international financial system remains essential. In our national capacity, the United States since 2014 has sanctioned eight ISIS branches along with more than 70 senior ISIS leaders, operatives, financial facilitators, recruiters, and affiliated money service businesses. We have also proposed that the Security Council’s 1267 Committee designate senior ISIS leaders, financiers, facilitators, and affiliates for sanctions. The Committee’s list must continually adapt to the evolving threat, such as by designating money service businesses, as well as ISIS affiliates and their leaders. When the Security Council starts its regular review this month of the ISIS and al-Qa’ida sanctions, we support any necessary modifications to make sure the sanctions are adapted to this evolving terrorist threat.
Adapting our approach has been key to preventing the flow of foreign terrorist fighters. This has been – and must continue to be – a major part of our effort to defeat ISIS. Through diplomatic engagement and the global implementation of important Security Council resolutions such as 2178, we have seen significant progress, and this must continue. INTERPOL has been essential to this effort. In the past four years, there has been a thousand-fold increase in the amount of information on foreign fighters shared with INTERPOL. INTERPOL now holds details of more than 15,000 individuals provided by more than 60 countries – and that number continues to grow. Strengthening this shared resource empowers global law enforcement authorities, helping them identify and disrupt foreign terrorist fighter transit networks.
We are concerned, as highlighted by the Secretary-General in his report, about the increasing number of foreign terrorist fighters returning to their countries of origin or going to third countries. Addressing this issue requires a truly global approach, and this should begin with improving information sharing and cooperation at an international, regional and sub-regional level. We all must get better at identifying foreign fighter returnees. Also, all countries must enact legislation – as required by resolution 2178 – to strengthen their ability to prosecute related crimes.
We also must respond to ISIS’s stepped up efforts to radicalize and recruit others to violence. To do so, we are working closely with our partners around the clock to combat ISIS’s messaging and poisonous narrative. We commend the work of the Global Coalition Communications Working Group, which is led by the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. This Working Group regularly brings together over 30 countries with media and tech companies to share information and strategies to counter violent extremist messages online and present positive alternative narratives.
We also applaud private sector efforts to police ISIS-related content. Twitter has suspended more than 635,000 ISIS-related or ISIS-affiliated accounts since 2015. Facebook and YouTube are similarly removing ISIS-related content from their platforms that violate their terms of service. Meanwhile, Google is putting in place new and innovative ideas to redirect those who are searching for ISIS content to other content.
In closing, the United States, working in concert with our partners, will take aggressive action to defeat ISIS and adapt to changing threats. We call on the UN to do the same, helping Member States strengthen their ability to counter ISIS, to adapt, and to prevent the next terrorist threat from emerging.
Thank you, Mr. President.