Gen. Dunford on the Fight Against Violent Extremism

“It’s not about winning the war. It’s about winning the peace.”

The following is an excerpt from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford’s opening remarks that he delivered last week at his third Chiefs of Defense Conference on countering violent extremism:

I believe the increase in the chiefs of defense that we have here today since 2016 reflects a consensus on a number of key points, and I’ll go through those.  First, I believe we all recognize that violent extremism is a transregional threat that affects the security of all of our countries.  I think we recognize that violent extremism is a generational challenge that demands that we develop solutions that are politically, fiscally and militarily sustainable and, of course, sustainable in the context of our overall security requirements.

Chiefs of defense from around the world listen to the chairman’s opening remarks during the Chiefs of Defense Conference on countering violent extremist organizations. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro

We recognize that defeating transregional violent extremist organizations requires a broad network of like-minded nations to share intelligence, information and best practices. And we recognize that in many cases, there’s opportunities for collective or complementary action.  And most importantly, while we recognize that combating violent extremism requires a whole-of-government approach, we also appreciate the military dimension of the challenge and the unique role that chiefs of defense have in influencing, developing and implementing comprehensive solutions.

Chiefs of Defense from around the world 🌍 arrive for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford’s 3rd Chiefs of Defense conference on countering violent extremism.Stay tuned for LIVE coverage at 9 a.m. ET:www.twitter.com/thejointstaff

Posted by The Joint Staff on Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Video: Chiefs of Defense arrive for conference

I’d like to begin today’s dialogue with a few thoughts on our progress to date in confronting the threat and some considerations as we look to the future.

I believe it’s fair to say that, in the last few years, we’ve made significant progress in our efforts to counter violent extremism, and our progress has been enabled by improved information sharing in the military, the intelligence and the law enforcement channels.  For example, over the last three years, Operation Gallant Phoenix has grown from less than 20 people representing two nations to over 250 people representing more than 25 nations.  And this initiative has contributed to an impressive number of disrupted attacks, arrests and prosecutions.

And also, in addition to OGP, there are now complementary issues that are being developed in a number of regions, to include West Africa and Southeast Asia.

We’ve also enhanced collaboration to more effectively interrupt the flow of foreign fighters and threat resources, all while undermining the credibility of the extremist narrative.  This is important because I believe it’s the flow of foreign fighters, the ability to move resources and the ideology that allows these groups to actually operate transregionally.  Our long-term success will be determined by our effectiveness in cutting what I described as the connective tissue – those three things: the foreign fighters, the resources and the ideology – cutting that connective tissue while enhancing the whole-of-government effort at the regional, local and the national level.

Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addresses other leaders at an annual Chiefs of Defense Conference. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro

There’s a number of statistics that actually highlight the positive trends.  2017 marked the third consecutive year in the decline of terrorist attacks and deaths worldwide.  The progress against ISIS has been particularly encouraging.  In 2017, compared with 2016, global ISIS attacks were down 23 percent. And the lethality of external ISIS attacks is also declining.  In 2015, ISIS attacks averaged 25 killed per attack, and in 2018 the average number killed was three.  In Iraq and Syria, ISIS holds 2 percent of the territory that they held in 2014 and their access to resources has been greatly reduced. In Iraq and Syria, ISIS holds 2 percent of the territory that they held in 2014 and their access to resources has been greatly reduced. I think in part that’s due to the cooperation that we have had with Turkey, represented here today. And many ISIS experts have also been killed, including external operation leaders and facilitators.  ISIS media production has fallen by more than 85 percent and its monthly publication, Rumiyah, hasn’t been produced in over a year.

But I think we’re all realists in this room.  And despite recent successes against ISIS and the positive trends, we know there’s actually much work to be done.  Little progress has been made in addressing the underlying conditions that lead to violent extremism.  And challenges remain in our political, our military, our intelligence and our law enforcement cooperation.  Despite the fact that we’ve had some positive trends in cooperation, clearly there’s much more to be done, and we’ll discuss that here today.

ISIS is far from defeated and has a presence in countries from West Africa to Southeast Asia.  Its ideology continues to inspire homegrown violent extremists in many of our countries.  And we saw that last year in many countries, to include the United Kingdom, Spain, Egypt, the Philippines and the United States.

In Iraq and Syria, coalition forces are clearing the last concentrations of ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley.  But even as we see success on the ground, ISIS is already evolving to implement a more diffuse model of command and control and operations, and they’re looking to maintain relevance by exploiting disenfranchisement and conducting high-profile attacks.

We also see al-Qaida enhancing cooperation with its affiliates and increasing its connectivity and access to operatives and targets.

In short, ISIS, al-Qaida and associated groups remain resilient, determined and adaptable.  And while some areas of sanctuary have been reduced, both groups are operating in a more dispersed and clandestine way, leveraging the internet to keep their narrative alive and becoming less susceptible to conventional military action.

Chiefs of defense from around the world pose for a group photo ahead of the Chiefs of Defense Conference on countering violent extremist organizations at Joint Base Andrews, Oct. 16, 2018. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro

But perhaps the greatest challenge facing us today is the danger of complacency.  A misreading of our progress to date and a misunderstanding of the character of the threat may cause political leaders to lose focus on violent extremism while they turn to other pressing challenges.  And I believe those of us gathered here today have a good appreciation for the consequences of prematurely relieving pressure on the enemy and allowing them the space to reconstitute.

In closing, I believe the challenge for us in this room is to develop sustainable approaches to disrupt acts of terror and other manifestations of extremism, even as we support our governments in the development of long-term, comprehensive measures to address the underlying conditions that feed extremism.  And I trust that a candid dialogue and exchange of ideas today will help us identify opportunities to enhance our cooperation and our common understanding.

Watch the chairman’s full remarks here.

Learn more about the chairman’s takeaways from the conference here.

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