JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. —
“It’s not about winning the war. It’s about winning the peace,” was an expression heard often today at the Counter Violent Extremist Organizations Chiefs of Defense Conference here today.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hosted the gathering, which drew representatives from 83 nations, including all the U.S. combatant commanders and commanders of counter terrorism operations from around the world.
Dunford and Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, spoke to Pentagon reporters during a break.
This was the third chiefs of defense conference. It started in 2016 with 40 countries. “Last year we had 71 [countries] and this year 83, so we are pleased with the turnout,” the general said.
Combating Violent Extremism
Over the past two years there has been real and quantifiable military progress against violent extremism. But that does not mean the campaign is over. Nations now must particularly address the underlying conditions that lead to radicalization, and that requires a whole-of-government approach, the chairman said.
There is a military dimension and chiefs of defense play an important role. The chiefs generally deal with the counterterrorism fight and mass migration. But getting after the underlying conditions – building economies, establishing schools and hospitals and infrastructure and improving legitimate governance is a broader issue.
“What we’ve tried to do throughout the day is ensure that we have in context the role of the chiefs of defense,” Dunford said. “One of the things that I think most of them will be more empowered to do when they return to their countries is describe the nature of the challenges we face and help craft more comprehensive solutions to deal with violent extremism.”
The military can deal with the symptoms of terrorism, but it cannot solve the root cause.
The chiefs of defense themselves are a network aimed at taking on a network. The chiefs’ network opens up opportunities to share information, share intelligence and share best practices and then, where appropriate, to take collective action, the chairman said.
The chiefs discussed countering violent extremism around the world, from West Africa and the Sahel to Libya and the maritime operation the European Union is conducting there. They discussed the fight against ISIS and al-Qaida. They discussed the operations in Afghanistan. They also talked about the Sulu Sea and the challenges in Southeast Asia.
Dunford said he was pleased with the good dialogue at the meeting. The chiefs “came prepared to engage and have a discussion,” he added.
Stabilization, Sustainment Effort
McGurk called the defeat-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria a microcosm of the counter violent extremist organizations campaign worldwide. “The theme of the day is the conventional fight. While not over, we can see the endpoint,” he said. “But that is not the end of the campaign. We talked about transitioning to a new phase really focusing on the stabilization and sustainment effort.”
He noted that nations have announced $300 million in contributions just over the last five months enabling stabilization initiatives in Syria. This is giving hope in even in very difficult places like Raqqa – the former capital of the so-called ISIS caliphate – where 150,000 Syrians have returned to their homes.
In Iraq, the U.S.-led effort has now trained over 170,000 members of the security forces. “We had a good presentation today from the commander of the new NATO Training Mission to Iraq that will continue to professionalize the force,” McGurk said. The United States announced today $178 million will go to vulnerable communities in Iraq that were so damaged by the fight and campaign and the genocidal acts of ISIS.
Getting information and intelligence to the countries that can act upon it is important, as well. Dunford said nations in Africa and Southeast Asia are looking at establishing fusion centers where regional nations can share this vital information.