Presenters: Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., Commander, U.S. Central Command; Air Force Maj. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, Director Of Operations, U.S. Central Command; Azadeh Moaveni, Project Director For Gender, International Crisis Group; Leanne Erdberg Steadman, Director Of Countering Violent Extremism, U.S. Institute Of Peace; Ambassador William Roebuck, Deputy Special Envoy To The Global Coalition To Defeat ISIS, And Senior Advisor To The Special Representative For Syria Engagement; Philippa Candler, Acting U.N. High Commissioner For Refugees Representative For Iraq; Nancy Lindborg, President, U.S. Institute Of Peace
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NANCY LINDBORG: One of these camps, al-Hol, presents one of the world's toughest of security and humanitarian challenges. Located in northeast Syria al-Hol houses more than 65,000 people who may or may not be affiliated with ISIS, including about 10,000 foreigners from more than 15 countries, not (inaudible) 98 percent of al-Hol residents are women and children. They live in horrible conditions. They often lack food, clean water, and many of them fall victim to violence within the camp.
Not only does al-Hol present military crisis, especially now with the presence of COVID-19, but national security experts fear that it's a breeding ground for more violent extremism.
Last May, USIP formed a working group to help the U.S. government and the international community better respond to these intersecting security and humanitarian challenges. We facilitated dialogues between humanitarian actors and U.S. interagency partners from the Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of State. The goal is to develop recommendations on how to respond to the challenges of al-Hol.
One key recommendation highlighted the urgent need to safely and effectively coordinate the voluntary resettlement and repatriation of the tens of thousands of women and children that are in al-Hol because of the volatile security situation in Northeast Syria. This will only be possible if we enable those affiliated with ISIS to disengage from violent extremism, and at the same time, foster community reconciliation in the areas where they will be returning. So disengagement and reconciliation are the primary focus of USIP's violent extremism program.
This is a peace-building approach. It focuses on transforming relationships, on building social bonds, on generating a sense of belonging and providing justice and accountability. This is based on growing research and experience that military solutions alone will not solve the problems of violent extremism.
We have a distinguished set of panels today to discuss these issues, unpack these concepts. They will be moderated by USIP's director of violent extremism, Leanne Erdberg Steadman, and after the panel discussion I'll join General Kenneth McKenzie, the commander for U.S. Central Command, for a conversation on the current stabilization priorities in Iraq and Syria, the coalition's key areas of focus moving forward, and how the military sees the challenges of repatriation and rehabilitation of thousands of people over the long-term.
We welcome the audience to submit your questions throughout the live -- you can use the live chat function. As a reminder, please keep your questions concise, and we'll focus on today's topic of ISIS and the associated humanitarian issues. And please, use a question form. We hope to get to everybody's question, but we'll do the best we can, and in the meantime, please engage with us on Twitter with the hashtag "#ReintegratingExtremists."
Let me now turn it over to Leanne to introduce our panelists and start the discussion. Thank you for joining us this morning. Leanne…
LEANNE ERDBERG STEADMAN: Thank you so much, Nancy, and thanks for your amazing tenure at USIP. We're so grateful for your leadership, and I know I join many of my colleagues and our friends at USIP. We're going to miss you dearly as you depart the institute this month.
To begin, I'm going to share the rules of the road for the first part of our panel discussion. I'm going to introduce our esteemed panelists, then I'm going to give about five minutes of framing remarks on the topic as USIP has been researching it, and then I'm going to jump into a moderated discussion with the panelists.
After around 30 minutes or so of us asking questions and discussing amongst one another we're going to turn to audience-submitted questions, around 10:40 or so. As Nancy said, you can submit those questions on the chat function, and as a reminder, please keep those questions focused on today's topic of Iraq, Syria, ISIS and the associated humanitarian and reconciliation issues.
It is my pleasure today to introduce incredible and esteemed panelists. First, we have Ambassador Bill Roebuck, who's the deputy special envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and a senior advisor to the special representative for Syria engagement. He's going to provide us with insights into the current state of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and what are the priorities moving forward.
Next, we have Philippa Candler, who's the acting U.N. high commissioner for refugees’ (UNHCR) representative for Iraq, and she's going to provide remarks on UNHCR work in Iraq, particularly when it comes to the displaced.
Next, we have Major General Alexus Grynkewich, who's the director of operations at U.S. Central Command, and he's going to provide an overview of current USCENTCOM operations, strategic objectives and how they relate to today's topic.
And next, we have Azadeh Moaveni who's the project director for Gender at the International Crisis Group and the author of the incredible book, "Guest House for Young Widows," that looks into the lives of 13 young women who joined ISIS. And she's going to provide us with insights on life inside the al-Hol camp and understanding what made people join ISIS and what it was like living under ISIS (might assist us?) in today's topic.
It's my pleasure to welcome all four of them today, and we're going to dig into their specific work and expertise shortly.
But first, as I promised, a few framing remarks (as USIP sees?) violent extremist disengagement and reconciliation, or what we're calling VEDR.
We're committed to proving, here at USIP, (inaudible) it's practical and it takes action. But as Nancy laid out for us, this is not going to be straightforward. While many should and will face trial and incarceration, the criminal justice sector is not going to solve this challenge on its own.
And in places like al-Hol, where there are undeniable perpetrators of violence and we see them continue to try and enforce the caliphate's austere violent norms upon others, those are not the only residents there. There are those visible adherents, but there's also those who are bystanders. There are the repentant, and there's also victims of ISIS atrocities.
Perhaps most confoundingly, there are those who are perpetrator and victim in the same person, who are at once traumatized and in need of support, but also accountable for engaging with the genocidal group. These varying roles and levels of devotion to ISIS are neither well understood, nor are they static.
And this is not to mention the many, many children who are victims of brutal circumstance. They've been caught up in the aftermath of this crisis, not knowing a childhood, many highly traumatized and developmentally stunted.
So communities are going to need to be prepared for these returning persons of all shapes and stripes, and to rehabilitate and reintegrate those effectively and inclusively.
Our work on this topic builds on the great work of researchers and scholars and local experts because we've learned that people can abandon their violent attitudes and violent behaviors, and communities can work towards social cohesion to avoid further violence. Decades of research from psychology and sociology, criminology underscore that people abandon violent roles, and people adopt new identities
But this has to include more than just a person changing their mind. It has to also include interactions between those disengaging and community members.
And in conflict settings, where we have victims and bystanders and adherents who have all experienced destruction and some have resulting trauma, the key to enabling a future that's not solely defined by the past is going to require focusing on the humanity of individuals and their capacity for change and their well-being.
So to help guide our conversation, we've started to come up with a framework of what we're calling VEDR. And they're further researched and presented in USIP reports and publications that are available on our website. But a couple quick pillars to help guide today's conversation.
The first is that we are making a plea to de-exceptionalize violent extremism because it's not the only discipline that works with the highly violent. Instead, we can incorporate lessons from cults and gangs and militias and organized crime and (other challenges?). Like we've seen in places like Colombia, peace-building has shown that offering a new group and a new identity and a new future to the disengaged can make all the difference.
The second pillar is that behavior change is key because people engage in violent groups and leave violent ideologies for a variety of reasons, so by centering on behavioral change, we can see results that just changing somebody's beliefs could never accomplish.
Additionally, behavioral health and psychosocial support can address barriers to why people change, barriers like trauma and hopelessness and fear, loss, grief, shame and humiliation.
The third pillar is that reducing stigma is possible. We often hear words like "jihadi" and ("ISIS bride"?) and "terrorist," but these merely reinforce the very identity that people are trying to disengage from. And it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, we should use language to our benefit because people tend to conform to the labels that society gives them, so even calling a person "rehabilitated" can itself play a significant role.
The fourth pillar is to facilitate justice and accountability. When it comes to communities, many may gravitate toward revenge, but transitional and restorative justice can also be an option to temper vengeance and also redistribute power. And as we saw in places like Rwanda, community-based redemption rituals can help perpetrators acknowledge their harm and accept responsibility for crimes committed, while helping to restore the dignity to victims and heal communities.
And lastly, resilience is possible even in the most dire post-conflict circumstances. Disengagement and reconciliation from violent extremism should be a part of stabilization in order to break the long-term cycles of violence and conflict that have plagued too many countries around the world. Alongside stabilization activities like rubble removal and training for new government leaders, a new playbook must also leave room for VEDR.
We're working hard to put these principles into practice in the countries and places that have the greatest needs. This is all part of a peace-building approach that flips the script. Rather than focusing on risk alone, we consider what resilience factors exist in individuals and in communities, and what can be strengthened to prevent the resurgence of violence and enable lasting peace.
We hope that today this conversation will help forge pathways ahead for our efforts, and for the many efforts that are ongoing throughout the international community, and we're looking forward to the unique vantage points and expertise of our esteemed panelists.
So with that, I'd like to first turn to Ambassador Roebuck and say, can you tell us a little bit more about your assessment of the current state of the Defeat-ISIS campaign? What are your primary objectives today and what are some of the principle setbacks, as you see them, to continued success?
AMBASSADOR WILLIAM ROEBUCK: Thank you, Leanne, and thank you for the opportunity to address this distinguished panel. I'm very grateful to USIP for putting this together, it should be an interesting discussion.
Let me start with the Global Coalition, I think that's the place to start as we talk about the state of ISIS. The Global Coalition is made up of 82 members and organizations, mostly states but a few organizations like the E.U., NATO, and INTERPOL are also members.
The coalition has been incredibly important in the fight against ISIS. It has been a fluid diplomatic instrument that has allowed the international community to use -- I would call it "coercive economic and diplomatic pressure," and also to coordinate with the military forces in the fight -- the military fight against ISIS.
The coalition is united. The members strongly believe in what they're doing, and believe that the threat against ISIS remains and that they need to be involved in the ongoing campaign against ISIS.
In terms of the military campaign, as Nancy said, the military part of it is largely over. ISIS no longer holds territory. Their -- their leadership has been decimated and scattered. In Syria -- for example, in northeastern Syria, they don't have safe haven largely. They're under significant CT pressure from our partner force, the Syrian Democratic Forces.
In addition to the military campaign, which has been so important in defeating ISIS as a physical caliphate, the coalition has been involved in a number of other lines of effort. And these are not just military.
They involve things like choking off their finances using international organizations like the MENAFATF. Of course, our Treasury Department but also counterpart ministries of finance and economy that cooperate with us on this, choking off the flow of finances. And it's been largely successful. ISIS struggles with it to finances its operations now.
A similar line of effort is involved with choking off foreign fighters. At the front end, this involved choking fighters trying to flow into Syria and Iraq, and now it's involved in trying to prevent them from leaving and going to safe havens in other parts of the world.
The coalition is also involved in countering the violent narrative or the messaging of Iraq. We have messaging centers in a number of capitals that cooperate in trying to counter ISIS's message on social media and all other media.
And the last line of effort that the coalition is involved in is mounting stabilization assistance to the communities that have returned or have been liberated from ISIS.
So it's a big agenda, but it's been remarkably successful. It's been, I think, in recent history, it's been one of the most successful international ventures that you could look at because of the level of cooperation and the complexity of the task that was involved.
Regarding the task, let me just say a word about how we assess ISIS and the threat it poses. ISIS remains a significant threat. And that's why the military presence is still there and that's why the coalition remains engaged to prevent ISIS from resurging.
Our assessment is that it is a threat but it isn't an increasing threat. It has some capabilities but far weaker than what it used to have. It's not able to a significant degree, it's not able to mount sophisticated attacks or operations or to tactically coordinate.
Most of what you see it launching is against targets of opportunity, assassination of individuals who cooperate, for example, with our partner force, the Syrian Democratic Forces, either on security or on local government.
I might talk for a minute about a couple of other primary objectives that the global coalition is involved in. Of course, we cooperate with local partner forces. This is how we executed the fight against ISIS on the military side.
And we continue to cooperate closely with the Iraqis on the Iraqi Security Forces and with Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria.
Recently, the SDF completed several CT operations, for example, in Deir ez-Zor Province and this was done in cooperation with coalition forces. We train and equip them. We advise and assist them. And I'm sure General Grynkewich will get involved in some of that in his remarks.
We continue to provide stabilization assistance, as I mentioned, to communities that had been liberated from ISIS. This involves help in getting these communities restored in terms of their essential services so that people can go back to their homes, get back to work.
So it involves things like providing running water, getting clean drinking water to communities, repairing agricultural irrigation canals, refurbishing schools and hospitals, activities like this. The United States has been heavily involved in funding this.
Since 2018, coalition partners have also funded it in the tune of several hundred millions of dollars, both in 18' and 19', which funded a lot of stabilization programs, but also funded a lot of U.S. stabilization programs in northeastern Syria, for example. So it was a good example of burden sharing in the operations.
The other primary objective that I wanted to mention was helping what I call the SDF secure the legacy populations, the post-Baghuz populations, the fighters, who have been put in prisons -- makeshift prisons, largely former school houses, former local industrial compounds that had been abandoned. So these are really jerry-rigged prison facilities.
We're working with the SDF to strengthen the physical securities of these prisons to help them expand detention facilities for juveniles, for women, and also just in general helping with the expansion to ease overcrowding, which is one of the triggers for violence.
On the other side, we're also helping with the women and children population. They were also taken from the battlefields in Baghuz. And they've been, as Nancy mentioned, put into the IDP camp at Baghuz -- I mean -- I'm sorry, at al-Hol.
Our focus there is different. It's to provide humanitarian assistance for a very vulnerable population, food, shelter, medical care. But it's also -- there's a second tier to it that's very important, which is to do some of the tasks that will begin to allow for disengagement and reintegration, the very first steps these are things like vocational training, education for children, recreational activities and psycho social support, which is also very important. I wanted to mention just a couple of challenges I think that you asked about the -- a couple of things come to mind. Of the primary challenge and that thing that keeps us there is the challenge from ISIS.
And I've developed that a little bit already. What I would also talk about in the Northeast is the economic crisis that they faced. They've been hit very hard by devaluation of the Syrian pound, the Syrian democratic forces and their affiliated civilian institutions. The drop in oil prices, so they're having trouble paying their salaries, they're having people who are -- ordinary people having trouble buying the basic goods that they need to survive.
The other setback that I had mentioned -- a challenge is really what they faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. And I can talk about that a little bit, if you want to. But it's been a significant challenge and is likely increase going forward. I'll stop there and see if you have questions.
MS. ERDBERG STEADMAN: Thanks so much, Ambassador. Thanks for laying out so many of the different lines of effort. Some of those primary objectives and we'll circle back to you on some of those challenges you just laid out at the end. I'd like to next ask Philippa, when it comes to the displaced in Iraq what are some of the key priorities and pressing concerns that are first and foremost in your mind today?
PHILIPPA CANDLER: Thank you very much and it's a pleasure to be a member of this panel this morning or this afternoon, in my case. Perhaps to start off with a brief comment from the perspective of UNHCR when we're talking about the displaced populations. We are of course focusing very much on interventions and our activities on civilian displaced populations. So people who have either fled Isis or who have fled areas of conflict where they were previous living. And who are now living either in IDP camps within Iraq or a larger number of them also living in urban settings.
Quite a lot of these people have already been through numerous security screenings by the authorities of Iraq, by the police military and various entities in Iraq. So the presumption is very much that these people are (inaudible) and we're therefore looking at our response as the U.N. as a whole and UNHCR in particular as a humanitarian response to particular vulnerable populations.
In terms of our current priorities perhaps of the key issues for us is the question of a durable solution. How do we find solutions for these displaced populations so that they can either return, which has been a much talked about solution for the displaced populations in the context of Iraq. But also recognizing that some of these people may not be able to return to their places of origin for various reasons, which I'll come to a bit later or may not want to return to their areas of origin.
We need to also start looking at solutions that are other than return and in particular local settlements in the area of displacement where they can't be (inaudible).
It's been very difficult up until recently to engage in this discussion with the government, in particular when we're not talking about return.
Return is something that is volunteer, return that has been on the cards for a while but these other solutions have been much more difficult to engage in discussions on but with the current new government about recognizing that it is only an interim government but nevertheless there is a lot of willingness and understanding that we are going to need to expand the discussions such that durable solutions to the (inaudible) beyond issues of just return.
And of course, all these discussions involve a lot of complex and difficult issues, including the issues of social cohesion and the integration of (inaudible) that may be perceived to be (inaudible) to ISIS so that they may not necessarily be welcomed in the areas, that they are even living in displacement if they were to stay there (inaudible) in potential areas of origin.
So that is one, of course, big challenge for us but it's something that we needs to be addressed if we are really going to be serious about getting to the point where we can start talking about people having found a solution.
That -- I mean, certainly part of our durable solutions approach from the UNHCR perspective is very much to focus and prioritize protection interventions as a basis for achieving durable solutions. So here I'm talking primarily about lack of civil documentation. Many of the displaced do not have access to civil documentation. Also talking about preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) addressing trauma, cause we all know many of these populations have gone through severe, traumatic events and will need support in addressing and dealing with those events, and also supporting youth through education and, of course for everyone, access to health care.
So all these are protection issues that, as UNHCR and with our partners, working on these issues we're trying to address to perhaps make the path towards achieving a durable solution and easier for the displaced.
Our primary focus, as well, is on supporting the restitution or the giving of civil documentation to these displaced populations and we work with the government of Iraq, in particular, the Ministry of the Interior very closely in order to assure, ensure and support them in delivering civil documentation to the IDPs, including through mobile missions to IDP camps where people can be registered and we see the documentation they need.
And for us it's key because it ensures that people have freedom of movement if they're documented, it facilitates them going through security screenings that may be required if they want to go back to their places of origin and of course it provides access to a whole range of both basic services, like health and education, but also programs that have been set up to compensate people for properties or houses that (they'd lost or?) indeed even family members that they'd lost. So a whole range of compensation schemes require them to have documentation.
So that's very much our area of -- of focus for the time being but not the only one because as has already been said, key and very much also linked to the durable solution debate is the reconstruction of infrastructure. So working with other partners to ensure that if people are going back to -- to areas that have been very much destroyed by conflict, they have access to basic services there -- water, and in particular, shelter. We are also hearing that one of the key obstacles to return are -- is the lack of shelter.
Perhaps just to mention (a very kind?) example at the moment, in the last couple of months we've seen over 11,500 Yazidi returnees from the (inaudible) area in (inaudible) into Sinjar and many of them are going back to a difficult situation and have needs for quite a lot of infrastructure re-building, in addition to a number of other needs, right? The documentation one, which I've just mentioned.
Perhaps one of the other challenges is, of course, the whole sort of transition point, moving from what has been, up until now, very much a humanitarian emergency response into more longer term developments because these infrastructure projects that I mentioned, while some of them are ready to be short term and can be addressed quite quickly, a number of sort of infrastructure programs link up to much more the development side of things and require input from partners and entities, including the government, of course on the development side. So that has been a challenge for Iraq in general and it's certainly something that we need to continue to be engaged on when we're talking about rebuilding infrastructure.
Just a quick word maybe on the COVID pandemic and the effect that that has had. Of course, it's really been a major challenge.
First of all, in terms of access to populations in particular, the IDP populations -- because there have been a number of lockdowns and restrictions on freedom of movement due to health concerns, which makes things very difficult for the humanitarian community to provide assistance, even if there are exceptions for delivery of life-saving assistance, and perhaps even more importantly has meant that a number of displaced people have lost livelihoods opportunities that they had previously so to daily labor in towns and things like that have been severely curtailed and one of the key issues that IDPs raise with us in terms of concern is the fact that they have lost the livelihoods activities that they previously had. So that has been a major challenge for them primarily but also for all of the partners who are working with them.
I have quite a lot more to say but maybe I'll leave it there for now and we can come back in for questions later.
MS. ERDBERG STEADMAN: Thanks so much. Yes, I'm sure there will be many of them. Thanks for laying out some of the commitment on durable solutions and how hard it is to come by, particularly as you're prioritizing protection and the very many needs of so many of the displaced.
And thanks for ending on some of the updates regarding the COVID effect, not just on health but on livelihoods, as well, so thanks for that.
I'm going to turn next to General Grynkewich. As many of our opening statements said, we're over a year post the territorial defeat of ISIS so how does USCENTCOM see the picture today and how does this relate to the issues of reintegration in return of the fighters, as well as the families?
MAJOR GENERAL ALEXUS G. GRYNKEWICH: Hey, Leanne, thanks very much for the question. And I'd like to start by saying thanks to USIP for putting this forum on. From our perspective here at USCENTCOM, we also serve as the combined forces command for the military arm of the coalition. There's not many more important topics as we look at how we can manage this problem of ISIS over the long term.
So, it is a priority for us; and much of the solution space though is not in the military realm as the investor alluded to. Much of the solution space comes from others, so thanks to the fellow panelists that are here with me today bringing a lot of attention to this issue and for those who are attending; and it's especially good to see Ambassador Roebuck.
The last time we saw each other was several months ago in Syria. So I guess a couple of thoughts on framing the issues I hear from my perspective.
I did spend the last year of my life in Iraq and Syria as part of CJTF-OIR or the Combined Joint Task Force for Inherit Resolve; and so I'm shaped on that experience when I think about the problems that we face and the challenges we face with the prison population and the internally displaced persons camps around the area.
I guess I'd start by saying I'll focus on the presence upfront. One of the things the investor highlighted that we've been trying to do both through the military efforts and other efforts is improve the conditions in the prisons from a security perspective; and also -- I would argue from a humanitarian perspective, and so I see that is really crucial to laying the foundation for any future reintegration efforts.
So what happened with that population -- the prison population is going to have individuals who have come from a variety of backgrounds or variety of levels of radicalization within there. I think that there are tailored solutions for different parts of that population, and some of that is a repatriation issue, so that folks can be prosecuted.
Some of it maybe be repatriation, so that folks can be reintegrated with their -- with their parent societies; so we're certainly working on all of that. But I think it's important to know that the security discussion is absolutely linked to the longer-term durable solutions that McKenzie has been talking about.
In the internally displaced persons’ camp, I'd just like to highlight one point on that. It's a really complex problem, and it's not just because their bona fide humanitarian needs in those camps; but we do have a fair amount of evidence that some of the individuals in that camp, especially at al-Hol are not just family members associated with ISIS proper, but some of them are probably ISIS fighters, who just happen to be females in some cases, and therefore weren't put into the male prison population.
And it's important to note that because again as we look at what that bell curve of attitudes looks like within al-Hol, again we're going to need tailored solutions for each part of that bell curve. So some of that is security and humanitarian conditions in the camp. Some of it is figuring out how to reintegrate back with the populations that the individuals came from, and as some -- couple other folks have mentioned that sometimes that just may not be possible.
I'll just close with one final point, and that is to go back to the investor's point on messaging and countering the global message of ISIS. So from the military dimension and especially from where I sit here at U.S. CENTCOM; we're focused on the security situation on the ground to allow some of these other efforts to happen in terms of stabilization and longer term durable solutions, and that's really what the military can do.
The challenge with that is if we maintain too much of geographical focus we forget that the long reach of ISIS ideology globally can reach out and touch folks who were previously radicalized and pull them back into the ISIS fold.
So it really does require a global approach from all of us to counter that message, and we do have some -- a number of initiatives that we work within the global coalition to that end.
We certainly work within the United States government with State Departments Total Engagement Center; but it's something that we can't afford to overlook. It's not just a situation underground, but it's in the broader information department that we need to address.
Thanks very much.
MS. ERDBERG STEADMAN: Thanks so much, General, for framing the issues, particularly your points on the variety of different populations that exist within the prisons that exist within the IDP camps and the global connectivity of those who are adhering to ISIS.
With that -- so I'd like to now turn to Azadeh, and ask a little bit of an opening question on, in your book, "Guest House for Young Widows," you describe the way in which many young women left for ISIS, (and how?) some different policies helped push women towards some of those fateful choices.
Given what you know and what you discovered, what do you recommend today, particularly when it comes to some of the reintegration challenges?
AZADEH MOAVENI: Thank you so much, Leanne, and to USIP, very good to be here with all of you.
So I feel like, Leanne, the last time you and I saw each other, we were looking at the situation in al-Hol, and not so much in a lot of ways has changed. There has been a retrenching and a real reluctance in Europe in particular, (and?) a set of commonwealth countries, to repatriating women and children with ISIS affiliations in al-Hol.
This is something, I was very glad to hear, the general, (inaudible), talk about separate facilities and strengthening facilities for women as well as male detention centers, because this is something that we've known has been desperately needed.
There's been -- the problem in Europe is that there had been a political blockage to repatriation, as I'm sure everyone is aware. The language around this population had been deeply dehumanizing, and publics are very against repatriation. And politicians, elected politicians see little to gain politically in a very febrile and still difficult atmosphere, made even more complicated by COVID, and some governments' faltering response to COVID, to bring women and children back.
Security officials who are very much against this have been publicly on the record, just don't have influence on this policy. They do make the case that it's more dangerous to leave women, many of whom are indeed ISIS fighters or militants, in a camp that's so porous where they could easily manage to traffic themselves out or to hire a smuggler to get them out.
There has been a kind of -- a minor shift in the U.K., and I think it's worth mentioning because I think it's been the real -- only real development that might (potentially shift?) course for the U.K. in the last month, which is that a court judged that Shamima Begum, who I write about in my book, who was a 15-year-old high schooler in London when she was groomed and recruited by ISIS. Now in al-Hol, her three children have all died, she's actually in (inaudible), was first in al-Hol.
A court -- well, the British government had stripped most of its nationals in al-Hol camp of their British citizenship, but a court ruled that the government should repatriate Shamima Begum so that she could challenge the stripping of her citizenship from the -- from the U.K., that there was no meaningful way for her to do that from these camps in northeast Syria. And said very clearly -- and I think this is, why this ruling might have legs -- that the security risks could be managed through law enforcement measures here in the U.K.
So this is something that I think might make a dent. I mean, this is very much something that is ruled by politicians' reluctance to provoke public ire at these kind of repatriations. The number of Europeans, we know, in al-Hol are actually quite small, even within the foreigner population, of course, within the larger population of al-Hol and the whole network of camps.
But they have an oversized impact on the perception of al-Hol, and repatriation of returnees in Europe, they have an oversized impact on ISIS' ability to deploy the camps, the humiliation of the camps, the subjugation of these women and children in these horrible circumstances as part of its narrative and its rhetoric.
So certainly, potentially around Shamima Begum, the Shamima Begum ruling, there will be a possibility for some different language and -- in the media and in the public around these kinds of cases, and extending the idea that she as a case illustrates that many of these women were kind of brainwashed teenagers, that they are not monolithic. Some are quite dangerous and some were studying for exams and buying (new Converse?) when they were recruited for largely sexual exploitation by armed groups.
So hopefully there will be some space to chip away at the public resistance that politicians sort of cultivate and then blame for their reluctance and there can be some movement on the real kind of commonwealth European hard line against any repatriation.
MS. ERDBERG STEADMAN: Thanks, Azadeh. Thanks for bringing us into the most current of developments as we see countries are looking, even many countries that are all members of the coalition, are all still looking at this, at each individual case-by-case basis. And so it might be interesting to see (if in fact?) Shamima Begum's case may have some outsized impact.
I realized that we already are 15 minutes before the top of the 11 o'clock hour, so I'm going to shift a little bit into some of the questions that we've received from the audience, but I'm going to ask them to all panelists. I think some of them probably have about two of you that would be relevant for each question, and so I'm not going to direct it exactly to you but please feel free to chime in.
So the first question that we have from the audience is, "Do you see a need or are there any plans for accountability or criminal prosecution at the international level for international crimes that are committed by ISIS members?"
AMB. ROEBUCK: I'll take one crack at it, and I'll let others weigh in on it.
I think, at least in the first instance, our view is that countries individually are better suited to try these people for the crimes that they committed. There's a sense that if you go the route of tribunals, that the judicial process will be lengthy. The tribunals that have been used in the past have taken quite a lot of time to develop a verdict.
And I think at least the thinking right now in the U.S. government is a strong preference for repatriation and prosecution by individual governments. I do take the point that maybe some thought should be given to this, but I think the general view, so far at least, is that as difficult as that might be, it's a more individualized approach than a tribunal or something international like that. Thanks.
MS. ERDBERG STEADMAN: Well, great, that was a really great answer.
Azadeh, I see you want to jump in on that too.
MS. MOAVENI: Perhaps I'll just chime in. I definitely agree with Ambassador Roebuck. I mean, there's -- seem to be little political appetite, especially in Europe, for an international tribunal in the Northeast of Syria. Even this notion of high recourse in Iraq seems to have been sort of largely discarded. It creates all sorts of problems in terms of European conventions on human rights and it just -- I think the Iraqi government was disinclined anyway.
So I think from a kind of political policy perspective that seems to be a known starter. However, I think there is sort of one element that would be quite important and that the idea of having some international response could address, perhaps in a different context.
A part from the tribunal is the importance of bringing a much more nuance in discerning attitude around gender and repatriation and rehabilitation and prosecution because we've seen in countries like Turkey and Morocco, prosecutors and judges tend to see woman as trailing spouses, not as militant or as operative having this kind of significant battlefield or operational experience.
As far as we know, tons of women who have returned to Morocco haven't been prosecuted at all. Not only from a security perspective, it is a really flawed approach, but it also generalized women who may have been victimized or traumatized or largely coerced in joining or women on a spectrum the opportunity to be rehabilitated.
So in Turkey, only a small handful of women, for example, are in prison for their ISIS affiliation. But in prison, they have access to female religious scholars and imams and special psychosocial support and treatment. Whereas the hundreds who just melted back into Turkish society essentially living these cloistered lives are not given that kind of support. And that is an essential part of rehabilitation. Many of them are foreigners who are living with the families of their fighter husband. How long will that be sustained? So, I think bringing a very serious gender set of considerations attentive to response all the way from prosecution and accountability through rehabilitation and GDR is essential.
And I think there just needs to be a sort of collective effort to do that because individual states on their own tend not to be bringing that into their consideration.
MS. ERDBERG STEADMAN: I think that's a really important point in how to think of a little bit more consistency in systemization across what are definitely going to be experiments and learning in process that many countries are doing with different points in the entire spectrum. So let me turn to another question from the audience, and this one Philippa may have some comments on as well.
What do you see as some of the paths for children that may have been born to people of multiple nationalities and may now essentially be state less, particularly those who may have lost their parents?
MS. CANDLER: Actually yes, and I wanted to come in after Azadeh spoke as well on the need for a gender-specific approach when talking about reconciliation and disengagement of the women in our hold. But also we need to, of course, come at addressing the issues of the population in our home, many of whom we all know are Iraqis and particularly pay attention to the children.
I mean, we have 50 something percent of people in our home who are children under the ages of 18 and quite a lot of proportion to those under the age of 12. I think it would be very important that we start talking about solutions to look at, at the needs of those children and to avoid a situation where first of all we have children in detention or incarceration for long periods of time because that is not going to lead to a healthy outcome for those children on any front.
And also to look at the best interests of the child. So perhaps this is where it relates up to the question that you read out. I mean, what is key is the best interests of the child. And, of course, it's a difficult challenge when you have a parent who, perhaps, has been involved or has been affiliated to some of these -- to ISIS.
Nevertheless, from a human rights perspective, it's very key to focus on the best interests of that child. And, of course, to take a differentiated approach because it will depend on the situation at the time, the family, the activities that they may or may not have been involved in, and to look at education as well for those children, both at the moment while they are still in our hold, but certainly -- and now I'm talking more about the Iraqi population, but certainly if and when they come back to Iraq, there need to be a plan that would include making sure that those children have access to education and are able to integrate into existing education systems with other children and are not stigmatized for their parents' background, let's say.
MS. ERDBERG STEADMAN: That was a really great rundown as to how we can really prioritize the needs of the child in so many of these dire situations.
Any other comments before I move to the next question?
Okay. Great. So this is another obvious question. So ISIS is merely the latest chapter in a variety of different Salafi jihadist movements that we have seen over the last couple of decades. Do you see a pathway towards defeating this movement? Are you addressing some of the underlying grievances and core governance that is across the CENTCOM area of responsibility?
So I see that this one would be for the general and for the ambassador. But others please feel free to join as well.
GEN. GRYNKEWICH: Yes, thanks for that question.
So we certainly understand that ISIS is just the way this chapter -- there's a lineage you can trace, ISIS back to al-Qaida in Iraq, and even before that. And, of course, there's other extremist movements that have popped up independent of that but are certainly in the same family of movements.
And I do agree with the premise of the question that a lot of that is driven by underlying grievances in the area. I mean, this might be -- this is certainly not something that the military can solve, but it's certainly something that we can highlight and that we can discuss with our partners in both the U.S. inter-agency and across the coalition and across international community and non-governmental organizations and international organizations that are out there.
Because fundamentally if you don't solve those underlying issues, then you are going to get these types of movements that spring up. And that's true really regardless of the cultural context. Of course, we're focusing on U.S. Central Command right now, but I think that would apply globally as well. And we've certainly seen that in other contexts.
This is a really good place, again, to hammer home the impact of COVID and the challenge that that's going to collectively give us across the community as all of the nations that we've been talking about today, from Europe and from North America as economic conditions adjust, to be determined exactly what the level of resources governments will be willing to apply to these problems at exactly the time when the vulnerable and fragile governments across the Middle East and across our AOR might require additional support.
So it's something to think about to try to come up with a strategy for. I don't think we know the outlines of that strategy yet because we don't understand how that economic geography will lay out over time. But it obviously goes beyond economy. Economy is just one aspect of it. And certainly governance is another.
I guess I'd be remiss if I didn't say, if I take it back to the Iraqi context and the Syrian context for just a moment, the -- one of the issues that we see is with some of the militant Shia militia groups that are tied back to a fair amount of Iranian influences. They operate in traditionally Sunni areas across Iraq. We think that that does also contribute to some sectarian tensions that historically have caused the rise of ISIS.
And this is a -- just an example from the -- from (the last while?). We’ve got a fair amount of polling data that we do to see, what are some of the previously-vulnerable Sunni communities in Iraq? How did they respond to ISIS ideology? And it's highly unpopular. They have lived under ISIS once. They don't want to do it again. They recognize just how difficult that is.
But then, when a Shia militia group comes in that is only nominally-associated with the Iraqi government, is working for its own ends and the levels of corruption become clear with that, it does start to push them back in the opposite direction.
And so I think some of (those security?) divides or religious divides in the governance issues that overlay on top of that are extremely important. Thank you.
AMB. ROEBUCK: And just a short addendum to that. I agree with everything the general said. I thought that was a great response to that question.
Just one point on the need for governments for the coalition and others who are involved in this problem set to address some of the underlying grievances in order to get to point where we solve this problem of consecutive chapters of jihadi extremists.
I think it is true as the intellectual proposition. I just don't know if the U.S. government or others are well-positioned right now to do that. I don't know how much appetite there is for it given the way that ISIS has conducted itself, it's sort of, frankly, poisoned that well.
But I do believe that some of the approaches that we've talked about and some of the approaches that Azadeh and Philippa and Leanne, you've mentioned have to do with durable solutions, with reintegration, with disengagement, with taking these first steps. They can possibly open up, in governments and populations, a willingness down the road to take a look at some of these underlying grievances, and the attitudes can soften and become a bit more adaptive and nimble, and being realistic about the need to address some of these underlying grievances. Thanks.
MS. ERDBERG STEADMAN: Philippa, are there anything to add?
MS. CANDLER: I might only add very quickly, I think there's a geopolitical element to everything that we've just been discussing. I would just add very quickly, agreeing with both the ambassador and the general on nearly everything that they said. But it's quite imperative for Iran-U.S. tensions not to spill over more than they already have into the Iraqi theater because the interim Iraqi government, turning its attention to reintegration and reconciliation in a potentially serious way for the first time we've seen needs to have the space and the room to maneuver to focus the attention on these very intractable and complex issues of domestic reintegration and reconciliation.
This process is not helped by depolarization that's especially exacerbated and illustrated in the security landscape in Iraq by Iran-U.S. tensions. So just to sort of mention the looming geopolitical dinosaur looming over this issue is that I think, hopefully, we will have a shift on that in the months to come. But I think it cannot be resolved in a genuine way, given the kind of matrix of security actors and the way that they feed into that adversarial relationship. That's it.
MS. ERDBERG STEADMAN: Well, it seems that we are at the top of the hour, and I just wanted to thank everyone for a really engaging and informative panel. I feel like we've covered, in just about 50 minutes or so, a huge amount of ground on an incredibly complex issue that we could definitely be talking about for hour after hour after hour, and still not have untied all of the different knots that are part of this problem.
With that, I'm really excited to transition to the next part of this discussion, which I hope to, one-on-one, keynote chat, is going to expose even more some of the issues that we put on the table today.
It's been my pleasure to moderate this, and please, thank you so much, panelists, for your excellent remarks, your candor, and your explanations. And thanks for being part of it with us today.
MS. LINDBORG: Great. Thank you, Leanne, and let me add my thanks to the panelists. It's really terrific to have that military-diplomatic-humanitarian development view all together to address what is without question a very complicated, very difficult issue. So thank you to all of our panelists. Thank you also for all the work that you do.
And you have perfectly set the stage for our next discussion with General Kenneth McKenzie, who has now joining us. We're delighted to have you with us this morning, sir, for this conversation.
General McKenzie has been the commander for the U.S. Central Command since March of 2019. This means he's responsible for the U.S. military operations throughout the Middle East and South Asia. And throughout his impressive 40-year career as a Marine, General McKenzie has served in Afghanistan, in Iraq, for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as in dozens of other positions in the Marines and the U.S. military. General McKenzie has been seized with this challenge of what enduring defeat of ISIS really looks like since assuming command last year.
So it's my pleasure to welcome him here today. We will dive into a discussion and some questions, including questions from the audience. But first, General, welcome. Thank you for joining us, and let me turn things over to you for some welcoming comments.
GENERAL KENNETH F. MCKENZIE JR.: Hey, Nancy, thanks a lot. First of all, I'm delighted to be part of this session this morning. I got to hear a little bit of the last session, which I thought was very good.
But this is very important to me. I tell people all the time, one of the very highest priorities I have at Central Command is dealing with displaced persons and refugees. I think it's a unfortunate byproduct of the conflict in the region, but I think unless we have a way to solve that problem, we're setting we're setting a strategic barrier for ourselves 10 or 15 years down the road as these children grow older, as they're radicalized.
So I am absolutely focused on this problem, and we can help indirectly. We'll do everything we can to help indirectly, but I thought it was important enough for me to actually volunteer and very aggressively pursue this opportunity to talk this morning.
Nancy, what I'd like to do, if I could, is just give a couple of opening comments to, sort of, set the stage. And while I'm talking about the enduring defeat of ISIS we should all recognized that enduring the defeat ISIS is got to incorporate -- fundamentals of that has got to incorporate a way forward for the displaced persons and all the other people that are at risk across the theater. If not we're actually never going to really defeat ISIS, and the problem is going to come back.
So we just need to realize that we have to operate in many dimensions. And think not only in the military dimension but outside the military dimension as well. So I feel that very strongly.
But what I'll do is just set a little bit of the history here. So the coalition campaign began in 2014. It started with airstrikes. (Inaudible) expanded to advisory forces on the ground that and with additional air and ground fire sustainment and intelligence support.
In Iraq, ISIS pushed the Iraqi Security Forces to the very limits of their capabilities. Our advisory efforts would be Iraqi Army and the counter terrorism service of the CTS, as we know it, rebuilt their natural capacity and began a systematic clearance of ISIS-held terrain, including the largest stronghold in Mosul. Iraq declared victory over ISIS in December 2017.
But in fact efforts against ISIS continue to this day across Iraq and I'll come back to that in a little bit. The complex operating environment in Syria proves a much harder challenge. The presence of Russian and Iranian forces, large numbers of displaced persons from the civil war and an organized but increasing desperate ISIS resistance are all obstacles to developing a coordinated campaign against the heart of physical (inaudible) caliphate.
Our largest partner, the Syrian Democratic Forces, under the leadership of General Mazloum spearheaded the push down the Euphrates River Valley that broke the back of ISIS power including the capital -- the capture of their capital of Raqqa in October 2017. The five year existence of the caliphate ended with the fall of Baghuz in March 2019 in one of General Joe Batel's last action as the CENTCOM commander.
While pockets of determined fighters remained in both countries local security forces have prevented ISIS from reorganizing into a viable threat. And certainly they don't have the ability to hold ground. U.S. and coalition forces continue to advise our security partners for authorized CENTCOM also supports U.S. government stability and humanitarian efforts.
So looking ahead a little bit, moving forward from the territorial defeat of ISIS, the campaign for the enduring defeat hinges really on three conditions. Firstly sufficient security capacity at the local and state level to prevent ISIS remnants from posing a threat to stabilization (efforts and governance?). Again where authorized CENTCOM and coalition forces will support the development of operational and institutional capacity to sustain these hard-won partner gains at the tactical level.
Second with security assured, national, international stabilization efforts can focus on meeting the basic needs of the population and repairing the devastation of years of conflict. This will set conditions for the third and enduring phase: a return to norm of institutional governance by sovereign states. This will be the conditions that would allow displaced persons to safely return and generationally impacting reforms to be put in place to prevent resurgence of radical ideology.
A little bit more about ISIS, we believe they continue to aspire to regain control of (physical terrain?). Without sustained pressure they have the potential to do so in a relatively short period of time. Local security forces are the key to preventing a resurgence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The underlying conditions that allowed for the rise of ISIS remain, and they've been compounded by the physical destruction required to dismantle the caliphate.
The amount of time and resources necessary to address these conditions is significant. COVID impacts are going to further complicate really all other aspects of stabilization. The malign influence of Iran in both Iraq and Syria is an impediment to the enduring defeat of ISIS. Iranian support to (their armed?) proxies in Iraq increases the risk of coalition forces and impacts our ability to support development of the ISF, and to focus on our the reason we're there which is operations against ISIS.
Support to the Syrian regime and regional terrorist organization prolongs the conflict against the return of displaced persons in refugees and drives intervention from other regional actors. Under new Prime Minister Kadhimi, the Iraqi government has an opportunity to address protester's demands for political, economic, and security reforms.
We'll continue to support the development of the ISF -- transitioning from a tactical focus that enable the defeat of Isis, institutional capacity building to sustain the gains that they've made. There's no viable military solution to the conflict in Syria.
Only a political settlement can end the violence and address the underlining conditions that fractured the country and allowed Isis to take hold. We talked just a little bit about the humanitarian challenges. Russian support to regimes Idlib offensive increased the risk of humanitarian crisis in Syria. Reduction to a single crossing point in the northwest is impacting the international community's ability to (provide aid?) to displaced persons in the local population.
Safety concerns on the part of the population -- very few are able to return safely to their home communities -- facing either personal risks, widespread destruction, and nothing to return to or both. Perception of safety is a far more acute problem than physical safety.
The story of a vanished 104 persists, refugees from Rukban who after regime engagement were not heard from again. Syrian regime control of areas around the Antioch garrison complicates the return of the population of Rukban.
Both displaced persons and security partners that have supported the fight against ISIS have faced force conscription into the Syrian Armed Forces and even violent reprisals from the regime itself.
The United States government is working closely with the government of Iraq to return Iraqi's currently in Syria in a manner that is most safe and secured. We support their Department of State's leadership role within the U.S. government.
The international community need to support repatriation efforts or coalition de- ISIS efforts may be for naught. That's the best way to solve that particular problem. The United States government supports the uniform -- the informed to say the voluntary and the dignified movement of internally displaced persons within Syria, and we strongly urge all parties to work the U.N. to adhere to the U.N. guiding principles on internal displacement.
We continue to push for repatriation as the priority for all foreign persons in both camps and prisons, while allowing for civilians leadership in Northeast Syria to repatriate Syrians.
I'd like to finish with just one other thing. I want going to come back to how this ends, because that's the title of what I was talking about; and I'm actually going to pick a phrase from one of my favorite poets, T.S. Eliot and I'm going to say 'This is way the world ends -- not with a bang, but with a whimper.' And that's the way this campaign is going to end.
There's not going to be a significant victory celebration. There's not going to be a clear cut military victory. The future of particularly in Syria is not going to be bloodless or in Iraq either, but it can be -- we can look to a future where our security forces, local security forces and serving with a local elected leadership or appointed leadership are going to be able to handle it without extensive outside help.
That's what we need to aim for, but we need to recognize it's never going to be a perfect solution that we might like and have seen in other wars. One of the key things we've also got to do is prevent connective tissue from coming from what was once the centerpiece of the caliphate to the rest of the globe where they seek to export terror.
Unfortunately the cyber issues have made it all too easy for them to motivate people globally, and we've also got to fight in that domain as we go forward. So the future -- we have a way forward. It's not going to be a clean-cut solution, but I believe it's a solution that can be enduring if we can all work together to that end.
Having said that, Nancy, I'm ready to stop and answer your questions. Thank you so much.
MS. LINDBORG: Well (inaudible) thank you for that very clear-eyed and comprehensive overview of an amazing complex situation and I want to just go back to you laid out a lot of the critical issues and since you took over the command, of course, there's been a defeat -- the territorial defeat but we've also seen a withdrawal of the troop levels, reduction of the U.S. troop levels, we've seen the incursion of Turkish troops across the border, and of course, as you mentioned, we also have COVID.
So I'm just wondering, how have you had to adjust your campaign and your activities as a result of all of these pretty significant changes over the last year and a half?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure. So Nancy, we actually remain completely focused in Syria on operations against ISIS. That's what we focus on, that's what we work with our partners on. Now, there are several things that go underneath that that you're aware of.
We reoriented last October into what we call now the Eastern Syria Security Area, which if you were to think of Syria largely as a boundary that runs along the Euphrates River to about midway north and cuts over to the -- the east a little bit, that's where we are, that's where we work with our SDF partners.
And so we also have a supplementary task to aid them in their defense of the oil fields that are in (the east?) of Syria, which allows them ultimately, we hope, to be able to gain income from that, which they will then be able to use to help continue to prosecute the counter-ISIS effort.
So that's really where our focus is there. Look, at the same time, we also need to recognize that Turkey has legitimate security interests, which is just a fact and we need to realize that. We agreed that the PKK has been a terrorist organization, has attacked the Turks. We share a different view of the SDF and what they've been able to do for us and we don't believe that they are one and the same. That's just the disagreement that we have with Turkey. We continue to work with them on that problem as it goes forward.
But at the bottom line would be, we do recognize that Turkey has concerns about what flows over the border into metropolitan Turkey, if you will, and what goes on in Syria in other parts of the theater. So we need to recognize that.
But we remain relentlessly focused on finishing ISIS off. At the same time, I don't think we're going to be in Syria forever. I don't know how long we're going to be in Syria. That's going to be a political decision, not a military decision. It's not going to be made by a uniformed officer.
So we'll be ready to respond to that and at some point, we do want to get smaller there. I just don't know when that's going to be. I do know that as long as we remain, we're going to work very hard to finish off ISIS and I know that earlier -- I really don't have the ability to hold ground anymore. We think that remains an aspirational goal of theirs. So constant pressure is actually very important against them as we go forward and we'll work with our partners to ensure that pressure is maintained.
It is a uniquely complex operational environment. The threat against our forces from Shia militant groups has caused us to put resources that we would otherwise use against ISIS to provide for our own defense and that has lowered our ability to work effectively against them and we just had to do that because we've got to be able to protect our people and those are our coalition partners that are with us in this fight.
So we look, but -- whenever we can, we look to get back to the reason we were there and the reason we were there is to finish the defeat of ISIS and to ensure that it cannot return to a level where it can move beyond that local, sporadic violence level, because unfortunately, as I noted in my opening remarks, I don't think we're ever going to get past that point. There's always going to be remnants of that.
And unfortunately, west of the Euphrates River, in areas that we do not control, where the regime controls ground with their Russian patrons, the conditions are as bad as or worse than in those that spawned the original rise of ISIS. So I am not encouraged by what's happening out in the west. I think that is very concerning, we should all be very concerned about that.
We have a vision for stabilization. It may be an imperfect vision but we have a vision. I'm not sure that out in the west there's any vision at all beyond violence.
MS. LINDBORG: Is there any coordination or common discussion with the Syrian or Russian forces or powers, given that there's probably a common goal of defeating ISIS in a more permanent way?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure. So we de-conflict with the Russians. We're carefully bounded on what we can do. We talk to them through a de-confliction channel. It's usually done below my level, it's done at a level of my three star commander in Iraq and Syria, CJTF-OIR Army Lieutenant General Pat White -- he could talk through his counterpart when necessary when we need to de-conflict specific operations and then we have a more technical channel that goes between our air operations center and their air operations center.
So we talk to them about specific things but the talk is strictly de-confliction. It is not what I would call coordination or anything beyond that. And as always, our primary goal in those de-conflictions is to prevent miscalculation.
When you have high speed, very sophisticated aircraft operating in a constrained space and sophisticated air defense systems, you want to prevent the occurrence of an event that could be unfortunate for everyone. So we work that very hard and we actually have very little coordination with the government of Syria.
It is my judgment that the government of Syria has actually missed opportunities in the past to try to come to a resolution with the SDF in the east but they've never been -- the government in Syria, in Damascus has never been noted for its political adroitness or its ability to accommodate change.
MS. LINDBORG: General McKenzie, I want to pan back for just a minute because you have an extraordinarily complex command. Not only do you address the problem that you just laid out, you also have, under your command, the issues in Afghanistan with Taliban and the growing focus on great power competition.
Today, we're talking about how ISIS (really ends?). So I'm just wondering, is there a struggle to maintain the focus on this issue, especially as it has morphed into not just a military solution but a humanitarian and diplomatic requirement?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure.
Nancy, that's a great question because as I look at the theater, we remain focused on Iran as our central problem. This headquarters focuses on Iran, executing the terrorist activities against Iran and doing those things.
At the same time, though, we're conducting a significant campaign in Afghanistan, where Americans are directly at risk and we're conducting a significant campaign in Iraq and Syria, where Americans and in both countries, our coalition partners, as well, are at risk.
So our goal is always we want to keep focused on where we have U.S. service members and coalition partners and our friends, where they're at physical risk. So, there are a lot of things that I worry about and I, as I look at (my focused?) but we're always tactically focused on where we have people in contact.
So I would say having said that, the Iraq-Syria conundrum is particularly demanding because of the element of displaced persons that are there, the volume of displaced persons, the fact that we have the camps that the prior group talked about so eloquently, and that is very concerning to me because again, I look at it as a tactical problem and a strategic problem.
The tactical problem we're managing that we are continuing operations against ISIS. The strategic problem, though, unless we find a way to repatriate, to de-radicalize, to bring these people that are at grave risk in these camps back, preferably to their nations they came from or to stay in Syria where appropriate, but with some form of de-radicalization, we're buying ourselves a strategic problem 10 years down the road, 15 years down the road, and we're going to do this all over again and I would prefer to avoid that.
And that is what I think makes the problem in particularly Syria so very complex, because you've got to deal really with two timescales: the timescale of now -- the military timescale, which is measured in days, weeks, hours as we conduct operations -- and then the longer-term timescale as young people grow up and we're going to see them again unless we can find a way to turn them in a way that will make them productive members of society.
MS. LINDBORG: So let's turn to the al-Hol camp (inaudible), as you heard a little bit with the previous panel: 65,000 residents of this camp, which is a small city, vast majority are women and children. You (inaudible) just mentioned the importance of repatriation. How have you seen the repatriation proceed thus far?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Very slow, from my perspective. I think it needs to go faster. I don't have an answer besides repatriation. I mean, look, many people have been to the camp, I know a lot of people have talked about it. It's not a good place to live. Bad things are going to happen if you keep a lot of people there, bad things are going to happen in terms of radicalization and bad things are going to happen in terms of COVID.
Or even before COVID, I would tell people I was worried about cholera, I was worried about access to water. We were worried about a lot of other things. So we absolutely support the Department of State's lead on repatriation. We think that's absolutely critical. They are working very hard.
But, nations have got to agree to take them. And so we talked a little bit about that, I heard -- got to hear the tail end of the prior group about that.
It's concerning to me that we're moving so slowly because we could either deal with this problem now, or deal with it exponentially worse a few years down the road. And what worries me tactically also is the prospect of massive infection in the camp from coronavirus, although again, there are many other bad things that could happen in that camp as well.
MS. LINDBORG: So a significant number of those camp residents, of course, there are many, many foreigners, both fighters and families. But there are also significant numbers who are Syrian and Iraqi.
You’ve mentioned the issues in Iraq with both the opportunity, with the new leadership there, the fact that most of the Sunni population does not support a return to ISIS. But how do you see the impact of the possible return of al-Hol and other ISIS-affiliated fighters and families to Iraq? Is there a willingness to take them, do you see that there'll be a downside in moving them back to what is still a very volatile situation in Iraq?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Yeah, I think so, there's (an option?) of difficulties, if you will. al-Hol arguably is one of the worst places in the world. And I've got to believe that if you get them back into Iraq, it can't be worse than that. They'll be back in the nation, the state from which they came.
But I'm not wearing rose-colored glasses as I consider that possibility as well. (The action of transit?) is going to be difficult and demanding. Settling back in an area where you may not be welcome will be difficult and demanding. But I just don't see a better solution.
My ability to (apply labors?) to it is very limited because it really is a larger issue than. We can help the teams that go in there, we can do all kinds of things but it really is an interconnected ecosystem of problems, if you will, that really requires international agreement. Unfortunately it's very difficult (to gain?) that right now.
And you're also right, Nancy, when you pointed out just a minute ago, the coronavirus is uniquely poised to put friction in that very thing that we think needs to happen, which is the movement to the home countries. And there are 60 nations that are represented, although many of those nations have a fairly small amount of people.
But I wish I had a better solution. I will tell you this, if we stay where we are, we're going to have huge problems. Huge problems in the near term, I think with lots of people potentially dying, and then huge problems in the long term because I have yet to see a scheme that can talk about de-radicalization at scale.
And I don't believe you can necessarily effect that de-radicalization, say, at a place like al-Hol. You need to get people back into the environment from which they came. And I believe it needs to be a de-radicalization process, and I've looked at a lot of alternatives, and I know a lot of really smart people are working on it.
But from where I sit, it needs to be embedded in the culture, so it needs to be a Middle East solution. It needs to come from the region, and it would be even better if it came not only from the region but from within the specific area that the people that have been radicalized came from.
And beyond that, I'm still struggling to find something that works. Because there may be pilot programs that can do one or two people at an extraordinary amount of cost, but we need programs that will work at scale. And I think that's much harder to envision.
MS. LINDBORG: Yeah. We had, as you may have heard, an interesting conversation on these concepts of disengagement and reconciliation as a key (inaudible) (part, enabling?) people to return.
I think for a lot of listeners, this whole idea or reintegrating ISIS into communities can seem like a very lofty and impossible goal. We have also seen, in conflicts like the Rwandan genocide, the aftermath of Khmer Rouge, that in fact there are ways to rebuild a future that isn't only defined by its past.
Clearly, this is a very complex problem. But I'm wondering if from the military's perspective -- and you quite rightly point out, this is far beyond just a military problem, but in the military world, are there lessons for (other post?) (Inaudible) environments that you think about that (inaudible) you pull forward to apply to this situation?
GEN. MCKENZIE: You cited Rwanda, I think South Africa is another place where you can take a look at possible solutions. So, yes, there are other solutions. Bosnia is another place where you can look at solutions.
The only thing that concerns me about ISIS is, you never want to say, "This is the worst example of extremism" that you've ever seen, but we're pretty close to it here. And so I think it's a tall order to talk about how you'd reintegrate ISIS.
And I don't -- and the way to do it, I believe, is not to start at the top, because I don't think you can start with current leadership and hope to bend those people. You've got to start at the bottom, what feeds in, which takes you to the children, which takes you to the majority of people in the camps themselves. So if there's a way to work that, I think it's the way to work it.
And I also agree with you, disengagement, some form of disengagement approach may be ultimately more effective than talking about de-radicalization. Because de-radicalization may just not be possible within the fiscal and time limits that we're operating under right now. Over.
MS. LINDBORG: One of (inaudible) last trips before COVID shut us all down was to Uzbekistan. And remarkably, there was the five Central Asian countries have really been in the lead in taking back residents of al-Hol, mainly women and children. Do you have any thoughts on why there's been a greater willingness for Central Asians to take their citizens back versus what we just heard from the panel is a steep reluctance in Europe?
GEN. MCKENZIE: I wish I could get more light on that. I really -- I don't know. Smaller numbers for one thing, I mean, in the case of Iraq, we're talking many, many, many thousands of people that are going to need to come back.
So smaller numbers in the Central Asian states. That might -- if I were to look for a causal factor that might be the one thing. Plus, obviously it -- things happen to you when you're a good citizen internationally. Central Asian states need help. It's a good way to, going forward, what our presence is going to be in Iraq -- will be adjusted in concert with the government of Iraq. I think there's going to be a requirement for us and our NATO and our coalition partners to have a long term presence in Iraq.
But I think that's something and the level that will be negotiated with the government of Iraq going forward and I think that is a grave concern to the Iranians because that works against what they want, which is for Iraq to be pretty directly under their control and for us to be out of the theater. So good news in -- on that front.
Now, the real heart of your question was what has this activity meant for us? So over the last seven or eight months, we have had to devote resources to self protection that we would otherwise devote for the counter-ISIS fight and we've had to pull back, our partners had to pull back. At the same time, we've done some things to harden our positions to make it more difficult for Iran to actually attack us in Iraq and we've been very successful and commanders on the ground there have done a great job. Again, Lieutenant General Pat White and his team, my three star commander there, have just done a great job with that but it has had an effect.
What we're coming through now, though, is we're also seeing the Iraqis are better. You would like to believe when you train someone over a period of time, eventually you don't need to be quite as closely associated with them tactically on the ground and we're seeing the fruits of the training that we've conducted over the past several years.
They're good enough to begin to fight aggressively against ISIS within the physical boundaries of Iraq and that's good enough and -- so that's really the fact we're getting smaller is actually a sign of campaign progress.
We don't want to maintain a huge number of soldiers forever in Iraq. We want to get smaller. We want to return to a more normal security cooperation environment with Iraq as we go forward. And again, I don't know what that number is going to be because that's not going to be a military number, that's going to be a political decision that'll be made by our national leadership in concert with the government of Iraq.
And the strategic dialogue that's going to occur here in the next few days is a very good sign of the healthy nature of that dialogue, which I've got to tell you is nothing less than sort of a victory going forward. It is not what Iran wanted, it's not how they saw things in January or February. Things have gone against them and I think we can see that they will eventually respond to that.
I do not know what the nature of that response will be but we will certainly be ready for it should it occur.
MS. LINDBORG: Well the complexity, of course, is also, as you mentioned at the top (inaudible) of your remarks is that the political objectives that Iran pursues in Iraq and the tactics that they employ can, in fact, inflame the possibility of reemergence of ISIS. So there's an inherent additional problem just in that regard.
GEN. MCKENZIE: No, Nancy, you're absolutely right. When I had an opportunity to meet with the -- with the Prime Minister a month ago when I was in Iraq and what they have asked us for -- he's asked us -- and I'm sure he'll continue that dialogue at a much higher level than with me when he comes to the United States -- is patience. They're trying to do a number of things that we agree with.
We're going to have to see if they'll take two steps forward, they might have to take a step back every once in a while. We need to be patient and understand that but I think he's on the right path, I think the trajectory of the government is actually good. We need to give them a little space to begin to work the issues, control the paramilitary forces, all of those things.
I believe he has a good vision for how to proceed with that. So I think we've got a pretty good team in place there and we just need to support them, we need to let them work and we need to try to do everything we can to not inflame the environment in Iraq.
And again, luckily, we've got very good commanders on the ground there that are very sensitive to that fact and we work that every day.
MS. LINDBORG: (Inaudible). General McKenzie, I have a stack up of questions that we promised we'd get to. So let's go back to the COVID issue.
MS. LINDBORG: (Inaudible) over the last several days we've had the first reports of COVID cases in al-Hol, both the workers and the residents -- the humanitarian workers and the residents. So as you indicated, this (inaudible) new dimension of risk to the children there, in particular, and an additional urgency for their repatriation.
Current Counter-ISIS Train and Equip Fund guidelines allow DOD to facilitate repatriation to other countries only if fighters are also repatriated. So might a COVID outbreak pressure the CTEF, the Counter-ISIS Train and Equip Fund, to change the rules and expedite DOD to facilitate repatriation from al-Hol to protect the children?
So in other words, to bring children back without fighters?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure. We'll certainly take a look at that. That would not be my decision obviously; that'd be a decision at a higher level. I will tell you that the coronavirus emerging in the camps have been one of my fears for a long time.
Frankly, I'm surprised we've gone as long as we had without it showing. So there are a couple of things when it gets into the camp. First of all, it's a much younger population which withstands the virus a little better. On the other hand, I don't think it's a healthy population. And there are going to be a number of comorbidity factors that affect the survivability of the population. So I wouldn't -- I don't draw any strength from the fact that the population younger and typically they do better against this.
So, we will examine everything in concert with our Department of State partners, and who actually has a lead in this. We're open to anything that would be proposed. I've got nothing specific on that. I do note it and agree that that's certainly something we can take a look at.
MS. LINDBORG: Great. So the next question is that there are reports that ISIS members are returning to areas under Turkish control in Syria. Is the Pentagon worried about an ISIS resurgence in Turkish-controlled areas? And the SDF has accused Turkey of helping to smuggle ISIS individuals out of al-Hol and other IDP camps. Do you agree with the SDF assessment? And what is being done about that?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Earlier when we were talking, I think generally and west of the Euphrates River, the missions are much worse than they are east of the Euphrates River, particularly with the resurgence of ISIS. I don't have any particular visibility into what's happening inside Turkish-controlled areas.
So I wouldn't -- I just don't know that. I've got no visibility in there. I've got better visibility actually south of there, west of the Euphrates, north of (inaudible), in that area out there, (inaudible) desert, areas like that where we a little more visibility in what's happening with ISIS.
And they are operating there with some limited degree of freedom, certainly more freedom than they have east of the Euphrates River. I have no evidence that I am aware of that anybody has been smuggled out of the camp in order to go across. I just -- I haven't seen that. It's not something I have visibility on.
MS. LINDBORG: That's a pretty long, porous border, between Syria and Iraq. Are you still seeing a lot of movement of ISIS fighters back and forth across that border?
GEN. MCKENZIE: So some of the Iraqi security forces have pushed up against it. So it's better than it used to be, not as -- back in -- right about the time ISIS did its final collapse in the spring of 2019, I actually believe ISIS had a very good plan in place to move people into Iraq. And I think they executed that plan.
So I think a lot of people came in during that time period. I think it is harder for them to execute that movement now. Of course, a lot of people in --
MS. LINDBORG: In (inaudible) Syria, this is another question, there are more than 2 million Arabs under SDF control. And, of course there have been tensions between the Kurdish population and the Arabs, which is just additional complexity to an already complex area.
So is the USG doing anything to stabilize those areas? Do you see that Arab-Kurdish issue as something to be worried about?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Well, I worry probably a little more about it now than I was earlier when we were fighting, when we had a common opponent holding ground. That relationship was very good. Now that the common military campaign, if you will, is over, it has required, in my judgment, considerable adroitness on the part of the SDF if they want to successfully manage that problem.
The Iranians are also active there as well.
MS. LINDBORG: This is a question of an area that falls squarely in the mission and the U.S. Institute of Peace. We know that conflicts have a lot of complexities and they happen at a large level and at a community level. And so the ability to get in there and create dialogues to bridge those kinds of divides is absolutely critical.
And that's related to another question, which is, how does the Global Coalition move forward with reconstruction and stabilization in Syria while the Russia (inaudible) Syrian regime and Turkey all have a vested interest in undermining the SDF and SDC?
So feel free to comment on whether you agree with the premise, and unpack any acronyms (inaudible) --
GEN. MCKENZIE: Thanks. That's kind of the end state question, how do you go forward and how do you actually find a way to bring it to an ending. I think that we've got to do the rebuild. Unless you are able to get money in there to rebuild the infrastructure, then nothing else is going to happen.
And that needs to come from a variety of donor states, it shouldn't be necessarily just the United States that pumps that money in. There are other states that have a far greater interest in it than we do, that are going to be more closely affected by a bad outcome than the United States.
So that's not a military problem, I'm just observing that that's the way we need to get at that problem. If we can find a way, for example, to generate income for the SDF from the oilfields, if that income can then be equitably distributed in the long term, that's a way to actually begin to generate that.
And, look, I know the condition of those oilfields, we're not looking at oilfields as we would know them in Texas or even other parts of the Middle East, these are (generally pool ?) surface fields that are in not very good shape.
So we will aggressively support any defense support, stabilization that we can do going in there. But the money's not going to come from us, it's going to have to come from other agencies, entities not only in the interagency, but more particularly in the international community.
And the other thing is, I think our vision would be that that wealth needs to stay there. I think the Russians on the other hand want to extract the wealth. And so that's an information opportunity that we have. I mean, we sort of have a vision of it where this can help fund what's going on there as well.
But there's a closing window for that, we need to move quickly on it. The fissures that you've outlined -- the Arabs, the Kurds -- those are factors that need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile over time, Nancy -- now, this is more military issue, we expect that the regime is going to want to push to the east because they want control of the same things, that's an economic engine, it's one of the key parts of as people sit in Damascus and look at trying to rebuild their economy, they think they need control of that.
So we don't have resolution of that yet. We sit on the Euphrates River, and they're not going to be able to come east while we're there and while our SDF partners are there.
I don't know what the long-term solution could look like there. But, again, the people in Damascus have not proven particularly adroit at dealing with these complex issues and so I don't have a lot of hope for whatever the Syrian regime might or might not bring.
I know that at the political level, Ambassador Jeffrey is engaged with the Russians on talking about this, so we do outreach at the political level. Again, I'm not particularly (inaudible) got to talk to about that, but there is outreach that's going on as we try to find a way to go forward.
But look, we need to rebuild the infrastructure, we need to find some form of generation capability to provide a basic quality of life for these people. That goes hand-in-hand with security. I don't want to minimize or say that's an easy path forward.
MS. LINDBORG: Well, it also has been reported, the devastating impact of these open (inaudible) oilfields that you just mentioned on both the environmental and the health of the citizens in the region, which is its own devastating problem.
But I want to go back to the whole repatriation question because there are several that have come in. And one of them goes to this issue of partnership that you just raised, that it is this partnership of the international community.
And so the question is, how does the Global Coalition move forward with the vast challenge of repatriating foreign fighters when even close U.S. allies such as the U.K. -- and I think we could include other European allies -- are so unwilling to repatriate their citizens?
GEN. MCKENZIE: So, look, I wish I had an answer to that question, I do not. I do think that, it’s the Department of State -- I know because I talk to them all the time on this -- is aggressively engaging on this.
We've got skin in the game in Syria. Some not all of our partners have skin in the game in Syria as well, and we recognize that in terms of forces that are there. I think it's -- but I just don't see any way to go forward without some form of repatriation, and that is a uniquely diplomatic national leadership question, not really a military question.
So I hate to sound like I'm admiring the problem. But it's not within my capability to solve it. I'm happy to provide the resources to move them, when we're directed to do that. And I can move them anywhere in the world and move them very quickly, and in a safe and transparent manner.
But I think it is uniquely a political problem. But you've outlined it, it's hard to do when even your close allies are sort of hesitant to get involved in that game, but it's very -- it is very hard to do it as a genuine practical matter?
So what -- I think the way that we contribute actually is, (we can?) buy time. If we can keep the situation relatively stable, then our diplomats have an opportunity to work the problem and we may be able to find a solution. I can't contribute to that diplomatic negotiation, but I can contribute to the idea of buying time for the diplomats to work that problem.
So that's another reason why I'm very comfortable with our position now in Syria --
MS. LINDBORG: -- (reconciliation accountability?)?
GEN. MCKENZIE: As you know, Nancy, in some circumstances, when allowed by law, we collect biometric data. We're limited on the uses of that data, we're limited on who we can collect it against. So that's actually a tough problem, and I don't know that I have a good answer for you in terms of being able to associate evidentiary change with the people that are -- then go back.
And also, depending on where they're going, you've got to wonder about the nature of the justice that they're going to receive in the country that they're going to, so that's an additional problem.
Look, I wish I had a better answer for you on that, I just don't have a better answer.
MS. LINDBORG: Yeah, it's not unique to this environment, but --
GEN. MCKENZIE: It's not. No, it's not.
MS. LINDBORG: -- it clearly compounds the problem.
So the next question wants us to go back to Turkey. And the question is that Turkish (armed?) (Inaudible) actions in the north have expanded in recent years, as we've discussed, but especially in the past few weeks.
Are you concerned about increased friction between Iraq and Turkey? And how have Turkey's (air?) (Inaudible) in Iraqi Kurdistan affected the U.S.-partnered missions in the region? And has the U.S. gotten any reassurance from Turkish officials about this issue and these actions?
So clearly, Kurdish (strikes into?) northern Iraq induce additional friction there, there's additional complexity in the problems that we face. Same time, Turkey does have, as I've said before, does have legitimate national security concerns and they're going to address those concerns.
We keep a very close dialogue with the Turks. I talk, and all significant military problems occur at the junction of a map sheet or some other boundary, so you've got to bring another combatant commander in. So Turkey, of course, is part of European Command, so I talk to General Tod Wolters, my good friend and the EUCOM commander, frequently about this issue, and we share notes. We talk to them.
So I think we have a good, continuing dialogue going on with the Turks, so I'm very comfortable with that level. If I need to get a message across, General Wolters is very good about it, and vice versa, as we go back and forth across the border.
Having said that, obviously when you're striking targets, potential for miscalculations very high. The potential for collateral damage is very high, and that's something that we watch very closely.
MS. LINDBORG: General, not all our listeners, our viewers, may understand the differences between the combatant command boundaries. Do you want to just say a quick word on that?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure, sure.
So U.S. Central Command is responsible for 20 nations in the Middle East, and Syria, Lebanon, Iraq are all within my area. I am a geographic combatant commander. I command a geographical part of the Earth for the United States and work with our partners and allies within that area.
Turkey falls within the European Command boundary, and so that therefore, the geographic boundary between Turkey and Syria is not only a boundary between those two nations, but for the United States it's a geographic combatant command boundary. Luckily, while there's always friction associated with that, luckily, EUCOM and CENTCOM, the two respective combatant commands, work closely together, and it's also made easier by the fact that General Wolters and I are personal friends. We talk frequently, and we share a common view of many things.
So what overcomes that kind of friction is the personal relationship between commanders, the hard works of the staffs, and also equally important, the ability to reach out to the country teams and our diplomats in each of those countries. That's also very important, and actually more important, when you actually stop to think about it. So we use all those tools trying to minimize the sense of friction that occurs at these boundaries.
MS. LINDBORG: So we talked in the panel earlier, about the importance of nonmilitary means being brought to bear on this issue of violent extremism. And of course, we've seen the passage last December by U.S. Congress of the Global Fragility Act, which directs State, USAID and DOD to work collaboratively in some of these more fragile states to address the conditions that give rise to violent extremism. Do you see that as a viable way forward? And have you seen any of that start to take hold in terms of conversations you have with diplomats and development colleagues in the U.S. government?
GEN. MCKENZIE: So, Nancy, philosophically, I really would like to see us move to solution sets where we're not applying the military element of power as a first choice. We're a very blunt instrument. We're a very effective instrument, but really, particularly in complex problem sets, I think it's an arithmetic approach to an exponential problem, and there are always downstream effects when you lead with the military. We can do a lot of great things. We can go in there and fix a lot of problems initially. But never going to be as effective as the other tools of power working, because you've got to get to the root causes of those problems. We are not going to ever be good at getting to the root causes of the problems. What we can do is address the symptoms and manifestations of the problem, but the root causes of the problem require a far more delicate and nuanced approach.
So let me give an example: So what just happened in Lebanon is an example of how we can actually help. So significant crisis when the ammonium nitrate blew up. What we have done is where we've been in direct support of USAID and other elements of the U.S. government. We've flown in planeloads of food, medicine, water and supplies, and also some kits, some medical kits. By that, I mean large medical kits capable of treating thousands and thousands of people under USAID auspices. That is an example of how we can be used to leverage the other elements of power.
But again, what I think is the dime, that all the elements of power: defense -- defense -- diplomatic, information, military and economic. We're only one of those elements, and often, the better way to find the long-term solution is to apply the other elements of power.
There are some times when you can't do that, and you're just going to have to go in. You're going to have to adopt a military solution because of the threat that you are presented. But at all times, I think you should seek to transition to a more holistic approach whenever you can do that. That's not easy to do, but I think we're beginning to see some signs of that, and I welcome it. We're happy to work with it here at CENTCOM. We actually believe in that.
MS. LINDBORG: And are the conditions in and around the al-Hol camp, do those conditions make it more difficult, given the security situation, all the complexities that we just discussed, given Turkey, Russia, the Syrian regime?
GEN. MCKENZIE: Yes. We've talked a lot about the situation inside the camp, which is what it is, and we've laid that out pretty clearly. But there are also external threats to the camp: ISIS wanting to get in there, as well, to liberate -- liberate the people or do things like that. It's hard to move around up there. The routes are generally closed and all around it.
So what you've got is you've got a huge human problem overlaid with a significant military tactical problem. And unfortunately, the history of warfare tells us when those two are juxtaposed, the military tactical problem is going to receive the majority of attention.
And we work to try to minimize that because we recognize we have a unique problem there and what we don't want to do is make the problem worse at al-Hol. It's bad enough as it is right now. So do no harm when you can. Support the international agencies that go in there.
The last thing I would say about al-Hol is it truly is an international problem, and it's going to require an international solution. No one nation, no one military can solve that problem. It does require an international approach, and I know our diplomats are working very hard to try to make that the case.
MS. LINDBORG: General McKenzie, I want to ask you final question. You've been very generous with your time, but just, if you could, we've talked a lot about ISIS in Iraq and Syria. You just brought in the really terrible tragedy in Lebanon. Just a word about your concerns about the actual or potential spread of ISIS through your region, through Lebanon into Yemen and elsewhere.
GEN. MCKENZIE: Sure, (inaudible) --
MS. LINDBORG: Where do (inaudible)?
GEN. MCKENZIE: I mentioned it just very briefly early on -- one of the things we want to prevent is the development of what we call connective tissue.
So originally, as the caliphate envisioned itself during their heyday, the caliphate sat in the Euphrates River Valley and in western Iraq, and then it was connected to a variety of what I would call franchise organizations, ranging from the Pacific Ocean to the South America to Western Africa -- all around the world. They envisioned those sub-caliphates as reporting back, and money would flow back and forth. Fighters were moved back and forth, and that was the idea of a global jihad.
So the middle of that has now been taken away, and they're -- so what we want to do is prevent the globalization of the problem.
Now, unfortunately, there's a degree of globalization inherent in the internet and in cyber capabilities, because you can sit any one place in the world and talk to anyone in any other place of the world. So what we face now as a challenge is, the idea of distant radicalization, the idea that inspired attacks can occur.
An inspired attack is an example of someone who self-radicalizes -- perhaps in the United States, perhaps in Western Europe, but through exposure to the toxic literature on the internet -- and decides to take up jihad and do something violent there. That is very concerning to us. It's very hard to stamp out, and it's made ubiquitous by the presence of the internet.
But what we have been able to do is reduce the directed and enabled attacks that come from the central caliphate, where they provided money, where they provided other kinds of things. That's hard for them to do. On the other hand, it's a fire in the minds of men, it's an idea. And so it's very hard to fight an idea within a boundary.
We do think globally about this. My good friend General Rich Clarke, the commander of Special Operations Command, thinks about the global problem all the time. And we work with the Global Coalition to actually work against that.
But it comes down to this: prevent connective tissue, create conditions where local security forces are able to contain it, recognizing that it's not going to be bloodless. And I've said that several times because it's important to emphasize there are going to be eruptions, there are going to be problems.
But what we want to do is get to a place, a point where these can all be handled by local security forces. Maybe with tipping and cueing from outside actors, but not significant support as we see now in what's happening in Syria or in Iraq.
And I think that's sort of the way forward. But this problem is going to be with us for a while, it is not going to go away, it's going to go away with a whimper -- if I could go back to my T.S. Eliot allusion -- but it's going to be around and we just need to get used to it.
MS. LINDBORG: General McKenzie, I'm always happy (to end?) (Inaudible) the discussion with a quote from T.S. Eliot. Thank you, you've been (inaudible) join us today with so much going on, with an extraordinarily busy command. Thank you for your insights, thank you for your dedication in addressing these very complex problems. Please come back, would love to have an update from you at some time in the future.
And I want to thank all of our viewers for joining us today for a conversation on a very critical and complicated issue that affects all of us.
General, thank you.
GEN. MCKENZIE: Nancy, thanks so much. USIP does great work. I really wanted to make this. I protected this time; I carved it out. I wouldn't let my guys change it for me because I wanted to do it, and I absolutely commit to coming back and giving an update on this in the future. Thanks so much, have a good day.
MS. LINDBORG: Wonderful.