On June 2, 2016, the State Department released Country Reports on Terrorism 2015. In addition to fulfilling an important congressional mandate, this report provides us with the chance to review the state of terrorism worldwide and define the nature and scope of the terrorist threat. Reviewing the involvement and engagement of countries in various aspects of their counterterrorism efforts – in areas like counterterrorism finance, law enforcement, border security, and regional and international cooperation, among other topics – helps us make informed assessments on where to focus our diplomatic efforts and where to place resources in our capacity building and countering violent extremism programs.
The expertise of Foreign Service Officers from our U.S. embassies in 89 countries around the globe, as well as officers here in Washington, all contributed to the report, which begins with a Strategic Assessment that discusses key trends of the previous calendar year, and also includes chapters on state sponsors of terrorism, terrorist safe havens, profiles on all 58 designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and the global challenge of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear terrorism.
The report noted that in 2015, the United States and the international community faced a dynamic and evolving terrorist threat. While we have made important progress in degrading terrorist safe havens – particularly those held by ISIL in Iraq and Syria – as well as the finances and foreign terrorist fighters available to it, instability in many regions of the world provided terrorist groups like ISIL and al-Qa’ida with the opportunity to extend their reach, terrorize civilians, and attract and mobilize new recruits.
Two key counterterrorism trends in 2015 are highlighted. First, there was an increased level of international cooperation and coordination to address terrorist threats. The United States led a global coalition to counter ISIL, the Multinational Joint Task Force established by the Lake Chad Basin countries to confront Boko Haram, and the efforts of the Horn of Africa nations to coordinate efforts against al-Shabaab in Somalia are all examples of this ongoing cooperation and evidence both of an increased appreciation of the importance of a coordinated effort and of the political will to bring it about.
We’ve seen countries across the international community mobilize to implement fundamental reforms to address the supply and transit of foreign terrorist fighters attempting to reach the conflict in Syria and Iraq. UN Security Council Resolution 2178, adopted at a UN Security Council session in September 2014 chaired by President Obama, provided the framework for this effort. In line with that resolution, 45 countries have passed or updated existing laws to more effectively identify and prosecute foreign terrorist fighters. Thirty-five countries reported arresting foreign terrorist fighters, and 12 have successfully prosecuted at least one foreign terrorist fighter. And by the end of 2015, the United States had information-sharing arrangements with more than 50 international partners to assist efforts to identify, track, and deter the travel of suspected terrorists.
As countries have taken these steps, it has become more challenging for foreign terrorist fighters to travel unimpeded to Iraq and Syria. We are beginning to see a decrease in the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to this conflict zone. We believe this decrease reflects the combined effects of sustained battlefield losses, recruiting shortfalls, and increased border security efforts by source and transit countries.
The second key counterterrorism trend was the rising global realization of the need for an expanded response to the challenge of radicalization to violence and terrorist recruitment. In February 2015, President Obama convened the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, which brought together government, private sector, and civil society leaders from around the world. Following the summit, leaders and community-based representatives from countries around the world came together at a series of follow-on meetings in Algiers, Astana, Nairobi, Nouakchott, Oslo, Singapore, Sydney, and Tirana – to take stock of where our combined strategies have been successful and to identify areas for progress.
As we look ahead, our policies and programs will respond to the evolving threats described in the report. To that end, we recognize the need to continue to devote resources towards improving the counterterrorism capabilities of key partner countries.
As President Obama has said, “We will take action against threats to our security and our allies, while building an architecture of counterterrorism cooperation. We will increase efforts to lift up those who counter extremist ideologies and who seek to resolve sectarian conflict. And we will expand our programs to support entrepreneurship and civil society, education and youth – because, ultimately, these investments are the best antidote to violence.”
About the Author: Rhonda Shore serves as Senior Public Affairs Advisor to the Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism, and is Editor-in-Chief of Country Reports on Terrorism.