2016 in Review: Advancing Counterterrorism Diplomacy

Editor’s Note: This entry is the first in a two-part series highlighting the CT Bureau's counterterrorism diplomatic initiatives in 2016.

Efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism were at the forefront of the diplomatic engagements of the U.S Department of State throughout 2016. The Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism (‘CT Bureau’)  has worked vigorously to limit the expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while maintaining pressure on al-Qa’ida, its affiliates, and state-sponsored terrorist groups, such as Hizballah.  We are making gains in countering these serious global threats through efforts to designate terrorist affiliated individuals and organizations, as well as prevent foreign terrorist fighters from traveling to Syria and Iraq.

Designating Terrorist Organizations and Individuals

The CT Bureau designated five new Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) and issued 32 Executive Order (E.O.) designations, including the designation of ISIL affiliates in Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, as well as Hizballah commander Abu Ali Tabatabai in 2016.  See our list of designated individuals and groups here.

Designating terrorist organizations and individuals under U.S. and UN sanctions regimes exposes and isolates those involved in terrorist activities, and results in denial of access to the U.S. and global financial systems.  The ‎UN listing also subjects terrorists and facilitators to a global travel ban and arms embargo.  Designations can also complement the law enforcement actions of other U.S. agencies and other governments.  See background on E.O. 13224 and FTO designations here.

Preventing Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) from traveling to Syria and Iraq

A core component of the United States’ Counter-ISIL strategy has been to prevent the travel of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) to and from the conflicts in Iraq and Syria.  Over the past year, the flow of FTFs into Syria and Iraq has decreased significantly, a decline that can be attributed, in part, to increased global pressure. The United States has led bilateral and multilateral efforts encouraging partners to increase terrorist identity information sharing, strengthen border controls and traveler screening, and implement legal reforms to identify, disrupt, and prosecute FTFs.   Our efforts over the course of this year produced results:

  • More than 60 countries have laws in place to prosecute and penalize FTF activities. 
  • At least 65 countries have prosecuted or arrested FTFs or FTF facilitators. 
  • Sixty countries, plus the United Nations, now contribute FTF profiles to INTERPOL. 
  • The U.S. has concluded information-sharing arrangements with 57 international partners to help identify, track, and deter known and suspected terrorists.
  • At least 26 partners share financial information that could provide actionable leads to prosecute or target FTFs. 
  • At least 31 countries use enhanced traveler screening measures. 

Due to these initiatives and the resulting decline, coupled with battlefield losses, ISIL is finding it harder to replenish its ranks and the number of ISIL fighters in Iraq and Syria has been reduced to the lowest levels in more than two-and-a-half years. By taking a leading role in developing coordinated strategies and approaches to defeat terrorism – both at home and abroad -- we hope to continue secure the United States and global community against terrorism.

About the Author:  Justin Siberell serves as Acting Coordinator for the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor’s Note: This entry is the first in a two-part series highlighting the CT Bureau's counterterrorism diplomatic initiatives in 2016. It also appears in the Department's Foggy Bottom publication on Medium.com.

For more information:

Trainees for the Colombian Special Forces wait to board a plane in Bogota, Colombia, to take part in training exercises that will help them gain skills in combating terrorism. [AP Photo]
Posted by Justin Siberell
January 3, 2017


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