2016 in Review: Building Partner Counterterrorism Capacity and Countering Violent Extremism

By: Justin Siberell, Acting Coordinator for the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State.

A crisis response team composed of Kenyan and Ugandan police practice their approach in a simulated hostage situation. [Photo courtesy of Jim Baker, Cytel Group]

Throughout 2016, the U.S. Department of State continued its leadership in shaping the global response to terrorism and violent extremism. The Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism (‘CT Bureau’) has worked vigorously to strengthen our bilateral and multilateral counterterrorism partnerships, build partner capacity, and prevent terrorist recruitment.

Building Partner Capacity

The CT Bureau is helping partner nations build their civilian counterterrorism criminal justice expertise in areas such as border security, crisis response, terrorist finance, and information sharing. Through training and equipment, consultations, and mentorships, we help civilian law enforcement officers, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and others prevent and respond to terrorist attacks around the world. The CT Bureau is overseeing nearly $400 million in Fiscal Year 2016 foreign assistance funding that aims to improve the capacity of our international partners to address counterterrorism challenges, including $175 million under the new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund.

Two examples of the CT Bureau’s work in building capacity are worth highlighting. In August, we supported the third annual East Africa Joint Operations (EAJO) Capstone exercise. Funded by the Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism, this 20-hour terrorist attack simulation exercise highlighted the State Department’s role in strengthening the ability of partner nations to address dynamic terrorist threats. The EAJO brought Kenyan, Tanzanian, and Ugandan security forces together to examine crisis response measures and ways to increase regional cooperation to respond to evolving threats by al-Shabaab and other terrorists, with an overarching focus on respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Since the 2002 Bali bombings, the CT Bureau has funded training and equipment for an elite counterterrorism unit of Indonesian police. Over the past decade, those forces have arrested and prosecuted more than 1,000 terrorists. The unit was on the frontlines of responding to the ISIL-inspired terrorist attack in Jakarta in January 2016, saving lives and leading to the arrest of the principal attacker.

Engaging Multilaterally

The CT Bureau advanced counterterrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE) priorities at the United Nations by raising the profile of prevention measures during the 2016 UN General Assembly’s (UNGA’s) fifth review of the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy. The UNGA endorsed over 70 recommendations of the Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, and through the adoption of UN Security Council Resolutions 2309 on aviation security and 2322 on judicial cooperation on terrorism investigations and prosecutions.

In September 2016, the CT Bureau was actively engaged during the 71st UN General Assembly, where our leadership participated in the seventh Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) ministerial. To further its work on the “Initiative to Address the Life Cycle of Radicalization to Violence,” the GCTF adopted six new Lifecycle Initiative documents and welcomed the launch of the web-based Lifecycle Toolkit. The Lifecycle initiative builds upon existing GCTF good practices and recommendations to help policy-makers and practitioners break the lifecycle of radicalization to violence through prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation and reintegration activities, such as community policing, the role of education, and the importance of partnerships with local communities.

Over the past year, there have been widespread terrorist attacks by ISIL/Da’esh and al-Qa’ida-affiliated groups against soft targets, including hotels, restaurants, stadiums, and other public spaces. Attacks in Bamako, Brussels, Grand-Bassam, Istanbul, Ouagadougou, Paris, and elsewhere demonstrate the need for improved international preparedness focused on soft target protection. In response, the United States and Turkey launched, “The Protection of Soft Targets in a Counterterrorism Context” at the 2016 GCTF ministerial, to raise awareness, identify needs, and leverage the expertise and experience of governments and industry to better protect potential soft targets. The United States is providing $1 million to help fund this initiative. Further background on GCTF efforts can be found here.

Countering Violent Extremism

In May 2016, the State Department and USAID released the first-ever Joint Strategy on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), which highlights the need to foster and empower a broad-based coalition of government and non-governmental partners to address violent extremism. Our approach to CVE is analytic, strategic, and integrated, mobilizing America’s diplomatic and development tools to meet this challenge:

  • The Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, a public-private partnership, signed its first grants to support community-based CVE efforts in Bangladesh, Mali, and Nigeria.
  • The Strong Cities Network, a global network of municipal and civil society organizations engaged in building resilience and social cohesion to counter violent extremism, expanded to 60 members in 2016, ranging from Los Angeles to Aarhus, Denmark; to Peshawar, Pakistan.
  • The State Department partnered with the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to establish the East Africa CVE Center of Excellence and Counter-Messaging Hub in Djibouti. The center will serve as a critical platform for IGAD member states and other organizations to conduct training and capacity-building programs.

One blog cannot capture all of the highlights of our CVE activities, including projects focusing on youth and addressing prison radicalization. Other CVE initiatives include the GCTF’s Life Cycle of Radicalization to Violence, the RESOLVE Network, and CVE Centers of Excellence in Abu Dhabi and Djibouti. In the new year CT looks forward to continuing to advance the State Department’s mission by supporting local efforts to enhance civil society’s ability to counter recruitment as well as engaging youth and community leaders in effectively responding to violent extremist ideology and messaging.

Editor’s Note: This entry is the second in a two-part series highlighting the CT Bureau’s counterterrorism diplomatic initiatives in 2016. Read the first blog. It also appears on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State’s Official Blog.