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  • A telephonic press briefing with Ambassador-at-Large Nathan Sales, U.S. Coordinator for Counterterrorism.  After brief opening remarks about his recent trip to southern Africa, Ambassador Sales took questions from participating journalists.

Download or listen to the audio file here .

Moderator:  Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion.

Today, we are very pleased to be joined by U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Nathan Sales, U.S. Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.  Ambassador Sales will discuss his recent trip to Southern Africa.  We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Ambassador Sales, then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the briefing.

If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #AFHubPress and follow us on @AfricaMediaHub and @StateDeptCT.  

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record.  And with that, I will turn it over to Ambassador Sales for his opening remarks.

Ambassador Sales:  Yeah, thanks very much, Marissa, for organizing this call.  Good afternoon to the folks calling in from Africa and good morning to folks here in the United States.  I’d like to give you just a couple of brief observations about my recent trip to Mozambique and South Africa.

This trip was an opportunity to engage with government officials in both countries to garner support for increased cooperation on counterterrorism issues.  Needless to say, with the COVID pandemic still a major issue of concern around the world, the fact that I traveled to Southern Africa under these circumstances is an indication of how seriously the United States takes the terror situation on that part of the continent as well as how seriously we take our commitment to working with partner nations to address this threat and defeat our terrorist adversaries.

The United States and the Government of the Republic of Mozambique have a shared interest in peace and stability.  We’ve seen ongoing violence in the northern Cabo Delgado province, and we’re concerned that this violence threatens the security of Mozambican citizens, threatens the progress of development, and has the potential to undermine the livelihoods of Mozambicans with significant commercial investments.  What we’ve seen is increased terrorist attacks by ISIS affiliates in Mozambique over the last three years, resulting in the deaths of more than 2,000 people.  We’re also seeing a humanitarian situation developing with the displacement of more than 400,000 residents of Cabo Delgado province.  Here in the United States, our key priorities are to counterterrorism with security support, while protecting the civilian population and providing humanitarian assistance to those who have been displaced by violence.

While I was in Maputo, we discussed our two countries’ mutual commitment to a strong strategic partnership to counter terrorism in Cabo Delgado and focused on ongoing efforts to counter ISIS and terrorism in the country, and specifically in the region.  We also explored ways the United States can help Mozambique enhance its civilian law enforcement capabilities as well as its border security capabilities.  The United States wants to be Mozambique’s security partner of choice in strengthening border security and in strengthening its capacity to counter terrorist activity.  We do this time and again by demonstrating across the globe that the United States is the indispensable counterterrorism partner; that the United States brings capabilities that no other country can match.  Our approach to capacity-building helps to foster partners’ expertise and capabilities in a sustainable, marrying skills as well as equipment.

And with that, I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you, Ambassador Sales.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.  For those asking questions, please state your name, affiliation, and limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: Ambassador Sales’ recent trip to Southern Africa.  

We have received some questions submitted in advance by email, and journalists may continue to submit questions in English on Twitter and via email to  Please be considerate to other journalists on the call and make your questions as brief as possible in the interest of time.

Our first question – we’ll go to a question sent in to us from the Associated Press in South Africa, Mr. Andrew Meldrum.  The question is, “What risk does the insurgency in northern Mozambique pose to the surrounding region?  Is there evidence of links and assistance from other extremist groups?”

Ambassador Sales:  Well, thanks for the question.  I think one of the things we’ve seen with terrorist groups like ISIS time and again is that they don’t respect national boundaries, and in fact they do their best to exploit national borders.  We’re starting to see a bit of that in northern Mozambique.  Just within the past couple of months we’ve seen some ISIS elements within Cabo Delgado conduct operations across the border into Tanzania.  And that’s why one of the major topics of discussion when I was in the region was what the United States might be able to do to help boost border security.  We think that working with our partners on the ground, we will be able to coordinate our efforts better to contain terrorists, to degrade them, and ultimately to defeat them.  But ultimately that requires maintaining control over borders and making sure the terrorists don’t have freedom of movement across international boundaries.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next question we’ll go live to Gabriele Steinhauser of The Wall Street Journal.

Question:  Hi, can you hear me?

Ambassador Sales:  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  Hi, hi.  So it seems that, for whatever reason, the Mozambican Government is reluctant to request assistance from SADC.  Is that something that you brought up in your meetings both in Mozambique and in South Africa?  And what was the response from your Mozambican counterparts for why they haven’t sought assistance from SADC?

Ambassador Sales:  Well, thanks for the question.  I was there on behalf of the United States Government, not on behalf of any other body.  And so the conversations that I had with counterparts in the region were about how the United States might be able to deepen its partnership, and I think we had some good conversations and I think partners on the ground recognize that the United States has unique capabilities and has a proven track record of fighting terrorism in a way that promotes the rule of law, and those were the topics of our conversations.

Moderator:  Thank you.  The next question goes live to Kyle Cowan.  Mr. Cowan, please ask your question.

Question:  Good afternoon, Ambassador Sales.  Kyle Cowan here from News 24 in Johannesburg.  Ambassador, the run-up to this event was – it was also stated that you’d be meeting with some South African officials.  Can you give us an assessment or your view on the preparedness and awareness of the South African officials and the risks it sort of poses to neighboring states considering the upheaval in Mozambique?  Thank you.

Ambassador Sales:  Sure.  I’m reluctant to speak on behalf of another government, but what I can tell you is that our South African friends and we have a similar view of the threat picture across the border in Cabo Delgado province.  I think South Africa has a special role to play here as an economic power, as a military power, as a strong democracy that much of the rest of the continent looks to for inspiration and leadership.  So I hope that we’ll be able to find ways to partner together with our friends in Pretoria to degrade and defeat terrorist threats in this part of the continent.

Moderator:  Thank you.  The next question goes live to Peter Fabricius.  Mr. Fabricius, please ask your question. 

Question:  Thank you very much, Marissa.  Yeah.  Thank you very much, Ambassador Sales.  Yeah, look.  I mean, I’m really just following up a bit on the previous questions.  Could you just give a more precise idea of what the U.S. has in mind in terms of addressing the security issue?  I understand that you’re looking at the problem more widely in terms of humanitarian and so on, but what are we – what are we talking about in terms of U.S., let’s say, boots on the ground or whatever your conception is of the military role that might be – that you might be prepared to play?

Ambassador Sales:  Yeah.  So I was there to discuss capacity building with respect to civilian counterterrorism capabilities.  I’m not representing the Defense Department; I’m representing the State Department.  And typically what the State Department has done in other parts of the world is to help bolster law enforcement capabilities, things like the ability to investigate terrorist attacks, to prevent terrorist attacks, to collect evidence from the battlefield, to train prosecutors to use that evidence in courts of law to obtain convictions that will take terrorists off the battlefield for prolonged sentences upon their conviction.

We also typically do things like border security capabilities.  We have a number of state-of-the-art systems that we use in the United States to protect our borders, airports, seaports, land ports of entry, and we always talk to our friends around the world about how those systems might usefully by used to protect their border security, as well.  Those are the sorts of tools that we’ve used elsewhere and that we’d like to see whether there’s an interest in moving forward with those in Mozambique as well.

Moderator:  Thank you.  The next question goes to Mr. Nick Turse of Vice World News out of the UK.  Mr. Turse, ask your question.

Question:  Ambassador Sales, thanks for taking the time to talk today.  My question on Mozambique was answered, so I wanted to ask: Will there be any changes in the number or location of State Department personnel deployed in Somalia or any change in State Department activities within Somalia in the months ahead?

Ambassador Sales:  Yeah, thanks for the question.  Africa is a big continent, so I wasn’t in that part.  I was in Southern Africa.  So I’m happy to answer any questions about this trip, but otherwise I’m sure that folks in the Africa Bureau would be happy to answer your question.

Moderator:  Thank you.  The next question goes to Ms. Elena Lentza of LUSA News Agency out of Portugal.  Ms. Lentza, please ask your question.  Ms. Lentza, please ask your question.

Question:  Hi.

Moderator:  Okay, we – yes.

Question:  Sorry, hello, I was muted.  Ambassador, good morning.  Thank you for taking my question.  My question was similar to what was already asked, but I can add something to that or add another part of the question.  It was about what kind of capabilities and equipment you are thinking of sending to Mozambique to help protect the borders, and all that?  And do you think that can happen in 2021, or how will that be implemented in Mozambique?  Thank you.

Ambassador Sales:  Well, thanks for the question.  So what we have done in other parts of the world, and indeed, in other parts of Africa, is provide an integrated suite of capabilities and equipment needed to execute those capabilities.  So we’re talking about law enforcement capabilities to investigate and prosecute terrorist crimes or to respond to terrorist attacks and prevent them from causing even more bloodshed.  The sort of training and equipment that we would provide there would be to enable a law enforcement response, initially a tactical law enforcement response, as well as over the longer term training and equipment that can help investigators and prosecutors and judges and corrections officials get the situation under control.

Now, the capabilities and the training and the tools that we provide in a given case, I mean, it’s not off-the-shelf, right.  Everything is custom and tailored to the unique circumstances and unique needs of a particular country.  But fundamental to the assistance that we provide is building capacity that advances and, indeed, depends upon human rights and the rule of law.  Because we’ve found that boosting those rule-of-law capabilities enables a long-term, durable, and sustainable capability that’s going to pay dividends over many years to come.  There’s no quick fix when it comes to counterterrorism.  The playbook is a simple one, but it’s one that we have to follow with specificity.  And it’s very simple: it’s develop rule-of-law-compliant capabilities so that police and investigators and prosecutors and judges have the tools they need to defeat terrorists in a sustainable and durable way. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next we’ll go to one of our questions that were sent in from Mozambique, from Mr. Fernando Mbanze from Media Fax.  The question is, “What role do you believe multinationals operating in Cabo Delgado might have in solving the problem, or in combating terrorism?”

Ambassador Sales:  Right.  Thanks for the question.  So the situation in Cabo Delgado is very complex because in addition to the security challenges posed by the ISIS actors there, we also have the knock-on consequences from a humanitarian standpoint with hundreds of thousands of Mozambican citizens fleeing the violence.  And so part of the response has to include meeting that humanitarian need.  We have to get the security situation under control so that people feel comfortable and safe returning to their homes, returning to their lives.  But in the meantime, it’s essential to meet the humanitarian need.  The United States has been very active over the years, and especially recently, in devoting resources to help address the humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado and we’ll look to continue to do so, partnering not just with government entities but with NGOs that have access and expertise that we need to rely on.

Moderator:  Thank you.  The next question goes to Mr. Andrew Harding from BBC.  Mr. Harding, ask your question. 

Question:  Thank you very much, Ambassador.  In a recent call not unlike this, Mike Pompeo said that no other country ever had or ever would do more for Africa than the United States, but when I listened to your opening comments, though, it sounded almost like you were giving an advertising pitch, and I get the sense that in this multipolar world, particularly somewhere like Mozambique, you have the Russians – the Wagner Group – you have the Chinese, you have a lot of competition these days.  And I wonder the extent to which you feel that change now, this sense that you are struggling against lots of other countries who want to influence places like Mozambique who may not be your allies. 

Ambassador Sales:  Yeah, thanks for the question, and it’s a really important one, and I want to be precise and specific on this.  The United States brings capabilities that nobody else can bring.  We are able to equip our partners with the capabilities and the tools they need to get terrorists under control to degrade and defeat their networks.  There is no other country around the world that has the proven track record that we do, and that’s why I think there is so much interest in Africa, as in other parts of the world, in partnering with us rather than with others who might be offering seeming quick fixes.  The way to fight terrorists is not to send in a bunch of mercenaries to loot natural resources and then abscond.  That’s not an effective counterterrorism strategy.  

What is an effective counterterrorism strategy is building rule-of-law-compliant institutions within governments – in the law enforcement sector, in the justice sector – that allow authorities to use those tools to protect their populations and remove threats from the battlefield.  We’ve been doing it for 20 years, and I think there’s a recognition on the continent that if you want to do it right, you’ve got to work with the Americans.

Moderator:  Thank you.  The next question goes to Anna Chibamu of  Anna, ask your question.  Anna Chibamu, please ask your question.

Question:  Yes, can you hear me?

Moderator:  Yes, Anna, please ask your question.

Question:  Okay.  My name is Anna from in Zimbabwe.  Zimbabwe neighbors with Mozambique and we know, we understand the crisis in that country is so critical.  And I want to know, has the U.S. Government been able to get discussions with the Zimbabwean Government to help in that region where the crisis is taking place?  And what extent is there in any talks with the Zimbabwean Government?  Because authorities here are not [inaudible] with the crisis in what they are doing to help Mozambique.  So ,I want to know if there has been any talks with Mozambique.  How far have you gone as the United States Government?  Thank you.

Ambassador Sales:  Thanks for the question, and I think this raises an important point, which is that transnational and regional solutions really are essential to getting terrorist threats under control and to degrading and defeating terrorist networks.  As I mentioned in the opening, we’re already starting to see a bit of spillover from the violence in Cabo Delgado into neighboring countries.  And so as much as we want to work on a bilateral basis with countries that are affected, it’s also important to have multi-stakeholder conversations so that countries that are affected by this violence can coordinate their efforts and make sure that we’re bringing to bear the full suite of our respective capabilities and resources to address the problem set.  So, thanks.

Moderator:  Thank you.  The next question goes live to Mr. Warren Thompson of Business Day out of South Africa.  Mr. Thompson, please ask your question.

Question:  Hi, Ambassador.  I just wanted to get your assessment of the Mozambican legal framework.  Do they have a particular framework in place for prosecuting crimes linked to extremism?  And is there adequate legal avenues for the government to conduct investigations and/or carry out extraditions of citizens that may be accused of these crimes that live in other neighboring countries or within the SADC region?  Thank you.

Ambassador Sales:  Thanks.  That’s exactly one of the things that we want to take a hard look at.  In some cases when we work with partner countries, they have well-developed, advanced legal codes that given them every legal capability they need.  In other cases, governments have some legal authorities on the books but would benefit from taking a hard look at them and assessing whether additional changes are necessary.  

So as we proceed in these conversations with our friends in Mozambique, that’s one of the things that I think you can expect that we’ll be looking at.  And the United States has an unparalleled track record of using our own legal tools to incapacitate terrorists through rule-of-law-compliant prosecutions, and if there’s interest in learning from the American example, I’m sure that our FBI and our Justice Department and our Treasury Department and others who have expertise in these areas would be more than happy to share that expertise with our partners.

Moderator:  Thank you.  The next question goes to Mr. John McDermott of The Economist.  Mr. McDermott, please ask your question.

Question:  Oh, hi.  Two quick ones.  You’ve talked about this terrorism and related to ISIS, but many Mozambicans and analysts think of it as a locally driven civil war, and that would be a description I often heard when I was last in Cabo Delgado.  Would you also describe it as such?  

And the second one is: Has the Mozambican Government actually accepted the American offer of help?  It has, of course, been wary in the past of U.S. assistance.

Ambassador Sales:  Yeah, so thanks for those questions.  On the first – the nature of the violence – Cabo Delgado, as you well know from your work there, it’s an area that has experienced spasms of violence in the past.  I think what’s new today, what’s new within the past several years, is that the perpetrators of this violence are aligning themselves with ISIS as a transnational terrorist enterprise in ways that we hadn’t really seen previously.  So regardless of the origins of these violent networks or individuals who participate in them, what we’re seeing today is a committed ISIS affiliate that embraces the ISIS ideology, that embraces the ISIS tactics and procedures, and that embraces the ISIS vision of a caliphate with territorial control.

So, what we need to do is make sure that we in the United States are making available to our Mozambican partners every capability that we have to help them degrade and ultimately defeat that terrorist threat.  I think you can expect that these conversations will continue into the future as we look to match American capabilities to Mozambican needs, and of course we want to work very closely with our partners, and once we have reached a consensus, once we have reached an agreement on what our partnership could look like, the precise contours of what that partnership could look like, I’m sure we’ll be in a position to share more information about what that will look like.

Moderator:  A question that was sent into us from Mr. Geoff Hill from The Washington Times in South Africa: “Some years ago when former Energy Secretary Rick Perry was speaking in Cape Town, he said unemployment was a factor that pulled young people and especially young – the young to the militias.  He noted a shortage of electricity in Africa made it hard to industrialize and left millions of young people out of work.  In your studies, or from your experience, have you seen a link between unemployment in the developing world and the draw of gangs and militia to terrorist groups?”

Ambassador Sales:  That’s a big question, and I’m not going to attempt a comprehensive answer.  What I can say is that we don’t see the link between lack of economic opportunity and jihadist terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaida being particularly pronounced around the world.  Usama bin Ladin was not a pauper.  The 19 hijackers who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks were, in many cases, highly educated and had plenty of economic opportunities awaiting them.  They instead chose the path of violence, the path of bloodshed and destruction.  

So our emphasis in boosting counterterrorism capabilities, not only in Africa but around the world, is to bolster law enforcement and border security and countering the financing of terrorism capabilities, as well as engaging in sophisticated counter-messaging campaigns to really defeat the ideology that inspires people – that inspires some people to embrace radicalism and violence.

Moderator:  Thank you, Ambassador Sales.  One last question we’ll take live from Mr. George Thomas of CBN News.  Mr. Thomas, please ask your question.  Mr. Thomas, please —

Operator:  Mr. Thomas dropped.

Moderator:  Okay, no problem.  One last question we’ll ask from the list of questions that came into us from Mr. Vanito Trapesse of STV from Mozambique.  “How does the United States feel that Mozambique has done so far to face the problem of terrorism in Cabo Delgado and how does the United States intend to help?”  And I think there were tons of journalists who had that question: What is the United States offering?  What do the talks sort of culminate in?  Do they culminate in an offer from the U.S.?  Over to you, Ambassador Sales.

Ambassador Sales:  Thanks.  So nothing to announce as far as signed, sealed, and delivered agreements, but I think what I got very clearly from my stay in Mozambique was that the Government of Mozambique is taking this threat extremely seriously.  They – I think they recognize that the United States is in a position to offer some assistance that is first-rate, world-class, both training and equipment to help manage this problem and help defeat terrorist networks.  Once we have more clarity about what the precise contours of our partnership could look like, I’m sure we’ll be in a position to share that information.  But as things stand right now, I think what we have is a meeting of the minds on the need to work together and a willingness to have further conversations about how we can defeat this shared enemy.

Moderator:  Thank you, Ambassador Sales.  That sounded like departing words to me.  [Laughter.]  So —

Ambassador Sales:  That’s a good place to end, and I would only add my words of thanks to the journalists who joined the call, as well as State Department colleagues for organizing today’s session.  So, thank you all.

Moderator:  That concludes today’s call.  I want to thank U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Nathan Sales, U.S. Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, for joining us and thank all of our callers for participating.  If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at  Thank you.


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U.S. Department of State

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