Washington D.C. – Today, House Foreign Affairs Lead Republican Michael McCaul (R-TX) delivered a keynote address at “The Sahel Summit” put on by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). McCaul discussed the rise of violent extremism and terrorist activity in the Sahel post 9/11 and the importance in shaping U.S. policy to further protect the homeland. Key highlights below:

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-Remarks as Delivered- 

“Thank you Judd and thank you CSIS.

“This is a very important issue. It’s very timely to be speaking here on the 18th anniversary of perhaps one of the most tragic days that America has experienced—9/11. It always seems surreal to me looking back, thinking back, watching the airplanes attack the buildings, going after the largest economic symbol of power, to the symbol of military power, and the third was to hit the symbol of political power. Fortunately, the last one didn’t make it. Those were the first heroes of 9/11 that brought down the airplane in Pennsylvania. …

“I remember that day vividly as the attacks unfolded. Every minute felt like an hour. We prayed the worst was over after the planes stopped coming. But in the days and weeks that followed we realized the worst was only beginning as families searched for loved ones who would never come home, and first responders dug through the rubble at ground zero to save those that they could, and service members deployed around the world to hunt terrorists and bring them to justice.

“And I remember visiting firehouse 10 right across from the World Trade Center. They lost the majority of their firefighters that day, and they still have a flag hanging there that hung on 9/11. It’s a tattered flag, smoke screened—really profound. Today we honor those brave men and women who gave their lives that day and since, and thank those who have continued to fight to keep us save here at home.

“After 9/11, counter terrorism and homeland security became our top priorities. Our determination to prevent another attack inside America was a national call to action. … Our intelligence gathering capabilities grew; the Department of Homeland Security was created; our tools became even more sophisticated and our military’s precision was refined. As a result, we have successfully degraded terrorist operations throughout the Middle East, including taking down the mastermind of 9/11, and having crushed the physical so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

“Before serving as Lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I served as Chairman of the Committee of Homeland Security for six years—six very intense years. Six years where my threat briefings—I heard about external operations being plotted inside the United States to kill Americans—one per month. That has changed dramatically since that time. In both capacities, I’ve followed the threat of radical Islamic terrorism closely.  

“In the 18 years since 9/11, we have done a very good job, in my judgement, taking terrorists off the field around the globe. But also, in my judgement, we have been less successful with the prevention piece, and this is the piece I wanted to talk to you about today. We spent trillions—trillions—of dollars with our military killing, but I think we need to look at prevention as a better way to solve this problem. And like former Secretary Mattis once said, if we don’t fully fund the State Department and our peace keeping missions then we need to simply buy more bullets—it’s simply that choice. He understood, just as I do, that our best defense against terrorism should start with preventing instability and stopping radicalization before it occurs.

“Our military successes in the Middle East have sent terrorists fleeing to other locations, including Africa, to find safe-haven and regroup. Today, it is estimated that 10,000 ISIS and al Qaida jihadists are active in the continent. This is deeply concerning and a reminder that the fight against terrorism and violent extremism is not over. The attacks have been rapidly increasing across the Sahel. In April, I visited and saw firsthand the security threats and heard the growing concern from those on the ground. The United States must continue to stand with our African and European partners in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism.

“However, addressing the increasing terrorism activity in the Sahel will not come from just a military solution. We must also address the root causes of extremism, and support citizen responsive governance, combat corruption, and prioritize economic development. Proactive investments in security and development now will make the United States and our allies safer in the long run. We must make a multifaceted approach and better coordinate our efforts. It is the only way to prevent terrorism from gaining a larger foothold in these countries.

“That is why I introduced the Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership Act. This house-passed bi-partisan legislation will ensure a well-coordinated interagency effort that works with countries such as Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad to build their capacity to conduct counter-terrorism operations; prevent the spread of violent extremism; and strengthen the rule of law. Boosting the counter-terrorism capabilities of these and other countries must continue to be a strategic and long-term priority for the United States. It also requires the State Department, USAID, and the Department of Defense work together to develop a counter-terrorism strategy in Africa, and increase congressional oversight of our programs. We need to ensure that all of our investments are properly targeted, and it is clear that we need more, not less, engagement in the Sahel.

“We also need to think long-term about our assistance. Terrorist groups exploit local grievances over lack of economic opportunity and also exploit weak and ineffective governance. That is why Chairman Engel and Lindsay Graham and I introduced the bipartisan Global Fragility Act, to improve the way the United States approaches the fragile states and stabilization efforts.

“We must focus our efforts on prevention and stabilization to get at the root causes of extreme poverty. The Sahel will be prime target for such efforts under the Global Fragility Act, and unless we better address the underlying issues we will continue to see radicalization in vulnerable communities.

“I applaud CSIS for convening this important summit to discuss security and development challenges in the Sahel. I want to thank the embassy representatives from our allies in Europe and Africa who are here, and on the front lines, dedicating their forces and resources to address these threats. …

“We will always follow this threat wherever it goes; whether it be in Iraq; whether it be in Syria; whether it be in Saudi; or now, whether it be in Sahel. We will look at this threat—we are getting better at this. We are safer today than we were before 9/11—and that’s important to say because a lot of people—they don’t know—they ask me, are we safer today? We are safer today. The apparatus we put in place, the intelligence, connecting the dots—we are safer as a nation. But we need to do more with this threat to make sure another 9/11 never—ever happens again and let us never—ever forget what happened that day.

“Thank you so much.”