A top U.S. general is concerned that a small number of motivated Islamic State fighters could commit acts of terror in Caribbean nations.
General John Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, told reporters Friday at the Pentagon that about 150 Islamic extremists left the Caribbean region to join Islamic State fighters in the Middle East last year, about 50 more than in the previous year.
However, he said, the biggest threat might not be the extremists who leave to train and fight with the Islamic State, but the ones who stay behind.
Kelly said Islamic extremist groups seem to have a new message for would-be jihadists.
"And that [message] is, 'Rather than coming here to Syria, why don't you just stay at home and do San Bernardino or do Boston or do Fort Hood?’ ” the general said, referring to attacks in the U.S. perpetrated by Muslims sympathetic to extremist groups. As recently as Thursday, a gunman claiming allegiance to the Islamic State ambushed a police officer as he sat in his car in Philadelphia.
“They [Caribbean nations] don't have an FBI, they don't have law enforcement like we do," Kelly said, adding that the U.S. military provides as much information as it can to agencies in those countries.
When asked about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kelly praised recent comments made to USA Today by General John Campbell, commander of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission, that the president should delay the drawdown of U.S. troops and maintain the current force of 9,800 because of the volatile security situation in Afghanistan.
He also appeared to pointedly disagree with the U.S. decision to withdraw all troops in Iraq by the end of 2011, telling a reporter there were “other ways to have done it.”
“I believe this war stuff is hard, and it's not for the untrained and the unadvised," he said.
Kelly, who served in Iraq’s Anbar province, said the removal of U.S. troops took away vital mentors the Iraqi army needed as it continued to develop.
"The equipment is important, but it doesn't come close to having people who are just with them,” he said.
Kelly, a Marine, said there would eventually be “pressure” to lower standards for women so more of them could advance in combat roles, such as the Marine infantry and the Army Rangers.
Last year, the Marine Corps asked that certain combat jobs remain closed to women, but Defense Secretary Ash Carter overruled the request.
Pentagon officials have vowed that standards for those jobs will not be lowered.