News / USA

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

A militant Islamist fighter uses a mobile to film his fellow fighters taking part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province, June 30, 2014.
A militant Islamist fighter uses a mobile to film his fellow fighters taking part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province, June 30, 2014.
Cecily Hilleary

As the U.S. begins surveillance flights over Syria to track Sunni extremists who claim responsibility for beheading American journalist James Foley, there are mixed messages coming out of Washington over whether the Islamic State (IS) could attack U.S. soil.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel  called IS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an “imminent threat.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham warned that the group is willing and able to “hit the homeland.” But are these threats overstated?  And what should be done to thwart them?

“Increasingly, I have seen stronger relations between the al-Qaida affiliate al- Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) with ISIS,” said Max Abrahms , assistant professor of public policy and terrorist expert at Northeastern University.

AQAP may be a smaller group, he says, but they are much better at making bombs. 

“AQAP have tried to bomb us numerous times, so the biggest fear, I think, is that ISIS is going to be influenced by a group like AQAP and then strike the West,” he said.

Nada BakosNada Bakos
x
Nada Bakos
Nada Bakos

Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst and targeting officer in Iraq who helped track down former al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,  points to the large numbers of Westerners who have joined IS ranks—and the large amount of territory IS controls.

“We already know how many Westerners are already working with them and have been recruited, ballpark,” she said. “I think that if they don’t already have their sights in the United States, the evolution of that organization would be that they would turn eventually to attacking the West.”

But other experts believe we’re jumping the gun in talking about threats to the “homeland.”

“At this point, this group is overwhelmingly an insurgent group focused on holding territory in Iraq, in killing Shi'ite and stoking the sectarian conflict in that region,” said Dartmouth College’s Daniel Benjamin, who formerly served as State Department counterterrorism coordinator during the Clinton era.

IS has no experience with what Benjamin calls “out-of-area attacks,” which are harder to carry out than people realize.

“It takes a great deal of training and practice and expertise,” he said.  “It takes people who understand how to deal with masking their identities, with exercising a great deal of communications security and other aspects of operational security.”

There is time, Benjamin says, for the U.S. to develop intelligence and come up with a long-term strategy for containing and diminishing IS capability.

Defeating IS

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) speaks next to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Aug. 21, 2014.U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) speaks next to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Aug. 21, 2014.
x
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) speaks next to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Aug. 21, 2014.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) speaks next to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey during a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Aug. 21, 2014.

The Obama administration stepped up airstrikes against IS in Iraq and has helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces regain territory won by IS militants.  Now, Washington is weighing its options for Syria. 

But this is where things get tricky:  Syria has said it welcomes U.S. help against the militants, but warned that bombing IS targets without its permission would violate Syria’s sovereignty and constitute an “act of aggression.”

The U.S. rejected the notion it is cooperating with the Assad regime, under which nearly 200,000 Sunnis have died and millions have been displaced

Joint effort

The Pentagon has said it’s considering expanding its support and training of the Free Syrian Army, but Bakos said that isn’t enough.

“I think it’s incredibly naïve to think that we can somehow effect regime change by effectively arming the moderate rebels that are left. They’d be up against ISIS and the Assad regime, which to me seems an impossible task without a major force on the ground behind them,” Bakos said.

“This is not just about us,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday.  The fight against the Islamic State should come “from multiple directions.”

“That means that we’re going to have to have partners on the ground who are going to fight and are also going to help us collect intelligence,” said Dartmouth’s Benjamin. “And if we have that partnership in the region with Iraq and then ultimately with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, then we could supplement what that alliance is doing with, for example, a drone campaign.”

But attrition alone won’t fix the problem, says Bakos.  “Typically you have to have something in place that gives an alternative to the local population – and that they aren’t forced to—or interested in--working with that organization.”

Terrorist groups thrive in chaos and war zones, she says, and the U.S. needs to look at options for ending the civil war in Syria and must do what it can to bolster the new Iraq government and help it bring Sunnis back into the political fold.

You May Like

Video Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: andrew from: warthen Ga
August 27, 2014 11:46 AM
they don't want Americas military to get in this because then its gonna get ugly ha

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs