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 One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs