PENTAGON - The top U.S. defense official says the world should not underestimate the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Speaking with sailors during a visit to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in the southern U.S. state of Georgia, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel did not hold back when asked about renewed American involvement in Iraq.
“ISIL may not appear to be an imminent threat to the United States. It is a threat to the United States. It is a clear threat to our partners in that area. And it is imminent," said Hagel.
Hagel said Washington is doing everything it can to help the Iraqi security forces fight back against ISIL’s brutality, but he warned that defeating the group will not be easy.
“This is a force that is sophisticated. It’s dynamic. It’s strong. It’s organized. It’s well financed. It’s competent," he said.
The U.S. has intensified surveillance flights over Iraq, now flying about 50 a day, and has opened joint operation centers in Baghdad and to the north, in Irbil, while nine ships, including an aircraft carrier, are positioned in the Persian Gulf.
But just how much farther ISIL can push remains a question. Tony Badran at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies spoke to VOA via Skype.
“It’s successes mainly have been now against, weak, disorganized, demoralized or even subverted in certain cases, like penetrated groups, where you have a Sunni contingent deploying in a Sunni province," said Badran.
And while ISIL poses an imminent threat to the region, Badran says much of the group's talk may be nothing more than posturing.
“Understand ISIS as a local phenomena. They may talk global but their objectives as we see them now in the short to medium term are very much local," he said.
The U.S. has six teams of commandos on the ground in and around Baghdad, charged with assessing the state of Iraqi forces and the overall security situation. Pentagon officials say those assessments could be submitted any day now.