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Dempsey: Keep All Options on Table for Use of Force Against ISIL

By Lisa Ferdinando DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2015 — All options should remain on the table in an authorization for use of military force against Islamic terrorists, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey spoke in an interview aboard his plane as he returned to Washington following a two-nation European tour focusing on threats to the continent.

Dempsey said his “best military advice” is that such an authorization -- called an AUMF for short -- gives flexibility to military leaders charged with defeating ISIL.

"I think in the crafting of the AUMF, all options should be on the table, and then we can debate whether we want to use them,” he said. “But the authorization should be there."

In his Jan. 20 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on Congress to authorize an AUMF against ISIL.

Flexibility is Important

Dempsey said flexibility to make decisions on military action is important in this kind of fight, where state actors are fighting a nonstate actor.

"In particular, it shouldn't constrain activities geographically, because ISIL knows no boundaries [and] doesn’t recognize any boundaries -- in fact it's their intention to erase all boundaries to their benefit," Dempsey said.

"It would always be my recommendation as the senior military leader to keep our options open as long and as wide as possible -- whether [or not] we ever use them, it's important to have them," he said.

'Barbaric' Terrorists Who 'Perverted' Islam

An AUMF that has time limitations would not be helpful in this kind of fight against brutal terrorists who know no boundaries to their violence, the chairman said.

"Constraints on time, or a 'sunset clause,' I just don't think it's necessary,” the general said. “I think the nation should speak of its intent to confront this radical ideological barbaric group and leave that open until we can deal with it."

The fight is about the people of Iraq and the region "against the group that has perverted Islam," Dempsey said.

Reconstruction, Counter-messaging Key Elements in Fight

There are nine lines of effort in battling ISIL, Dempsey said, noting that two of those lines are military efforts and the rest are nonmilitary.

The most important lines of effort, he said, are the nonmilitary lines of good governance and counter-messaging. Iraqi leaders need inclusive governance in which the Kurds and Sunnis are participants; the people of Iraq as a whole need to reject ISIL, he added.

The people need to get the message from their leaders that the fight is not about the West against Muslims, or Christians against Muslims, or against the Shia, he said. It's a fight of the people of Iraq and international partners against the terrorists.

"That message can't come from us. It's got to come from them," he said. For progress to be made, that message must be "forcefully delivered," while reconstruction and good governance need to be in place.

"I'm telling you from personal experience," said Dempsey, a career armor officer with four decades in the Army. "If that doesn't happen, then it's not enduring, because the people will reject the government. They won't feel like it's supporting them, and we'll be right back where we started from."