It is possible to contain the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist group, commonly known by the acronym ISIL, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today, but not in perpetuity.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the ISIL terror group, which he prefers to call ISIS, has an “apocalyptic, end-of-days” vision that will eventually have to be defeated.
And to defeat the terror organization, they must be defeated not only in Iraq, but Syria as well.
“They will have to be addressed on both sides of what is at this point a non-existent border,” Dempsey said during a Pentagon news conference. “That will come when we have a coalition that takes on the task of defeating ISIS over time.”
The chairman said he prefers to call the ISIL group ISIS because it highlights the terrorists’ long-term goals. ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.
“Al-Sham includes Lebanon, the current state of Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Kuwait,” Dempsey explained. “If they were to achieve that vision, it would fundamentally alter the face of the Middle East and create a security environment that would certainly threaten us in many ways.”
The group will only be defeated when the 20 million disenfranchised Sunnis that live between Damascus, Syria, and Baghdad reject the group, the chairman said.
“It requires a variety of instruments -- one of which is airstrikes,” he said. “I’m not predicting those will occur in Syria -- at least not by the United States of America. But it requires the application of all the tools of national power, diplomatic, economic, information, military.”
The threat from ISIS is a serious representation of the threat from terror groups, Dempsey said. In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States focused on al-Qaida, and the nation made significant progress against the group that killed 3,000 Americans that day.
But the threat has changed and morphed, said the chairman, noting the Arab Spring and the problems in Syria and Iraq are part of this threat. In many places there is a lack of governance.
“We actually have groups that now kind of are loosely connected, in some cases affiliated, that run from Afghanistan across the Arabian Peninsula into Yemen to the Horn of Africa and into North and West Africa,” Dempsey said.
Some of those groups are local, some are regional, and some are global threats and that means it is “going to be a very long contest,” he said.
“It’s ideological. It’s not political. It’s religious, in many cases,” the chairman added.
The U.S. role in this long contest will be complicated. The United States must participate in this contest of ideologies, particularly in a leadership role, Dempsey said.
The chairman said America must build coalitions and provide unique capabilities.
“But not necessarily all the capabilities,” he said.
There are three military tools America will use, Dempsey said.
“One is direct action. There will be cases where we are personally threatened, U.S. persons and facilities are threatened, that we will use direct action,” he said.
The second is building partner capacity, and that has to be a main avenue of advance, the chairman said.
“We’ve got to have [partners] take ownership of this, because, frankly, if we own it, they’re not going to be that interested in it,” he said.
The third tool is to enable partners, “which is what you see us doing somewhat now in Iraq with both the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga,” Dempsey said.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)