Islamic State Poses Imminent Threat to U.S., Hagel Says

Aug. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Former Under Secretary of State Robert Hormats discusses the crises in Syria and Iraq on “Bloomberg Surveillance.” (Source: Bloomberg)

The Islamic State militant group poses an “imminent threat” to the U.S. and may take years to defeat, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said.

The Islamist movement’s beheading of American journalist James Foley, shown in a graphic video released this week, has drawn fresh attention and international condemnation to the terrorist group that has seized a swath of Syria and Iraq in its quest to create a Sunni caliphate.

“They are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else,” Hagel said yesterday at a Pentagon news conference. Islamic State “is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen,” he said. “They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded.”

The U.S. intelligence community thinks Islamic State has an incentive to conduct a major terrorist strike against U.S. or European targets, in part to further assert itself as the true leader of radical Islam, according to five U.S. intelligence officials who briefed reporters last week on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence assessments.

Meet Al-Qaeda’s Heirs

Hagel said U.S. airstrikes in Iraq “have stalled” the group’s “momentum and enabled Iraqi and Kurdish forces to regain their footing and take the initiative.”

Photographer: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

A Kurdish peshmerga fighter looks at smoke rising in the horizon following U.S. airstrikes targeting Islamic State militants at Mosul Dam on the outskirts of the northern city of Mosul. Close

A Kurdish peshmerga fighter looks at smoke rising in the horizon following U.S.... Read More

Close
Open
Photographer: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

A Kurdish peshmerga fighter looks at smoke rising in the horizon following U.S. airstrikes targeting Islamic State militants at Mosul Dam on the outskirts of the northern city of Mosul.

Syria Challenge

Appearing alongside Hagel, Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Islamic State “will only truly be defeated when it’s rejected by the 20 million disenfranchised Sunni that happen to reside between Damascus and Baghdad.”

Dempsey said that means the group also will have to be taken on in Syria, where the Obama administration opposes both the group and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad that it’s working to topple. The administration backs what it calls moderate opposition forces that are overshadowed by militants.

“Can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria?” Dempsey said. “The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border.”

Syria’s strife, which grew from initially peaceful protests to dislodge Assad, has turned into a regional conflict spreading from Lebanon to Iraq. Extremists have used the dispute to swell their numbers with international recruits.

Death Toll

The United Nations said in a report today that the number of dead in the conflict has doubled to at least 191,000 over the last 12 months. The last UN report, issued in June 2013, estimated that 93,000 had been killed.

President Barack Obama has pressed for a more “inclusive” national government in Iraq to win over Sunnis who considered themselves disenfranchised under the Shiite-led government of departing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Obama has said the U.S. won’t put combat troops on the ground in Iraq and that limited targets for airstrikes would be expanded only after an inclusive government is in place.

Dempsey said Islamic State, which the U.S. intelligence community says numbers about 10,000, poses a more immediate threat to Europe than to the U.S.

“The immediacy is in the number of Europeans and other nationalities who have come to the region to become part of that ideology, and those folks can go home at some point,” Dempsey said. U.S. and U.K. authorities are investigating the video showing Foley’s murder that’s narrated by a man with a British accent.

The terrorists “can be contained” in Iraq on the battlefield although “not in perpetuity,” Dempsey said. “This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, ‘end-of-days’ strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated.”

The methods for attacking Islamic State will require “all of the tools of national power -- diplomatic, economic, information, military,” Dempsey said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net Larry Liebert, Mark Williams

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.