WASHINGTON, August 25, 2014 — General Martin Dempsey over the weekend said ISIS is not a direct threat to the United States. This revelations comes a week after Dempsey committed the cardinal sin of telling the truth by stating that ISIS is a real, direct threat.
Dempsey’s first statement was correct: ISIS is a direct, absolute threat to the United States.
Since the United States began launching air strikes against ISIS targets in early August, the jihadists have taken to social media with horrific threats against America. It has initiated a Twitter campaign, #AMessagetoAmerica, promising death and destruction in America. Militants have threatened to attack U.S. targets around the world and posted a video of a blood-splattered American flag and the words, “We will drown all of you in blood.”
So far, we are not aware of any terrorist attacks by ISIS on U.S. soil or against American targets overseas. Although it is difficult to compare the current iteration of ISIS with its predecesor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Iraq did carry out coordinated bombings of three American hotels – the Grand Hyatt, the Radisson SAS, and the Days Inn – in Amman, Jordan in November 2005.
The current version of ISIS is stronger, smarter, richer, larger, and better equipped. The militant group has taken a “best practices” approach to terrorism, adopting strategies that other groups have used successfully and discarding others.
ISIS not only has an enormous amount of cash, it also has recurring revenue through selling oil and gas from fields it controls as well as from illegal activities such as smuggling and kidnapping for ransom.
The group has an almost endless supply of recruits. Since taking over several Iraqi cities, the number of followers has swelled. ISIS now takes recruits from around the world, and members of other jihadist groups are flocking to be a part of the successful group.
ISIS has also demonstrated flexible military prowess. The group successfully took several Iraqi cities and towns operating as a de-facto army. When the United States launched air strikes, ISIS adopted traditional guerrilla tactics, making air strikes more difficult. The group takes advantage of porous borders, uncontrolled territory and turmoil to hide and plan.
Because it is so nimble, it is likely that if ISIS lost ground in Iraq, it would retreat to Syria to regroup. If it runs into problems in Mosul, it will head to Erbil or Tikrit. If it has no other options available to it, it will revert to suicide bombings.
Although it has not demonstrated the ability to launch attacks against U.S. targets, it is highly likely the group has the ability to carry out attacks. Particularly vulnerable are U.S. “soft” targets in the Middle East and North Africa, including businesses, residents and hotels.
ISIS is also a threat to the United States in less direct ways.
Regional instability at the hands of ISIS would not only disrupt our allies and encourage more jihadist activity, but would also allow ISIS time and space to plan attacks. The terrorists behind 9/11 took advantage of lawlessness in Afghanistan to plot against the United States. Instability regionally would provide ISIS with that same luxury.
ISIS has attracted a large number of foreign fighters, which also presents a danger. As exemplified by the British-accented executioner in the Foley video, the fighters are coming from not only other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, but also from Europe and the United States. As these now-trained and hardened jihadists return to their home countries – including America – they carry the threat of terrorism with them.
Finally, the brutality and violence of ISIS has upped the anti for other terrorist groups in the region. Al-Qaeda has essentially been eclipsed by ISIS and is hemorrhaging fighters and backers. Unless other militant groups are prepared to stay in the shadows of ISIS, they will have to match the level of brutality and violence or carry out a spectacular attack to re-gain public attention. The most logical target is the United States, which would win them immediate credibility.
ISIS has now identified the United States as a target. In its literature, it identifies its enemies as “the crusaders in Washington” – as well as the leaders of Iran, al-Qaeda and Turkey. The group is well-armed, well-trained, well-led, well-funded and infused with religious fervor.
It is a group whose threat the entire world should take seriously.