WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Top military advisers to President Barack Obama warn that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria can only be contained, but not wiped out.
Speaking at the Pentagon on Thursday, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that ISIS has an “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision.”
“They can be contained, not in perpetuity,” Dempsey stated. “This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually be defeated.”
Dempsey stated that ISIS needs to be confronted in Syria.
“To your question, can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization, which resides in Syria? The answer is no,” Dempsey said. “That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border.”
The general continued: “And that will come when we have a coalition in the region that takes on the task of defeating ISIS over time. ISIS will only truly be defeated when it’s rejected by the 20 million disenfranchised Sunni that happen to reside between Damascus and Baghdad.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who appeared at the same press briefing, said that ISIS is “beyond just a terrorist group.”
“They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded,” Hagel stated.
He continued: “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen. So we must prepare for everything.”
Hagel also commented on the failed mission to rescue American journalist James Foley and other hostages.
“Earlier this summer, the United States attempted the rescue of a number of American hostages held in Syria, including Jim Foley,” Hagel said. “We all regret that mission did not succeed, but I’m very proud of the U.S. forces that participated in it.”
The secret mission to rescue the U.S. hostages involved several dozen special operations forces dropped by aircraft into Syria. The hostages weren’t found, but special forces engaged in a firefight with Islamic State militants before departing, according to administration officials. Several militants were killed, and one American sustained minor injuries.
“The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens,” Lisa Monaco, Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present.”
For much of the past year, and until this summer, the Obama administration was deeply divided on how much of a threat the Islamic State posed to Americans or even other nations beyond Iraq and Syria. But since the militants’ march across northern Iraq in June, and as its ranks swelled almost threefold to an estimated 15,000 fighters, Obama has acknowledged that the Islamic State could become a direct threat to Americans.
Foley, a 40-year-old journalist from Rochester, New Hampshire, was no stranger to war zone reporting. He went missing in northern Syria in November 2012 while freelancing for Agence France-Presse and the Boston-based news organization GlobalPost. The car he was riding in was stopped by four militants in a contested battle zone that both Sunni rebel fighters and government forces were trying to control. He had not been heard from since.
He was one of at least four Americans still being held in Syria — three of whom officials said were kidnapped by the Islamic State. The fourth, freelance journalist Austin Tice, disappeared in Syria in August 2012 and is believed to be in the custody of government forces in Syria.
The Islamic State video of Foley’s beheading also showed another of the missing American journalists, Steven Sotloff, and warned he would be the next killed if U.S. airstrikes continued. U.S. officials believe the video was made days before its Tuesday release, perhaps last weekend, and have grown increasingly worried about Sotloff’s fate.
ISIS previously demanded a $132 million ransom for the release of Foley. John and Diane Foley told NBC’s “Today” that they regarded an email they received from the terror group last week as a hopeful sign they could negotiate with the militants.
John Foley said he was excited to see the latest email, even though it threatened execution, because he hoped they would be willing to negotiate.
“I underestimated that point,” John Foley said of the threat. “I did not realize how brutal they were.”
Foley, 40, was kidnapped in Syria in November 2012. His Islamic State captors had demanded $132.5 million from his parents and political concessions from Washington. Authorities say neither obliged.
The militants revealed Foley’s death in a video released Tuesday. The extremists said they killed him in retaliation U.S. airstrikes targeting Islamic State positions in northern Iraq.
The Foleys said they had set up a special email address and sent multiple messages to try to engage the captors.
“We were just anxiously waiting,” Diane Foley said.
GlobalPost, the Boston-based news organization Foley contributed to, released a copy of the captors’ final e-mail.
“Today our swords are unsheathed towards you, GOVERNMENT AND CITIZENS ALIKE!” they wrote. “AND WE WILL NOT STOP UNTILL WE QUENCH OUR THIRST FOR YOUR BLOOD.”
In New Hampshire, Gov. Maggie Hassan has directed flags to fly at half-staff in honor of Foley on Sunday, the day a church service is planned in remembrance of him.
“An unconscionable act of terror took him from us far too soon, but his unyielding commitment to advancing our cherished First Amendment right across the globe and the truths he unveiled will live on forever,” she said in a statement.
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