ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT – Gen. Martin Dempsey says that once he determines the Islamic State militants in Iraq have become a direct threat to the U.S. homeland, he will recommend the U.S. military move directly against the group in Syria.
But the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that right now, he still believes the insurgent group is still more a regional threat and is not plotting or planning attacks against either the U.S. or Europe.
Speaking on a military plane en route to Afghanistan on Sunday, Dempsey provided more detail into his thinking about the Islamic militants who have stormed across Iraq, operating out of safe havens in Syria.
Dempsey did not rule out strikes for any other critical reasons, but listed a homeland threat as one of the key triggers for any military action in Syria.
So far, the Obama administration has restricted its military action against the militants to specific operations within Iraq, but concerns have increased as the Islamic State group extended its reach, taking control of a swath of land stretching from Syria across the border and deep into western and northern Iraq.
The group took over Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, in June, and has since declared an Islamic state, or caliphate, in territory under its control in Iraq and Syria.
Dempsey also told reporters traveling with him that he believes key allies in the region – including Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia – will join the U.S. in quashing the Islamic State group.
“I think ISIS has been so brutal, and has wrapped itself in a radical religious legitimacy that clearly threatens everybody I just mentioned, that I think they will be willing partners,” said Dempsey, expressing optimism for the first time that the Arab nations would join in the conflict. ISIS is an acronym for the Islamic State group.
At a Pentagon news conference last Thursday, Dempsey said the surging Islamic State group has an “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision” in the Middle East and cannot be defeated unless confronted head-on in Syria.
“They can be contained, not in perpetuity,” he said at the time.
“To your question,” he told a reporter, “can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border.
“And that will come when we have a coalition in the region that takes on the task,” he said.
He contrasted the Islamic State group to the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which has plotted and attempted attacks against the U.S. and Europe. As a result, the U.S. has conducted counterterrorism strikes against the group within Yemen.
Dempsey said that, so far, there is no sign that the Islamic State militants are engaged in “active plotting against the homeland, so it’s different than that which we see in Yemen.”