ISIS expands so what is the US strategy?

Where are expanding?

James Schneider over at Fox News (along with contributions from the Associated Press) reports on the worrying current expansion by ISIS (ISIL) into nearly a dozen countries.

Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, delivered a grim assessment earlier this week in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, as he described how the group was surfacing in North Africa.

“With affiliates in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, the group is beginning to assemble a growing international footprint that includes ungoverned and under governed areas,” Stewart said.

ISIS continues to hold a wide swath of territory, bigger than the state of Pennsylvania, in its home base spanning parts of Iraq and Syria, propped up by more than 20,000 foreign fighters from at least three dozen countries. But the terror network’s tentacles, as Stewart indicated, are creeping into other nations; largely those with fragile governments.

“ISIS, like Al Qaeda, has thrived in the failed states where there is a vacuum of power,” said James Phillips, Middle East senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation.

The strategy of terrorist groups moving into failed states is all too common. The current nominee for the role of US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter is concerned where ISIS may go next.

Defense secretary nominee Ashton Carter, who had his confirmation hearing Wednesday, told Congress he is aware of reports that ISIS may try to expand into Afghanistan, and vowed to work with coalition partners to stop the group. He said he would consider changing plans for withdrawing the remaining 10,600 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 if security conditions further deteriorate.

Terrorist groups in other countries are supporting ISIS.

The Islamic State’s ambitions do not stop at Afghanistan, the so-called Graveyard of Empires. Militant groups in Pakistan, the Philippines, Israel and the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Indonesia and Jordan, among other areas, reportedly have pledged formal support for ISIS.

There has been a little bit of good news in Kobani Syria where the Kurdish fighters drove ISIS forces out last week.

Current US strategy

So what is the current US strategy? This question was raised by Senator John McCain (R) during Carter’s confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“I believe I understand our strategy at this time,” Carter explained. “I also have the intention, again if confirmed, to make it my first priority to go there, to talk to our military leaders there, to confer with you … I think a strategy connects ends and means, and our ends with respect to ISIL needs to be its lasting defeat.”

McCain retorted: “Well, it doesn’t sound like a strategy to me, but maybe we can flesh out your goals.”

Hardly a decisive and acceptable answer to a key question regarding US strategy on ISIS. Perhaps the words came out a bit wrong (we’ve all done that) but its still a poor answer.

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