WASHINGTON: America’s top general said Thursday that the militant group ISIS can be contained and eventually defeated, but only if it is engaged in Syria and not just in Iraq.
“This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, ‘end-of-days’ strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no.”
Dempsey was speaking at a news conference with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel one day after President Barack Obama urged countries in the Middle East to join with Washington to “extract the cancer” of ISIS’ jihadist ideology, after the beheading of an American journalist sparked global outrage.
Dempsey said he wasn’t predicting U.S. airstrikes in Syria, but said the problem must be addressed diplomatically, politically and militarily by America and its regional partners.
Hagel said all options were on the table, including airstrikes in Syria. He warned that ISIS is more than a traditional “terrorist group” and better armed, trained and funded than any recent threat.
“They marry ideology and a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well funded. This is beyond anything we have seen,” Hagel said.
The U.S. also pressed ahead with airstrikes in Iraq, in a bid to create a safe perimeter around the Mosul dam after Iraqi Kurdish forces seized the facility from ISIS earlier this week.
The military’s Central Command said the latest strikes destroyed or damaged three Humvees, multiple roadside bomb “emplacements” and another insurgent vehicle.
The U.S. military has conducted 90 airstrikes in Iraq since Aug. 8, including the latest raids. Of those operations, 57 have been in support of Iraqi forces near the dam.
ISIS released a video Tuesday in which a militant with a British accent is seen beheading American journalist James Foley and threatening a second U.S. hostage if the airstrikes continue. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder noted Thursday that the FBI had an open criminal probe into Foley’s kidnap. “We have long memories and our reach is very wide. We will not forget what happened and people will be held accountable – one way or the other,” he said.
Interpol has called for a global response to the threat, with monitors covering the conflict in Syria saying ISIS has more than 50,000 fighters in that country alone, including 20,000 foreigners.
A European security official said Foley’s executioner, a masked man in black who used a knife to behead Foley, spoke with an accent from London or near London. Some officials suggested it was possible the man was originally an immigrant to the United Kingdom.
A U.S. official said American investigators were urgently attempting to “identify and capture” the man in the video. The official did not say who would take the lead in trying to capture him once he is identified.
U.S. and European officials said efforts were underway to match the voiceprint of the man in the video with recordings of known individuals.
Foley’s captors had demanded a ransom of 100 million euros – $132 million – for his release, his employer GlobalPost said. Foley had been reporting for GlobalPost from Syria when he was abducted in November 2012.
The Pentagon revealed Wednesday that U.S. special forces were sent into Syria earlier this year to try to rescue American hostages but they came up empty handed as the captives were not at the targeted location.
In Syria, government troops killed dozens of ISIS fighters in heavy clashes around the Tabqa military airport in Raqqa province, activists and state media said. State news agency SANA quoted an unnamed military official as saying that “large numbers of terrorists were wiped out” near the air base. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group, said at least 11 and possibly “dozens” of ISIS fighters were killed.