To Combat Islamic State, Strengthen Special Forces and Insist on More Help from other Nations


Date: Nov. 19, 2015
Location: Washington, DC

To combat the ever-evolving terrorist threat, our military must have the flexibility to adapt to the tactics of the radical jihadis, and the Global Coalition to Counter IS must contribute more to the effort. Specifically, America's Special Forces must have the most modern intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tools to battle terrorist extremists and to keep us safe.

On the day before the Paris terrorist attacks, Special Operations Commander Gen. Joseph Votel and the outstanding team at SOCOM Acquisitions demonstrated for me some of the innovative military equipment used to detect and eradicate terrorists. America has the most committed military and the technological edge -- and we must keep it that way.

The greatest threat to America's national security and our allies emanates from nonstate terrorist groups like IS, which aims to establish branches further afield, in unstable areas, and to recruit and radicalize susceptible populations throughout the world. It continues to threaten atrocities, especially against vulnerable minorities. Special Forces must be nimble and flexible in addressing the changing terrorist threats so America maintains every advantage. Consider the different types of operations and equipment necessary for Special Forces to kill Osama bin Laden, rescue the Maersk Alabama and join with Kurdish forces to liberate IS prisoners. SOCOM at Tampa's MacDill AFB is more entrepreneurial than other Department of Defense programs, and such flexibility should remain a priority.

President Obama, CENTCOM, SOCOM and the State Department have pressed our coalition partners into doing more. France and Russia reacted swiftly to the terrorist attacks against them. Kurdish forces in Iraq pushed IS out of Sinjar, and Syrian Arab and Kurdish forces have driven IS from al-Hawl in northeastern Syria. These were important transit and communications hubs for IS, and these defeats will make it harder for its forces to find safe haven, regroup and plan external attacks. In Iraq and Syria, IS has lost more than 20 percent to 25 percent of populated territory it once controlled.

France, already one of America's most valued partners, is flying sorties in Iraq and Syria, participating in our missions in Iraq, and has deployed the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to assist in Operation Inherent Resolve. A French flag officer is permanently assigned to CENTCOM at MacDill to foster close coordination.

Military efforts alone will not defeat IS. The movements of foreign fighters must be detected and stopped, especially by the Europeans. The coalition must cut off access to financing, disrupt and expose terrorist messaging, and stabilize vulnerable communities that have been liberated from IS control.

In the wake of horrendous terrorist attacks, some are calling for "boots on the ground" in Iraq and Syria. Most of us agree that deploying long-term combat forces like America previously did in Iraq and Afghanistan would not work unless we were committed to being a permanent occupying force in the Middle East. I know from listening to my neighbors and military experts that such a ground force is not in our national interest, nor does it solve the underlying dynamics that allow violent extremist groups to flourish in areas of poor governance.

Instead, America must continue to elevate our Special Forces and ensure they have the tools to combat evolving threats.

America's leadership in the coalition has been the driving force, but other countries across the globe must do more to deter and defeat IS and our mutual enemies.