ABOARD A US 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 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 that 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 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.
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 the Islamic State militants are engaged in “active plotting against the homeland, so it’s different than that which we see in Yemen.”
“I can tell you with great clarity and certainty that if that threat existed inside of Syria that it would certainly be my strong recommendation that we would deal with it,” said Dempsey. “I have every confidence that the president of the United States would deal with it.”
He added that those regional partners could come together and squeeze the Islamic State group “from multiple directions in order to initially disrupt and eventually defeat them. It has to happen with them, much less with us.”