On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Chick Hagel said that the well-funded, heavily militarized Islamic State (ISIS) is “beyond anything we’ve seen.” Hagel called the group an “imminent threat” to “every interest we have.”
“They are as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group,” Hagel said in the joint press briefing with Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“This is beyond anything we’ve seen,” he quickly added. “We must prepare for everything.”
Hagel said a long-term strategy is being pursued against the Islamic State, because the threat has clearly been established. ISIS must also be defeated in Syria as well as Iraq, he stressed. Dempsey said it would be possible to “contain” the Islamic State, but not without going after the group in Syria.
The US has conducted nearly 90 airstrikes thus far. But Hagel said he expected ISIS will regroup and launch a new offensive in Iraq soon. Obama sent special operations troops to Syria this summer on a secret mission to rescue American hostages, including journalist James Foley, held by Islamic State extremists, but they did not find them, officials say.
The rescue mission was authorized after intelligence agencies believed they had identified the location inside Syria where the hostages were being held, administration officials said Wednesday. But the several dozen special operations forces dropped by aircraft into Syria did not find them at that location and engaged in a firefight with Islamic State militants before departing, killing several militants. No Americans died but one sustained a minor injury when an aircraft was hit.
“The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens,” said Lisa Monaco, Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, in a statement. “Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present.”
The Administration revealed the rescue operation a day after the militants released a video showing the beheading of Foley and threatened to kill a second hostage, Steven Sotloff, if U.S. airstrikes against the militants in Iraq continued.
Disclosure of the rescue mission marks the first time the United States has revealed that American military personnel have been on the ground in Syria since a bloody civil war there broke out more than three years ago. Obama has resisted calls to insert the U.S. military in the middle of Syria’s war, a cautious approach his critics say has allowed the Islamic State to strengthen there and make gains across the border in Iraq.