Over the last few months, the United States has struggled to accurately assess the threat posed by the violent extremist organization in Iraq and Syria known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). ISIL’s actions clearly present a threat to Iraq and Syria. The question that is driving interpretations of authorities to act, foreign policy, strategy, and funding is the extent of the threat. Is ISIL simply another threat among many to United States interests abroad or do they also desire to attack the United States domestically?
This question may have already been answered. At The Brookings Institution on September 3, 2014, Matt Olson, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center stated that “ISIL and other groups threaten our people and our interest in the region…and if left unchecked they will seek to carry out attacks closer to home.[i]” One stated goal of ISIL is to establish an Islamic state that they can govern as they see fit[ii]. I view this as similar to the Taliban’s establishment and rule of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from 1996-2001. The United States left the Taliban unchecked and they then allowed Al Qaeda to establish a presence in Afghanistan. As a result Al Qaeda, an organization that declared war on the United States in 1996[iii], was able to organize, train, and plan operations relatively free of outside interference.
There is a noticeable lack of public pronouncements wherein ISIL clearly declares their ambition to attack the domestic United States. This leaves a war-weary citizenry in the United States to question what level of involvement the United States should have, if any at all. This questioning has prompted indecisiveness in both Congress and the White House. Indecision has allowed ISIL to gain territory, personnel, support, and momentum.
If ISIL is left unchecked they will almost assuredly establish their Islamic state. This Islamic state will be a place where the next generation of violent extremists can organize, train, and plan operations. Drawing from lessons learned when Al Qaeda was left unchecked in Afghanistan I assess a similarly unchecked ISIL will inevitably threaten the United States domestically.
[i] Olson, M (September 2, 2014). Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/brookings-now/posts/2014/09/national-counterterrorism-center-director-isil-is-not-invincible
[ii] Council on Foreign Relations (June 24, 2014). Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/what-is-islamic-state-iraq-and-syria/
[iii] Bin Laden’s Fatwa (August 23,1996). Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/military-july-dec96-fatwa_1996/