The Fight against Islamist Terrorism must be Unconditional

We all know that Derek Jeter is no longer at shortstop. It is more difficult to know what Islamist terrorist group is on first base. Everyone thought the group was named al-Qaeda, then from July 2014 it was ISIS or ISIL (now the Islamic State), and then from September 2014 suddenly it became Khorasan.

Most observers in the U.S. and generally in the democratic Western world, appeared to be unaware of this terrorist group called “Khorasan,” a group believed to consist of experienced members of al-Qaeda who have fought in various countries. The name apparently derives from that given by an early Muslim Caliphate to areas composed of parts of the mountainous region of West Afghanistan and also of neighboring countries.

It is not altogether clear whether Khorasan is now connected with the main al-Qaeda operation, or whether it is totally distinct from Jabhal al-Nusra, the official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. It is even less clear whether the supposed leader of Khorasan, Mushin al-Fadhi, a 33-year-old Kuwaiti national who was a lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, who lived in Iran and who had fought in Chechnya against Russia, has been killed by a U.S. air strike on Syria on September 23, 2014. He had been sought by the U.S. for some time, since he was one of the people still alive who had been given advance notice of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Indeed, in 2012 the U.S. offered $7 million for information about where he was.

The ominous intentions of this Khorasan group, a network of seasoned jihadists with battlefield experience in Pakistan and Afghanistan, are clear. It is focused on attacking the West and is considered a more immediate threat to the U.S. than is IS. The group has successfully recruited potential jihadists with Western passports. It is equally clear that they were either in the final stages of planning or nearing the carrying out of major attacks on European countries and the U.S, partly through smuggling bombs on to U.S. planes.

A similar intention by other terrorists, militants of the Islamic State (IS), was suggested on September 25, 2014 by the new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who stated that IS was plotting attacks on the subway systems of New York and Paris. It is probably still safe to “Take the A Train” in New York and equally probable that IS does not yet have the ability to carry out a sophisticated attack on the Paris Metro or the New York subway, or that the plot was only “aspirational” and not imminent, but the danger is apparent for a number of reasons.

IS has been involved in making bombs together with al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen: they are testing ways, using toothpaste tubes and clothes, by which explosives can evade airport security. Some of the terrorist groups, particularly AQAP, the al-Qaeda Yemen group, in recent years have attempted, so far unsuccessfully, to blow up airliners, though they placed three bombs on U.S.-bound planes. That is the reason why the U.S. has increased airport security and why passengers en route to the U.S. cannot, since July 2014, carry powerless electronic devices on board a plane. Potential threats face a number of European countries and the U.S. because of the domestic Western extremists who have fought for IS and may return to their country of origin.

That danger to the homeland comes from the Western jihadists who have been recruited to carry out operations in the West. The Obama Administration has rightly seen IS, Khorasan, and other terrorist groups as a long-term threat to U.S. national security. Accordingly, U.S. airstrikes attacked the bases of Khorasan as well as IS which is primarily attempting to consolidate its control of parts of both Iraq and Syria.

The Congress has not voted on the issue or given legal authority, and it is highly desirable it do so. However, though not all will agree, the administration’s legal claim to carry out the strikes can be based on the Congressional authorization given on September 14, 2001 for the president to use force “against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2011."

Since August 8, the U.S. has carried out almost 200 raids on the terrorist groups, first on their military facilities in Iraq and most recently in Syria. Its appropriate declared policy is to “degrade and destroy” IS. This requires two things: the assent of the American public; and a multilateral, international agreement and support.

It would be untrue to assess the general feeling of Americans as isolationist, but clearly most did not want the U.S. involved in a war, especially not in Syria. Almost certainly the electorate would not have approved the use of force against President Bashar Assad after he had crossed “the red line” proclaimed by Obama by using chemical weapons against his own people. But the videos of Americans about to be beheaded by IS, and information of the brutality and atrocities committed by IS, resulted in a dramatic change of opinion.

There is presently general approval of U.S. action against the terrorists, but the question is whether this approval may be only temporary or soft since the struggle will take years. To help solidify that approval the Obama Administration should be forthright and clarify its varying, almost contradictory statements. The U.S. has been forced into, and is engaged in, a continuing war against those who embody an ideology of terrorism, not simply in counterterrorist activity.

That war necessitates allies, and the Obama Administration is right in stating, “…this is not America’s fight alone,” and thus forming a coalition to take concrete steps against the religiously motivated fanatics. If not in a coordinated collective military effort, other nations have contributed to the fight. France on September 25, 2014 carried out air strikes in Iraq, a quick response to the beheading of a French tourist in Algeria by Islamist terrorists. So far, Dutch fighter jets have carried out air strikes and helped train Iraqi and Kurdish forces. The Parliament in Britain has voted for air strikes over Iraq, though not over Syria. Belgium is considering using its fighter jets. It is encouraging that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are participating in military activity.

It is however disappointing that Turkey has, for its own reasons, hesitated to join the effort, and indeed has helped IS, and also that Russia and China have not only been unhelpful, but also blocked attempts to get President Assad to step down from office.

On the diplomatic level it is crucial for the U.S. and the coalition to help end the conflict between the non-IS parties in Syria, including the Syrian army, the different rebel groups, and Hizb'allah, and try for at least a ceasefire, so they can combine against the real enemy. They should encourage new Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi to be more conciliatory to Sunni groups than was his predecessor. They should encourage, if not demand, Saudi Arabia to end the images of extreme Wahhabism in its religious textbooks, and in the preaching in the country, since the Wahhabist strain of Islam has fostered violence and murder of nonbelievers, and is the basis of the self-proclaimed caliphate of IS. They might even allow the members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, who are already involved in some fighting, to be allowed to continue to fight against IS.

The U.S.-led coalition policy must be clear. At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 the Allied leaders, President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and General Charles de Gaulle, planning wartime strategy, issued a declaration stating they would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. President Roosevelt in his radio address of February 12, 1943 reiterated the Casablanca declaration that itself was similar in substance to the strong statement by General Ulysses S. Grant in 1862 ("My terms are unconditional surrender.") addressing the Commander of Confederate forces at Fort Donelson.

President Obama should follow in the footsteps of his two illustrious predecessors, and seek the same objective. The policy should be to destroy, not simply degrade the Islamist terrorists.