In recent months, officials in the Obama administration have disclosed disturbing new details about their ongoing war against ISIS (also known as Daesh). Essentially, officials have acknowledged that they are waging an increasingly deadly war that they expect will result in more terrorism throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world.
On August 10, 2016, Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland summarized the main issues during a press briefing that was hosted by the Pentagon. In the first place, MacFarland said that coalition forces have killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters. Currently, “we estimate that over the past 11 months, we’ve killed about 25,000 enemy fighters,” MacFarland said. Since coalition forces had previously killed 20,000 enemy fighters, “that’s 45,000 enemy taken off the battlefield.”
After making his point, MacFarland then explained what he expected to result from all of the killing. Rather than declaring that coalition forces would defeat ISIS, MacFarland argued that the military campaign would only succeed in transforming ISIS from an aspiring state into a stateless terrorist organization. “Military success in Iraq and Syria will not necessarily mean the end of Daesh,” MacFarland said. “We can expect the enemy to adapt, to morph into a true insurgent force and terrorist organization capable of horrific attacks.”
With his remarks, MacFarland provided a stark assessment of the main trends in the ongoing war. Not only did he confirm that coalition forces are delivering a massive death blow against ISIS, but he also predicted that the war would lead to more violence.
In fact, MacFarland gave voice to aspects of the war that are well understood in Washington. Although US officials have made few serious efforts to advertise the fact that coalition forces are killing large numbers of people on the expectation that terrorism will increase, many officials share the same basic understanding of what is happening in the war.
For starters, the Obama administration has made it clear that it intends to kill as many ISIS fighters as possible. Condemning ISIS as a genocidal organization that poses an unacceptable threat to the people of Iraq, Syria and the rest of the world, the administration has determined that it must eradicate the group from the planet.
On June 10, 2016, State Department official Brett McGurk articulated the administration’s basic goal during a press briefing at the White House. After presenting a map of ISIS-controlled territory to the press corps, McGurk announced that “we have to wipe them off this map.”
Sharing the same conviction, numerous administration officials identified the same basic goal. Although they typically refrained from using the kind of language that has been called genocidal in other contexts, administration officials agreed that they must wipe ISIS off the map.
Just days after McGurk made his comments, President Obama confirmed the strategy. “Our mission is to destroy ISIL,” President Obama stated.
The following month, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter provided additional confirmation. Certainly, “we need to destroy the fact and the idea that there can be a state based upon this ideology,” Carter said. “That has to be done in Syria and Iraq.”
More recently, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook has reaffirmed the same basic mission. Coalition forces must “try and make sure that the end result here is that ISIL is degraded, destroyed, removed from Syria,” Cook said.
At the same time, administration officials have remained well aware of the likely consequences of their mission. As they have worked to eradicate ISIS from the world, administration officials have largely agreed that their military campaign will result in more terrorism.
On June 12, 2016, CIA Director John Brennan made the point when he argued before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that ISIS would respond to the military campaign by launching more terrorist attacks. “In fact, as the pressure mounts on ISIL, we judge that it will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda,” Brennan said.
A little over a month later, FBI Director James Comey envisioned a similar outcome. As he commented on the potential consequences of the war, Comey described a situation in which the collapse of ISIS resulted in a massive diffusion of terrorists throughout the broader region. Clearly, “at some point there is going to be a terrorist diaspora out of Syria like we’ve never seen before,” Comey said.
Moreover, Comey left no doubt about the cause of the coming terrorist diaspora. Making a fist with his right hand, he explained that by “crushing the Islamic State, through the fingers of that crush are going to come hundreds of really dangerous people.” Indeed, Comey argued that the military campaign to crush ISIS would send more terrorists throughout the world. “And this is an order of magnitude greater than any diaspora we’ve seen before,” he added. “A lot of terrorists fled out of Afghanistan in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This is ten times that or more.”
More recently, other officials have only continued to make similar predictions. When the US General and Commander of US Central Command Joseph Votel discussed the issue during a press briefing at the Pentagon on August 30, 2016, he could only imagine a comparable outcome. As coalition forces “dismantle” ISIS, the group’s fighters will probably “return to more of their terrorist-like roots,” Votel said. In short, Votel agreed that the ongoing effort to crush ISIS would cause ISIS fighters to launch more terrorist attacks around the world. “And so they will continue to try to either direct or support or potentially inspire attacks outside of — outside of the core in Iraq and Syria,” Votel stated. “So I think we — we should expect to see that.”
In sum, administration officials are now acknowledging that they are waging an increasingly deadly war that they expect to produce more terror and violence throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world. Not only are they killing tens of thousands of ISIS fighters in one of the deadliest military campaigns in the world today, but administration officials are saying that their military campaign will have the ultimate effect of increasing terrorism.