The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Islamic State extremists are a “direct threat” to the United States that must be eliminated.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said the militant group has accrued an arsenal of weapons and attracted foreign fighters that pose a grave threat not only to the Middle East, but to the United States and the rest of the Western world.
“[The Islamic State] has built up an effective force … at one point, the majority of their strength was from foreign fighters from Europe, Central Asia and from as far away as Australia, some from the United States,” Royce said. “There is no doubt in my mind that they are a direct threat to the United States and we need to do everything we can to stop them.”
Speaking to TheBlaze just hours before the Islamic State released graphic video of American journalist James Foley being beheaded in Syria, Royce criticized the Obama administration for acting sluggishly on its promise to send weapons to Kurdish allies fighting to stem the militants’ advance in northern Iraq.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday that the Islamic State poses a threat “beyond anything we’ve seen” and is highly “sophisticated and well-funded.”
Hagel, along with Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to reporters about the failed Special Forces mission to rescue the American hostages in Syria, warned that the U.S. “will not relent our efforts to bring our citizens home and their captors to justice.”
Both said IS was an eminent threat to the homeland.
The U.S. has conducted airstrikes on Islamic State targets and is weighing the possibility of sending up to 300 troops back to Baghdad.
But Royce, who spoke with senior Kurdish government officials this week, said he was told they still had not received weapons promised by the administration earlier in the month. Royce said Obama needs to “speed up” the process to supply the weapons if Kurdish forces are to succeed in holding their ground and regain territory seized by the militants.
The Islamic State has capabilities never before seen in an insurgency, U.S. intelligence officials told TheBlaze. The group has amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in “hard currency” it uses for recruitment and to purchase weapons and garner support from other nefarious groups and militants around the globe, Royce said.
The Islamic State — formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — is absorbing Iraqi military weapons, a great deal of which were supplied by the United States. They have made the gains through sympathetic Sunni military supporters on the ground “which immediately changed allegiances to the ISIL flag when the threat was eminent,” said a former U.S. military official who still works in the region.
Officials in the U.S. government and the military said the Islamic State’s weapons arsenal presents an increasing threat as fighters close in on more weapons facilities once controlled by the Iraqi and Syrian military.
“ISIL is benefitting from a regional approach that looks at Syria and Iraq as one interchangeable battlefield, allowing it to shift resources and manpower in pursuit of military objectives,” a U.S. intelligence official said.
“ISIL’s arsenal is well-stocked with a wide variety of standard weapons, including assault rifles, machine guns, RPGs and an array of small arms,” as well as tanks, armored personnel carriers and howitzers, the official said. “The group appears to have a significant surplus of infantry weapons and ammunition that could support the operations of a sizable force for a long time.”
While the U.S. has been hammering the Islamic State with drone strikes, Royce criticized the Obama administration for not doing more sooner, when intelligence came in that militants were advancing in Iraq.
Royce said U.S. and European intelligence were monitoring columns of terrorist fighters “moving on the desert roads” in their vehicles as they were advancing on Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit.
“I believed we should have used drones then,” Royce said. He said appeals for drone strikes came directly from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and from the Iraqi government. “We wanted to hit [the Islamic State] at their encampments in Syria and also hit them on the road as they were heading toward Fallujah and other targets.”
The U.S. intelligence official said that while the world is focused on Iraq, the Islamic State “hasn’t let up in Syria [and] is recovering from losses suffered earlier this year.”
Though the Islamic State is facing “more serious opposition from the Syrian regime than ever before,” it has not been enough to dislodge it from its stronghold in the eastern Syrian province of Raqqa, the official added.
President Barack Obama has been sharply criticized for having dismissed the Islamic State in January as a “JV team” that poses no real threat to the United States. Speaking Wednesday after the video of Foley was released, Obama called the group a “cancer” that must be cut out before it spreads.
“At this point, ISIL efforts are largely limited to Syria and Iraq,” the U.S. intelligence official told TheBlaze. “However, ISIL leaders have threatened the United States publicly. We remain vigilant and are working closely with our partners to monitor the potential threat outside the region, including any signs ISIL’s focus is shifting externally.”
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