Defense One (July 25) — During an often heated exchange on Capitol Hill, a State Department official told House lawmakers that the brutal extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is no longer “simply a terrorist organization—it is now a full-blown army.”
“ISIL is worse than al-Qaeda,” said Brett McGurk, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Iraq and Iran. “ISIL is no longer simply a terrorist organization. It is now a full-blown army seeking to establish a self-governing state through the Tigris and Euphrates valley in what is now Syria and Iraq.”
McGurk’s appearance Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee was his second this year on the growing extremist threat facing Iraq and in turn, the United States.
“Since that last hearing, [ISIL] has done precisely what [the Obama administration] predicted it would: it has taken over most of Western Iraq, it has turned its sights on Baghdad, and it may be preparing to launch attacks against the United States,” said Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif.
Since McGurk’s last appearance before Congress, ISIL has continued to plague Iraq with violence. In Baghdad late Tuesday, a suicide bomber detonated a truck packed with explosives at a checkpoint killing 31 and injuring another 58.ISIL militants claimed responsibility for the attack. More than 5,500 civilians have died in Iraq fighting this year alone, the United Nations said last week.
“We did see this coming,” said Royce, noting that the Iraqi government has been urgently requesting drone strikes against ISIL camps since August 2013. “And that makes it even more troubling that the administration didn’t do what was necessary to prevent [ISIL] from taking over such a large swath of Iraq.”
But McGurk pushed back against many lawmakers who have called for U.S. drone strikes to take out ISIL fighters as they proceeded south into Iraq from Syria.
“The first principle and the president’s policy is that we want to enable local actors to be able to secure their own space as best we can. That was also the desire of the Iraqi government,” McGurk said. U.S. surveillance flights have increased from one per month to now more than 50 per day, he added. “The information we have now on these networks is night and day from where it was in May when the request from the Iraqis first came in. And there is a significant risk, Mr. Chairman, of taking any military action without that level of granularity.” (Defense One)