The strategic objective to degrade, defeat, and destroy ISIS is not working. Yes, last week ISIS was driven from its base in the Iraqi refinery town of Beiji (a place my best buddy and brother battalion commander in the 4th Infantry Division Colonel Larry “Pepper” Jackson secured with his tank battalion back in 2003). But the news from Sunday that another American had been beheaded by ISIS demonstrates we are not winning the psychological battle.
As reported by Fox News, “The White House said Sunday that a review of an Islamic State video confirms that American hostage Peter Kassig, an aid worker and former Army Ranger, has been beheaded by the terror group.”
“In the nearly 16-minute video uploaded to social networks, a black-clad militant with his face concealed stands before a severed head that he says is that of the U.S. aid worker. The video was posted shortly after President Obama departed for Washington from the G-20 summit in Australia. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama was briefed by National Security Adviser Susan Rice while in flight. Ed and Paula Kassig, Peter’s parents, released a statement early Sunday saying they were aware of the reports of their son’s death. They also asked that media outlets not post any images or video distributed by Islamic State, better known as ISIS or ISIL. “We prefer our son is written about and remembered for his important work and the love he shared with friends and family,” the statement read, “not in the manner the hostage takers would use to manipulate Americans and further their cause.”
I want to discuss ISIS’ real intent for releasing these videos of their actions. If the United States were to dedicate itself to a direct combat engagement to utterly destroy ISIS, the Islamic terrorist organization would cease to exist. Now, there exists a sort of state of inertia at this time where ISIS will consolidate its gains and move into a new phase — infrastructure development.
A part of that development will be increasing recruitment to sustain the new “caliphate” and potentially set the conditions for its further expansion. As well, ISIS needs to demonstrate its ability to be a viable player in the Islamic jihadist world, and the best way to do that is to instill fear.Thankfully ISIS is incapable of launching a wholesale assault against the United States, but it is quite capable of inspiring others to levels of savage brutality. We must not forget that 9-11 was perpetrated by just 19 Islamic terrorists. And Nidal Hasan was able to kill 13 and wound nearly 32 in his jihadist rampage at Ft. Hood in December of 2009. ISIS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have as their goal to be the primary exporter of Islamic terrorism and bring the West to its knees in fear. Fox reports, “The video released by ISIS also showed what appeared to be the mass beheading of more than a dozen captured Syrian soldiers, but did not show the beheading of Kassig. Showing the execution of the soldiers is a departure from previous videos, which did not depict the act of beheading. The soldiers’ executioners are not wearing masks in the video and warn they will carry out similar actions outside the region.”
“This is Peter Edward Kassig, a U.S. citizen of your country; Peter, who fought against the Muslims in Iraq, while serving as a soldier,” the militant says near the end of the video. He speaks in an audible British accent despite his voice being distorted to make it more difficult to identify him.”
This is how ISIS uses psychological operations and it is effective — because the longer we in the West do not fully engage to destroy ISIS, the stronger and more entrenched they will become. Even worse, ISIS will become the standard bearer for Islamic terrorism in the world — inspiring a new generation of jihadists and terrorists.
Eventually, if their strength does increase, ISIS will turn its sights on Jordan. Of course the only potential hindrance will be their schism with Shia Islam — but woe to the United States if we appear to align ourselves with Iran — it will serve as a rallying point for Sunnis — as we are already seeing an ISIS/Jabhat al-Nusra alliance.
While I was on the National Review cruise, I was asked a very pointed and astute question from one participant. The question was, “Do we side with the Sunni jihadists or the Shia jihadists?” I replied, with neither. We must once again become the “strongest tribe” and be seen as the ones who can crush any Islamic jihadist adversary — along with their state sponsors, which can be done via diplomatic and economic measures. Simply put, Qatar and Turkey are not our friends.
As Fox reports, “Kassig is the fifth Western hostage killed by ISIS in less than three months, and the third American. Previous Western beheading victims were American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as Britons David Haines, a former Royal Air Force engineer, and Alan Henning, a taxi driver from northwest England. The group is also holding British photojournalist John Cantlie, who has appeared in several other videos released by the group functioning as a de facto spokesman.”
A video released last month appeared to show Kassig, of Indianapolis, kneeling as a masked militant says he will be killed next, after Henning’s purported beheading. Kassig had been held in Syria since October 2013. Fox news reports that after he appeared in the video, Kassig’s parents released a public plea for their son’s release, which included claims that Kassig had converted to Islam while in captivity and taken the name Abdul Rahman — to no avail.”
“ISIS has beheaded and shot dead hundreds of captives — mainly Syrian and Iraqi soldiers — during its sweep across the two countries, and has celebrated mass killings in a series of slickly produced but extremely graphic videos.”
We must come to understand ISIS’s intent with their savage barbarism. As I learned while visiting St. Thomas, Blackbeard the pirate would light his hair and beard on fire for psychological intimidation. The world is beholding a brutality seemingly unconscionable in the 21st century — 7th century practices meeting 21st century technology. What aids ISIS the most is a seemingly fearful recalcitrance by the West to bring its collective military power to bear. Trust me, if ISIS possessed the same, they would not hesitate to employ it.