By Ed Royce

In The Orange County Register:


ISIS is on the march. Despite some battlefield setbacks in Iraq, the Islamist terrorist group remains unchallenged in Syria and holds sway over an area the size of Great Britain. The group has seized an estimated $2 billion in assets, a stunning sum, and its recruits continue to flow in.

Fortunately, Arab states are waking up to this threat, conducting airstrikes and considering other military action against ISIS. The U.S. has a key role to play, not sending brigades into battle, but unifying and bolstering the efforts of Kurds, Sunni tribes and other local forces to defeat this barbaric terrorist group.

The question is whether the Obama administration is up to the task. The president dismissed these militants as a “JV squad.” A year ago, a State Department official warned the House Foreign Affairs Committee that ISIS’ goal was to “carve out a zone of governing territory from Baghdad, through Syria, to Lebanon.”

But the White House ignored this warning and others. As the black flag of ISIS advanced so visibly across the desert, taking town after town, some U.S. officials advocated airstrikes to obliterate these terrorists. Yet these calls went unanswered for eight months. This does not inspire confidence in the administration.

Today, ISIS is active as far away as Libya, where it just slaughtered 21 Egyptian Christians. Of course, the group has killed four Americans. It uses social media, its “virtual caliphate,” to play up its success and recruit around the world.

Some 20,000 foreign fighters from more than 90 countries have now made their way to Iraq, swelling the ranks of this terrorist army. This includes at least 3,400 Europeans and more than 150 Americans, who are likely to return home with new training and even more hatred.

So what are we to do? First, the president must take ISIS more seriously. Many in Congress want to support decisive action by our commander in chief, but doubt his commitment. A few sentences in an hour-long State of the Union and last week’s unfocused conference on “countering violent extremism” hardly indicates presidential resolve and urgency.

The Kurds in northern Iraq have proven themselves against ISIS. Yet these Peshmerga forces – about 30 percent women – are outgunned, wielding old assault rifles against ISIS tanks. I’ve proposed legislation to streamline the process of arming Kurdish forces, so that they can get the artillery, anti-tank weapons and long-range mortars they need and that I have pressed for. The White House has resisted, unwisely siding with an Iraqi government seemingly more interested in keeping the minority Kurds in check than killing ISIS fighters.

Ultimately, it is Iraqis who must defend their nation. The Iraqi government must overcome internal divisions to field an effective security force. Iraqi leaders must pull Sunnis toward the government, not push them toward ISIS. But for Iraqi forces to have a chance, U.S. train-and-equip programs must speed up. The 12 Iraqi brigades the U.S. plans to support must take shape now.

Congress has voted to authorize training and equipping the Syrian opposition forces, who could be deadly against ISIS. But that program will take years to be effective at its anemic pace. ISIS cannot be defeated in Iraq if they have safe harbor in Syria. After years of delay, viable U.S.-backed Syrian forces must be readied for the battlefield.

The U.S. military should do more to assist local forces in taking on ISIS. Right now, some 3,000 personnel are in Iraq providing training, intelligence, and other support. They should be given a broad license to work with local troops to target ISIS, including calling in airstrikes from the front line. British and Canadian Special Forces have been used to do so. Regrettably, the Obama administration’s rules of engagement are risk averse, keeping U.S. Special Forces in the background – limiting their capabilities and micromanaging targets from Washington.

Having seen Egyptian Christians butchered and a captured Jordanian airman burned alive, Egypt and Jordan are stepping up to take on ISIS. Egypt has struck ISIS in Libya, while Jordan has attacked in Syria. Other regional states, including Turkey, must join the fight. It is their countries that are most directly under fire. In encouraging them, we can’t afford the delays of the Obama administration slowing helicopters to Egypt and guided munitions to Jordan.

Defeating ISIS will take more than a military effort. Egyptian President Abdel el-Sissi has called for a “religious revolution” to reject extremism in Islam. Arab leaders must denounce ISIS.

We need to cut off ISIS funding and combat their digital propaganda. U.S. homeland security efforts are critical. Recently, a senior Homeland Security official pointed to the attacks in Ottawa, Melbourne and Paris to make clear that the threat from returned foreign fighters and others ISIS inspires is growing. We must take this warning seriously.

Defeating the ISIS threat will be challenging, no doubt. The good news is that we are getting Arab states into this fight, butthat will only continue if the White House decisively picks up its pace of support for them.

Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


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