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Best Defense

7 steps toward dealing with ISIS

What clearly is not working is whatever we are doing now in any place to limit the reach of ISIS.



By Keith Nightingale
Best Defense guest columnist

What clearly is not working is whatever we are doing now in any place to limit the reach of ISIS. The Government of Iraq cannot develop either a reasonably competent (for the area) military force or an inclusive alternative for the Sunni minority if it could subjugate the ISIS elements. The Allied bombing campaign against Syrian elements of ISIS also appears to achieve very limited meaningful effect. ISIS apparently still retained enough management skills to mount the Paris attack and whatever else we do not yet know about.

ISIS has already demonstrated that it will not work within the normal bounds of international nation states. There is no room for compromises. They will not be bought or bribed. They will use innocents as specific tools for their purposes. They harbor no rules other than doing their best to kill anyone that limits their sway. All of the tools we and our allies have applied has at best a limited  but not decided effect on this malignant body.

Paris could easily be New York or Washington or any other relatively defenseless population center. The only reason the ISIS soldier ants have not devoured portions of our country is because they either haven’t reached here or haven’t yet exposed themselves. But, we know from their own statements-they will act and they will harm us. This is a matter of time vice capability before these zealot termites emerge.

OK. What can be done? Everything and nothing depending upon perspective. The President has established very clear boundaries of effort-the base being no significant if any actual U.S. combat troops-advisers sort of OK but with very strict control measures. Hasn’t worked yet if it ever will. Completely pulling back to Fortress America is not a viable option-America is the world leader whether we like or agree with that or not and we have only marginally acted the part. We appear to be a reasonable facsimile of Nixon’s  “hulking and pitiful giant.”

The blogs, media and think tanks are awash with a variety of options, ideas and possibilities. But to this point, no means other than demonstrably marginal effects have been achieved. So let me posit some approaches for discussion that might create a beneficial effect toward elimination of the capabilities ISIS now enjoys.

— Strangle their finances. Through National and International strictures, get the various national and International banks and financial institutions to embargo, freeze and sequester any known ISIS accounts or transactions. Stop their oil flow through Turkey and elsewhere. Destroy the oil fields they possess with a pledge to re-develop the infrastructure once under positive control.

— Filter the refugees. Create controlled/managed refugee camps with extensive security background checks for any applicants desiring immigration. Incentive the refugee flocks with clean, organized living and support infrastructure while permitting labor employment much as how the Israeli’s presently manage transient or questionable personnel.

— Put focused U.S. and Allied troops on the ground in Iraq and Jordan/Syria. The U.S. must muster Sunni allies to contribute ground forces and to take a major in-country role. U.S. efforts should be focused on SOF decapitation missions and training roles. U.S. advisers must accompany Host Nation forces on ground combat operations to insure Joint quality asset utilization and  control. The Iraqi government must be coerced/cajoled into developing Sunni-sensitive leadership for regained territories and the U.S. must be prepared to demarche any government opposed to the exercise of our National objectives.

— Create an International Intelligence Operations Center in Europe with significant U.S. resourcing and quality manning.  Membership would consist of all nations that agreed to participate in intelligence, immigration, law enforcement  and refugee management. This body would meld relevant local National data sources and share with the whole.  It would coordinate specific Joint intelligence operations similar to the present Interpol system but with broader insights encompassing non-LEA aspects.

— Greatly enhance our border security system. The U.S. borders must become truly secure. It may be necessary to establish somewhat draconian initial measures-National Guard troops with Posse Comitatus relief; vastly enhanced ICE personnel expansion subject to no notice lie detector and urinalysis; re-establishment of a form of the 1950’s Bracero program to dis-incentivize illegal Hispanic immigration; Significant resource upgrades of ICE monitoring of  student, tourist and H1B visas; Establishment of Joint Military-Civilian intelligence and response systems; Revision of existing strictures against CIA/NSA monitoring and sharing of internal traffic BUT only as part of a Joint FBI/LEA organization with FISA approval processes in place. Compartmentation of these operations would be within the Joint organization and not to a specific agency.

— Greatly augment the manning and resourcing of the U.S. LEA/Intelligence liaison programs with friendly nations.  This would also include aid and training packages on call for spot assistance.

— Create a Joint Counter-Terrorist Operations Center within the Executive Branch BUT without Executive Privilege to monitor/manage established programs, agencies and operations world wide. This would be an Inter-Departmental body including the Departments and operational subsets. The body would have authority to make directive decisions on behalf of POTUS and initiate immediate responses and activities-both at home and abroad. Congress would hold classified oversite to the organization and its resources.

Whatever aspects of this or any other strategy is adopted, the journey will be long and hard. Individual and National sensitivities will be bruised, oxen will be gored and everyone will have to alter their perception of the status quo level of acceptability. But ISIS demands a much different and more encompassing approach to have a reasonable opportunity for success. What we do know is that the present actions are at best marginal in effectiveness and at worst almost irrelevant. We also know that ISIS will not quit until our bodies are on the street. 

Col. (Ret.) Keith Nightingale commanded four infantry companies, three battalions, and two brigades. These units included two tours in Vietnam, the Grenada invasion, and several classified counterterrorist operations including the Iran rescue attempt. He was a founding member of the 1-75th Rangers as well as one of the original members of what is now Joint Special Operations Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. Col. (Ret.) Nightingale has written numerous articles regarding the Infantry in both Vietnam and the Desert Wars. He is a member of the Ranger Hall of Fame.  

Image credit: Allison Brown/Flickr (cropped)

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

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