ISIS Just Made Itself An Even Greater Threat To The US With Its Use Of Drones

by John Haltiwanger

There seem to be mixed opinions over whether or not the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is capable of carrying out an attack on the United States. ISIS is well-funded, bloodthirsty and has very clear goals. Moreover, it's very well-trained militarily and has begun using extremely sophisticated tactics.

Recent reports stated that ISIS is utilizing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, for purposes of surveillance. Thus, it seems that the tables have turned, and now, instead of being hunted by drones, terrorists are using them to plan and execute their military operations.

According to reports, ISIS uses drones to gather intel on targets. It has also used drones to locate and capture military equipment, including American Humvees.

Additionally, a YouTube video released by the terrorist organization reveals surveillance footage from a drone.

Therefore, it is incredibly important for the United States to come forth and advocate the establishment of coherent international laws surrounding the proper use of drones and armed drones, by both state and non-state actors like ISIS.

The precedent that the US government has set with its use of drones has been extremely dangerous, particularly given the high number of civilian casualties from US drone strikes in places like Pakistan.

The relatively unfettered use of drones by America has put both US military personnel and citizens at risk of being attacked in a similar manner whilst abroad.

Moreover, it's now apparent that ISIS is far more formidable than al Qaeda ever was. Its capabilities become more terrifying every day. Likewise, some feel that it could soon plan and execute an attack on the United States, or perhaps a European target.

The issue of whether or not ISIS is capable of attacking the US has come to the forefront of foreign policy discussions largely in the past week, primarily as a consequence of the gruesome execution of freelance journalist James Foley.

ISIS videotaped Foley's execution and claimed that it was inspired by recent airstrikes conducted by the United States in Iraq. In the video, a man with a British accent forces Foley to condemn the United States before beheading him.

ISIS subsequently claimed it would execute another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, if the United States did not stop its airstrikes in the region. In addition, a request for $6.6 million would substantiate the exchange for a 26-year-old American woman who had been doing humanitarian aid work in the area.

Thus, ISIS is clearly targeting any and all Americans in the region.

The government issued a swift response to Foley's execution, which President Obama characterized as appalling. Secretary of State John Kerry was also quite enraged by the incident and made his stance on ISIS very clear via Twitter:

Jim Foley went to the darkest of places to shine the light of truth/he was brave and bold/no masked coward can ever steal his legacy — John Kerry (@JohnKerry) August 20, 2014
There is evil in this world. ISIL = ugly, savage, inexplicable, nihilistic, valueless evil. — John Kerry (@JohnKerry) August 20, 2014
ISIL must be destroyed/will be crushed. — John Kerry (@JohnKerry) August 20, 2014

While most Americans are probably reluctant to support heavy military involvement in Iraq, or anywhere for that matter, it's difficult not to agree with Secretary Kerry. No one wants to see American boots on the ground in Iraq again, but this scenario is looking more probable as the situation continues to escalate.

Furthermore, Ben Rhodes, the White House's Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting, said that Foley's execution could be designated a terrorist attack:

...When you see somebody killed in such a horrific way, that represents a terrorist attack against our country and against an American citizen. Clearly, the brutal execution of Jim Foley represented an affront, an attack, not just on him, but he's an American, and we see that as an attack on our country, when one of our own is killed like that... If you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you wherever you are.

Thus, America is in a very difficult position in terms of how it responds to ISIS. Firstly, people are already calling for Foley to be avenged. When al Qaeda attacked America on 9/11, it was designated a terrorist act, which was immediately used to justify the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF).

Essentially, President Bush was given legal authority to use American military force against those "responsible" for 9/11. Likewise, if the current government attempts to argue that ISIS is carrying out terrorist attacks on Americans, then this could be used to justify military action beyond airstrikes.

Moreover, ISIS continues to grow in strength, and military experts claim its members are fierce and experienced fighters. Thus, America may feel it needs to take action in order to completely decimate ISIS before it gets any stronger.

At present, ISIS is much like a cancer: It's growing quickly, and it's extremely deadly.

ISIS has very clear global ambitions and hopes to establish a massive caliphate, or Islamic state, based on its radical interpretation of Islam. It is clear that it would not be in anyone's interest for ISIS to continue to grow both in size and strength, particularly as this would increase the likelihood of an attack on the United States.

However, it would be arrogant and wrong for America to assume that it can defeat ISIS by itself.

It's true that America's military capabilities are exceptional, but this is an incredible complex situation that involves a number of different players. This cannot be solved through brute force; it will take coordination and cooperation between multiple parties.

Likewise, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey recently noted, ISIS must be fought in both Iraq and Syria in order to be defeated. There is no choice in this matter, as the de facto state that ISIS has established has made the border between Iraq and Syria nonexistent.

Simply put, ISIS needs to be stopped, yet determining how this will be done is a more complicated task. President Obama obviously wants to avoid becoming too engaged in a region that he has continuously tried to stray from, but he may have no choice.

Presently, it's evident that the US needs to find more coordinated ways of cooperating with other forces in the region in the fight against ISIS. America cannot and should not attempt to solve the world's problems on its own.

At present, ISIS poses more of a regional threat than anything, which is perhaps why President Obama has attempted to contain its impact via airstrikes. ISIS has continued to make gains regardless of the strikes, however, and recently captured a significant air base in Syria.

Likewise, Hussam Al Marie, the spokesman for the Free Syrian Army in northern Syria, has stated,

Airstrikes against ISIS inside Syria will not be helpful. Airstrikes will not get rid of ISIS. Airstrikes are like just tickling ISIS... ISIS is not a real state that you can attack and destroy; they are thugs who are spread all over the east of Syria in the desert. And when they are in the cities, they are using civilian buildings. So airstrikes will not be enough to get rid of these terrorists and at the same time, they might hit civilians. That’s the problem.

If ISIS cannot be contained in the region via the limited approach of airstrikes, is it only a matter of time before it's able to attack the United States, if more extreme actions aren't taken?

This seems to be the opinion of the former head of the CIA, retired Gen. Michael Hayden. In his opinion, there is no clear consensus on the ability of ISIS to attack the United States. Simultaneously, Hayden feels strongly that ISIS should not be underestimated:

ISIS is a very powerful local organization, and probably a reasonably powerful regional terrorist organization... But it's one that has global ambitions -- and it has the tools. It's expressed the intent... There's no way more powerful way to express their street credentials among the jihadist community than a successful attack against the West.

Simply put, if ISIS successfully attacks America, it will establish itself as perhaps the most terrifying entity in the world. ISIS has already expressed such ambitions, which should be taken extremely seriously.

With proper funding, training and equipment, ISIS is an extraordinarily formidable force at the moment. It has grown at an incredibly rapid rate and is now gaining international support, including Western recruits.

Ergo, an attack on the West is not impossible; thus, it should be expected and prepared for accordingly.

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