(by Gen. John R. Allen, USMC (Ret.), DefenseOne .com) – The brutal murder of the brave American journalist James Foley is meant to directly terrorize the world’s media, the international community, and the United States. If all the actions of the Islamic State (ISIS), to date weren’t sufficiently reprehensible, this act and the potential for other similar acts will snap American attention with laser-like focus onto the real danger ISIS poses to the existence of Iraq, the order of the region and to the homelands of Europe and America.

Make no mistake, the abomination of ISIS is a clear and present danger to the U.S. The only question really is whether the U.S. and its allies and partners will act decisively now while they can still shape events to destroy ISIS, an act that seems increasingly self-obvious. …

The U.S. is now firmly in the game and remains the only nation on the planet capable of exerting the kind of strategic leadership, influence and strike capacity to deal with ISIS. It is also the only power capable of organizing a coalition’s reaction to this regional and international threat. As a general officer commanding at several levels in the region, I can say with certainty that what we’re facing in northern Iraq is only partly a crisis about Iraq. It is about the region and potentially the world as we know it.

Weeks ago I called for this group to be attacked in the manner only the U.S. can undertake – suddenly, swiftly, surgically – to deal it a setback and to begin the systematic dismantlement of this scourge. As we consider this threat there are some important points to consider that give urgency to the imperative to act:

  • The Islamic State terrorist group is executing a well-thought-out campaign design intended to dismantle both Syria and Iraq and install in their place an Islamic Caliphate. Though we’re keyed into it now, we missed it initially.
  • ISIS is a well-organized entity, almost certainly supported by former Saddamist regime elements whose hand can be seen in the campaign design now unfolding. This group is not a flash in the pan that will go away of its own accord or if we don’t poke at it. It is not benign (harmless). IS is reinforced by Sunni tribal elements from Syria and Iraq, and most alarmingly, is aided by a witch’s brew of foreign fighters from Chechens (Muslims from Russia) to Uighurs (Muslims from China) to Pashtuns (Muslims from Afghanistan), but also including Europeans and Americans. The Caliphate’s* Western recruits will be felt in the European and American homelands for years to come regardless of the fate ISIS and its cause. [*Caliphate is a Muslim world government ruled according to sharia (Islamic law)]
  • ISIS is quite well heeled. It is flush with recently captured American and Iraqi ordnance (weapons and ammo) and armored vehicles, and awash with dollars lifted from Iraqi banks along its route of advance. It is demonstrating an alarming ability to absorb heavier and more complex military capabilities and put them to work against their erstwhile opponents. ISIS is able to demonstrate substantial battlefield innovation and agility — two qualities none of us can afford as ISIS continues its forward movement and attempts to consolidate.

So how should we “see” ISIS and what is this terrorist group up to?

Within its means, ISIS is waging total war on the region and its “unbelieving and apostate” populations. Just ask the Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, Shi’a and some Sunni populations who’ve been unlucky enough to be along the ISIS axis of advance. Before our very eyes, it is transitioning from being a non-state actor into a state-like entity. The leadership of the so-called Caliphate has been clear that it will focus on Western and American targets if given the chance to consolidate its holdings into the so-called Caliphate. It’s worth remembering the Taliban provided the perfect platform from which al-Qaeda attacked the U.S., and the Taliban were and remain as cavemen in comparison to ISIS. As well, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, has attacked the U.S. at least twice, and they are a mere shadow of ISIS. Worse, the ISIS foot soldiers holding U.K., European, and American passports number in the hundreds. We need to prepare ourselves for what this will mean. Foley’s executioner spoke with a British accent.

So what now?

ISIS must be destroyed and we must move quickly to pressure its entire “nervous system,” break it up, and destroy its pieces. …

The whole questionable debate on American war weariness aside, the U.S. military is not war weary and is fully capable of attacking and reducing ISIS throughout the depth of its holdings, and we should do it now, but supported substantially by our traditional allies and partners, especially by those in the region who have the most to give – and the most to lose – if the Islamic State’s march continues. It’s their fight as much as ours, for the effects of ISIS terror will certainly spread in the region with ISIS seeking soft spots for exploitation.


Bottom line: The president deserves great credit in attacking ISIS. It was the gravest of decisions for him. But a comprehensive American and international response now — NOW — is vital to the destruction of this threat. The execution of James Foley is an act we should not forgive nor should we forget, it embodies and brings home to us all what this group represents. The Islamic State (ISIS) is an entity beyond the pale of humanity and it must be eradicated. If we delay now, we will pay later.

Gen. John R. Allen, USMC (Ret.) led Marines in Anbar Province and was commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. He is a distinguished fellow of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

Posted at DefenseOne .com on August 20, 2014.  Reprinted here August 28, 2014 for educational purposes only. Visit the website at defenseone.com


1. a) How seriously does Gen. Allen view the threat of ISIS to the U.S.?
b) For what reasons does he take this view?

2. What solutions does Gen. Allen suggest as the best way to eradicate ISIS?

3. What hope does Gen. Allen offer?

4. Ask a parent what he/she thinks of:
a) Gen. Allen’s assessment of the situation;
b) President Obama’s reaction to James Foley’s beheading and
c) ISIS as a threat to the U.S.