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ISIS Expands Beyond Syria and Iraq

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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security

Since the rise of ISIS last year and its rapid seizure of Syrian and Iraqi territory—including the stunning takeover of Mosul, the terror group continues to expand its reach beyond its central geographic base.

In the past few days, ISIS has allegedly carried out terror attacks in Jalalabad and Afghanistan, according to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.ISIS

If this development wasn’t ominous enough, ISIS operatives executed two separate groups of Ethiopian Christians inside Libya. Since President Obama sent Congress his Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) back in February, the president has been preoccupied with securing a nuclear accord with Iran, while leaving others to deal with ISIS.

The president and his administration now have very complex challenges to deal with, first, how to confront ISIS; and the other, an expansionist Iran throughout the Middle East.

On Monday, the Defense Department dispatched a U.S. aircraft carrier to join other American naval forces in an attempt to prevent Iranian shipments of weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen.

It has been confirmed by the Navy that the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and other escort ships including the USS Normandy, a guided-missile cruiser, have been diverted from the Persian Gulf and are now steaming toward the Arabian Sea to assist in the embargo.

Now the president has the added challenge of how he plans on confronting ISIS. Stephen Preston, the Pentagon’s top lawyer, states via the Daily Beast that the president wants “to tailor the authorities granted by the [original] AUMF to better fit the current fight and the strategy going forward,” signaling that the administration may no longer believe that Congress can pass a new authorization.

The critical problem for the U.S. is that the president still hasn’t articulated a coherent political strategy for how he plans on dealing with ISIS.

Just last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff downplayed ISIS’s advance and the strong possibility that Islamic forces will take the Iraqi city of Ramadi in Anbar Province. “I would much rather that Ramadi not fall, but it won’t be the end of a campaign should it fall.” This is in the backdrop, all the while highlighting the significance of the oil rich city of Baiji in the north.

“Baiji is part of the Iraqi oil infrastructure,” Dempsey said Thursday. “Once the Iraqis have full control of Baiji, they will control all of their oil infrastructure, both north and south, and deny ISIS the ability to generate revenue through oil. So Baiji is a more strategic target. And that is why the focus right now is in fact on Baiji.”

This contradicts the statements of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, who while visiting the United States called the operations in Anbar a priority. During his visit, al Abadi chastised Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states for failing to give more support to his embattled country in its fight against ISIS.

Last week al Abadi was in Washington seeking additional aid to fight the Islamic State for assistance, to help Iraq cope with the severe drop in oil prices, and to help in addressing his nation’s budget shortfalls.

President Obama has pledged $200 million in humanitarian aid, which doubles what Washington has given in the past.

Christopher Harmer, a military analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, a nonpartisan public policy group in Washington, said that the aid package could help Abadi’s fragile government.

“There are not a lot of people inside Iraq that see the government as being legitimate,” Harmer said. “Whether it is U.S. airstrikes, or Iranian ground forces, the Iraqi government has been completely emasculated because the forces making a difference against [Islamic State] are not led by Iraqis.”

The problem is that many of the Sunni Arab countries see the Iraqi leader as a surrogate of Iran, and view the threat from Tehran as the more pressing issue than anything emanating from ISIS.

The president must address both challenges simultaneously, but our allies in the region do not have confidence in the president, especially in light of the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and how President Obama has handled the crisis in the Middle East since taking office in 2009.

The president has two vexing decisions to make, and each has strategic political consequences for the U.S. and this troubled region.

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