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President Biden, ISIS-K is ramping up its terror. You must ramp up our response

OpinionPresident Biden, ISIS-K is ramping up its terror. You must ramp up our response

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If I were to describe a president who, acting on a long held belief but purportedly responding to the American public’s war-weariness, orders the withdrawal of all American troops and leaving no residual force in a country besieged by diminished but resilient terror groups whose ambitions include attacks against the American homeland, you might assume I was referring to August 2021, but it also describes events from late 2011. 

At that time President Barack Obama tasked Gen. Lloyd Austin—the same person who, as Secretary of Defense under Biden, oversaw the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal—with orchestrating the full removal of American forces from Iraq. This withdrawal created a void that ISIS capitalized on, transforming in just few short years from nascent, scattered cells into a deadly terrorist network. 

Though President Obama famously called ISIS “the JV team” in an interview with The New Yorker, the terror group went on to establish a physical caliphate that encompassed large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Their acts of terrorism stood out for their barbarism – the beheading of journalists, mass executions of Iraqi soldiers, and burning victims alive. They also demonstrated a capacity to conduct complex terrorist attacks abroad, slaughtering innocents in Paris, Istanbul, and Manchester, England, among other locations.

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When threats to the homeland became more credible and the American public grew increasingly concerned about a domestic attack, President Obama was forced to take the JV Team seriously and reversed course, authorizing kinetic strikes and restoring an American troop presence on a counterterrorism mission in Iraq and Syria to go after ISIS. 

When President Trump took office in 2017, he shifted gears dramatically. With a decisive use of military force, Trump’s administration ended the so-called caliphate by eliminating ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and dismantling its physical stronghold. 

MORGAN ORTAGUS ON BIDEN’S AFGHANISTAN WITHDRAW AND THE IMPLICATIONS ON ISIS-K: “UTTERLY DISGUSTING THAT NONE OF THEM CAN TAKE RESPONSIBILITY”

Yet, in foreign policy, history does love to repeat itself, and it’s done so in quite a quick and spectacular fashion. Appearing not to learn the lesson of his predecessor, President Biden ordered the complete withdrawal of all troops in Afghanistan, an order which disregarded military advice to maintain a minimal force. This led to the Taliban’s swift takeover and provided ISIS-K, the Khorasan branch of ISIS, a permissive environment where they could regroup and strengthen. 

President Biden should not repeat President Obama’s mistake of underestimating the threat of ISIS and allowing them to establish a physical caliphate before taking decisive military action. 

That is precisely what has happened in the three years since the Taliban took over Kabul. ISIS-K has reconstituted and gained a foothold in every province. Despite Taliban attempts to counter their terrorist rivals, ISIS-K has established a sophisticated network, especially through social media, to recruit adherents in Central Asia, primarily among Uzbeks and Tajiks, to carry out attacks, most recently in Iran and Russia.

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The threat from ISIS-K in Afghanistan now mirrors the pre-Trump era challenge of ISIS. Back then, ISIS also waged sophisticated social media campaigns to lure fighters and brides to the Islamic State and to inspire global attacks. ISIS-K has picked up the playbook and is running with it. And as before, the only way to neutralize the threat they pose is through their total destruction. 

Many things in national security are hard. Determining how we prevent China from invading Taiwan or preventing North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that can hit the homeland are among the most complex. Stopping ISIS-K is not

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We were told again and again after August 2021 that the United States would retain the capability (even without troops on the ground) to conduct “over-the-horizon strikes.” If that is indeed truthful, President Biden should authorize these strikes immediately, assuming we do have the intelligence capability to know where these ISIS-K fighters are hiding. 

President Biden should not repeat President Obama’s mistake of underestimating the threat of ISIS and allowing them to establish a physical caliphate before taking decisive military action. President Obama’s national security team, which was always known for its penchant for “paralysis by analysis” stood by as ISIS grew and their attacks became increasingly more deadly, especially to ethnic minorities like the Yazidis. 

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Reversing course and taking military action against ISIS-K in Afghanistan will require the president to wipe a decent amount of egg off his face, to admit he was wrong that Afghanistan could remain free of terrorist groups with American counterterrorism professionals on the ground.  

Mr. President—better to admit that you were wrong than to see, God forbid, an attack on the American homeland next. It’s not too late to stop ISIS-K.

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