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U.S. Strategy Against ISIL in Light of Paris Attacks

By Jeffrey V. Gardner, Faculty Member, Homeland Security at American Military University

The Paris attacks are really no surprise. In July 2015, I wrote an article stating that

“we are in the third phase of terrorist threats since 9/11, the threat that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham or ISIS poses to the homeland. ISIS has overshadowed al-Qaida as the premier terrorist group in the world. ISIS is drawing attention and recruits to their cause by a combination of success on the battlefield and a social media propaganda machine that is phenomenal. Their apocalyptic messaging coupled with Hollywood-quality horrific violence resonates with many. ISIS has inspired multiple terrorist attacks in France…ISIS inspired attacks within the U.S. homeland are likely to become our new normal.”

The attacks in Paris were unlike other recent homegrown or ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks here in the U.S. and abroad since it appears to have been a well-planned and coordinated complex attack. This style of terrorist approach has similarities to the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist attack on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008 as well as the Westgate Mall attack in Kenya in 2013 by al Shabaab.

At this early stage, it also appears that this most recent attack in Paris employed a hybrid mix of homegrown terrorists, formerly returned foreign fighters, as well as possible covert infiltration of at least one terrorist as a refugee.

[Related Article: The Evolution of Modern Terrorism]

Another unique aspect of this attack is the apparent use of encrypted Internet communications that FBI Director James Comey has been warning us about for some time.

Regarding our strategy to counter ISIL, President Obama stated,

“ISIL is the face of evil. Our goal, as I’ve said many times, is to degrade and ultimately destroy this barbaric terrorist organization. As I outlined this fall at the United Nations, we have a comprehensive strategy using all elements of our power, military intelligence, economic development, and the strength of our communities. We have always understood that this will be a long-term campaign. There will be setbacks and there will be successes. The terrible events in Paris were obviously a terrible and sickening setback. Even as we grieve with our French friends, however, we can’t lose sight that there is progress being made.”

However, those outside the U.S. have a lot of doubts about the words that come from our senior leaders when many past statements have not been followed with promised actions – like the famous red line over Syrian’s use of weapons of mass destruction on their own citizens.

The fact is, piecemeal and incremental actions have not historically been successful strategies when confronting adversaries abroad (countries or non-state actors like terrorists and insurgents). Airpower alone has never worked to solve complex and intractable human conflicts.

It takes troops on the ground to achieve national security objectives against adversaries who are on the ground, especially those who can hide or blend in with civilian populations. That does not mean we have to invade with a large land force to defeat ISIL, but there does have to be a capable land force to engage the enemy and make airpower effective.

[Related Article: The Challenge of Defining Terrorism Around the World]

The model we used to successfully defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11 is a good framework to look at. However, deploying large numbers of conventional U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria is exactly what ISIL wants us to do according to their apocalyptic ideology. We should not take the bait, but instead use our intelligence agencies and special operations forces to fight smartly with regional nations providing the conventional ground forces.

About the Author: Jeffrey V. Gardner is an Assistant Professor of Homeland Security Studies at American Military University, and is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel. Jeff is a Homeland Security Ph.D. candidate who possesses a Master of Science of Strategic Intelligence with a concentration in terrorism from National Intelligence University, as well as two other masters’ degrees.


Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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