Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey today discussed the possibility of forming a network to oppose the transregional threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visited Ghani here this afternoon and said there is a clear need for a transregional strategy to address ISIL.
Terror groups in Afghanistan – most notably the Tehreek-i-Taliban — have rebranded themselves as ISIL, officials said, noting that these are terrorists who believe the Taliban are not vicious enough.
ISIL is the latest and most successful manifestation of the terror threat, they added, posing a military threat and promoting an ideology that appeals to disaffected youths around the world.
Dempsey has said for years the United States should address this transregional threat with a transregional strategy. ISIL began in Iraq and Syria, but has spread to the Sinai, Libya and into Nigeria. Now the group is recruiting in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“I think we’re all having an important discussion on how to address the transregional nature of what is clearly a persistent threat that has to be addressed at a sustainable level of effort over a period of time,” Dempsey said to reporters traveling with him.
Seeks Expanded Assessment
The chairman said he has asked Army Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission here, to expand his assessment of the current campaign in Afghanistan to include the changing nature of the threat and “to give us his insights into what he thinks we should do.”
Dempsey said Ghani told him in their meeting that Afghanistan should be a regional hub in a transregional network that includes the Levant, Iraq, North Africa and West Africa. “His view is, ‘Hey, look, I’m a willing partner in an area where you may not have willing partners,’” the chairman said. Ghani wants to have a conversation on what Afghanistan can do over time to form a network that will operate transregionally, he added.
The chairman said Ghani’s idea falls in line with his own thinking, but that he would like a discussion among American leaders on what the objective would be. “Once we have a clear idea of what we would like to accomplish … over a 10 year period,” he said, “then we should discuss what authorities would be needed, … as well as what resources can be applied.”
The long-term look is important, the general said, because this is a generational fight and the level of resources supplied must be sustainable over 10 years. “I don’t want to do this one year at a time,” he said.
Afghanistan could be a coalition counterterrorism partner and a South Asia hub. Ghani also pointed out to Dempsey that other global actors – Russia, China and Iran –also are concerned about the rising ISIL movement and are looking to Afghanistan for help. Ghani believes Afghanistan could be an exporter of stability in this type of program, Dempsey said.
Afghanistan is a credible and willing partner in counterterrorism and could be one of the keys to addressing ISIL in all of South Asia, the chairman said, adding that it could also network with similar efforts elsewhere.
Window of Opportunity
This could be a window of opportunity for a strategy against ISIL, the chairman said, noting that there are nine stages of development for an organization that, like ISIL, aspires to be a state.
“In Iraq and Syria, you might say they are in stage 6 or 7 or 8,” he said. “In Libya, they are in stage 3 or 4, and in Afghanistan they are in stage 1 or 2.” Therefore, he said, there is an opportunity in Afghanistan to deal with ISIL while it is still small there.
Any military effort against ISIL must have two components, the chairman said. The main effort should be by, with and through partners. “But we also need to carve out for ourselves the ability to take actions unilaterally when we deem it to be a credible, real and imminent threat to our people, facilities or the homeland,” he said.