By Felicia Schwartz and Dion Nissenbaum
The beheading of journalist James Foley has prompted American officials to begin working to knit together a broader international campaign to combat the extremists of the Islamic State, an effort that the Pentagon warned will require taking the fight beyond Iraq and into neighboring Syria.
The Obama administration has indicated it is prepared to continue selective airstrikes against the extremists inside Iraq, where they have seized significant swaths of territory. But Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, can't be defeated without choking off its operations in Syria.
"And that will come when we have a coalition in the region that takes on the task of defeating ISIS over time," he said at a Pentagon press conference, where he appeared with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. When asked specifically whether the U.S. was considering airstrikes in Syria, Mr. Hagel said all options were on the table.
Organizing an international response is difficult because even nations that agree they are threatened by the Islamist extremist movement are feuding on other aspects of Middle East policy, but clear options for action are emerging.
European nations have already begun sending limited military supplies to Kurdish fighters in Iraq, who are engaging ISIS forces in the north of the country. U.S. officials want Arab allies in the Persian Gulf to help persuade their allies among Sunni tribes in Iraq to support a new central government being formed by the new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. That, they believe, is crucial to creating an Iraqi government strong enough to counter ISIS.
U.S. officials also want Persian Gulf states to choke off any financial support their citizens may be providing to Islamic extremist forces. They also hope the new sense of international alarm will convince Turkey to more closely monitor its long border with Syria and Iraq and stop would-be Islamist fighters from Europe and the Middle East from crossing over to join ISIS forces.
Meantime, officials note that Iran, a Shiite country deeply at odds with Sunni Arab states, joined the U.S. in praising the choice of Mr. al-Abadi as Iraq's new leader, raising the prospect that Tehran will be more supportive than it has been in building a stronger Iraqi central government to combat ISIS.
Some analysts warned that defeating ISIS will require the Obama administration to adopt a more aggressive stance of its own.
"For the U.S. to begin to roll back ISIS's advance, we're going to have to use multiple tools, but among them, at the centerpiece of the tool set, is going to have to be a greater military footprint -- from the air to be sure, but on both sides of the Iraq and Syria border," said Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. "That will then have a trickle-down effect on our ability to deal with a host of issues, including ISIS's finances."
(An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ:com: http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-seeks-international-action-against-islamist-militants-1408663805?mod=mktw.)
-Felicia Schwartz; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
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08-22-14 0036ETCopyright (c) 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.