President Obama asked Congress for increased authorization of war powers after learning that foreign fighters are joining the Islamic State at an unprecedented rate.
“If left unchecked, ISIL will pose a threat beyond the Middle East, including to the United States homeland,” Obama said in a letter to Congress Tuesday night.
ISIS has been a national security threat for a while now, but the updated request for war powers is largely a response to yesterday’s report from the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) which estimates that 20,000 foreign militants have migrated to Syria from 90 different countries, including 3,400 westerners and 150 Americans.
Obama’s proposal opens the door for sending U.S. ground troops, but with limits.
“My Adminstration’s draft AUMF would not authorize long-term, large-scale, ground combat operations like those our Nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the president stated. “The authorization I propose would provide the flexibility to conduct ground combat operations in other, more limited circumstances, such as rescue operations involving U.S. or coalition personnel or the use of special operations forces to take military action against ISIL leadership.”
“I will only send our troops into harms way when it is necessary for our national security,” he said.
Many, however, still do not think Obama’s strategy is enough, or even a strategy at all.
Republican Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee of Homeland Security, in a Wednesday hearing said that the president has not taken the threats seriously enough, and hoped he would ramp up his response.
“We are no longer talking about terrorist groups, we are talking about terrorist armies,” said McCaul.
The Islamic State’s brand is spreading fast and is already the largest convergence of Islamist terrorists in world history, including Al Qaeda.
McCaul said this unprecedented growth is largely due to their sophisticated use of propaganda and social media.
What’s more, he also observed that extremists do not need to travel overseas to be a threat to our homeland.
ISIS is “inciting their followers to wage individual jihads in their own countries, and it’s working,” said McCaul. “Social media gives step by step instructions.”
He cited the attempt from a recently arrested ISIS enthusiast to attack the capitol with a pipe bomb as an example.
Part of the focus of the House Committee of Homeland Security, according to McCaul, will be to establish a six-month task force to focus on helping the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) improve security at home, as well as to prevent terrorists getting into the U.S.
DHS undersecretary Francis Taylor said at the hearing that his agency is already taking preventive measures — such as working with other nations to enhance screening at airports, and empowering local law enforcement to develop resistance at local levels.
However, ”the biggest threat to the security of the homeland,” according to Taylor, is a “lack of funding for DHS.”
He is referring to the ongoing budget battle in Congress, and stated “we need a partner in Congress to fund efforts. Time is running out.”