NAVAL SUBMARINE BASE KINGS BAY, Ga. — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Wednesday suggested that Islamic militants who have taken control over parts of Iraq and Syria pose a direct threat to the United States.
“This country should not make any mistake on this, nor anyone in Congress: This is a threat to our country. This is a force that is sophisticated, it's dynamic, it's strong, it's organized, it's well-financed, it's competent… And it is a threat to our allies all over the Middle East, it's a threat to Europe… and it's a threat to us,” he told troops at a town hall at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga.
The insurgent group, which refers to itself as the Islamic State, has said it wants to rule over much of the Middle East. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told lawmakers last month that the militants did not pose a direct threat to the U.S. homeland but could at some point if left unchecked.
On Wednesday, Hagel seemed to suggest that the threat has materialized sooner.
“When I talk about protecting American lives in America, I also said protecting our interests. And [the Islamic State] may not appear to be an imminent threat to the United States. It is a threat to the United States. It is… a clear threat to our partners in that area, and it is imminent,” he said.
Hagel said the group is creating instability throughout the Middle East, but he did elaborate why it poses a threat to the homeland.
Attorney General Eric Holder has suggested that some Europeans and Americans who are fighting with the militants could return to their home countries and carry out attacks.
The Pentagon has deployed about 650 troops to Iraq in recent weeks as the security situation has deteriorated. The Obama administration is considering conducting air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq, and the U.S. military has teams of advisers on the ground assessing the situation and gathering intelligence. But Hagel was noncommittal about additional steps the U.S. might take, including the use of air power.
“We are getting daily assessments. And the finality of those assessments will be completed in the next few days, and we'll have a further context of what recommendations they'll make,” Hagel said.