Over the next few months we will be hearing a robust debate among politicians and military strategists about what the U.S. should do about ISIS. Some will say that America is war-weary and political turmoil in the Middle East is not our problem. Others will say we cannot allow such a terrorist group to get stronger and advance its radical ideology throughout the region.
Essential to this debate are some key facts about ISIS. Let's start with its name. ISIS stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Sometimes you hear the president or other officials refer to the group as ISIL. That stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. By the way, Levant was an English term that has been used to identify the region that includes such countries as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel.
How powerful is ISIS? George Packer, in the New Yorker, estimates that ISIS controls 35,000 square miles of land. This stretches from the "newly conquered towns along the Syrian-Turkish border" all the way "down to the farming towns south of Baghdad." He concludes that: "ISIS now controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations."
How wealthy is ISIS? When they take over a town or city, they empty the banks and collect money in very sophisticated ways. One CNN report says they probably bring in $2 million a day from the oil fields they occupy. Jack Keane and Danielle Pletka estimate that "ISIS may now be the richest terror group in the world." They have built "a war chest in the hundreds of millions of dollars."
Is ISIS in this country? Perhaps you have seen the picture of ISIS flag superimposed on the White House. The picture was likely taken from Pennsylvania Avenue. Someone in Ferguson, MO was carrying a banner reading "ISIS Here." Most of all, we should be concerned that some ISIS fighters appear to have U.S. or British passports.
Put simply, ISIS is not just a junior varsity terrorist group. It is a greater threat than we might have imagined.
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