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Top military leader at odds with Trump on 'Islamic' terrorism

It appears that the nation's top military officer is not in sync with his commander-in-chief on the need to label America's enemy in the conflicts that have persisted since the 9-11 terrorists' attacks as "radical Islamic extremists."


Throughout his campaign and since taking office, President Donald Trump has insisted on using the term radical or extremists "Islamic" terrorists to describe ISIS and the other groups spreading conflicts throughout the Middle East and Africa.

Related: Mattis' ISIS plan could mean more US troops in Syria and Iraq

Former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush and their administrations' officials, including Pentagon leaders, deliberately avoided use of the "Islamic" label in an effort, they said, to avoid bolstering the terrorists' propaganda that America was at war with all of Islam. But many Republicans in Congress protested that policy for denying the true nature of the threat.

Members of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service present Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a flag from Bartilah, a town recaptured by the Iraqi army just outside of Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (DoD photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Dominique Pineiro)

During an appearance at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Feb. 23, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, repeatedly used the term "violent extremists" in talking about the "four plus one threat" the US military must face. That term refers to the possible future threats posed by Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, plus the ongoing fights against extremists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and many parts of Africa.

Dunford also used that term in explaining the purpose of the review Trump ordered the Pentagon to conduct on ways to accelerate the fight to defeat ISIS and similar groups.

When challenged by a reporter on whether he does not feel the need to use the "Islamic" label used by Trump, Dunford carefully avoided the term.

"You ought not to read anything into my use of 'violent extremism' other than really trying to articulate exactly the point I'm trying to make now… It involves al Qaeda, it involves Hezbollah, it involves ISIS and other groups that present a trans-regional threat," he said.

"If you ask about a specific group I could give you a more specific descriptor," Dunford added. "I was using the term 'violent extremism' to refer to all of those groups," that exist "as the result of individuals who take up arms to advance political and/or religious objectives through violence."

In an earlier discussion about the complex situation the US is trying to deal with in Syria, Dunford noted there are issues with Sunni and Shia groups, the two main divisions of Islam, plus Kurds, Turks and others.