On Dec. 25, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to “support” the Communist Afghan government. The Soviets soon found themselves fighting a guerrilla war against indigenous Afghanistan mujahedeen ( Muslim warriors engaged in Jihad ). This became a call to arms for Muslims throughout the world, and recruits joined the fight.
One of the groups that answered the call came to be known as al-Qaida. This was in the midst of the Cold War, and this conflict soon became a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States. The war went badly for the Soviets, and they completed their withdrawal on Feb. 15, 1989.
For a variety of reasons, after the defeat of the Soviets, the United States turned away from Afghanistan. The country devolved into chaos, with various warlords and their armies fighting for power. Into this vacuum there appeared a religiously inspired group that came to be called the Taliban. The Taliban restored order and provided security. However, they imposed an extremely strict and unforgiving form of Islam on the Afghan people.
After assuming nominal power over most of Afghanistan, the Taliban began supporting other groups that shared their interpretation of Islam. In 1996, Osama bin Laden, after being expelled from Sudan, took al-Qaida with him to Afghanistan. Bin Laden declared war on the West and specifically the United States. The Taliban granted him sanctuary, and he set up training camps and began recruiting and training mujahedeen to join the Jihad against the United States. From this sanctuary, bin Laden planned and launched a series of attacks against the West that culminated with the attacks on 9/11.
The United States is in the process of actively ending its military entanglements in Iraq. President Obama has made it clear that the war in Iraq is over and the United States is disengaging. Iraq has been experiencing increasing sectarian bloodshed due to ethnic and religious divides and differences within the country. Iraq is not a unified state and could conceivably break apart.
Into this situation a new player has appeared, the Islamic State (ISIS), a direct spawn of al-Qaida. ISIS, like al-Qaida, espouses a strict and intolerant interpretation of Islam. Based in the chaotic state of Syria, ISIS has recently invaded Iraq, rolled up Iraqi military units, captured a trove of heavy weapons provided to the Iraqi military by the United States and now controls approximately a third of Iraq.
ISIS has imposed its version of Islam on indigenous Muslims in the areas it has conquered often through violence. Non-Muslims have been offered the choice of conversion to the ISIS form of Islam or the men are killed and the women and children are enslaved as spoils of war.
ISIS has declared the territory it controls a state and further declared it to be a caliphate and its leader Abu Bakr alBaghdadi to be the caliph. ISIS has proclaimed its intention of spreading its form of Islam through the rest of the world. The United States and the West have been specifically targeted for ISIS violence.
The murder of American journalist James Foley was sadly only the most recent act of barbarity perpetrated by ISIS and is a harbinger of things to come from ISIS.
ISIS is actively recruiting new followers from around the world. If ISIS continues to control a self-proclaimed state, it could prove to be a sanctuary and training ground for its own and like minded jihadis.
If this is not stopped, it will result in a repetition of what happened in Afghanistan when the Taliban were in control. ISIS represents a clear and present danger to the United States, the West in general and to Muslim states in the Gulf.
The United States cannot afford to avert its attention again. There is no opportunity for diplomacy with ISIS. This calls for a kinetic solution. Diplomacy could be used to try to put together a coalition of countries to support and assist the necessary military steps. If, however, diplomacy fails to gain the U.S any allies, then we must lead, even if alone.
As Machiavelli put it, “Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and there they necessarily have the same results.”
Stephen C. Miller is a retired special agent with the U.S. Department of Defense. From September 2001 to 2005, he was a member of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in Raleigh.