By Lisa Ferdinando
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
KWAJALEIN ATOLL, Marshall Islands, Feb. 21, 2015 – Regional governments must take the lead in solving the "very complex threat" posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey made the comments in a town hall meeting here, in his first visit to this tiny atoll in the Pacific, the site of a World War II battle and the home of the U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll/Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.
Following the town hall that featured about 200 attendees, Dempsey noted how crises in the Middle East continue to demand significant attention even as he travels to discuss U.S. security interests in the Pacific.
Extremism Problem Not Easily Solved
The U.S. will continue its rebalance to the Pacific, Dempsey said. Meanwhile, the fight against violent extremism in the Middle East, an issue which the general described as a “generational problem” that’s not going to be easily solved, will continue to demand U.S. military attention.
Persuading U.S. partners in the Middle East to take responsibility in the fight against ISIL while providing U.S. support and leadership are key factors of the campaign, he said.
The U.S. campaign design, Dempsey said, calls for a "light" footprint in enabling and assisting the region in the fight against ISIL. However, he added, ultimately it is up to moderates -- governments, Muslims and populations -- to reject ISIL’s violent ideology.
"It's tough, and it's tough to figure out how to use the military in that environment," Dempsey said.
Reconstruction, counter-messaging, stopping the flow of foreign fighters, and stopping terror financing, the general said, are all needed to create conditions that will defeat the extremists.
In the meantime, he said, the U.S. military won't take its eye off the ball in dealing with direct threats to U.S. interests.
Keeping the Pressure on Extremists
"We will continue to keep pressure on those who are plotting against us," Dempsey said. "We have a network fighting this network and when we see pockets that are conducting external plotting that might affect the homeland, we can deal with it."
ISIL’s followers believe “that they are in the midst of a crusade against other Muslims who don't believe exactly what they believe, and the West," the general said.
"ISIL is really just the most recent manifestation of what I think is actually an internal conflict, internal to Islam, the conflict between Sunni and Shia, and between moderates and ultra conservatives," he told the audience of U.S. civilian workers and military personnel.
ISIL is not growing exponentially, as may be the perception, the chairman said. Rather, he said, other violent extremist groups, including those in Libya, Somalia, and the Arabian Peninsula, are "rebranding themselves" to align with ISIL, in the hopes of increasing their own influence.
The United States and its coalition partners are continuing airstrikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, he said.
After the town hall, Dempsey departed for Australia where he is meeting with Australian government officials as part of the focus on the U.S. rebalance to the Pacific region.