“The difference here is that, before 9/11, there were single-level threat streams coming into the United States – some pretty serious,” the Michigan Republican said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “Obviously, they got in and conducted the attacks on 9/11.”
“Now you have multiple organizations, all al-Qaeda-minded, trying to accomplish the same thing,” he said, citing the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) and al-Qaeda affiliated such as the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
“Thousands of individuals now signing up with ISIL to fight their jihad in Syria and Iraq have Western passports. That's what’s so dangerous about this,” he said.
“We also know that they want to conduct an attack. But so does al Qaeda. And so now you have two competing terrorist organizations. Both of them want to get their credentials to the point where they can say, ‘We are the premier terrorist organization.’ Both want to conduct attacks in the West for that reason.”
“And guess what?” he added. “That means we lose at the end. If either one ever those organizations is successful, we lose.”
He pointed to concerns raised by Attorney-General Eric Holder recently about a rising terror threat from Yemen – “one of the things that keeps him up at night. I would concur with him. That is an attack that many believe is going operational. And that is what we should be worried about.”
Rogers said he believed the terrorist danger to the U.S. now is greater that before 9/11 because “the threat matrix is so wide. And it’s so deep. We just didn't have that before 9/11.”
He observed that ISIS controls territory the size of Indiana, possesses sophisticated weaponry and is reported to have “as much as billion dollars in both precious metals, currency, and, by the way, selling oil on the black market to the tune of about a million dollars a day.”
Rogers pointed to parallels between ISIS’ viciousness and that of other terrorist groups.
“This is exactly the kind of thing – beheading people, convert or die, burning religious relics from the past – just the sheer brutality of it is exactly what AQAP pitches. It’s what Boko Haram [in Nigeria] pitches. When they took those 300 girls, that’s what that was all about.
“That’s what they’re practicing and putting into practice. That’s why this policy of not dealing with it as an ecosystem, I think, is wrong and has caused the spread and danger of these organizations.”
Syria and Iraq ‘one war’
Rogers argued that the U.S. would not solve the problem of ISIS without confronting the terrorist group both in Iraq and in Syria.
“I think the president said they’re not related. They are absolutely related,” he said.
Rogers noted that the caliphate declared by ISIS in June has its envisaged capital in Syria (the northern city of Raqqa, which has been under ISIS control for more than a year), and took issue with any attempt to distinguish between the Iraq and Syria situations.
“To say they’re not related, I think just diminishes our opportunity for a strategic victory.”
President Obama this month authorized airstrikes against ISIS fighters in northern Iraq, and they continued Sunday in a bid to help Iraqi and Kurdish forces wrest Iraq’s largest dam from the jihadists’ control. The Pentagon said 14 strikes were carried out around the dam on Sunday, following nine the day before.
But Obama has long resisted calls to take similar measures against the same terrorist group in Syria – or indeed against any of the participants fighting in the Syrian civil war, including the Assad regime after it used chemical weapons against civilians a year ago this week.
A key difference between the situations on two sides of the border – which remains legally in place even if ISIS has sought to erase it – is that attacking ISIS in Iraq helps U.S. allies in Erbil and Baghdad, whereas attacking ISIS in Syria would likely benefit Assad.
Rogers conceded that the situation in Syria was more complex now that it was earlier during the conflict there.
“The options we had two-and-a-half years ago aren’t the options of a year ago, certainly aren’t the options that we have available today,” he said.
“Does it mean that we can find and facilitate some of these [anti-Assad rebel] groups that would be at least more friendly to the United States? Absolutely. And it means that our Arab League partners, who have been asking for help for about two-and-a-half years on this problem, we can re-rally their cause against this growing threat [of] ISIL to, again, not only their regimes, but a clear and present danger to the United States.”
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, argued that what is taking place in Syria and Iraq is “one war.”
“The Free Syria Army [the mainstream anti-Assad rebel group], whom we should have armed two years ago, is facing defeat, and they have called on us to bomb ISIS outside of Aleppo,” he said.
“I think we should consider doing it because this is one war. It’s building from Syria into Iraq. The border is obliterated. There’s no border anymore, and I think we need to fight ISIS wherever they rear their ugly heads.”
Engel recalled the way al-Qaeda was able to consolidate and plot against the U.S. in Afghanistan after the Soviet occupation there ended, while “we just sort of looked the other way and didn’t really focus.”
“If we allow ISIS to get stronger, and stronger, if they take Aleppo, it’s the end of the Free Syria Army and also would mean that ISIS would have essentially a no-man’s land in Syria through Iraq, to plot and plan attacks on our homeland.”