Islamic ideology, terror quietly debated
U.S. Special Operations Command has privately pressed the staff of the nation’s highest-ranking military officer to include in his upcoming National Military Strategy a discussion of the Sunni Muslim ideology underpinning the brutality of the Islamic State group and al Qaeda.
Thus, behind the scenes, the Pentagon’s top brass have entered a debate coursing through the presidential campaign: how to define an enemy the U.S. military has been fighting for 15 years.
The National Military Strategy, authored by the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, is one of the most important guidances issued to global combatant commanders. It prioritizes threats to the nation and how to blunt them.
The 2015 public version does not mention Islamic ideology. It lists terrorists under the ambiguous category of “violent extremist organizations” and singles out al Qaeda and the Islamic State group.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford took the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff two months later and is now preparing his first National Military Strategy.
It is during this process that Special Operations Command, which plays a major role in hunting down terrorists, has provided its input to the Joint Staff, Gen. Dunford’s team of intelligence and operations officers at the Pentagon.
Special Operations Command wants the National Military Strategy to specifically name Salafi jihadism as the doctrine that inspires violent Muslim extremists. Salafi jihadism is a branch within Sunni Islam. It is embraced by the Islamic State and used to justify its mass killings of nonbelievers, including Shiite Muslims, Sunnis and Kurds, as well as Christians.
People knowledgeable about the discussion told The Washington Times that SoCom has not been able to persuade Gen. Dunford’s staff to include Salafi jihadism in any strategy draft. It is unclear whether Gen. Dunford has been briefed on the proposals.
Spokesmen for the Joint Staff and U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, told The Times that they could not comment on a pending strategy. Gen. Dunford’s strategy will be classified in its entirety, meaning there will be no public version as was issued by his predecessor, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, in 2015.
Special Operations Command is headed by Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, a veteran terrorist hunter who led Joint Special Operations Command, the unit that killed Osama bin Laden and many other extremists.
There does not appear to be an effort to include the words “radical Islamic terrorism” in the strategy. But including a discussion of Salafi jihadism would tie acts of terrorism to Islamic ideology.
President Obama has fiercely rejected any connection between Islam the faith and al Qaeda, the Islamic State or any other Muslim terrorist organizations. He argues that they have corrupted the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and the Koran. His administration refers to them as simply “extremists.”
The counterargument from many U.S. national security analysts and Muslim scholars is that mass killings are rooted in the Koran and other primary writings and preachings of credible Islamic scholars and imams. These teachings at some mosques and on social media encourage youths to become radical Islamists.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ruthless Islamic State founder, is a cleric who studied at a seminary in Iraq. Al-Baghdadi has a Ph.D. in Koranic studies from Iraq’s Saddam University.