President Obama’s special envoy to the coalition against ISIS told reporters at the State Department today that the number of Islamic State fighters has swelled to at least double the number of jihadists who immigrated to fight in the Afghan-Soviet war that raged throughout the 1980s.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran Brett McGurk vowed “we’re going to destroy this terrorist organization… in two ways.”
“We’re going to suffocate the core, which is in Iraq and Syria and we are going to suffocate the global networks. And the global networks is something that everybody’s focused on now and rightfully so,” he said.
“And I’ve said this before. We have really never seen something like this before, 30,000 foreign fighters, these jihadi fighters, coming from 100 countries all around the world, into Syria and Iraq. Depending on who’s counting, there are different numbers from the ’80s, but it is almost about double the number that went into Afghanistan in the 1980s. Those guys came from just a handful of countries. This is 100 countries all around the world.”
McGurk said that “about 34 countries now, around the world and it is quite significant, have arrested foreign fighters or broken up cells and networks.”
He acknowledged that ISIS grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, “an enemy that we knew very well, but they are better in every respect.”
“They’re better manned, they’re better funded, they’re better resourced, they’re better fighters, and of course, we are working with indigenous forces on the ground to do the fighting on the ground because we feel very strongly that that is the longer-term solution.”
The State Department is hosting ambassadors from the anti-ISIS coalition on Monday; McGurk said the U.S. plans to “address them in some detail about our plans going forward.” Vice President Joe Biden will also speak.
Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently discussed whether the Turks would “take on their side of the border,” the envoy said.
“But the Turks have made clear to us they are all in on this effort. They have been, I think, from the moment that we opened the Incirlik Airbase Agreement and started flying out of there,” McGurk added.