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Carter on ISIS Fight: People from 'Mainstream Religion' Must Counter 'Arguments of Religious Extremists'

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told an audience at Ecole Militaire in Paris on Thursday that counterterrorism efforts face a “new reality where small organizations wield undeserved power in chaotic places.”

One of those places is Libya, which “will continue to be a challenge in the year to come.”

“As we discussed yesterday, a number of European nations including Italy have taken the lead to think through how Europe can support a new government in Libya, and the United States is prepared to support that effort,” Carter said.

The secretary was in Paris to visit with his counterpart, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and laid a wreath at the Place de La Republique in honor of the November terror attack victims.

Carter faced a crowd of about 500 military and civilian leaders to discuss plans for battling ISIS, which he labeled “a cancer that’s threatening to spread.”

“And like all cancers, you can’t cure the disease just by cutting out the tumor. You have to eliminate it wherever it has spread, and stop it from coming back. The coalition military campaign plan that unites our efforts accordingly focuses on three military objectives: one, to destroy the ISIL parent tumor in Iraq and Syria by collapsing its two power centers in Mosul and Raqqah, two, to combat the emerging metastases of the ISIL tumor worldwide, and three, to protect our nations from attack,” he said.

Carter insisted that Iraqi troops, which he said last May “lack the will” to fight ISIS, are now “proving themselves not only motivated but capable” with the recapture of Ramadi.

“As we work to destroy the parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, we must also recognize that ISIL is metastasizing in areas such as North Africa, Afghanistan, and Yemen. The threat posed by ISIL, and groups like it, is continually evolving, changing focus and shifting location,” he said. “…The United States for our part is organizing a new way to leverage the security infrastructure we’ve already established in Afghanistan, the Middle East, East Africa, and Southern Europe into a network to counter transnational and transregional threats like ISIL.”

Carter also addressed Russian aggression: “after a quarter century of respite, a new challenge to NATO from the east.”

“Now, that is something that is unfortunate, I wish wasn’t the case, but it is. And so, we need to stand strong there, too, and defend allied territory and protect countries and help them protect themselves from the kind of insidious underlining that we saw in Crimea — that was downright annexation, unheard of since the second World War,” he said. “And also, the underlining that we see in Eastern Ukraine.”

He said the U.S. had hoped “Russia would fight ISIL and join the activities of the coalition of all of the other countries that are combating ISIL…that’s not what they’re doing.”

“Right now a broader strategic cooperation is not possible because they’re headed in the wrong direction. I hope that they can be brought to head in the right direction, in which case of course we can work with them. And that would be a welcome development, but it depends on them changing a mistaken strategy,” he said.

Asked about countering Islamic extremism, Carter said “it takes people who are part of the mainstream religion to counter the arguments of religious extremists.”

“First of all, we have to eliminate their ability to exploit the Internet, which is supposed to be a tool of civilization, of human communication, human understanding, human commerce, and not be used as an instrument for evil. That is a difficult thing to do, because all of us depend upon the Internet,” he said of online jihadist recruitment. “…We, ourselves, need to get better at communicating our own campaign and our own successes, if I may say so. Because, as I indicated, we’re having some success.”