WASHINGTON – Though he loves “killing terrorists,” former deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka said Friday that in order to claim victory against ISIS, the U.S. needs to eliminate the caliphate’s ability to recruit jihadists.
“I love killing terrorists. It’s great, but it’s not a metric of victory,” Gorka, who was ousted from the White House in August, said at the Heritage Foundation. “You win when people no longer want to become jihadists. That’s victory. Not measuring body bags. That was a bad metric during Vietnam, and it’s not much of a better metric today.”
ISIS continues to recruit terrorists all over the world, inspiring deadly attacks everywhere from Barcelona and London to New York and California. This is made possible by recruitment leaders like Mohamad al-Arefe, a radical Saudi cleric with more than 20 million Twitter followers. Just like the Cold War, Gorka said, victory will only come with the defeat of the ideology. He described the more than 16-year war on terror as an “exquisite” game of whack-a-mole.
Gorka, who is tightly aligned with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, offered his resignation letter in August, saying that individuals representing policies intended to “Make America Great Again” had been “internally countered, systematically removed, or undermined.” The White House said that Gorka had not resigned but had been removed from his post.
During his speech, Gorka said that within 30 seconds of meeting then-candidate Donald Trump in summer 2015 he knew he could work for the New York real estate developer, calling him the “kryptonite” to political correctness.
Gorka commended Trump for his leadership in the fight against ISIS, while comparing Trump’s “strategy of annihilation” to the Obama administration’s era of “strategic patience.” The British-born official, now a Fox News national security strategist, said that Trump rightly saw the ISIS threat as a “war, not as some problem to be managed.”
With Bannon’s strategy to target the physical caliphate, Gorka said that the U.S. has eliminated the notion that ISIS is a generational threat, as characterized by the Obama administration. He cited the liberation of Mosul with Iraqi partners, which began in October 2016, and October’s fall of Raqqa, the northern Syrian city which was regarded as the operational headquarters of the caliphate; that Syrian Democratic Forces offensive began in November 2016. Just after the fall of Raqqa, ISIS was driven from the eastern Syrian town of Al-Bukamal, considered the caliphate’s only remaining stronghold in Syria.
This October, Kurdish forces reported that about 1,000 ISIS militants had surrendered to them after fleeing their last stronghold in northern Iraq.
“In the last 16 years, when did we have jihadis surrender?” Gorka asked. “The whole point of jihad is what? You die trying to kill the infidel. Why? Because then you get your 72 virgins. Then you get a short salvation. If surrendering to an infidel, you go straight to hell for that one. That tells you how much it really has moved from attrition to annihilation.”
Gorka was referring to comments in May from Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who said that the U.S. has “shifted from attrition tactics, where we shove them from one position to another in Iraq and Syria, to annihilation tactics where we surround them.”
“We wanted to make sure that in weeks, or maximum months, of coming into office, with the unleashing of our military, do the job they are trained to do, the physical caliphate would be no more, and we can actually make that statement,” Gorka said. “There is no ISIS caliphate any longer.”
Gorka also touched on the Iran nuclear deal, which the Trump administration decertified in October. Iran agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015, with promises to significantly curb operations at the country’s nuclear facilities in return for the lifting of international oil and banking sanctions. Gorka said that the nuclear deal amounts to American material support for terrorism, as it has freed up of some $150 billion in frozen funds for Iran.