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Op-Ed: Rep. Cook: We must discuss how to prevent future terrorism havens in Iraq and Syria

U.S. Soldiers with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment fire artillery alongside Iraqi Security Forces artillery at known ISIS locations near the Iraqi-Syrian border, June 7, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Anthony Zendejas IV)
August 14, 2017

We’re approaching a turning point in the battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. With Mosul back in Iraqi control and the fight for Raqqa ramping up, we must determine our role in the region when ISIS no longer controls large cities or swaths of land. ISIS and other radical Islamic groups will continue to remain threats that we must be able to counter and defeat, but what is the best way to accomplish that considering the other political, economic and military issues in that region?  

While the ISIS caliphate took a major hit when Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul, smaller radical terrorist groups could remain entrenched within the minority Sunni communities. The presence of Shia Iranian militias in Iraq is causing some distrust among moderate Sunni areas, making it easier for extremists to find support among those same Sunnis. There is also a Kurdish minority that has fought hard against ISIS and extremism, but their place in a future Iraqi government is still unclear.  

For Syria, the fight against ISIS continues, but that’s just one battle in a long lasting civil war involving a number of factions and outside powers. The domestic list of players include the Syrian regime, Kurdish groups, ISIS and other extremist groups, as well as vetted and unvetted moderate rebels. The external players include the U.S. and coalition forces, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Hezbollah and, on occasion, Israel. When Raqqa falls, the fight with ISIS will be closer to an end, but all the other chess pieces remain.

These are simplified overviews of the dynamic situations in Iraq and Syria, but they highlight the need to discuss the future of the region. Specifically, we should ask: “What can America do to prevent allowing safe havens for terrorists?”

While these discussions take place, it’s critical that we not set an arbitrary military pullout date or limit our options based on political considerations, such as we did under the previous presidential administration. We must show we’re serious about security while not giving our enemies a timeframe to wait us out, and we should find ways to help Iraqis rebuild their infrastructure so they can utilize their natural resources. We should also push to stabilize Syria using diplomatic and economic efforts wherever possible and military power where we must, so that the bloodshed ends and the region is safe for millions to return to their homeland.  

These are incredibly challenging problems that won’t be solved overnight, but our military successes there require that we begin the discussion.

All opinion articles are the opinion of the author and not necessarily of American Military News. If you are interested in submitting an Op-Ed, please email [email protected].

Col. Paul Cook (retired) was elected to serve in the US House of Representatives in November 2012. He represents California’s 8th Congressional District, which includes the high desert communities of San Bernardino County, as well as Mono and Inyo counties. An infantry officer who served with distinction in the United States Marine Corps and a veteran of the Vietnam War, Col. Cook’s military career spanned 26 years. His actions in combat earned him a number of honors, including two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star Medal with a V for valor. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1992 as a colonel. Prior to his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, Col. Cook represented the 65th Assembly District for six years in the California State Legislature and served on the Yucca Valley Town Council. In the U.S. House of Representatives, Cook is a member of the Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Natural Resources committees. He lives in Yucca Valley with his wife, Jeanne.