When I travel throughout our district and meet with the people I represent, every county and town has a different set of issues they want to discuss, depending on their local industries, businesses, schools, etc. But there is one topic that I am always asked about, no matter where I am – our national security.
The recent ISIS-inspired terrorist attack in Garland, Texas brought this issue much closer to home than any of us are comfortable with. Due to the diligence and hard work of our military and intelligence agencies, we haven’t seen a large-scale terrorist attack on our homeland since September 11, 2001. But our enemy has adapted its methods and is now using a digital network to radicalize individuals thousands of miles away from any ISIS camp. If we’re going to defeat our enemy, we have to adapt as well.
Reports on the news describe young people of all races, genders and socio-economic status leaving their families behind in order to travel to the Middle East to fight along-side the Islamic State. We estimate that there are approximately 20,000 Westerners who have slipped into Syria to join ISIS – perhaps even more. In early May, I traveled with fellow members of the Congressional Task Force on Foreign Fighters to Israel, Iraq, Turkey and Germany in order to learn more about how these people are making it from Europe to Syria and Iraq, and how we can stop them. And even more importantly, we looked for ways to stop these radicalized fighters from traveling back to their home country with the intent of carrying out a terrorist attack in the name of ISIS.
My trip taught me that there is more work to be done by both our allies and our own nation. Though our government has provided lists that contain the names of thousands of potential terrorists, we learned that our European partners are not comparing the names of travelers to these lists. This is a serious security gap that must be closed. I pray that it doesn’t take an attack on their own soil before they see that as well.
Our own government needs to step up its use of the intelligence gathered in order to find and destroy ISIS. Last week’s U.S. Special Forces attack that led to the death of ISIS commander Abu Sayyaf is exactly what we need more of. My hope is that the success of this operation will lead to similar raids that allow us to gain valuable intelligence in order to dismantle their network. Combined with U.S. air strikes and our efforts to train and equip our regional partners, we can keep taking the fight to ISIS where they live.
We’re also taking a serious look at how to combat ISIS where their efforts have been most startling and successful – via platforms such as YouTube and Twitter. When I was working to stop al-Qa’ida as an undercover officer in the CIA, our enemy was very limited and unsophisticated in their struggle to spread their propaganda and recruit new fighters. ISIS has taken a 21st Century approach, spreading their digital tentacles throughout the western world and into the minds of our young people, trying to convince them that adventure awaits them if they will join the battle. What they really face is certain death, as these new recruits are often sent to the front of the battle lines. The enemy’s efforts on this front must be countered and ultimately, shut down.
The fight against ISIS is extraordinarily complicated, but I have no doubt that our country has the wherewithal to win. We have the best trained and well-equipped Special Forces in the world, and our Intelligence community is second to none. What we are missing is decisive leadership from Washington which will utilize our superior resources to set our enemy on their heels. It’s my hope that our most recent victory is a sign that we’ve turned the corner and we are ready to do what it takes to deter and destroy ISIS.
About the Author: A former undercover CIA officer, small business owner and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.