Islamic State militants are "incredible fighters" who are merely "tactically withdrawing" in the face of fierce U.S. airstrikes, U.S. military officials say, according to a report by ABC News
ISIS fighters rampaging through Iraq are a much more formidable enemy than the one faced by U.S. troops who knew them as "al-Qaida in Iraq" during Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 to 2011, officials told ABC News.
"These guys aren't just bugging out, they're tactically withdrawing," one unnamed official told ABC News. "Very professional, well trained, motivated and equipped. They operate like a state with a military. These aren't the same guys we fought in OIF, who would just scatter when you dropped a bomb near them."
ISIS plans to establish its "Islamic caliphate" from northern Syria across the western and northern deserts of Iraq – and has the money and military hardware to do it, ABC News reports.
"They tried to push out as far as they thought they could and were fully prepared to pull back a little bit when we beat them back with airstrikes around Irbil, and they were fine with that, and ready to hold all of the ground they have now," the official told ABC News.
A second U.S. official told ABC: "They're incredible fighters. ISIS teams in many places use special operations [tactics, techniques and procedures]."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
conceded as much last week, calling ISIS "beyond anything we've seen."
One unnamed official told ABC News that ISIS probably learned its sophisticated military methods from the Chechens. But many military and intelligence officials are eager to fight ISIS in combat operations.
"ISIS and their kind must be destroyed," a senior counter-terrorism official told ABC News after journalist James Foley was beheaded.
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said last week that President Barack Obama is focused on protecting U.S. lives, "containing" ISIS where it is and supporting advances by Iraqi and Kurdish forces, ABC News reported.
"We have to be clear that this is a deeply rooted organization . . . It is going to take time, a long time, to fully evict them from the communities where they operate," he said. "In the long term, we'll be working with our partners to defeat this organization."
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