By Senator Joni Ernst, guest columnist
November 4th, 2016
As the United States supports our allies and continues the fight for Mosul, we cannot ignore where ISIS will spread next. I am not alone in my fears that key leaders escaped the city before the major assault began — especially considering the advance warning about our battle plans. More importantly, should we and our allies be successful in Mosul, and I have the utmost faith that we will be, I fear ISIS will continue retreating to its al Qaeda roots.
In the past, terrorist groups like al Qaeda have used the ability to expand globally as a way to increase their deadly and horrific acts of terror.
ISIS started with a different approach. Their self-proclaimed caliphate, a decreasing area of ISIS-held territory covering Iraq and Syria, has given the administration and Operation Inherent Resolve a clearer area of operations. This is a plot of land we appear to be using to measure our success.
Yet, using this new perspective is blinding us to the changing tactics and the spread of our Islamic extremist enemy. As the President prepares to travel to Peru this month, I want to be sure he goes there with the intent to address the growing threat of Islamic extremism in Latin America. ISIS’s increased use of messaging in Spanish and Portuguese, and its calls for terror in Latin America should be a red flag to the administration.
In August, before President Obama’s final trip to Asia, I criticized his failure to focus on the spread of ISIS in Southeast Asia. His administration agreed with me that ISIS in the region was an issue, and Secretary of Defense Carter later discussed some steps forward for counterterrorism efforts with defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
But, unfortunately, Southeast Asia is not the only region where the administration is falling short in their attempt to counter ISIS.
A Brazilian extremist group, Ansar al-Khilafah Brazil, pledging allegiance to ISIS shortly before the Olympic Games this year, should have encouraged a continued collaboration with our allies.
Yet, while the Olympics put a conversation about ISIS in motion, it appears the discussion of next steps left town with the Olympic torch.
This conversation is important because Latin America presents a unique situation for radicalized Islamic extremists.
The decades of violence in countries like Colombia, Mexico and Peru, coupled with instability and funding through illicit activity throughout the region, presents an area in which extremist groups could thrive.
Trinidad and Tobago has been estimated to have over 100 individuals depart its small region for the Middle East to support ISIS. And even Jamaica has had its issues with radicalization.
The tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay has long been known to be a fundraising and training hub for radicalized individuals. Indeed, organizations like Hezbollah and al Qaeda have worked to utilize it.
These countries are not the far-off lands of the Middle East and Asia — they are right here in our own hemisphere, and we should take note because it is an issue that can directly impact us here at home.
Both our current and previous commanders of US Southern Command have raised the issue of radicalized extremists utilizing drug trafficking routes from Latin America to enter our country.
Just as the administration underestimated the rise of ISIS in the Middle East, I fear their inability to see the bigger picture will only lead them to repeat mistakes in Latin America as well.
A more comprehensive strategy means partnering with and supporting our allies in Latin America to counter a common enemy. Given Panama is the only Latin American country to join the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (ISIS), it is my hope the President actively encourages more to join the fight during his trip next month.
As we continue to strike ISIS in its self-proclaimed caliphate and the assault wages forward on Mosul, our enemy is spreading, and it is changing its tactics. It is time the administration wakes up, recognizes that and changes their strategy accordingly.