President Barack Obama said a new video that purports to show ISIS burning a Jordanian pilot alive in a cage is an example of how the group is ideologically “bankrupt” and “only interested in death and destruction.”
Jordanian Lt. Moath al-Kasasbeh was captured after he was forced to eject from his plane in December. A U.S. official told CNN that intelligence officials’ believe the pilot was already dead before ISIS threatened to kill him last week – so the video released Tuesday is old.
Jordan’s King Abdullah was already in Washington, and though he’s cutting his visit short, he’ll meet with Obama at the White House on Tuesday afternoon, a Jordanian embassy spokesperson told CNN.
Should the video prove authentic, “it’s just one more indication of the viciousness and barbarity of this organization. And it, I think, will redouble the vigilance and determination on the part of a global coalition to make sure that they are degraded and ultimately defeated,” Obama said Tuesday.
“It also just indicates the degree to which whatever ideology they’re operating off of, it’s bankrupt,” Obama said. “We’re here to talk about how to make people healthier and make their lives better. And this organization appears only interested in death and destruction.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) pointed to the Jordanian pilot’s execution as he criticized Obama for lacking a “strategy to defeat ISIS.”
He said that “every time we witness a new example of this brutality, it reminds us again that these people are not going away and no matter how many times you declare the war on terror over, it isn’t over until the terrorists relent.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the execution should “unite a coalition against ISIS.”
“If you let this kind of brutality dominate, whether it’s the Middle East or North Africa, whether it’s the world, just think of what the world and those areas will be like,” she said. “The brutality, I think, is unprecedented.”
Their comments came as a top intelligence official told Congress that the threat of ISIS is continuing to grow in some areas despite setbacks that U.S.-led airstrikes have delivered to the organization.
In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the group has been able to extend its reach beyond its bases in Iraq and Syria.
“With affiliates in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, the group is beginning to assemble a growing international footprint that includes ungoverned and under governed areas,” Stewart said in prepared testimony to discuss various threats emanating from around the world.
Stewart also said the numbers of foreign fighters flowing in and out of Iraq and Syria is “troubling,” as the United States expects ISIS to continue its outreach to members of the global extremist movement as a way to boost its numbers.
As the United States works to train and help build the capacity of the Iraqi security forces to eventually dislodge ISIS from Iraq, Stewart warned the Iraqis still have a long way to go.
The Iraqi Security Forces remain “unable to defend against external threats or sustain conventional military operations against internal challenges without foreign assistance,” because of poor logistics, corruption, and other problems within the force that have produced poor commanders and low morale.
Al Qaeda, and its affiliates will likely remain committed to launching attacks beyond its bases of operations, Stewart said. The Yemen based affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, considered by many officials to be the biggest threat of the al Qaeda franchise, “remains committed to attacking the West, probably by targeting commercial aviation with innovative explosives.”
Iran continues to build up its military capacity based on its policy of becoming the dominant power of the region Stewart said, with the direction of its nuclear program essentially at a political crossroads amid negotiations with the United States and other members of the international group looking to prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“The regime faces no insurmountable technical barriers to producing a nuclear weapon, making Iran’s political will the central issue,” he said.
The United States believes North Korea “continues to develop its nuclear and missile programs which pose a serious threat to the U.S. and regional allies,” Stewart said, with the regime still seeking to develop long range ballistic missiles capable of hitting the west coast of the United States.
With regard to Russia, Stewart said Moscow will likely continue its destabilizing posture toward Ukraine that will include “cyberspace operations, covert agents, regular military personnel operating as ‘volunteers’, mercenaries, para-institutional organizations, and the threat of military intervention,” he said.
Stewart also said the cyber threat directed at both United States government and private corporate cyber networks will likely continue “unabated’ in 2015.
Stewart testified alongside Mark Chandler, Acting Director for Intelligence for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon and Lt. Gen. William Mayville, Director for Operations at the Joint Staff.
Barbara Starr contributed to this report.