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U.S. Weighs Its Option Dealing With Islamist Militants


Let's dive more deeply now into the fight against the so called, Islamic State. As we've been hearing the U.S. is weighing its options after the group that controls part of Iraq and Syria released its video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley. NPR's Deb Amos has spent years covering the regions spreading wars, she's on the line. Deborah, good morning.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Do you sense that Foley's killing actually changed the situation here? Especially what the U.S. can do and what the U.S. is willing to do.

AMOS: I think that gruesome beheadings certainly raised the conversation and it moved the issue beyond the Beltway. You're seeing editorials across the country. ISIS is trending as they say on Twitter.

INSKEEP: ISIS, of course we're talking about the other name of this group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, one of many names by which it's been know. The U.S. up till now though has just been using airstrikes which they say has stopped the progress of ISIS or The Islamic State, but how much can the U.S. really accomplish with airstrikes?

AMOS: The U.S. hasn't as yet said that it wants to or this policy is to defeat ISIS - the Islamic State. What it said was it will roll back. And rolling back and defeating are two very different things. Airpower can stop them and has stopped them around the Mosul dam which was a strategic capture for the Islamic State. And can help keep Erbil safe. This is the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq. But it certainly doesn't defeat ISIS, unless you take a strategy that combines going after them in Iraq and going after them in Syria which is the conversation that we are now hearing among military advisers, among President Obama's national security team.

INSKEEP: You know there was a news item over the weekend that said there was the latest U.S. airstrike and that it had destroyed a truck. That's just one airstrike, but that was the latest airstrike destroying on truck. And the first thought that came to my mind Deb Amos was that these airstrikes seem kind of minor - I mean is the U.S. doing enough and they could make a significant difference?

AMOS: You know, I think that if we actually looked at every airstrike and did a cost analysis you would say the same thing. Yes it is expensive but at the end of the day it was successful. At this moment in the region around Kurdistan, it is true that ISIS has been pushed back. So, I'm sure that there are Kurds there who are very happy about that one truck because it's part of a larger bombing campaign.

INSKEEP: Ok, so there has been some progress that the U.S. can measure there is what you're saying. But we're talking about Iraq here, let's cross the border into Syria, which we've been discussing. The Syrian army seems to have suffered seems to have suffered - air force seems to have suffered a severe defeat at the hands of the Islamic State at an airbase. What happened?

AMOS: Oh, you bet. And this is third one in the last month. This is all taking place in Raqqa Province. And this is in the Northeast of Syria. And this is the capital of the Islamic State, this is where they set up shop first. There have been three Army bases that the Syrian army still controlled. But in the last month ISIS has stormed them, took some of the soldiers inside that base, beheaded them, put those heads on display in the town of Raqqa. An even more disturbing, there are reports from ISIS itself, on their videos, that they had a drone, that you can see that they were able to get above those army bases. And put out video for that perspective. So, this has been of great shock in Damascus for the Assad regime, that they were stormed on Sunday. And you see that even Syrian state media had to admit defeat.

INSKEEP: OK, so in a few seconds here, Syria is fighting ISIS. The United States is fighting ISIS, can the U.S. effectively form an alliance with Bashar al-Assad?

AMOS: That's a tough one. And it's a political question, which the President has said again and again that this is not just a military problem it is a political one. Assad is seen, certainly among Sunnis, both in Syria and in Iraq, as a killer of Sunnis. They're going to have to turn against ISIS to make a difference.

INSKEEP: OK. Deb, thanks very much.

AMOS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Deborah Amos. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.