TIME Iraq

The Enemy of My Enemy: Iran Arms Kurds in Fight Against ISIS

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter stands guard at the Bakirta frontline near the town of Makhmur, south of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan on Aug. 27, 2014.
A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter stands guard at the Bakirta frontline near the town of Makhmur, south of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan on Aug. 27, 2014. Youssef Boudlal—Reuters

As Tehran sends arms to aid forces in Iraqi Kurdistan, some question its motives

When Iran’s foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif popped into Erbil yesterday, he announced Iran had joined—or perhaps beat— the U.S. in providing new weapons to Kurdish forces.

For months, the Kurds have been lobbying the international community for better weapons to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS). The U.S., France, Germany, among others, have pledged military support, but that has come slowly.

Now, it seems Iran beat them to the punch. “We asked for weapons and Iran was the first country to provide us with weapons and ammunition,” said Kurdish President Massoud Barzani in a press conference. That Iran apparently got weapons to the Kurds more quickly than the U.S. may be because of Tehran’s strategic interests in arresting the march of ISIS.

“Iran knows that if they don’t fight ISIS in Iraq today, they will have to fight them in Iran tomorrow,” said Hiwa Osman, an analyst and writer based in Erbil. The expansionist Sunni militants have clawed their way across Syria and Iraq, coming within 20 miles of the Iranian border.

Indeed, Tehran claimed to have had a direct hand in training Kurdish peshmerga. “When ISIS attacked Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurdish officials requested help from Iran, The Islamic Republic of Iran not only gave them guidance, but also organized and prepared their forces,” Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazl told Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency.

Zarif, however, denied there had ever been Iranian boots on the ground, despite numerous reports to the contrary. “We do not have soldiers in Iraq, we don’t intend to send soldiers to Iraq,” he said, during his Erbil visit.

Kurdish officials, too, said Iran had merely provided material help. “We haven’t invited them to govern here, we just asked them for support,” said Sadi Ahmed Pira, a politburo member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Pira says so far they have just received light arms from Iran and that this support is welcomed and needed for the fight against the militants.

But some Kurds are skeptical about Iranian support. A man calling himself Hamid, an Iranian Kurd from near the border who has been living in Erbil for the last four years, says his people have no future in Iran. Iran has around 7 million Kurds within its borders and Tehran is uneasy about their desire for independence.

Hamid refused to give his real name, fearing repercussions from the Iranian government. “In Iran they just oppress us,” he said. “They don’t love the Kurdish people.”

On the streets of Erbil, some worry Iran is sending arms simply to boost its influence here and in the region, even at the cost of exacerbating Iraq’s sectarian divisions. “They are not doing this to support the Kurds or to defeat ISIS. Iran is sending weapons to make themselves stronger,” said Serdar Akgul, a 31-year-old Kurdish warehouse manager in Erbil, who believes Iran has used the conflict with ISIS to its advantage in Iraq. “This is Iran finding a way to benefit from all this bloodshed. And this going to badly impact the sectarian division.”

Baghdad may also view a stronger Kurdish alliance with Iran as a threat. The Kurds’ long-term objective is a Kurdistan independent of Iraq, and it looks as if they will come out of the conflict better armed, with stronger international influence and recognition than before.

Although the peshmerga initially faltered in combat with ISIS, they have proved themselves the most capable army in Iraq — though that is barely an achievement — and now see themselves as filling a vacuum left by the rapidly dwindling Iraqi forces. “If Baghdad is unable to provide security then they will have to tolerate the international community giving us the arms to do it,” said Pira.

Kurdistan already has strong economic relations with Iran and the Kurds have so far managed to juggle their alliance with the U.S., with close ties with their Iranian neighbors. And the U.S. now finds itself on the same side as another regional foe against ISIS, just as it has with Syria. American and Iranian weapons will be firing side-by-side in the hands of Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

“Our talks with the Americans is limited to the nuclear issue,” said Zairf in Erbil. “But we are prepared to talk at the international level with other countries and with the international community as a whole with regard to what is needed to be done in Iraq and in Syria and in this region.”

That may trouble the U.S. but Osman, the analyst, says that regional bonds are shifting. The regional and international dynamics are moving to more “natural” alliances than historic ones, he says. “The last alliance that ISIS will eventually break is the Gulf and America alliance. The Gulf states, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and others, are all remaining silent on the crimes of ISIS, just watching,” he said. These Sunni Gulf Arab states have long been some of the U.S.’s strongest regional allies against the likes of Syria and Iran, but those bonds are now being strained. “ISIS has created a new reality in the Middle East.”

With reporting by Kay Armin Serjoie

TIME Iraq

The Rise of ISIS Sows Mistrust Between Kurds and Sunni Arabs

A Kurdish peshmerga soldier looks out over the town of Makhmour from defensive positions, Aug. 11, 2014.
A Kurdish peshmerga soldier looks out over the town of Makhmour from defensive positions, Aug. 11, 2014. Sebastian Meyer—Corbis

While some Sunni Arabs have fought alongside the militants in Iraqi Kurdistan, others are being displaced by Kurds eager to take control of disputed regions

In his home in a village south of Erbil, Soran Sabir shows a video he took of what he says are two dead Islamist fighters.

“That is Saleh,” he says, pointing to the body of a young Arab man lying on the ground surrounded by Kurdish fighters. In this mixed Kurdish-Arab area, relations between the two groups had been relatively good in recent years. Sabir says Saleh was a good costumer, frequently visiting his motorcycle repair shop, and he considered him a friend. In June, when the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) took Mosul, Saleh disappeared, said Sabir. The next time he saw him was when Kurdish fighters were battling ISIS to take back Makhmour. They brought the bodies of two militants back. One was Saleh.

“I was very happy to see him dead,” said Soran. What sense does it make, he continued, for someone like Saleh to support “some stranger from Afghanistan who came here to fight” — a reference to the large number of foreign jihadis fighting with ISIS in Iraq — and attack his own neighbors?

The fight against ISIS in villages like Makhmour where Kurdish and Sunni Arabs live side by side has raised tensions between the two groups. Kurds here suspect the Arab residents of co-operating with the militants, who have vowed to create an Islamic caliphate in the broad stretch of land they now occupy over Iraq and Syria.

Those suspicions are not unwarranted, said Gareth Stansfield, a professor of Middle East politics at the University of Exeter. “As the Kurds have become more powerful, the tribes have had to decide if they are going to work with the Kurds or oppose them…now that they’ve got the opportunity to stand up to the Kurds, many of them are doing it.”

But the Kurds are standing up right back. After the Kurdish peshmerga retook the area after ISIS left, Arab residents were stopped from returning to their homes. Kurdish officials say the Arabs aren’t to be trusted, and that the mixed villages actually belong to Erbil. “They occupied our lands for 50 years, and then on such a bad day, they stab us in the back,” said Tariq Sarmami, a senior media advisor of the Kurdistan Parliament in Erbil. “That’s what creates this reaction.”

Arabs and Kurds have always shared the villages of Makhmour, but under Saddam Hussein more Arabs were resettled to these areas as part of his Arabization policies, in an attempt to alter the balance of demographics in mixed areas so that Baghdad could stake claim to the contested regions. When Saddam was ousted in 2003, a wave of Kurds returned to the villages and the current demographics are now contested.

Makhmour is one of the disputed areas outlined in section 140 of Iraq’s constitution, which mandates a referendum on whether the area should join the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, or remain under the control of Baghdad. That vote hasn’t yet been held. In the meanwhile, the residents have been living under two separate administrations; the national government in Baghdad, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Kurdish Erbil, which has been steadily making an administrative creep on the territory it sees as belonging to them.

“The Kurdification, or re-Kurdification has actually been an open policy of the KRG since 2003 onwards,” said Stansfield. The Kurds paid compensation to some Arab families to leave contested areas, but many chose to stay, particularly those from tribes that resided here long before Saddam’s Arabization policies. “There are definitely some Arabs that were brought there by the government of Iraq, but there are others that have their roots there,” said Stansfield.

Now, ISIS’s march through the region has allowed Kurdification to intensify. In a junction between Makhmour and Erbil, Garib Nihayet Ojel sits on the side of the road with his family, his daughter-in-law breastfeeding an infant in the sweltering heat. Ojel, an Arab from Tel-Abta, a village between Makhmour and Mosul, is trying to reach Makhmour, with the promise of work with a Kurdish farmer there.

“We can’t go back home,” said Ojel, who said he is looking for a safe place to take his family. “We escaped ISIS.”

The Kurds don’t see Ojel and his family as refugees of a war, but as a potential threat. “Tell them, Arab people are not allowed to enter these provinces,” said an officer of the Asayish, the Kurdish intelligence, stopping in the junction flanked with peshmerga soldiers. “It’s prohibited for them.”

“We are not fighters, we are not combatants, we are just families. We just want to find a safe place,” said Ojel’s wife. The officer accuses them of spying for ISIS. While officials say there are procedures in place to determine genuine threats, there seems to be little due process here.

The fear among Arabs now is that others like Ojel will never be allowed back to their villages, creating de-facto Kurdish control over the productive farm lands south of Erbil. “We should expect that the situation in the disputed territories will remain disputed even if the Kurds say that it’s Kurdish,” said Stansfield. “This is going to be a very significant flash point for some years to come.”

And for the Kurds, it’s not just these mixed villages that pose a threat to their demographics. Of the flood of Iraqi refugees who have come to Kurdish cities such as Erbil since fighting between ISIS and Iraqi national and Kurdish forces worsened, Christians have been warmly welcomed. Sunni Arabs, however, are often restricted to camps on the outskirts, eyed with suspicion by local Kurds.

“We regret taking them,” said Sarmami, sitting in his office in the Kurdish Parliament. “We regret that we accepted all these Arabs here. We accept them without having any plans.”

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Warns of Extended Campaign Against ISIS

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks about veterans issues at the American Legion’s 96th National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. Charles Dharapak—AP

The President makes his first public comments on the U.S. military campaign in Iraq since returning from vacation

President Barack Obama pledged Tuesday that the United States would not rest until it brought to justice the killer of American journalist James Foley at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“Rooting out a cancer like [ISIS] won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” Obama told an audience of veterans and their families at the American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. a week after the extremist group released a video showing the graphic execution of Foley by an ISIS fighter. These were Obama’s first public comments on the conflict since returning from vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.

“Our message to anyone who harms our people is simple. America does not forget, our reach is long, we are patient, justice will be done,” Obama said, referencing Foley’s killing. “We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans to go after those who harm Americans. And we’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland.”

As he weighs expanding the fight against ISIS into Syria, Obama warned that “history teaches us of the dangers of overreaching and spreading ourselves too thin and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that Obama has yet to decide whether to authorize the expansion of the weeks-long American air campaign in Iraq against the group.

Obama said that the strikes against ISIS have been limited to protecting U.S. forces and diplomats in Iraq, reaffirming that U.S. troops would not be sent back on the ground beyond an advisory capacity.

“Let me say it again: American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq,” he said. “We’ll not allow the United States to be dragged back into another ground war in Iraq because, ultimately, it is up to the Iraqis to bridge their differences and secure themselves.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 26

1. “This is a reflection of long-standing and growing inequalities of access to basic systems of healthcare delivery.” –Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer on the Ebola outbreak.

By Democracy Now!

2. Despite commitments to the contrary, elite colleges are still failing to bring poorer students into the fold.

By Richard Pérez-Peña in the New York Times

3. #ISISMediaBlackout: Tuning out Islamist rhetoric and taking out their powerful propaganda weapon.

By Nancy Messieh at the Atlantic Council

4. What makes income inequality so pernicious? The shocking odds against moving up the income ladder for some Americans.

By Richard Reeves at the Brookings Institution

5. The specter of Iraq’s looming collapse is inflaming concerns about Afghanistan’s electoral crisis. But the two countries are very different.

By The Editors of Bloomberg View

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Iraq

Car Bombing Kills at Least 11 People in Baghdad

No one has claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, which bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda-inspired militants

(BAGHDAD) — A parked car bomb exploded on Tuesday in a busy Shiite area in eastern Baghdad, killingat least 11 people, officials said, the latest in a series of attacks to shake the Iraqi capital as the Shiite-led government struggles to dislodge Sunni militants from areas in the country’s west and north.

The explosives-laden car went off during the morning rush hour in the main commercial area of the NewBaghdad district It was parked close to outdoor pet and vegetable markets and a traffic police office, a police officer said.

The attack killed at least 11 and wounded 31, he added. A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.

The bombing came a day after a wave of attacks targeted Shiite areas in several cities, including Baghdad, killing at least 58 people. Among them were 15 worshippers who died in a suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in the same New Baghdad neighborhood where Tuesday’s car bomb struck.

No one has claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, which bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda-inspired militants.

Iraq has faced a growing Sunni insurgency since early this year as the Islamic State, an al-Qaeda-breakaway group, and allied militants have taken over areas in the country’s west and north. The crisis is Iraq’s worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The Islamic State has captured large swaths of territory in western and northern Iraq in a lightning offensive earlier this year.

The blitz stunned Iraqi security forces and the military, which melted away and withdrew as the Islamic State in June overran the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit, as well as small towns and villages on their path.

Since then, tens of thousands of Iraqis, including members of Christian and other minorities, have been forced from their homes and displaced, while the Islamic State has carved out a self-styled caliphate in the large area straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border that it now controls.

Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj contributed to this report

TIME Syria

White House: ISIS Not Planning to Attack U.S. Homeland — Yet

Josh Earnest
White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

Hundreds of Westerners are joining the fight in Iraq and Syria, but the U.S. has found no evidence of a plot against the homeland over SIS

The U.S. government has no evidence of a current plot by fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) to attack the U.S. homeland, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.

“We are concerned about the threat that is posed by [ISIS], but it is the assessment, as stated by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the intelligence community, that there currently is not an active plot under way to attack the U.S. homeland,” Earnest told reporters.

Nonetheless, concerns that ISIS fighters with the passports of Western countries could attack Europe or the U.S. has Western governments on heightened alert. Some U.S. lawmakers are calling for a revision of the visa-waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 countries — mostly Europeans and other Western allies — to enter the U.S. and stay for 90 days without a visa. “They can bring … what they’ve learned about bombmaking and about assassinations with them here at home,” said House Armed Services Committee vice chairman Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican, on CNN on Sunday.

Approximately 12,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria from at least 50 countries, said Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department. Several dozen are suspected to hold U.S. passports, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in July.

Britain estimates that more than 500 people linked to the U.K. have traveled to Syria since the uprising began. “Obviously, it’s very difficult to give precise numbers on this,” said Jessica Jennings, a spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. The French Ministry of Interior has estimated that roughly 900 French citizens are currently waging jihad in Syria, Iraq and Libya. And German intelligence fears nearly 300 German nationals have traveled to Syria.

“One of the concerns is that we want to make sure that we confront this threat before it gets worse, before they’re able to establish a safe haven in which they could build a larger international network and conceive of a broader conspiracy that would allow them to carry out a more — a broader, more violent catastrophic attack,” Earnest said.

ISIS extremists “are one plane ticket away from U.S. shores,” House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, adding that an attack against the U.S. “is a very real threat.” The violence in Syria has already spread to Europe. In May, a shooting at a Jewish museum in Brussels left three dead. Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old Frenchman who traveled to Syria in 2013 to join the fighting, allegedly carried out that attack.

Also in May, 22-year-old Moner Mohammad Abusalha, from West Palm Beach, Fla., drove a truck laden with explosives into a government position in northern Syria, becoming the first American suicide bomber in the three-year-old war.

A month earlier, 19-year-old Shannon Maureen Conley was arrested at the Denver airport en route to Adana, Turkey, less than 100 miles from the Syrian border. Conley was detained after she told Colorado police she planned to go overseas and wage jihad. She was hoping to marry a 32-year-old Tunisian man in Syria whom she met on the Internet, according to the charges filed against her.

In June, Texan Michael Wolfe, was arrested at the Houston airport preparing to fly to Turkey. He told agents he planned to use a $5,000 federal tax refund to move his wife and two kids to Turkey and then join the fighting in Syria.

In July, a 20-year-old man was stopped by FBI agents at the Orange County airport in California as he tried to board a flight to Turkey en route to Syria. Adam Dandach, also known as Fadi Fadi Dandach, told agents that he would kill U.S. soldiers if ISIS asked him. Dandach had applied for an expedited passport replacement after his mother had hidden his original in December to prevent him from joining ISIS.

Holder in July called on other Western countries to join the U.S. in criminalizing “preparatory acts of terrorism” like providing “material support” to terrorist groups, the legal justification that the U.S. has used to detain suspected American ISIS followers. Holder also called for greater use of undercover agents to infiltrate Western ISIS groups, asked that allies do a better job of sharing traveler information and recommended that governments invest more in counterradicalization programs.

Some countries have already taken steps to stem the flow. The British Parliament passed a law in May that tightened punishments for joining or helping terrorist groups. Since then, 20 British citizens have been stripped of their citizenship and at least 40 people have been arrested on charges of helping Syrian militant groups.

France, which has passed a legislation banning “preparatory acts of terrorism,” is considering blocking websites that recruit jihadists, and a legislation that empowers the police to stop French citizens from traveling abroad. Norway, which estimates that 40 to 50 of its citizens have traveled to Syria, has also passed a “preparatory act of terrorism” law and made the first arrest under that law in February.

— With reporting by Zeke Miller

TIME Iraq

ISIS Lays Siege to Iraqi Turkmen Village

IRAQ-UNREST-AMERLI
An Iraqi Turkmen Shi‘ite fighter holds a position on Aug. 4, 2014 in Amirli, Iraq Ali Al-Bayati—AFP/Getty Images

The Turkmen of Amirli, Iraq, have been fending off Islamist fighters for months

In June, when fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) attacked the Iraqi village of Amirli, 45-year-old teacher Qasim Jawad Hussein was one of hundreds of villagers who rushed to pick up their weapons to fight alongside police and other Shi’ite Turkmen villagers as they clashed with the Sunni extremists.

“We tried to leave the village and we saw [ISIS'] Hummers and their black flags. We were taken by surprise,” said Hussein on a crackly cell phone from Amirli, which remains under siege. “Then I heard fire from the next village over. They were fighting with ISIS. So we went back to get our guns.”

But their collection of aging Soviet rifles has been no match for ISIS’ looted arsenal of American weapons and armored vehicles. Amirli has been under siege for more than two months, and supplies are dwindling.

“We are asking Muslims, Christians, anyone — what we really need is milk for the children,” said Hussein.

Hussein said the militants are just few kilometers from the village, and the residents have organized watches of 200 men each working in shifts, fearing that the militants will storm Amirli.

“The situation of the people in Amirli is desperate and demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens,” the U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement Saturday.

The Turkmen, who have linguistic and cultural ties to Turkey, have lived in northern Iraq for centuries and are both Shi‘ite and Sunni Muslims. They stake claim to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and populate villages throughout the Kirkuk governorate and further south. In June, many of those villages came under attack by ISIS. Residents told troubling stories of their own Arab neighbors turning on them.

“For two months, ISIS has targeted the Turkmen areas, starting with Tal Afar, Mosul, Tuz Khormato and now Amirli. So I’m worried for the future of the Turkmen people,” said Ali Mehdi, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Turkmen Front, a political organization that seeks to represent the interests of the Turkmen minority in Iraq.

The fear now is that Turkmen residents of Amirli will suffer the same fate as the Yezidis of Sinjar, a minority religious group in Iraq who recently fled to a mountaintop in fear of ISIS fighters, creating a potential humanitarian catastrophe before international efforts were launched to come to their aid. As Shi‘ite Muslims, Amirli’s Turkmen are seen as apostates by ISIS militants, who practice a strict — some say distorted — version of Sunni Islam. Like all those who don’t practice ISIS’ version of the faith, the Shi‘ite Turkmen are a target, and as a small and unique minority, they are particularly vulnerable. Some Iraqi Shi‘ite militias have said they will mobilize to help Amirli, but if the militias do try to rescue the residents of Amirli, they will likely be no match for ISIS. On top of that, most of the Shi‘ite militias are Arab, not Turkmen, and are organized to protect their own neighborhoods, leaving the Turkmen largely on their own.

“Shi‘ite militias are organized as local defense forces. Not like ISIS, which is one coherent military organization. There’s one guy at the top” of ISIS, says Christopher Harmer, a senior analyst with the Washington, D.C.–based Institute for the Study of War, who served several tours with the U.S. Army in Iraq.

“Is it possible that the Shi’ite militia could go up there and try a rescue operation, yeah, sure, but the fact is that if the Shi‘ite militia went head-to-head with ISIS, they would get crushed. And I think they know that,” said Harmer.

Both Mehdi and Hussein are calling on the U.S. to intervene. However, as of yet, there have been no air strikes like those carried out by American warplanes in Sinjar. Those strikes allowed local Kurdish forces to open a corridor, allowing many Yezidis to escape.

“Why didn’t the U.S. do anything for this village? Why does the U.S. Air Force go to [the] Mosul Dam, Erbil, but they don’t come here?,” asked Mehdi. “That makes us think the U.S. doesn’t care about the Turkmen.”

But the Americans also have a long-standing relationship with the Kurdish forces, which operated around Sinjar, and it would be difficult for U.S. Special Forces to coordinate with Shi‘ite militias, some of which were sometimes lined up against American forces during the U.S. occupation of Iraq. On top of that, the plight of the Shi‘ite Turkmen may simply not have the appeal of the Yezidis, whose little-known faith and desperate isolation on a besieged mountaintop sparked broad sympathy and interest. Harmer says that could change with the U.N.’s recent statements, but it would be a tough decision for Washington to make.

“America took quite a while to decide to intervene [with ISIS]. And once we decided to intervene, we decided to intervene in Sinjar. I think there was sort of this feeling that these are such a unique religious minority,” said Harmer. The U.S. has now hit ISIS across northern Iraq, focusing on the area around the Mosul Dam. “With the Shi‘ites, it just gets lost in the Sunni-Shi‘ite conflict. There’s nothing unique about ISIS targeting a Shi‘ite village.”

TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. Weighs Military Action Against ISIS in Syria

"If you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you wherever you are"

The U.S. is open to the possibility of military action against Islamist militants in Syria, a top Obama Administration official said Friday, warning that the U.S. will “do what is necessary to protect Americans.”

“We’ve made very clear time and again that if you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you wherever you are,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters. “And that’s what’s going to guide our planning in the days to come.”

President Barack Obama has resisted pressure from both outside and inside his Administration to take a more muscular approach in Syria, where a bloody civil war has claimed 191,000 lives in recent years, according to a new U.N. estimate Friday. But the emergence of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which released a graphic video on Tuesday depicting the beheading of American journalist James Foley, has raised the stakes — and has seemingly made American officials, already engaged in targeted military action in Iraq, more willing to consider doing so on the other side of the border.

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that any strategy against ISIS would have to include action against militants in Syria, and Rhodes didn’t disagree with that assertion Friday.

“Well, we certainly agree that any strategy to deal with the [ISIS] organization has to deal with both sides of the border, Iraq and Syria,” Rhodes said. “The strategy that we are already undertaking does address that in the sense that we are providing training and equipping and assistance to the Iraqi security forces and Kurdish security forces who are fighting them on the ground in Iraq.

“We are also providing support and military assistance to the moderate Syrian opposition,” he added. “What we would like to see is those efforts squeeze the space where [ISIS] operates.”

Rhodes cautioned that no decisions have been made.

“I don’t want to get ahead of decisions the President hasn’t been presented with, specific military options outside of those carrying out the current missions in Iraq,” he said. “But we would certainly look at what is necessary in the long term to make sure we’re protecting Americans.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 22

1. A stacked deck: reform the modern fee-based system of criminal justice that has pushed poor communities to the brink.

By Alex Tabarrok in Marginal Revolution

2. Real political change in Iraq – and a strong regional partnership – is the only way to defeat ISIS.

By Michael Breen in US News and World Report

3. To avoid the next Ferguson and address the nation’s systemic racism, America needs black leaders to take a stand together.

By Bob Herbert in Jacobin

4. With their educations on the line, smartphones for teenagers are a critical tool for success.

By John Doerr in the Wall Street Journal

5. To solve the riddle of women turning to extremist violence, we must address the security issues that deeply impact their lives.

By Jane Harman in CNN

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Pictures of the Week

Pictures of the Week: Aug. 15 – Aug. 22

From ongoing unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and the killing of Hamas leaders in Gaza to Pope Francis’ visit to South Korea and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

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