TIME Military

Why Navy SEALs Are Supposed to Keep Their Mouths Shut

Former Navy SEAL Rob O'Neill Who Killed Osama bin Laden Speaks At Chamber of Commerce
Robert O'Neill, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, speaks at the "Best of Blount" Chamber of Commerce awards ceremony at the Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville, Tennessee, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 6. Luke Sharrett—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Those who brag about killing bin Laden erode the support the SEALs will need for their next mission

Robert O’Neill may have fired the shot that killed Osama bin Laden, but he was merely the triggerman. The U.S. and members of its military—thousands of them—killed the 9/11 mastermind. The fact is that O’Neill and those telling his story seem to miss that point.

There is no “I” in “team,” coaches and military commanders are fond of saying. But that rule apparently applies less and less if you’re at the “tip of the spear” like the Navy SEALs who allegedly killed Osama bin Laden in his lair in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011.

This week, O’Neill, an ex-member of SEAL Team 6, is slated to discuss his “kill shot” to bin Laden’s forehead with Fox News. His tale comes nearly two years after a colleague, Matt Bissonnette, also a former member of SEAL Team 6, wrote a book, No Easy Day, about the raid under the pen name Mark Owen. Both violated non-disclosure agreements they signed as members of the Navy’s most elite special-operations force.

“These things have to be kept quiet for a number of reasons,” Don Mann, a former SEAL and author of Inside SEAL Team Six, said Sunday. “Talking out like this goes against the fabric of our community.” But Mann cuts O’Neill some slack: first of all, the government made it clear, shortly after bin Laden’s death, that SEAL Team 6 was responsible (“To me, that’s the bigger problem,” Mann says). Then Bissonnette took too much credit for his role, Mann believes.

But O’Neill’s and Bissonnette’s decisions to go public with their role violates the SEALs’ tenets and irritates many in the military. These SEALs, in the eyes of the public, become heroes once their stories are told. But the action that warrants such acclaim has been built on the backs, boots and blood of thousands of anonymous troops (not to mention Pentagon civilians). An untold number of them played critical roles in the hunt for bin Laden; remove any one from the chain of success and the mission could have failed, with the loss of O’Neill, Bissonnette and the other SEALs who participated in the raid.

As word of O’Neill’s impending public victory lap began to leak out, SEAL leaders issued a memo trying to explain why it was wrong. “Any real credit to be rendered is about the incredible focus, commitment, and teamwork of this diverse network and the years of hard work undertaken with little individual public credit,” wrote Rear Admiral Brian Losey, commander Naval Special Warfare Command—home of the SEALs—and Force Master Chief Michael Magaraci, the SEALs’ top enlisted man. “It is the nature of our profession.” They reminded SEALS of a key element of their ethos: “I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.”

Such a notion seems almost quaint in today’s self-centered, media-saturated culture. O’Neill’s words in the Washington Post (“I watched him take his last breaths”) seem more screenplay than reality, tainted with a sense of gloating that rarely is becoming in anyone wearing a U.S. military uniform. It is the selfless nature of American troops that makes their work honorable.

Both the public and the press seemingly relish identifying such SEALs, and glorifying their exploits, without care for what may be lost in the transaction.

If fame, and the fortune it can bring, become part of the allure of signing up with U.S. Special Operations Command, the men and women who actually make those missions possible are going to sour on their private sacrifice. The net result will be a less-capable force.

“We live in a democracy where the public has a real desire to know information,” Mann fears. “But we also live in a very dangerous world where military secrets need to be preserved for the safety of our military personnel and, ultimately, the safety of those they protect.”

The first secret worth preserving are the identities of those who carry out such missions.

Read next: Revealed: The Navy SEAL Who Killed bin Laden

TIME National Security

Revealed: The Navy SEAL Who Killed bin Laden

Former SEALs preemptively revealed his name in protest of his decision to come forward

The identity of the Navy SEAL who shot and killed Osama bin Laden was a closely held secret until Thursday, when a site operated by former SEALs disclosed his name.

Robert O’Neill, a 38-year-old Montana native, was planning to reveal that he killed bin Laden in the May 2011 raid next week in interviews with Fox News and the Washington Post. But the former SEALs released his name in protest of his decision to come forward.

Read more at the Washington Post

Read next: Former Navy SEAL Who Wrote Bin Laden Raid Book Under Investigation

TIME Terrorism

Facebook and Twitter Are ‘Command-and-Control Networks’ for Terrorists

Spy chief: U.S. technology companies are in denial over the extent they aid terror and crime

The head of Britain’s equivalent of the NSA has said that U.S. technology firms that dominate the Internet must contribute more to the battle against violent extremism and child exploitation.

Robert Hannigan, the new head of Government Communications Headquarters, has accused Internet firms of being “in denial” over the role they play in crime and terrorism, demanding they work with security services to combat the growth of groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Writing in the Financial Times on Tuesday, Hannigan says that unlike other extremist groups, including al-Qaeda, ISIS has “embraced the web” and grown increasingly savvy in improving the security of their communications.

While technology companies may aspire to stand outside politics, their services increasingly facilitate crime and terrorism, argues Hannigan. “However much they may dislike it, they have become the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals, who find their services as transformational as the rest of us,” he adds.

He says U.K. security agencies need better support from “the largest U.S. technology companies which dominate the web” and calls for greater cooperation, adding that most Internet users would prefer “a better, more sustainable relationship between the agencies and the technology companies.”

[FT]

TIME India

India Cannot Ignore the Ramifications of the Suicide Bombing at Wagah

India's BSF soldiers patrol in front of the golden jubilee gate at the Wagah border
India's Border Security Force soldiers patrol in front of the golden jubilee gate at the Wagah border on the outskirts of the northern Indian city of Amritsar on Nov. 3, 2014 Munish Sharma—Reuters

The splintering of the Pakistani Taliban has led to a realignment of groups that might target India next, experts say

India and Pakistan conducted their traditional flag-lowering ceremony at the Wagah border crossing on Monday evening, a day after a terrorist killed nearly 60 people in a suicide bombing on the Pakistani side.

Taking place at the only land crossing between the two neighbors, the ceremony is a major tourist attraction. There was talk of it being canceled, but in the event it went ahead, sending a message to the militants.

“Today’s ceremony proved that terrorists cannot lower the spirit of the nation by their cowardly activities,” said Lieut. General Naveed Zaman, commander of Pakistan’s Lahore Corps.

Multiple militant organizations — all splinter groups of the Pakistani Taliban — are claiming responsibility for Sunday’s attack, saying it was in response to the Pakistan army’s recent anti-insurgency crackdown in the country’s North Waziristan region. But the attack’s implications for India — which has fought three wars with Pakistan — cannot be ignored, several experts speaking to TIME say.

“It is difficult to believe that whoever was involved in planning this attack did not have any idea of its implications,” says Radha Kumar, director of the Delhi Policy Group. Kumar adds that trade and travel between the two countries, already at a bare minimum, would likely be impacted. “With flights between the two countries down to one a week, more and more people are using Wagah to cross over,” she says.

Ved Marwah, chairman of the Indian government’s task force on National Security and the Criminal Justice System and author of the book Uncivil Wars: Pathology of Terrorism in India, said India presents the “No. 1 target” for any forces threatening the security and stability of Pakistan. “I think it’s a very serious threat, we can’t take it lightly,” Marwah says. “The very fact that three organizations are claiming credit for this particular incident shows how deep the infection has infiltrated into Pakistan.”

The two countries have engaged in an on-again, off-again dialogue toward peace over the years, and their recent relationship has been tense mainly because of escalating military conflicts in the contentious Kashmir region. India has long accused the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, of encouraging and even facilitating cross-border terrorism, but the apparent lack of control over these groups has alarm bells ringing on both sides of the border.

“I think the primary message of this explosion is for Pakistan, these groups are saying that despite the dislocation of the Pakistani Taliban they still have power to challenge the state,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a prominent Pakistani defense analyst, explaining the likely motives behind Sunday’s attack. “India will have to recognize that not all groups are under Pakistani control,” Rizvi says.

A degree of skepticism remains on the Indian side, however, and an Indian government official speculated to the Economic Times that the bomber’s intended target was India.

“They may not be [under the ISI],” says Marwah, “but the fact is their agendas and the ISI’s agendas converge as far as India is concerned.”

Rizvi admits that he shares that concern as well, especially following the weakening of the Pakistani Taliban, which has led to a realignment and attempted assertion of power among its rebel factions.

Major General Rashid Qureshi, a former spokesperson for the Pakistani army and close aide of former President Pervez Musharraf, says the North Waziristan operation should have started a long time ago and blames the current civilian government for the lapse. “In their effort to prove their democratic credentials, our government seems to tolerate lawlessness which I think defies proper governance,” Qureshi says. “The delay definitely strengthened these extremists and terrorists, and they were able to get a fair amount of influence and hold in the tribal regions,” he adds.

Qureshi describes the Wagah border as a “soft target” for the terrorists, the one place where he says India and Pakistan show some degree of cooperative interaction. “I think this act of terrorism had a twofold aim to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the Pakistanis as well as the Indians, because the moment you see such an act happening so close to your border, you get a little apprehensive.”

While all three men agree that the two countries need to work together to resolve the issue through dialogue, the actual possibility of that happening seems low under the current circumstances.

“There’s very little likelihood of the leadership talking to each other because the political situation in Pakistan would not allow that,” says Marwah, referring to the massive protests facing Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and urging the need for back-channel diplomacy. “[Prime Minister Narendra] Modi in India doesn’t have the political compulsions that his counterpart has.”

Rizvi says the fact that the attacks targeted Pakistan serves is a saving grace of sorts. “Had such an incident taken place on the other side of the border, it would have created a major crisis in India-Pakistan relations.”

TIME Iraq

Iraq Confirms ISIS Massacre of Sunni Tribe

Tribal fighters look on as they take part in an intensive security deployment against Islamic State militants in the town of Amriyat al-Falluja,in Anbar province
Tribal fighters look on as they take part in an intensive security deployment against ISIS militants in the town of Amriyat al-Falluja,in Anbar province on October 31, 2014. Reuters

Baghdad says extremist militants viciously killed 322 members of the Sunni Albu Nimr tribe

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) slaughtered more than 300 members of a Sunni tribe, including women and children, during the group’s latest killing spree in Iraq’s Anbar province.

Iraq’s Ministry of Human Rights confirmed that 322 individuals from the Albu Nimr tribe, who had reportedly risen up against ISIS’s brutal rule near Heet in the country’s Sunni heartland, were brutally murdered over the weekend.

Although ISIS is itself exclusively Sunni, the Jihadist group is nevertheless quick to dispatch those from its own denomination who refuse to pledge fealty.

The U.S. government was quick to condemn the brutal attacks. “This proves once again that [ISIS] does not represent anything but its warped ideology and provides more evidence, if any were needed, why our coalition partners, including Iraqis from every background, must work together to defeat these terrorists,” Jen Pskai, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, told journalists in Washington on Monday.

However, elders from the tribe blamed the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad for failing to provide weapons to the embattled community as they ran low on supplies.

“The government abandoned us and gave us to ISIS on a platter,” Sheikh Naeem Al Gaoud told the BBC. “We asked them many times for weapons but they gave us only promises.”

The massacre of the Albu Nimr tribe comes as Iraqi forces, in close cooperation with the U.S., are reportedly planning to launch a massive counter-offensive to dislodge ISIS from the territory it controls across northwest Iraq, which includes large tracts of Anbar province.

Iraq’s Sunni tribes played a pivotal role in defeating the earlier incarnation of ISIS during the U.S. troop surge in 2007, which succeeded in drastically stymieing sectarian violence.

But following the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in late 2011, the country’s Sunni minority complained of being increasingly marginalized by the Shiite-led government in Bagdad, which resulted in renewed bloodshed. Analysts have long argued that Baghdad will likely fail to uproot ISIS without first partnering with the nation’s myriad Sunni tribes.

TIME Terrorism

U.S. Military Ups Vigilance as Fears Mount of Fresh ISIS-Inspired Attacks

William Mayville
Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, Jr., speaks about the operations to target the Khorasan Group in Syria on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, during a news conference at the Pentagon. Cliff Owen—AP

Defense officials are fearful that their personnel may be targeted after receiving public threats from terrorists operating in the Middle East

The American military is warning service members and their families to be a bit more vigilant amid threatens directed from or inspired by ISIS, according to a report on Thursday.

Law enforcement officers and service members were described by the Pentagon, in an internally circulated memo last week, as “legitimate targets” by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, the Military Times reports. The message came days after a lone gunman went on a shooting rampage at the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, killing one soldier.

The Marine Corps was also reported to send out an announcement that called on troops to report “even the most minor suspicious activity” and to be prudent when posting updates on social media. And officials at MacDill Air Force Base, overseeing the 6th Air Mobility Wing in Tampa, Fla., were said to have instructed troops to keep a low profile and avoid public affiliation with the military.

According to a dossier compiled for the U.N. Security Council, an estimated 15,000 individuals have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside ISIS and other militant organizations. The large number of fighters receiving training with such groups has raised fresh fears in the U.S. and abroad of domestic attacks should they return home.

[Military Times]

TIME Australia

Australia’s Top ISIS Militant Killed: Sources

Mohammad Ali Baryalei actively recruited for ISIS and was allegedly behind a failed terrorist plot in Sydney earlier this year

Multiple Australian media outlets reported Wednesday that Mohammad Ali Baryalei, one of the country’s most senior figures in the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), is believed to have died fighting for the Sunni extremist group in the Middle East.

Reports of the militant’s death stemmed from a Facebook post on Tuesday by one of Baryalei’s friends living in Syria that claimed the 33-year-old had been “martyred,” according to the Australian.

However, reliable details regarding the circumstances of his apparent death remain scant.

Authorities in Canberra were unable to verify the claim as of Wednesday morning. “I can’t confirm it at this stage,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters at a press conference in the Australian capital, Canberra.

Baryalei, a former Sydney street preacher, was likely the most senior Australian operative fighting in ISIS ranks and is believed to have worked as a top recruiter for the militant organization. He reportedly enlisted as many as half of the 60 Australians estimated to be currently fighting for ISIS, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Authorities also named Baryalei as one of the key masterminds behind a plot to slay non-Muslims at random across Sydney earlier this year, which spurred a massive crackdown by Australian officials in September.

TIME world affairs

Canada’s Homegrown Terrorist Awakening

CANADA-ATTACKS-POLITICS-PARLIAMENT
Soldiers lock the gates at the John Weir Foote V.C. Armouries in Hamilton, Ontario, October 22, 2014 after a soldier believed to be from the base was killed in an attack in Ottawa. GEOFF ROBINS—AFP/Getty Images

Stewart Bell is Senior Reporter at Canada’s National Post newspaper.

Authorities have stepped up efforts against Islamist extremists, which has resulted in a new type of threat: seething anti-Western fanatics trapped in Canada, who decide to strike at home instead

TORONTO—Christianne Boudreau was at her wits’ end when I first spoke to her in June 2013. Her son Damian Clairmont, a bright but emotionally troubled 21-year-old, had left Canada the previous November. A Muslim convert, he had said he wanted to study Arabic in Cairo.

But then a pair of Canadian intelligence officers came to Mrs. Boudreau’s townhouse in Calgary and broke the news: Damian was not in Egypt, he was in Syria. “I had no idea,” she said. “I was totally oblivious to it. You’re in Canada, you think everything’s safe and fine here.”

After a week that saw two members of the Canadian Forces killed in separate terrorist attacks carried out by men who, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, claimed responsibility for their actions in the name of their extremist beliefs, few Canadians are feeling that way anymore.

Canada’s awakening began on the morning of Oct. 20, when Martin Couture-Rouleau, 25, an online supporter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria, waited for two hours at a strip mall near a military training center in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, before running down two soldiers with his Nissan Altima, killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53.

Chased by police, Couture-Rouleau called 911 and claimed the attack in the name of Allah before flipping his car into a ditch. He was shot dead as he came at officers with a knife. The RCMP said later he was “known” to them; they had seized his passport in July as he was trying to leave for Turkey, the transit country for foreign fighters on their way to Syria.

In Ottawa two days later, Michael Zehaf Bibeau, 32, opened fire on reservists standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, killing Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. He then ran into the nearby Parliament buildings, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was chairing a caucus meeting, before being fatally shot by Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers, a former Mountie.

While Zehaf Bibeau’s mother said her son was a mentally unbalanced drug addict, “an unhappy person at odds with the world,” the RCMP said he had left behind a video recording in which, appearing “lucid” and “purposeful,” he said his attack was conducted in the name of Allah and a response to Canadian foreign policy.

If the attacks shocked many Canadians out of their sense of invulnerability, they shouldn’t have. Canadian police and intelligence have disrupted three major terror plots over the past eight years, most recently in April 2013 — all by Islamist extremists who believed Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan was an assault on their faith.

Months before last week’s violence, government officials had been warning that the rise of ISIS had bred a new generation of extremists who wanted to do Canada harm. Shortly before the attacks, the nation’s threat level had been raised and legislation had been drafted to give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service greater powers to track foreign fighters.

About 50 extremists have left Canada for Syria and surrounding countries, according CSIS. Another 90 or so have been identified as “high-risk travellers” who remain in Canada but have become radicalized to the point they want to travel to the region. Together with about 130 active in extremist groups elsewhere in the world and 80 “returnees,” it is a significant number — although not anything like what the United Kingdom and Germany are experiencing.

For some discontented youths, ISIS offers an appealing escape from reality. Spread across the country, Canada’s ISIS followers are young and, thanks largely to the Internet and social media, quick to radicalize. They see Canada as a place of sin and ISIS as their promised land. Many are converts who have little experience with Islamic teachings.

Once they buy into the simplistic ISIS worldview, their self-image seems to transform. They are no longer Farah Mohamed Shirdon, a chubby Somali-Canadian movie theatre popcorn vendor and small-time dope dealer from Calgary. They become, in Shirdon’s case, “Abu Usama,” a fighter who posed for selfies with his AK-47 and recorded videos threatening to terrorize the world.

Damian Clairmont had dropped out of school at age 14 and converted after swallowing a bottle of anti-freeze in a failed suicide attempt. In Syria, according to fellow jihadists, he joined the Al Nusrah Front and when it fractured, he went with ISIS. After meeting his mother, I began to speak with him, first on the phone, then over the Internet.

Over time, he opened up a bit, although only to justify the decisions he had made. He spoke about the afterlife and joked about the weather. “The ski masks here usually aren’t for the cold,” he wrote. He spoke about Canada as a place of evildoers wasting their lives in the pursuit of triviality, living in a delusion of freedom and democracy, too dumb to realize that the only thing was to serve God.

It was clear he had fallen into a very deep hole. He would occasionally contact his mother but she no longer recognized him. He wasn’t her son anymore. After not hearing from him for weeks, I sent him a message asking if he was still alive. He responded that he was “still waiting” for martyrdom. A month later he was killed in Aleppo during a clash between rival rebel factions.

The flow of Canadian youths to Syria prompted the RCMP to step up efforts to stop them. Police seized their passports and worked with their families and communities to talk them down from their fanaticism. But that has resulted in a new type of threat, which Canada experienced last week: seething anti-Western extremists trapped in Canada, who decide to strike at home instead.

Testifying before the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence on Monday, Michael Peirce, the CSIS Assistant Director Intelligence, said the danger Canada faced was not an ISIS-orchestrated plot but rather “individuals being radicalized and encouraged to action.”

Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the ISIS spokesman, no doubt had that in mind when he released an audio recording on Sept. 21 imploring his followers to kill Canadians and their allies. If unable to kill them, he said, spit in their faces. Analysts believe the Quebec attack at least was a response to ISIS propaganda that, according to Mubin Shaikh, a former undercover agent who helped stop terror plots in Toronto and Ottawa in 2006, “has awakened the zombies.” It has also roused something much more powerful: Canadians.

Stewart Bell is Senior Reporter at Canada’s National Post newspaper and the author of three nonfiction books, most recently Bayou of Pigs.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Military

What the Failure of ISIS to Take Kobani Means

US-led coalition forces hit ISIL targets in Kobani
Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani following a U.S.-led air strike on Sunday. Sercan Kucuksahin / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

The Kurdish struggle to hold on to Syrian border town isn't all good news

Coming back after two weeks away, it’s surprising that the Syrian town of Kobani hasn’t fallen to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria. Pentagon officials were predicting earlier this month that ISIS fighters would overrun the town, near the Turkish border, by mid-October, followed by widespread slaughters among the conquered population.

That hasn’t happened. And while that’s obviously good news in the short term for the city’s 200,000 largely-Kurdish residents, it’s tougher to handicap what it means for the long-term U.S.-led effort to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.

Earlier this month, U.S. military officers were speaking of ISIS’s “momentum,” and how its string of military successes over the past year meant that quickly halting its advance would likely prove difficult if not impossible. Yet, as far as Kobani is concerned, that seems to be what is taking place.

But that raises the stakes for the U.S. and its allies. Having smothered ISIS’s momentum, an eventual ISIS victory in the battle for Kobani would be a more devastating defeat for the U.S. military than an earlier collapse of the town.

There are concerns that the focus on saving Kobani is giving ISIS free reign elsewhere in its self-declared caliphate—that the U.S., in essence, could end up winning the battle while losing the war.

“The U.S. air campaign has turned into an unfocused mess,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote Friday. “The U.S. has shifted limited air strike resources to focus on Syria and a militarily meaningless and isolated small Syrian Kurdish enclave at Kobani at the expense of supporting Iraqi forces in Anbar and intensifying the air campaign against other Islamic State targets in Syria.”

Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., expressed frustration that the Obama Administration believes its latest fight against ISIS will yield success when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t. “We understand the definition of insanity: continue to do the same thing and expect something different to happen,” he said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “If we can contain them there, leave them there, I don’t know what else to do. They’re intent on destroying each other, and they’ve been doing it for 1,400 years.”

The chattering classes are likewise not impressed by the fight for Kobani and the overall U.S. strategy against ISIS.

“The town, once dismissed as inconsequential by American commanders, has become not only a focus of the American operation against the Islamic State, known as ISIS, but also a test of the administration’s strategy, which is based on airstrikes on ISIS-controlled areas in Syria and reliance on local ground forces to defeat the militants,” the New York Times said in a Friday editorial. “A setback in Kobani would show the fragility of the American plan and hand the Islamic State an important victory.”

On Sunday, the Washington Post declared Obama’s strategy “unworkable,” and said “the United States will have to broaden its aims and increase its military commitment if the terrorists are to be defeated” (the Post‘s advocacy for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq should be kept in mind while listening to such drumbeats).

For its part, the Pentagon is willing to trade 2003’s “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad for a long-term campaign of modest and persistent air strikes that can stall ISIS until better-trained Iraqi forces and yet-to-be-tapped-for-training Syrian rebels can begin reclaiming territory.

The U.S. military is willing to take its time, not that it has much choice, given the situation on the ground and the curbs placed on it by the White House. “Here we are not three months into it and there are critics saying it’s falling apart; it’s failing; the strategy is not sound,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Friday. “The strategy is sound and it’s working and there’s no plans to deviate it from right now.”

The Pentagon has made clear from the start that the battle against ISIS “will be a years-long effort,” Kirby said. “So I think a little bit of patience is required here.” Patience, of course, has never been an American trait. Democracies in general are ill-suited to waging lengthy wars.

But one thing the Pentagon has on its side is the dearth of casualties so far in what some are calling the third Iraq war. A Marine was killed Oct. 1 when he jumped from a V-22 aircraft in the Persian Gulf because he feared the aircraft was going to crash (it didn’t). A second Marine died in Baghdad Oct. 23 in what the Pentagon called a “non-combat-related incident.”

If the U.S. can turn the campaign against ISIS into a sustained, low-casualty operation like the drone wars it has been secretly waging for years in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, the public may go along. Whether that will be sufficient to degrade ISIS is, of course, a separate issue.

Read next: 19-Year-Old Marine Is First Soldier to Die Fighting ISIS in Iraq

TIME Foreign Policy

Treasury Department’s Anti-Terrorism Chief Says Cutting Off ISIS Funds Of High Importance

Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen speaks at the CSIS in Washington
Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen speaks at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, June 2, 2014. © Yuri Gripas / Reuters—REUTERS

Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said Thursday ISIS is probably the “best-funded terrorist organization we have confronted."

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is the “best-funded” terrorist organization the U.S. has ever confronted, the Treasury Department’s top official for combating terrorist financing said Thursday.

Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Thursday David Cohen, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at Treasury, outlined a multi-pronged strategy for cutting off ISIS’s access to resources — including as much as $1 million per day in oil sales.

Touching on a topic of heated international debate, Cohen also called on foreign governments to refuse ransom payments to free their kidnapped citizens from terrorist groups.

Because ISIS “poses a different terrorist financing strategy,” than other terror groups, the strategy against it has to look different, Cohen said. Unlike other major terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, which are primarily reliant on wealthy donors, ISIS gets most of its funding not from the illegal market sale of oil, as well as from ransoms and extortion.

Although ISIS conducts most of its business on the black market, Cohen said the Treasury Department can disrupt the group’s finances by identifying and targeting people who operate within the legitimate economy but who also trade illegally with ISIS.

“The middlemen, traders, refiners, transport companies, and anyone else that handles [ISIS]’s oil should know that we are hard at work identifying them, and that we have tools at hand to stop them,” Cohen said during prepared remarks.

The U.S. government is prepared to impose financial sanctions on both ISIS’s leadership and its financial donors. Cohen said Thursday that two individuals were sanctioned in late September, including a military commander and a person who arranged a $2 million donation to the organization. But the effort will take time, Cohen noted, and will require “cooperation and collaboration with partners in the region,” including private sector banks in Iraq and Syria that might be used to store ISIS cash.

He also urged more countries to refuse ransom payments when their citizens are kidnapped. “If we are to protect our citizens and avoid bankrolling our adversary, every country must adopt and implement a no-ransoms policy,” Cohen said. The U.S. does not pay ransoms for kidnapped citizens, even in cases of threatened execution. Some European governments have reportedly paid millions to free hostages from ISIS and al Qaeda.

“[ISIS] has a fair amount of money today, but what’s important is that we do everything we can to make sure it’s not recurring revenue,” Cohen said. He added that, although ISIS generates an estimated $1 million per day from illegal oil sales, even that figure isn’t enough to meet the needs of the people living in the vast territory the group controls. In areas where ISIS now operates, he said, the Iraqi government’s budget surpassed $2 billion this year.

But he counseled patience as the financial prong of the war on ISIS unfolds in tandem with U.S.-led air strikes against the Sunni radical group.

“This is not going to be an exercise where we can at the end of every month produce a balance sheet,” Cohen said. “This is going to be a steady effort to degrade financing over time.”

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