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Dunford Explores Ways to Better-Integrate Counter-Extremism Efforts

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff met with British Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Sir Nicholas Houghton and other defense leaders in London yesterday to look at broadening efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and other extremist groups.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford said he used the meetings to initiate a conversation with partners about a transregional approach to countering violent extremism.

“I believe what we need is a common understanding of the threat so we all see it the same way,” he said in an interview on the way back to the United States after a trip that took also him to Iraq and Egypt.

Counter-ISIL efforts in Iraq and Syria constitute the main focus right now, and should be, the general said. But there are other violent extremists elsewhere, and the meeting was the start of a process to frame the threat and responses properly.

ISIL is a transregional threat operating in the Middle East, Libya, West Africa and Afghanistan, Dunford said, noting the terrorist group is attempting to spread to other areas. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently said there are ISIL cells operating in the West, as well.

War’s Changing Character

Dunford has been speaking about the changing character of war since he has taken office. He believes, given the advances in technology and capabilities, that most threats will quickly become transregional -- cutting across national boundaries and military domains.

He has been working to develop this transregional approach in the U.S. military and pointed to Special Operations Command as the example for what the rest of the military must do.

“What I wanted to do now was share [that experience] with some of our coalition partners,” he said. “We had a small group, and we will expand it over time.”

This was a framing meeting in that the leaders discussed confronting the core of ISIL, but also the need, over time, to use the coalition approach against ISIL.

General Approval

The proposal met with general approval, but going from the general to the specific is difficult, he said. “You’ve got align the political objectives of each country to the various military capabilities,” Dunford said.

The United States is unique because it has the wherewithal to approach the problem of violent extremism globally, the chairman said. “Most of the nations we deal with -- for historical reasons, political reasons, and cultural reasons -- will have more focus on one or two areas,” he said.

The chiefs of defense agreed that more work needs to be done on this and agreed to form a committee of general officers to delve more deeply into the ramifications of the proposal, Dunford said.

The chairman hopes to have a meeting of all coalition members in the fall, he said, “and at that point we would develop a framework for the common understanding of the threat. That common understanding would lead to planning, and then, ideally, execution.”

Multiple Coalitions

Dunford said he believes the result will be multiple coalitions in each location. “But somehow, with a broader architecture, so that our efforts are linked and we can achieve an effect,” he added.

One example of this understanding of the threat might be -- as the United States thinks -- that after the core of ISIL, the most prominent threat is in Libya, the general said. “We would have that conversation and then discuss what capabilities are currently there and then … discuss a common strategic approach,” he said.

There is no coalition for Libya right now, the general said, but there are a number of countries that have strong interests in the situation there. If, for example, the Government of National Accord in Libya were to ask for help, the group ought to be able to consider how best to provide that assistance, how would the command and control work, what countries would provide what capabilities and so on, the chairman said.

Different Alliances in Different Regions

“It sounds simple,” Dunford said. “It’s not. You have to work your way through it.”

And, these alliances would be different in different areas of the world, the general said. It would have one cast listing in and around Libya, he said, and yet another combating Boko Haram in West Africa. It would have still another countering extremism in the Arabian Peninsula, Dunford added.

“At the very minimum, I want to enhance our collaboration and cooperation from a common understanding and then move towards a better integration of our efforts, because I believe, given the breadth and scope of the challenge, integrating our capabilities is the best way to succeed,” the chairman said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)