National Press Club

Terrorist battle will rage beyond ISIS, Joint Chiefs chair warns Headliners Luncheon

June 19, 2017 | By Ken Dalecki |

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks at a National Press Club Headliners Luncheon June 20/

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks at a National Press Club Headliners Luncheon June 20/

Photo/Image: Marshall H. Cohen

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Americans to be prepared for a long battle with terrorist organizations that will not end with the defeat of ISIS in the Middle East.

As part of a wide-ranging "fireside chat" question-and-answer interview with National Press Club President Jeffrey Ballou at a Club Headliners Luncheon Monday, June 19, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said Americans should realize that terrorism is something the world "will be dealing with for a long period of time" and that countermeasures must be politically, economically and militarily sustainable.

Dunford predicted that a mid-July Trump administration decision on U.S. force levels in Afghanistan will be part of a broad South Asia strategy that will go beyond the local commander's request for 4,000 additional troops to counter opposition forces. He conceded that current insecurity in Afghanistan "is not where we want to be."

Dunford said the objective in Afghanistan and other conflict areas from West Africa to Southeast Asia is to assist a broad coalition of some 60 members in reducing the level of violence to where local forces can control the situation.

The general appeared to downplay threats from Russia over the U.S. downing June 18 of a Syrian fighter plane. The U.S. and Russian military have been working for eight months on "deconfliction" to avoid mishaps in a mutual effort to defeat ISIS, an effort Dunford said "has worked very well" until the June 18 incident sparked Russian protests in support of its Syrian regime ally. He said the U.S. and Russia will "work through the incident.

Dunford said the administration has had the congressional authorization it needs since the 9/11 2001 attacks to conduct the war on terror, but that he would like to see Congress adopt a "clear and unmistakable" resolution to show U.S. troops that they have the support of the American people. He credited U.S. and coalition efforts against some 17 terrorist organizations with providing the pressure needed to prevent another 9/11.

In answering a broad range of questions, Dunford said Iran is conducting "an unhelpful role" in supporting the Assad regime in Syria; that U.S. military operations based in Qatar are continuing in spite of "friction" between that country and its Arab neighbors; that diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to counter its nuclear and missile ambitions is backed by U.S. military deterrence; and that China's support will be needed to secure a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

He voiced support for the costly and controversial F-35 fighter plane, the first squadron of which is now operation, saying that its capabilities are "transformational."

Dunford said the U.S. is being "transparent" with Turkey by detailing the kind of military assistance it is giving to Kurds fighting in Syria to assure the Turks that such aid will not become a threat to them through diversion to anti-Turkish Kurds in Turkey.

Regarding the new frontier of cyber warfare, Dunford conceded that the military faces stiff "competition for talent" from the private sector and that the military "has got to find ways to incentivize" cyber security enlistments. He said a goal of having 133 military cyber security teams fully operational has been 70% met.

Dunford downplayed reports of discontent among NATO allies because of President Trump's criticism of members that fail to meet defense spending goals. He cited strong cooperation among NATO members in anti-terror efforts in Iraq, Syria, Africa and elsewhere.

He said U.S. "should not send American forces into a fair fight" and that Congress must return to regular military authorization and appropriation bills rather than resorting to repeated continuing resolutions and a budget control act that hamstrings military upgrades.

Dunford's appearance was preceded by a moment of silence in honor of the sailors killed destroyer USS Fitzgerald near Japan on June 17.