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Retired Marine genreal John Allen / Haraz N. Ghanbari, AP

WASHINGTON - The Islamic State presents the greatest terrorist threat to Americans since 9/11, and fighting it will take more than airstrikes in Iraq, according to a top member of Congress and a retired four-star general.

The Islamic State, also referred to as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has vaulted in notoriety after the beheading of American journalist James Foley last week. On ABC's This Week, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, called Foley's murder a turning point.

"I do think they present the greatest threat we've seen since 9/11," McCaul said. "This has been festering for the last year, and now it's culminating with the killing and the beheading of an American journalist. ... The American people - it has sort of opened their eyes to what ISIS really is, the true character of ISIS, how savage they really are and ... their intent to harm Americans."

Retired Marine general John Allen, who served in Iraq and commanded all allied forces in Afghanistan, said attacking militant support areas in Syria will be necessary. The limited U.S. airstrikes that have helped Kurdish and Iraqi forces retake a strategic dam near Mosul in northern Iraq are not enough, he said.

A regional approach with a coalition of regional allies, bolstered by U.S. special operations forces, will be required to hit the militants hard enough, Allen said.

President Obama is examining a variety of options to use against the Islamic State, including talks with Congress about extending the U.S. military commitment in the region. "We're actively considering what's going to be necessary to deal with that threat, and we're not going to be restricted by borders," said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

In a recent interview with USA TODAY, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said options are being considered beyond the airstrikes, although he declined to be specific. Those attacks are designed to protect U.S. personnel and the dam near Mosul and to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered.

One limiting factor to expanding airstrikes is limited intelligence on targets, according to a Defense Department official who was not authorized to speak publicly. The drones and manned aircraft used to spy on and destroy the networks that planted roadside bombs were moved out of Iraq in 2011.

Since the threat from the Islamic State has grown, some of those spy planes have returned to Iraq. There are 60 reconnaissance missions per day, Dempsey said.

"We've soaked the space in and around western Iraq and northern Iraq with intelligence assets," Dempsey said. "We continue to refine our understanding of the options."

From Aug. 8 through Sunday, U.S. Central Command has conducted a total of 96 airstrikes across Iraq. Of those, 61 have been in support of Iraqi forces near the Mosul Dam.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Islamic State biggest threat since 9/11, officials say

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