Rasmussen ’87 Manages Expectations About the Military Defeat of ISIS

Nicholas Rasmussen ’87, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, spoke on NPR’s “Morning Edition” about progress made in the fight against the Islamic State. He said the tactical gains the U.S. military and its partners are making in Iraq and Syria are a “necessary” part of quashing the danger it poses—but not “sufficient.”

Rasmussen told NPR that government agencies—ranging from federal to local—are working well together, and counterterrorism leaders are confident they can detect, disrupt or stop big, complicated attacks on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001.

But the danger remains from smaller-scale attacks directed or inspired by ISIS, and these may linger a long time.

The Islamic State can be defeated both as a self-styled “caliphate” and as a terror network, Rasmussen said — but he stressed that the West can’t declare victory whenever allied forces recapture Mosul, in northern Iraq, and the ISIS “capital” of Raqqa, in Syria.

Even the death or capture of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, while it would be “significant,” might not create a dramatic difference, Rasmussen said. “The payoff from that … does not come quickly.”