Watertown Daily Times
CANTON - Rep. Elise M. Stefanik said meetings with heads of state across the Middle East gave her new perspective on the collaborative approach needed to tackle threats from radical groups such as the Islamic State.
One fresh perspective came from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who told her and other visiting American lawmakers that the threat of radical groups wasn’t limited to his own country, but to the region and the rest of the world.
“The United States needs to lead by example, and we also need to show our allies that we are committed to their success in the long run, and we need to partner with other allies across the world,” Ms. Stefanik said in a phone call with the Times.
A weeklong trip included stops in Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan, meeting with officials such as King Abdullah II of Jordan and Iraqi President Fuad Masum.
The trip also included visits with American forces from the district, including some from Fort Drum.
Ms. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said they were concerned about the effects of sequestration on their ability to be effective. She also said Fort Drum-area soldiers spoke highly of their family connections to the north country community.
In addition to Ms. Stefanik, the American delegation included fellow House Armed Services Committee members Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb.
Ms. Stefanik said that the leaders of the countries she visited, which are predominantly Muslim, argued the violence of ISIS did not represent the Islamic faith, and that King Abdullah called the work of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, “theological fascism.”
She said the arguments about the group’s connection to Islam were best made by the Middle Eastern governments.
One method the Middle Eastern leaders raised for subverting radical groups, Ms. Stefanik said, was “making sure there are jobs and economic opportunity” so young people aren’t being recruited by their radical messages.
In Jordan, Ms. Stefanik said, public opinion against ISIS grew stronger following its recent execution of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh.
Ms. Stefanik noted the United States’ work in Afghanistan, where a status-of-forces agreement was secured to continue working in the country. That agreement was not in place in Iraq. She said if it had been, she didn’t think Iraq would have seen the Islamic State take swaths of land, as it did.
”I think that’s a lack of leadership from the administration,” Ms. Stefanik said.
Meanwhile, the message from American leaders in Afghanistan was optimistic coming into the spring, when fighting begins to increase. American forces formally shifted to an advisory role this year, with Afghan forces leading the fight against ISIS and the Taliban. Despite rising deaths in Afghan military and police forces, Ms. Stefanik said, leaders such as President Ghani said they were committed to the fight.
“This is going to be a long fight, and their country is at stake,” she said. “That’s what President Ghani talked about. This is a generational fight. It’s a long-term struggle against radical extremists.”