Experts: Drones Not Enough to Defeat ISIS

Islamic State militants
Islamic State militants in a commandeered Iraqi military vehicle in Fallujah / AP

Drones can only do superficial damage to the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL) if the United States does not effectively combat its ideology, according to security experts speaking at the Heritage Foundation.

IS’ ability to rally recruits is outpacing the United States campaign at deterrence, the experts said. The organization is a force to reckoned with on the front of informational warfare, Sebastian Gorka, chair of military theory at Marine Corps University, said at the July 10 event.

"ISIS is a graduate level threat, it is far more dangerous than al Qaeda. Its not magic, it understands irregular warfare," Gorka said. "We aren’t even scratching the surface in terms of what they are doing with informational warfare."

Sara Carter, senior reporter at the American Media Institute, said the United States needs to understand the IS worldview in order to turn their own logic against them and against potential recruits. She emphasized that IS is fighting an unconventional war of ideas, and that we are not engaging in the same warfare they are.

"Its not something you can win with drone strikes alone," she said, "This is a never-ending battle that’s going to evolve. This is about an ideology. And unless we understand this ideology, and this leader, and those leaders underneath him, we will never be able to defeat him. Because you can’t defeat an ideology unless you’re able to exploit it."

Gorka added that military and political leaders can only truly understand their ideology if we think in their terms and intellectually accept their reality, without letting our presuppositions or political correctness get in the way.

"We have to take political distortion out of the intelligence cycle, talk about the enemy as they talk about themselves. You cannot win a war of ideas until you understand how the enemy thinks about themselves," he said, "You’ve allowed your own ideology to infect the intelligence cycle, and you will never get a strategy out of it."

Gorka also said the United States must increase support for Sunni dissidents, as they are the ones who are going to play a role in representing pushback within IS’ sect. He said it is not enough for Americans to fight, but that people within the Sunni strain are crucial in displaying IS rejection.

"The first thing we have to do is we have to really aggressively support all those brave Sunni reformers who we are not helping at all. These are the people who America doesn’t touch because they are not engaging in a religious war. In the Cold War we supported the dissidents incredibly aggressively. We have to do this now because they are on the front-line," he said.