Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel laid out what is possibly the administration’s strongest case to-date for intervention against Sunni Islamic fundamentalist groups sweeping through Syria and Iraq.


The comments came during a question-and-answer session with sailors at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base on Wednesday after Hagel stopped by to inspect the facilities.

A sailor from the USS Florida came to the microphone and asked Hagel, “Sir ... considering the loss of American life in Iraq, what is the United States doing to combat ISIS and prevent the negation of American lives lost in an attempt to stabilize that area?”

What followed was a detailed, five-minute response in which Hagel called ISIS, “a threat to the United States.”

“Make no mistake, and this country should not make any mistake on this nor anyone in Congress, this is a threat to our country,” Hagel said. “This is a force that is sophisticated, it’s dynamic, it’s strong, it’s organized, it’s well financed, it’s competent.

“It is a threat to our allies all over the Middle East and in Europe. It’s a threat to every civilized nation on earth and it’s a threat to us.”

Hagel’s remarks came the same day CNN reported the Pentagon is considering the use of a drone strike to kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“In order to launch a kill mission, the U.S. has to demonstrate the target poses a threat to the U.S.,” CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr noted in the story.

Baghdadi made his first filmed public appearance at the Grand Mosque in Mosul last Friday.

His group, ISIS, an acronymn for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and other affiliated Sunni militants have seized vast swaths of Iraq and Syria. As of Wednesday, groups of the fundamentalists had about 75 Iraqi commandos pinned down in one of Iraq’s largest oil refineries.

The U.S. military already has at least 300 advisers and “assessment teams” in Iraq, but clearly the Obama administration is considering further actions.

“We are getting daily assessments and the finality of those assessments will be completed in the next few days and we’ll have a further context with the recommendations they make,” Hagel said. “So it is clearly in our interest, when I talk about protecting American lives in Iraq, I also said protecting our interests and ISIS may not appear to be an imminent threat to the United States — it is a threat to the United States.”


Hagel’s remarks came during a visit to Kings Bay where he visited with sailors, toured the facilities and spent time aboard the submarine USS Tennessee.

Of local concern, Hagel said reports on the status of America’s nuclear capability had come back and he would be renewing the Department of Defense’s focus on it.

“I think over the years we’ve let our focus on the nuclear deterrent aspect of our national security drift a little,” he said. “We need to get back and prioritize the importance of the nuclear enterprise and what you represent and the importance of what you do everyday to deter aggression in the world.”

One sailor asked Hagel about the aging Ohio Class of submarines and whether the Ohio replacement will fill the void.

“We have every commitment to the projections to bring on that new class of submarines,” he said. “Yes, it’s forcing us to make some hard choices in our budget, but it is clear — I’ve been clear on this, the president, all of our senior leaders — that we need a new generation of Ohio class submarines.

“We’re going to prioritize that.”

Concerning Mayport Naval Station, Hagel put out a directive in February that the total order for the littoral combat ship (LCS) would be cut back from 52 to 32. Mayport is scheduled to be the East Coast hub for the ships with a total of eight headed to Mayport by 2020.

Asked if that number could change, Hagel said it would not.

“The directive that I gave was that we would continue to build the first 32, so that takes a ways down the next few years,” he said. “It won’t change anything here.”

However, Hagel also asked for a possible replacement for the LCS from Navy leaders, indicating the growing dissillusionment within the Navy over the ship’s capabilities.

“The other part of the directive was to have the Navy come back to me with a ship that might have more capacity, that would be better armed, more agile, better prepared to take on more missions,” he said. “I’ll get those ideas and recommendations towards the end of the summer.”


Clifford Davis: (904) 359-4103