There’s better news on the Islamic State

Defense Secretary Ash Carter
Defense Secretary Ash Carter AP

From an editorial Sunday in the Chicago Tribune:

Across Europe, law enforcement authorities scramble to unravel Islamic State terror networks poised to strike against innocent civilians. Progress is fitful, and fear of another attack is high.

But on the Iraqi and Syrian battlefields of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, better news:

▪ A loose coalition of forces, backed to varying degrees by the U.S., have reclaimed a huge chunk of Islamic State real estate. The Pentagon now estimates Islamic State has lost at least 40 percent of its territory and 25,000 fighters.

▪ Russian-backed Syrian government forces recently wrested control of the ancient city of Palmyra. In the gun sights of anti-Islamic State fighters: the group’s strongholds of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.

▪ Islamic State is also bleeding cash. Since late October, an American air campaign has targeted oil fields, refineries and tanker trucks, and American officials believe they have cut the Islamic State’s oil revenue by about a third, The New York Times reports. (Tumbling oil prices have helped, too.)

All of this is encouraging. But as quickly as Islamic State leaders are killed, new ones step in. The group still raises fresh millions from extortion, fees and taxes. From attacks in Brussels and Paris, it is clear that Islamic State is pressing its global campaign to infiltrate jihadists into European (and American?) cities. And it has established beachheads in Libya and Afghanistan.

The U.S. mission? “We’ve got to get these guys beaten and as soon as possible,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said recently. “We’re looking for opportunities to do more.”

Some administration advisers reportedly want to sharply increase training and weapons supply to the Kurds, arguably the most effective fighting force in the region. Others push a plan to do the same for so-called moderate Sunni rebels, hoping they can drive Islamic State from Syria.

Why not both?

The U.S. must launch a complex military operation, and also a stepped-up public relations campaign.

As Islamic State forces retreat, its ability to recruit and its appeal to violence should dwindle as well.

At the moment, however, Europe’s cities remain in peril of Islamic State-dispatched or inspired attack. So do America’s. Stomping out this brutal regime is job one. The sooner, the better.