Pentagon: IS militants 'imminent' threat to US, EU, Mideast
Militants that have swept across Iraq pose a clear and "imminent" danger to the Middle East, Europe and the United States, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday.
"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 of the militants during a stop at a US naval submarine base in the state of Georgia.
"This is a force that is sophisticated, it's dynamic, it's strong, it's organized, it's well-financed, it's competent," Hagel told troops in remarks broadcast by the Pentagon.
"And it is a threat to our allies all over the Middle East. It's a threat to Europe," he said at the base in King's Bay.
The IS group "may not appear to be an imminent threat to the United States," but "it is a threat to the United States," Hagel said.
"It is a ... clear threat to our partners in that area, and it is imminent," he said, without elaborating.
After launching an offensive last month, the Islamic State (IS) have overrun areas in five provinces north and west of Baghdad.
President Barack Obama has sent military advisors to Baghdad to help the Iraqi army counter the militants but has so far stopped short of ordering US air strikes against the militants.
US officials and experts fear the militants, who are also fighting in Syria's civil war next door, will carve out sanctuaries that could serve as training camps and launching pads for terror attacks on the West.
Hagel, who briefed US lawmakers on the crisis in a closed session on Tuesday, said that "what we are doing is assisting in every way we can to help the Iraqi people defeat the brutal fundamentalists that are attempting to not just destabilize Iraq, but essentially take control of Iraq."
The Pentagon chief acknowledged "sacrifices made by Americans" in Iraq during the gruelling years of a US-led war that began with the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. US troops pulled out of Iraq in 2011.
Hagel said assessments of the Iraqi army by the roughly 200 US military advisors on the ground would be finished in "the next few days.