Former NATO chief: ISIS ‘jihadists’ will target western nations next

A former NATO commander warned Monday that it was “only a matter of time” before a Sunni insurgent group that has captured parts of Iraq and Syria turns its attention to attacks in Europe.

Retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis urged U.S. and European allies to do more to prevent jihadists with western passports from returning home to stage terror attacks.

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"As [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] ISIS consolidates its position across the Syrian and Iraqi divide, NATO must realize that it is only a matter of time before a wave of EU-passport-bearing jihadists will be headed back home to wreak havoc," Stavridis said in an op-ed for the Atlantic Council.

"Those AK-toting fundamentalists are a bit busy at the moment destroying two Shiite/Alawite regimes in Iraq and Syria, respectively, but the eye of Sunni extremism will inevitably turn its attention to the capitals of Europe," he wrote.

Terrorism experts have long warned about foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq with western passports returning to their home countries to carry out attacks.

Lawmakers say the threat has grown following the ascent of ISIS, which is now threatening Iraq’s capital Baghdad.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said last week there was a possibility ISIS could team up with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, another terror group considered to be the biggest operational threat to the U.S.

“So you have all of these new relationships happening in a way that’s really concerning,” he told reporters.

Stavridis, the dean of Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, also called for NATO to send at least a hundred special forces to assist the 300-strong U.S. team in Iraq. President Obama deployed U.S. forces to help Baghdad counter ISIS.

"Why is this uniquely a U.S. mission? The NATO Special Forces Command is fully capable of putting such a force package together under direction of the Supreme Allied Commander for operations and moving them forward alongside Americans," Stavridis said.

Stavridis also recommended sending NATO special forces into Syria and Iraq to provide intelligence and prepare for "possible NATO operations” in those countries.

"This region of the world is spinning rapidly out of control, with dangerous implications for both Europe and the United States. The alliance has enormous capability, but does it have the political will to lean into this dangerous situation?" he said.

Stavridis said NATO should focus on Syria’s border with Turkey, an ally of the military coalition.

"NATO needs a quick shot of strong Turkish coffee to get its energy level up and make some decisions about engagement — because what's emerging now is a clear and present danger along the southern flank of the alliance," he said. 

Stavridis also urged the West to counter online jihadist propaganda from ISIS and other Sunni extremist groups.