Pete King: Beheading was ‘declaration of war’

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) on Wednesday said the beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was effectively "a declaration of war" and called for a stronger U.S. military response.

"The president has to announce that this is a basically almost a declaration of war on the United States," King said Wednesday in a phone interview. 

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"We don't have the luxury of just saying, 'The war is over. The war's not going on,’ ” he continued. “There is a war. It's a threat to the U.S., and we have to fight back.”

King, the chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on counterterrorism, said the video of the beheading should be a jolt to Americans and lawmakers who oppose ramping up military action in Iraq. 

"This should be a dramatic wake-up call, especially for members of Congress who don't realize how dangerous ISIS is, how evil they are," he said. 

"This should show us just how vicious and evil ISIS is," King continued. "They are a threat to the homeland of the United States, a threat to American interests around the world, and American security around the world." 

The group released a video of Foley’s execution Tuesday, in which the journalist makes a statement denouncing recent U.S. airstrikes against ISIS. The group said it was now targeting Americans and threatened to execute another journalist it has captured.

President Obama authorized airstrikes to help protect a minority religious sect, the Yazidis, who were stranded on a mountaintop after fleeing ISIS. But the strikes have expanded in recent weeks, with the U.S. recently hitting ISIS forces near Mosul Dam, helping local forces retake the strategic location.

King said that Obama must clarify his overall strategy against ISIS, instead of just approving individual military operations. 

"It's not enough just to attack a mountain or retake a dam," he said. 

"We have to do massive air attacks, we have to train and arm the Kurds, we have get the Iraqi army to be engaged as quickly as possible," said King, adding that the U.S. should line up as many allies as possible. 

King also criticized Obama for ruling out combat troops on the ground. 

"If that involves ... advisers to embed with the Iraqis, we should do it," he said. "If we have to use special forces to gather intelligence, to provide direction to the air power, if we have to use special forces to carry out special missions, we have to do it.

"The president should not have this iron-clad statement: 'We're not going to have combat troops [on the ground],’ ” he continued. “I don't even know how he defines that. We have nearly 1,000 troops over there now.” 

King also called for the U.S. to expand action into Syria, where ISIS has seized control of large parts of the country.

"As far as ISIS is concerned, there is no boundary between Iraq and Syria... We [should] take out their leadership wherever they are." 

King acknowledged that Americans appeared weary of a new intervention in Iraq, but he said White House needed to "show them why more Americans would be killed" if the U.S. did not act. 

"Right now, ISIS controls a land mass larger than Great Britain, larger than Jordan. It has thousands of members and is a direct threat to the United States," he said.  "They're more powerful now than al Qaeda was on Sept. 11.”