By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
A former Army Green Beret officer who spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan says the United States is losing its war with Islamist violent extremism, particularly the Islamic State, but with a change in strategy and by telling the American story, the war ultimately can be won.
Retired Green Beret Lt. Col. Scott Mann and other Army Special Operations personnel have developed what he believes is a winning technique for neutralizing Islamist extremists in the Middle East and at home.
He said this year’s election is crucial.
“I’m not voting for candidates that have their heads in the sand about terrorism, nor for bombing either, because that doesn’t work,” he said, speaking at an invitation-only forum Thursday at Boardman Holiday Inn.
The event, where he was signing his book “Game Changers: Going Local to Defeat Violent Extremists,” was sponsored by Mission America, a nonprofit created by Mann.
The path to victory, which Mann said is clear but not easy, is do what the Green Beret did successfully in Iraq and Afghanistan before being pulled out.
“We worked in 12-man teams and grew beards and worked in the field as advisers to local leaders. We spoke their language and learned their customs and gained their trust. With that kind of support and effort, the local people in those nations are ready to stand up and fight terrorists. We did good things and then we were pulled out,” he said.
“That is the program that I am trying to get our politicians to implement,” Mann said.
This all began with the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001.
“We had become complacent and had a false sense of security then, and that is what we have reverted to,” Mann said.
He called the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., harbingers of what is coming.
“That is the reason I’m here. Islamist extremists are on the hunt in our country. They are getting stronger every day, and we need to understand that,” he said.
Mann promised that after his talk the people in the audience would know more about the enemy than most in Washington, D.C., and what to do about it.
He described ISIS and other terrorist organizations as “the most-sinister enemy of our time and as great a threat as Nazi Germany in World War II.
“They are committed to our destruction,” he said.
The path to victory is clear, but it’s not easy and will take a mobilized American population to get it done, Mann said.
Terrorists will exploit our weak borders and immigration policies, and those need to be quickly strengthened, he said.
Fertile recruiting grounds for ISIS in the United States are marginalized – economically distressed – communities, he said, adding that the nation has to connect with those communities and give them hope.
Also, he said: “We have to find a way to connect with moderate Muslims. I wish we’d hear more and need to hear more from them,” he said.
What the United States can’t do when something catastrophic happens is to react emotionally like it did after 9/11, Mann said, adding, “If we don’t come together now, there could be internment camps like there were in WWII. This is exactly what ISIS wants. It would rally every Muslim in the world.”
He said ISIS needs safe havens in fragile states to rest and train and set up shop, and from which to operate.
“Without safe havens, ISIS becomes irrelevant. But,” he said, “these are the very places we are pulling our troops out of. We need a change of policy.”