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Analysis

Kassig beheading: ISIS killers won't cease until stopped

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Americans woke Sunday morning to news of the third horrific and senseless murder of a U.S. citizen in Syria by the terrorist group that calls itself the Islamic State.

Peter Kassig, a 26-year-old aid worker who was kidnapped in October 2013 while trying to help Syrian refugees, follows in death U.S. journalists James Foley of GlobalPost and Steven Sotloff whose savage and barbaric killings were also revealed in terrorist propaganda videos.

The civil war in Syria, now in its fourth year, is a conflict few in this country understand but the senseless and cruel deaths of Foley, Sotloff, Kassig and the two British citizens who were held captive with them have brought this war to America's doorstep in a way that has never happened before in the modern history of the Middle East.

The Islamic State still holds at least three other Western hostages including a young American woman whose identity is being withheld at the request of her family and British journalist John Cantlie, who was Foley's colleague and traveling companion when they were abducted at gunpoint in northern Syria on Thanksgiving Day 2012.

After the Islamic State terrorists overran western and northern Iraq six months ago, slaughtering and imprisoning Shia Muslims, Christians and Yazidis, the U.S. began a bombing campaign to try to prevent IS from overrunning both the Iraqi capital Baghdad and parts of Iraqi Kurdistan. Since then, the U.S. attacks have escalated and spread into northern Syria in a direct assault on the headquarters of the Islamic State in Raqqa and most recently in defense of the besieged city of Kobani where Syrian Kurds have valiantly held out against a heavily armed and relentless attack by the terrorists.

Americans are justifiably concerned about the re-insertion of U.S. forces into Iraq, a war we thought we had left behind for good in 2012. Now the country must try to come to terms with the commencement of military action in a wholly new theater of operations in Syria where a ruthless civil war has been going on for years. That war has lead to the deaths of at least 150,000 people, mostly innocent civilians, and the uprooting of millions of Syrians who have fled for their lives into Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, placing huge burdens on those neighboring countries.

The war in Syria is immensely complex and shows no sign of abating. The government of President Bashar al Assad appears to be winning on the ground but his regime has no credibility internationally and can only survive with the aid of his few external allies, principally Russia and Iran. The rebel forces, who were born in the peaceful dissent of 2011 that was so ruthlessly suppressed by the Assad regime, are now dominated by jihadist groups, the most powerful of which is the Islamic State.

A political solution to the civil war in Syria seems impossible in the current environment and the Obama administration has decided to undertake a major campaign to train and equip the more Western-oriented rebel groups. We must accept the reality that the war in Syria is destined to continue for a significant period of time and that the U.S. will be compelled to play a role in this conflict.

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But under no circumstances should U.S. ground combat forces be sent to Syria, nor should they be redeployed in Iraq except in the most limited capacity to support Iraqi military units. To do otherwise would be to play into the hands of the terrorists who taunted Obama in the propaganda video announcing Kassig's beheading.

They know, and we should know as well, that placing U.S. forces into direct combat in Syria or Iraq will only inflame passions in the region and in the wider Muslim world and also serve as the best possible recruiting tool for the terrorists of Islamic State.

Nevertheless, the U.S. cannot turn its back on the people of Syria, Iraq and Kurdistan. This conflict is being driven by a messianic group of savage killers who will not cease unless they are stopped. In addition to the beheading of three Americans, as horrible as it is and as much as we deeply grieve along with the Foleys, the Sotloffs and now the Kassigs, the Islamic State has committed and continues to commit even greater atrocities including mass executions of innocent Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds and the rape and enslavement of young women and girls.

This is a different enemy than any we have faced before and the evil of the Islamic State must be confronted intelligently but forcefully until they are no longer a threat to the region or the wider world.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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Photo from the Mercy for Abdul-Rahman Kassig - formerly known as Peter Facebook page.

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