Top U.S. military brass and former administration officials are publicly pressuring the White House to consider taking the fight against the Islamic State into Syria, warning that the terror organization poses an unprecedented threat to the United States.
"ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They're beyond just a terrorist group," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday, adding that the U.S. will have to take a "cold, steely hard look" and "get ready."
Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey spoke in ominous terms as they addressed the growing danger posed by the organization that aims to form a caliphate across northern Iraq and Syria, and possibly beyond.
Their comments suggested something more than a "limited" military mission -- as the White House says is being pursued in Iraq -- is ultimately needed to blunt, and defeat, the Islamic State.
Dempsey, speaking after IS militants beheaded American journalist James Foley, tackled the sensitive topic of whether the organization can be dealt with without uprooting their foothold in Syria.
"To your question, can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border," Dempsey said.
Military analysts say the comments Thursday are a clear sign that Pentagon leaders are pressing President Obama to approve an expanded campaign, potentially in Syria.
Whether such options might include airstrikes in Syria, or lesser measures, is unclear. Dempsey said airstrikes are not necessarily required, but Hagel said "we're looking at all options."
Dempsey pointed to the need for a "coalition in the region" to take on the terror group.
But retired Gen. Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff and Fox News military analyst, said "the air power campaign must be applied in Syria ... as well as in Iraq."