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Pentagon says Islamic State militants regrouping to launch new offensive after public killing

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WASHINGTON (AP/WJLA) - U.S. airstrikes have helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces regain their footing in Iraq, but the well-resourced Islamic State militants can be expected to regroup and stage a new offensive, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, gestures as he speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon. (AP photo)

Speaking alongside Hagel at a Pentagon news conference, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey said that although the Islamic State group can be contained it cannot be defeated without attacking it in Syria.

Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this would not necessarily require airstrikes by the U.S., although Hagel appeared to leave open that possibility by telling reporters, "We're looking at all options."

Citing the recapture this week of the Mosul Dam that had been in Islamic State militants' hands, Hagel credited U.S. bombing as well as U.S. arms supplies to Iraqi and Kurdish forces and international humanitarian assistance to the thousands of Iraqis displaced across northern Iraq.

"Overall, these operations have stalled ISIL's momentum and enabled Iraqi and Kurdish forces to regain their footing and take the initiative," Hagel said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group that is an outgrowth of al-Qaida.

The U.S. has restricted its military action to Iraq, but concerns have increased as the Islamic militant group extends its reach from safe havens in Syria across the Iraqi border.

Dempsey, who served multiple tours in Iraq during the 2003-2011 war, was pointed in his comments about what it would take to ultimately defeat the Islamic State group.

"They can be contained, not in perpetuity," Dempsey said. "This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated.

"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.

"And that will come when we have a coalition in the region that takes on the task of defeating ISIS over time," Dempsey added, using another acronym for the group. "ISIS will only truly be defeated when it's rejected by the 20 million disenfranchised Sunni that happen to reside between Damascus and Baghdad."

Neither Hagel nor Dempsey gave any indication of an imminent change in the U.S. military approach in Iraq, which President Barack Obama has said will include further airstrikes but not the introduction of American ground forces.

The Pentagon on Thursday said U.S. warplanes had launched six airstrikes overnight to help solidify Iraqi and Kurdish forces' efforts to retake and maintain control of the Mosul Dam.

It said the latest strikes destroyed or damaged three Humvees, multiple roadside bombs and another insurgent vehicle. The attacks brought to 90 the number of U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq since Aug. 8. Fifty-seven of the 90 have been in support of Iraqi forces near the Mosul Dam.

For all its horror, the beheading of American journalist James Foley in Syria appeared unlikely to change lawmakers' minds about further military intervention against Islamic State extremists.

The initial response from members of Congress was mixed, reflecting the divide of the American people. While all decried Foley's death, hawks, particularly Republicans, continued to assail the Obama administration's limited airstrikes in Iraq and its refusal to target Islamic State bases in neighboring Syria. The president's supporters voiced support for the current, cautious intervention in Iraq. No tea partiers or dovish Democrats who have cautioned against military action publicly changed position.

"The president's rhetoric was excellent, but he didn't outline steps to stop the slaughter," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of Obama's harshest foreign policy critics, said. "The strategy should be to launch all-out air attacks in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIL," he said.

A U.S. official said Thursday the Islamic State militants had demanded $132.5 million, or 100 million euros, in ransom for Foley's release. The demands were sent in emails to Foley's family in New Hampshire.

The beheading has forced a new debate between the longtime U.S. and British refusal to negotiate with terrorists, and Europe and the Persian Gulf's increasing willingness to pay ransoms in a desperate attempt to free citizens. The dilemma: How to save the lives of those kidnapped without financing terror groups, and encouraging more kidnappings.

By paying ransoms, governments in the Mideast and Europe have become some of the biggest financiers of terror groups. By refusing to do likewise, the U.S. and Great Britain are in the thankless position of putting their own citizens at a disadvantage.

Rather than pay ransoms, the United States often tries to rescue its hostages with covert military teams trained to raid extremist camps.

A secret operation was launched in early July to rescue Foley and other U.S. hostages being held by the Islamic State in Syria. U.S. special forces engaged in a firefight with the Islamic State, and killed several militants, but did not find any American hostages at the unspecified location.

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