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The time for action is now

The Islamic State mistakenly thought the brutal execution of American journalist James Wright Foley would be a warning to the United States. Instead, they issued a call to arms.

The insurgency controlling territory in Iraq and Syria has made its intentions clear. Its fighters want to establish a caliphate, guided by a radical interpretation of Islamic law, in the heart of the Middle East. They will slaughter anyone in the way.

Thus far, the United States has limited its involvement to airstrikes and advisers to aid the fight, but the time for half-measures is at an end. Eradicating this extremist group and the threat it poses should be a national priority and President Barack Obama must be willing to take all necessary measures to see it done.

On Tuesday, video released through a radical Islamic website showed the beheading of Jim Foley, a 40-year-old journalist for the U.S.-based online news outlet GlobalPost. The American, missing since November 2012, was apparently executed in response to U.S. airstrikes against extremist forces in Iraq.

We have for months warned about the growing threat posed by the Islamic State and advocated for forceful action in response. The rise of this insurgency poses a clear and immediate danger to civilians throughout Iraq and Syria. Its advances undermine regional stability and our national security.

The insurgents are radical Sunni Muslims responsible for the wholesale massacre of civilians, including "disloyal" Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and other religious minorities. They have destroyed churches, mosques and shrines, wiping from the map priceless historical treasures that are hundreds, even thousands, of years old.

They are a relatively small force, with intelligence estimates claiming their core may number around 10,000 fighters. But they use brutality to sow fear and command loyalty. They torture, maim and rape with indiscriminate frequency and routinely behead and crucify opponents.

The group's tactical success has inspired support from like-minded radicals, who have flocked to the battlefield from around the world. Some 2,000 fighters come from Europe, and as many as 500 of those are British nationals.

These are students of jihad and the Islamic State is their madrassa. There, they fight and train, learning tactics of terror they would eagerly bring back home. President Obama on Wednesday accurately compared the threat to a cancer. It wants to spread.

The execution of Mr. Foley was the latest demonstration of the insurgents' contempt for human life. And while it is tempting for us, as journalists, to make this cause a personal one in light of this week's events, we believe his memory should honored by liberating the people whose stories he gave his life to tell.

The violence in Iraq stretches back years, and we called for American intervention reluctantly only when it outweighed the folly of inaction. We were pleased to see the president deploy air power and military advisers in support of Iraqi government forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters, but worried they would prove insufficient.

Mr. Foley's execution should lend urgency to defeating the insurgency. The president's thoughtful remarks on Wednesday in tribute to the slain journalist appeared to reflect the same conclusion.

President Obama's words hit the mark perfectly. The president was emotional but focused, sorrowful but undeterred, as he succinctly contrasted Islamic State's tactics with the "hope and civility" for which we stand.

"The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people," the president said. "We will be vigilant and we will be relentless."

Protecting our people at home and abroad means stopping the Islamic State. As such, President Obama should unequivocally commit the full strength of the U.S. armed forces to smashing these nihilistic ideologues.

We already have a vested interest in the future of Iraq and Syria. We possess the firepower. We should not want for resolve. We believe all free nations should rally to help and encourage our European allies to participate. But we should not fear to take this action alone, secure in the righteousness of this cause.

Returning from a visit to South Korea this week, Pope Francis was asked about the U.S. airstrikes against insurgent forces in Iraq. "Where there is an unjust aggression I can only say that it is legitimate to stop the unjust aggressor," the Argentinian pontiff said.

We can and we must stop the unjust aggressor. It is a war the Islamic State started and that we will finish.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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