09/16/2014 12:43 pm ET Updated Sep 16, 2014

Chuck Hagel: ISIS Threat 'Not A West vs. East Issue'

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made clear during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday that the ongoing U.S. involvement in a campaign against the Islamic State should not be misconstrued as a cultural fight.

"This is not a West vs. East issue," Hagel said in response to a question from committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) about a coalition formed to fight the militant group formerly known as ISIS or ISIL.

"This is not a U.S.-European coalition against Muslim countries or a Muslim region," Hagel said. "It's important that the world see -- and especially the people of the Middle East see -- that the threat confronting them first and all of us needs to be addressed by the people of their region, as well as all nations and all people in the world. To have Arab, Muslim nations be present and public about their efforts in this coalition helps that."

Watch Hagel's comments in the video above.

The hearing assessed U.S. policy toward Iraq and Syria and the potential threat posed by the Islamic State. Hagel stressed the importance of having the broader Muslim community involved, because most followers of the religion have far more moderate views than those of the militant group.

"The Muslims of the world know that what ISIL represents in no way is what their religion, their ethnicity, what their background represents," Hagel said. "To have the local forces be involved, supported by local people, is the most significant thing I think we can do as we support them and will continue to do to defeat ISIL and other extremist threats."



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