The presidential debates have sparked intense discussion of the Islamic State and America’s role in defeating extremism. The candidates on both sides have proposed multiple solutions of the advise and assist variety, with several candidates proposing the use of special operations in a role augmenting friendly local forces—in other words, a combat role.

I can’t help but recall when the mission in Iraq transitioned to “advise and assist” during the last phase of Operation New Dawn (OND). The only thing that changed was the language on awards and official communiqués. Our operational role remained the same.

As is already the case, the role of SOF advisors in Iraq has morphed into active ground combat, defying the political narrative. The costs have just begun to be borne out with the death of Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler, a seasoned and highly decorated Special Forces operator killed during a daring hostage rescue that freed dozens of Iraqi civilians.

The general rationale behind a limited involvement strategy is that American (Western) involvement contributes to the recruiting narrative of the Islamic State. This is largely true. The narrative of jihadi leaders regarding Western action in the region is framed in terms of the ‘West vs. Islam’ or ‘Christianity vs. Islam,’ which drives their recruiting power by positioning the Umma (whole Muslim community) as victims of Western aggression. Hence the calls by candidates for withholding U.S. ground support and enabling the friendly Sunni and Kurdish forces, an attempted remake of the awakening movement that helped turn the tide in the Iraq War circa 2007.

The hesitation to commit troops is derived from only a partial understanding of jihadi ideology. It can be done, but only in a way that exploits the Islamic State’s ideology to gain an advantage.

Over a year ago, in December 2014, Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, then-SOCOM commander in the Middle East, was quoted in a New York Times report stating, “We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it.” He continued, “We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.” On what battlefield will the idea—indeed, the prophecy—behind the Islamic State be defeated? We must understand what we are actually battling is the legitimacy of the Islamic State’s claims.

“The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify—by Allah’s permission—until it burns the crusader armies in Dābiq.” Those are the words of the infamous jihadi, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist kingpin who strategically masterminded the Iraqi Civil War in the first several years of the Iraq campaign. He was once enemy #1 of the United States.

Zarqawi was hunted down and eventually killed by coalition forces in 2006. However, his words are prominently inscribed throughout the Islamic State’s propaganda magazines. The prophecy he alludes to has always been a part of the jihadi ideology, long before the Islamic State existed. It is one that Zarqawi; bin Laden; Zawahiri; and Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph; all subscribe(d) to—a series of events that, as written in the Hadith, will bring about the apocalypse.