CIA Director John Brennan told Congress Thursday that ISIS will ramp up its terrorism campaign despite recent losses on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq. Brennan added that ISIS is “exploring” ways to infiltrate its operatives into western countries including by disguising them in refugee flows and using smuggling routes.
The Hill points out that while we have made progress on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has been growing rapidly in Libya:
The U.S.-led effort has lowered the number of ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq from roughly 32,000 last year to between 18,000 and 22,000 now, Brennan said. But in the same time, the number of ISIS fighters has doubled in Libya, where the organization has gained a foothold, to between 5,000 and 8,000 fighters.
Brennan’s analysis seems much more sober than the one offered by the president last year. In November President Obama announced ISIS was “contained” just one day before the terror attack in Paris. The administration argued that Obama was only talking about containment on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq. Brennan made clear today that ISIS ability to project terrorism at western targets has not been hampered by their regional losses and would probably expand, at least in the short term.
“Despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach,” Brennan said. “The resources needed for terrorism are very modest and the group would have to suffer even heavier losses on territory, manpower and money for its terrorist capacity to decline significantly.
“Moreover, the group’s foreign branches and global networks could help preserve its capacity for terrorism, regardless of events in Iraq and Syria. In fact, as the pressure mounts on ISIL we judge that it will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda.
“Since at least 2014, ISIL has been working to build an apparatus to direct and inspire attacks against its foreign enemies, resulting in hundreds of casualties. The most prominent examples are the attacks in Paris and Brussels, which we assess were directed by ISIL’s leadership.
“We judge that ISIL is training and attempting to deploy operatives for further attacks. ISIL has a large cadre of western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the west. And the group is probably exploring a variety of means for infiltrating operatives into the west including in refugee flows, smuggling routes and legitimate methods of travel.
“Furthermore, as we have seen in Orlando, San Bernardino and elsewhere, ISIL is attempting to inspire attacks by sympathizers who have no direct links to the group. Last month for example a senior ISIL figure publicly urged the groups followers to conduct attacks in their home countries if they were unable to travel to Syria and Iraq.”