Intelligence director: ISIS is the greatest non-state threat to the U.S., allies

Friday, February 12, 2016 by

( The director of national intelligence told a congressional panel this week that the greatest non-state threat facing the U.S. and its allies is the Islamic State, even though American-led and Russian airstrikes against it has weakened its hold on Syrian and Iraqi territory in recent weeks.

Calling ISIS the “most significant” non-state threat, DNI James Clapper said before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the group is continuing its successful recruitment of foreign fighters and is widening its reach into countries like Libya.

In fact, the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) “exceeds al Qaeda,” Clapper said in his opening statement.

Joining Clapper was Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, who said the U.S. should do more to provide support to rebel sub-groups fighting ISIS.

“If we are not supportive of the Sunni tribes [in fighting the Islamic State] they will die,” Stewart said, adding that it was crucial for the Iraqi government dominated by Shi’ites to include Sunnis in the central government, for unity. Otherwise, he said, the various tribes will remain “on the fence or choose the least worst option” which could include collaborating with the Islamic State, USNI News reported.

Clapper expressed limited optimism regarding the war on the ground in Iraq, though Stewart said he was “less optimistic in the near term” that Mosul would be retaken by Iraqi forces from the Islamic State this year. Prior to being overrun by ISIS fighters in 2014, Mosul was home to 2.5 million people.

“It’s an extensive operation” to drive Sunni extremists from a city that still retains some 650,000 residents, according to UN estimates, Stewart testified.

When he was asked about a recent announcement from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia about sending in ground forces to fight ISIS, Clapper said that while the UAE has “a very, very, capable military,” it is nonetheless “very small.” As for the Saudis, ground-troop involvement for them “will be a challenge.”

Both nations are currently waging an air campaign against Houthi – Iranian-backed Shi’ite rebels – in Yemen. Currently there is a military stalemate there, Clapper said, adding that he expected that to continue into the foreseeable future.

Clapper said it was important to keep the military and economic pressure on the “mom-and-pop refineries” and banks helping finance the Islamic State.

USNI News reported further:

Stewart said the Russian military involvement in Syria has left the regime of Bashar al Assad in a stronger position now than it was six months or a year ago, and he does not expect that to change at least “for a year or so.” 

Clapper said that 250,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war and 4.4 million residents have been displaced by the fighting. He added that the Russians and Iranians, also allied with the Assad regime, are increasingly turning to proxies, such as Hezbollah from neighboring Lebanon, to do the fighting inside Syria.

As for Russia’s involvement in Syria, that has certainly complicated U.S. efforts to battle ISIS. While the Kremlin initially claimed that its operations in Syria would be directed against ISIS, most of the airstrikes launched thus far have been in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against homegrown rebels.

But Russia has concerns about ISIS as well. The International Business Times reported this week that the Kremlin, too, is concerned about ISIS recruiting efforts, especially through the use of Russian-language propaganda materials.

“According to experts, the Russian language is becoming, alongside Arabic and English, the main language of Daesh propaganda,” said Colonel General Andrei Novikov at the Commonwealth of Independent States Anti-Terrorist Center, using another name for the terrorist group, as reported by the Russian-state backed media group Sputnik.

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