June 21, 2016

ISIS Safe Haven "Big, big part" of its Threat


  • The CIA director explained last week that the existence of an ISIS safe haven in Iraq and Syria is a “big, big part” of ISIS’ expansion worldwide.
  • Defeating ISIS first requires a recognition that the war against these Islamist terrorists will not end on timetables that President Obama outlines in political speeches. It will end with the forcible defeat of the enemy.
  • As the CIA director advised: “we must take the fight to them. ... We must deny them a safe haven,” because ISIS must “suffer even heavier losses of territory and money for its terrorist capacity to decline significantly.”

On June 12, a terrorist in Orlando, inspired by Islamist extremist ideology, carried out a horrific attack. The Senate has a choice on how to respond: by focusing on the actual threat at hand – the powerful ability of Islamist extremist ideology to inspire homegrown attacks in the United States; or with policy initiatives that do not address this ideology.

The FBI director has explained on numerous occasions the simple, yet potent, message of ISIS. It tells impressionable people to go to the Middle East and kill people there. If that is not possible, the group’s followers should simply kill people where they are. Although it is difficult to understand why ISIS’ extremist propaganda resonates with some people, the group’s battlefield victories enhance its credibility with aspiring terrorists.

Brennan warning on ISIS in wall street journal and quotes

At a hearing of the Intelligence Committee on June 16, CIA Director John Brennan was asked if there would be “less proliferation of ISIL” and “less of the movement of terrorism worldwide if there was not a safe haven in Syria and Iraq.” He replied, “that is a big, big part of it. We need to take away their safe haven.”

The terrorist army of ISIS controls a significant amount of territory across the globe. The director of national intelligence testified to Congress earlier this year that Sunni violent extremists have more “safe havens than at any other point in history.” He said the ability of ISIS specifically to direct and inspire attacks is “increasing.” He added that al Qaeda affiliates “are positioned to make gains” this year.

The ISIS ideology can inspire terrorist attacks outside of its territory and here in the United States because that territorial control makes it seem powerful; like it is winning the battle of ideas. There are certainly policy initiatives to be taken to address homegrown self-radicalization. Defeating ISIS abroad is also an imperative, so that its message is not seen as victorious.

Defeating ISIS first requires a recognition that the war against these Islamist terrorists will not end on timetables that President Obama outlines in political speeches. It will end with the forcible defeat of the enemy. In May 2013, President Obama said “history advises” that the war against terrorist organizations, “like all wars, must end.” More than three years after the president’s rhetorical demands, the capacity of the terrorists seems to be expanding, not degrading.

In his appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, the CIA director explained:

  • “Despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach.”
  • “The numbers of ISIL fighters now far exceeds what al Qaeda had at its height.”
  • After President Obama’s intervention in Libya, the ISIL branch there is “the most dangerous branch of ISIL outside of Syria and Iraq. … They now control a portion of the Libyan coast.”
  • The ISIL branch in the Sinai Peninsula brought down a Russian airliner by use of an IED.
  • “ISIL has been able to rapidly develop capabilities in other countries.”

This is hardly a terrorist group that is feeling compelled to lay down its arms just because the president of the United States said history demands it. The CIA director counseled what must be done to reverse this trend: “We must take the fight to them. We must attack them where they raise money, where they plan, where they recruit, and we must deny them a safe haven.” As the director said, given the substantial strength of ISIS at this time, “the group would have to suffer even heavier losses of territory, and money for its terrorist capacity to decline significantly.” This should be the focus of Congress in response to the Orlando terrorist attacks.

Issue Tag: National Security