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July 7, 2016
Notes from the Pentagon

Islamic State expands in Europe, Mideast, North Africa, Asia
Two years since it shifted from terrorist group to governing organization holding territory, the Islamic State is expanding to seven emerging areas of Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, according to a State Department security report.

“In addition to establishing its base in Syria and Iraq, and naming official provinces in numerous countries, [the Islamic State group] has demonstrated a heightened capability to carry out and operate in the [seven] countries,” the report by the Overseas Security Advisory Council states. The council is a State Department organization that provides security support to American businesses operating overseas.

The seven new theaters of operation are Turkey, Tunisia, Lebanon, France, Belgium, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS and ISIL, is active in other locations as well, but the seven locations “represent areas where there is expected to be a continued interest in operating, support networks to do so, and a likelihood for more than a one-off attack,” the report states.

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in June 2014. Since then, the group has sought to establish political and military authority over the Muslim world. The Islamic State group has named “wilayats,” or provinces, of the caliphate that attracted the loyalty of a number of former al Qaeda affiliates. The terrorist group uses a centralized decision-making but a decentralized attack system under which local terrorists choose tactics and targets.

The Islamic State group “promotes an idea that the apocalypse will be brought about following a major victory in the Syrian city of Dabiq,” the report says.

“Two years after declaring their caliphate, the group has declared numerous wilayats globally, inspired several lone-wolf style attacks abroad, orchestrated complex, coordinated attacks in Europe, and maintains control of a large swath of territory in Iraq and Syria,” the report said.

The most recent attacks included the nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, the shootings and suicide bombings at Istanbul Ataturk Airport and a massive suicide bombing in Baghdad.

The Syrian conflict, according to the report, has produced an unprecedented number of jihadis, far more than earlier Islamic conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Somalia and Chechnya. From 2011 to 2016, between 27,000 and 31,000 foreign jihadis from 86 nations joined the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

The foreign fighter flows came from six major states: Tunisia (6,000), Saudi Arabia (2,500), Russia (2,400), Turkey (2,100), Jordan (2,000) and France (1,700). An estimated 280 foreign fighters joined the Islamic State from North America.

The Islamic State is the most successful and active terrorist group in the use of the internet for recruitment and propaganda. But it has not shown the ability to conduct major cyberattacks despite aspirations to do so.

“Analysts agree that ISIL displays the intent to conduct cyberattacks against the energy grid, nuclear facilities, or other critical infrastructure systems, but there is currently little evidence to show that ISIL possesses this capability,” the report says.

Another unique feature of the migration is that foreign noncombatants have traveled to live under or support the Islamic State.

Despite its successes, the Islamic State, which controlled about one-third of Iraq and Syria and 9 million people at the end of 2014, lost about 22 percent of that territory by early this year, the report noted. The Islamic State is estimated to deploy 19,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, and the flow of foreign fighters appears to be on the decline, but that number could fluctuate significantly, the report said.

Key operating areas outside of Syria and Iraq include Libya, where up to 3,000 Islamic State fighters have controlled a 120-mile stretch of territory around the coastal city of Sirte. “Libya has become a regional hub for recruitment of foreign fighters, with ISIL’s Libya elements training regional operatives,” the report said.

In Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the Islamic State-affiliated group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has some 1,000 fighters. Another 300 Islamic State fighters are operating in Yemen, and Islamic State terrorists mainly have targeted Shiites in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia. In Africa, Boko Haram has pledged loyalty to the Islamic State. In Russia’s Caucasus region, the Islamic State has the Kavkaz province, which has absorbed a number of Islamist groups. The Afghanistan affiliate is the Khorasan Province, and the Algerian affiliate is a breakaway element of al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb.

President Obama’s announcement Wednesday that he is slowing the speed of the U.S. troop drawdown from Afghanistan is the latest indicator that the administration’s strategy of seeking peace with the Taliban and building an Afghan military is failing.

Instead of cutting troop levels to 5,500 by the end of the year, as the president advocated in the past, Mr. Obama said Wednesday that the current 9,800 U.S. troops will be cut only to 8,400 through next year, when he leaves office. The mission remains the same: support Afghan forces and go after terrorists.

A senior administration official who briefed reporters on the troop decision said the strategy is to seek a negotiated settlement with the Taliban — an Islamist terrorist group that wants to take over the country and turn it into a radical Islamist state.

“Our position is we would support any political settlement that includes the Taliban renouncing violence, breaking ties with international terrorism and accepting the Afghan Constitution, including protections for women and minorities,” the official said.

Mr. Obama agreed to keep the current troop level in the country based on a recommendation from Army Gen. John Nicholson, the commander in Afghanistan. The commander based the recommendation on the poor performance of the Afghan army over the past two years and the need for continued U.S. support.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that it will spend $10 million to fund community organizations as part of its program called Countering Violent Extremism — the politically correct euphemism for “soft power” efforts to stop Islamic radicalization.

The assistance marks the first time the federal government will fund domestic groups. The groups that will get the money were not identified by the department.

“As I have said before, given the nature of the evolving terrorist threat, building bridges to local communities is as important as any of our other homeland security missions,” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in announcing the grant program. “This new grant program is an important step forward in these efforts and reflects the department’s continued commitment to protect the homeland and uphold our values.”

The funds will go toward training, “community engagements” and activities designed to challenge radicalization efforts, according to a DHS statement.

Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, warned that the DHS program will provide taxpayer funding to covert Muslim Brotherhood front groups in the United States that are pursuing a stealthy jihad with the goal of imposing totalitarian Shariah law in the country.

“We need immediately to discard the meme that this is just about ‘violent extremism’ or even ‘terrorism,’ Mr. Gaffney said. “It’s about jihad. We must accept nothing less than victory over jihad.”

Senate hearings last week exposed how the Muslim Brotherhood is operating covertly inside the United States and has successfully penetrated and subverted the U.S. government with “pre-violent” Islamist influence operations, Mr. Gaffney said.

“The Obama administration has been proven, notably in the person of DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, to be willfully blind and, therefore, the tool of Islamists who want to deflect us with an exclusive focus on ‘violent extremism’ — specifically that of so-called ‘right-wing extremists’ — and thereby cause us to ignore, or worse, legitimate and enable, their stealthy subversion,” he said.

Opponents of the $10 million funding program in Congress plan an amendment to block DHS from funding people or groups associated with Islamic supremacists, Muslim Brotherhood affiliates and other groups identified from the 2007 terrorist financing case in Texas involving the Holy Land Foundation. The case revealed a covert plan by Islamists to infiltrate and subvert the United States.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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