Some national security experts are predicting an uptick in terrorist attacks for 2016, despite continued operations against Islamic State.
The U.S. and its coalition partners may have made some gains against the caliphate in 2015, particularly in the ability to target ISIS oil revenue, but losses in Iraq and Syria may lead to further targeting of civilians abroad, say Steven Simon, former National Security Council senior director for Middle Eastern and North African affairs and Daniel Benjamin, former coordinator for counter-terrorism at the U.S. Department of State.
Western challenges to ISIS “will likely prompt increased attacks in Europe, Russia, Turkey, and possibly Lebanon and Jordan,” write Simon and Benjamin in Westpoint Combating Terrorism Center’s Sentinel magazine, “an eclectic targeting strategy combined with an ability to motivate lone wolves and returnees suggest that an impenetrable defense will be difficult to mount.”
Simon and Benjamin credit the Kurdish Peshmerga and People’s Protection Units (YPG) with cutting off a significant amount of ISIS’ supply lines into Turkey. They predict that ISIS’ battlefield ability will inevitably wane throughout the year, but that doesn’t necessarily make the radical Islamic terror group any less dangerous.
“As the Islamic State’s social media output declines, messaging about the historical achievement of the caliphate rings ever more hollow and voices of dissent multiply. That makes a surge in terrorist attacks more necessary for the group to maintain its status in the marketplace,” claim Benjamin and Simon.
The authors believe that increased attacks abroad will not be limited to ISIS, noting that “rivalry between jihadi groups could also spur attacks by al-Qaida and its affiliates … Al-Qaida’s need to reassert its leadership of the global jihad may encourage it to attempt a spectacular attack against a Western target.”
Doug Ollivant, former director of the National Security Council and a current senior fellow at New America, concurs with Simon and Benjamin, but also predicts continued turmoil in other parts of the Middle East.
“Expect some good military news from Iraq to be balanced out by continuing turmoil in Yemen, Libya, and-barring some unexpected diplomatic breakthrough-Syria, while Afghanistan maintains its slow decline into chaos,” he tells Defense One.
Stratfor, a private global intelligence company, predicts that while “[anti-ISIS] operations will degrade Islamic State’s conventional military capabilities and diminish its territorial control, they will not be enough to end the threat the group poses to the West. Indeed, the Islamic State will encourage more grassroots attacks against soft targets beyond the Middle East.”
With an upcoming presidential election, increased turmoil in the Middle East and a year which saw several terrorist attacks across Europe and the U.S., one could predict that national security issues will continue to be a main focus of the nation’s attention.
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