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National Security & Defense

CIA: ‘Number of [ISIS] Fighters Now Far Exceeds What Al-Qaeda Had at Its Height.’

Don’t look now, but yesterday before Congress, CIA Director John Brennan painted a vivid, awful portrait of insufficient efforts against ISIS: “The number of ISIL fighters now far exceeds what al Qaeda had at its height. We’re talking about tens of thousands of individuals.”

Yes, there’s some good news. “ISIL has lost large stretches of territory in both Syria and Iraq. Its finance and media operations have been squeezed. And it has struggled to replenish its ranks of fighters, in part because fewer foreign fighters are traveling to Syria.”

But by the measuring stick of their ability and likelihood of killing Americans, ISIS seems to be getting more dangerous, according to Brennan: “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… We judge that ISIL is training and attempting to deploy operatives for further attacks.”

Remember the big national debate about whether terrorists could slip through nets in the waves of Syrian refugees last fall? Brennan offered a comment on that as well.

“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 refugee flows, smuggling routes, and legitimate methods of travel,” he said.

This contradicts the comfortable conventional wisdom of a few months ago. Back in November, The Atlantic argued, “it’s hard to argue that national security should be a top concern in the debate over Syrian migrants.” Obama dismissed the concerns as Republicans being “scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America.”

To hear Obama speak in Orlando yesterday, you would think ISIS was on the run.

“We will continue to be relentless against terrorist groups like ISIL and al Qaeda.  We are going to destroy them.  We are going to disrupt their networks, and their financing, and the flow of fighters in and out of war theaters.  We’re going to disrupt their propaganda that poisons so many minds around the world. We’re going to do all that.  Our resolve is clear.”

Could the executive branch get on the same page about whether the threat from ISIS is increasing or decreasing? And if, as the CIA Director states, the threat is increasing could the president stop giving us the tired cliches about how “we will not rest“? 


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