National Security & Defense

State Department: Islamist Militants’ Tactics Evolving after U.S. Victories

An Iraqi soldiers walks past an ISIS emblem during fighting north of Mosul, January 2017. (Khalid al Mousily/Reuters)

The State Department cautioned Wednesday that Islamic militants have “adjusted” their tactics after U.S. forces and allies secured significant victories against them last year.

In an annual report on America’s global war on terror, analysts also noted that militant attacks decreased 23 percent and fatalities decreased 27 percent worldwide from 2016 to 2017 as the U.S. made “major strides” against terrorist groups. U.S.-backed forces together with Iraqi troops have freed the vast majority of the territory in Iraq and Syria that had been in the grip of the Islamic State, including the strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

Despite those successes, ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their partners “have proven to be resilient, determined and adaptable, and they have adjusted to heightened counterterrorism pressure in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere,” the report says:

They have become more dispersed and clandestine, turning to the Internet to inspire attacks by distant followers, and, as a result, have made themselves less susceptible to conventional military action. Further, the return or relocation of foreign terrorist fighters from the battlefield has contributed to a growing cadre of experienced, sophisticated, and connected terrorist networks, which can plan and execute terrorist attacks.

The authors also note that the fight against terrorist groups has been hindered by Iran, which remains the leading state sponsor of terror and has a “near-global terrorist reach.”

“Iran uses terrorism as a tool of its statecraft,” Nathan Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, told reporters. “It has no reservations about using that tool on any continent.”

The Trump administration scrapped the Iran nuclear deal in May and in November plans to reintroduce the international oil embargo Iran was freed from under the deal. The administration is hoping to negotiate a new agreement addressing Iran’s ballistic-missile and nuclear programs.

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