ISIS going for guerilla tactics: CIA chief

US Marines, at an undisclosed location in the Arabian Gulf, preparing for a military campaign against ISIS.
US Marines, at an undisclosed location in the Arabian Gulf, preparing for a military campaign against ISIS.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

He says terror group is targeting the West, more Orlando-style attacks expected

WASHINGTON • The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will intensify its global terrorism campaign by directing as well as inspiring attacks in the United States and elsewhere, despite its mounting territorial and financial losses, said US Central Intelligence Agency chief John Brennan.

ISIS "will probably rely more on guerilla tactics", such as the attacks in Paris and Brussels in the past year that were directed by its leadership, Mr Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee at a hearing on Thursday. It will also seek to inspire more attacks similar to those in San Bernardino, California, in December and in Orlando, Florida, this week, he said.

There is no indication that Omar Mateen, who carried out the Orlando shooting, the worst massacre in modern US history, had a direct link to ISIS or any other foreign terrorist group, Mr Brennan said. He called such lone-wolf attacks "an exceptionally challenging issue for the intelligence community".

The CIA chief's stark assessment of the group's intentions and capabilities contrasts with the Obama administration's portrait of ISIS as being in decline because of increasing success in the US-led military campaign to retake territory claimed by the group and to cut off its oil income and other revenue.

"Despite 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," Mr Brennan said, using another acronym for the group. ISIS has as many as 22,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq, down from about 32,000, he said.

However, its Libyan branch has become the most dangerous, with about 5,000 fighters, he said, adding that the group's operation in the Sinai succeeded in bringing down a Russian plane with an improvised explosive device.

The group is probably exploring how to send operatives to Western countries, including through refugee flows, Mr Brennan said, in a comment that may bolster Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's calls to temporarily bar refugees from places "where you have terrible terrorism".

President Barack Obama has said such moves would play into terrorist groups' hands by portraying all Muslims as enemies.

Meanwhile, more than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of US policy in Syria, calling for military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's government to stop its persistent violations of a civil war ceasefire.

The "dissent channel cable" was signed by 51 mid- to high-level State Department officers involved with advising on Syria policy.

The cable calls for "targeted military strikes" against the Syrian government in the light of the near-collapse of the ceasefire brokered earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he would discuss the memo when he returned to Washington from his overseas trip.

Military strikes against the Assad government would represent a major change in the Obama adminis- tration's longstanding policy of not intervening directly in the Syrian civil war, even as it has called for a political transition that would see Mr Assad leave power.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'ISIS going for guerilla tactics: CIA chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe