WASHINGTON—The likely collapse of the Islamic State (IS) caliphate in Iraq and Syria will deal a mighty blow to the terror group, but may scatter “hundreds of hardened killers” into Western Europe, top Obama administration officials said on Thursday.
The likely dispersal of the terrorists makes the sharing of intelligence between Western Europe and the United States ever more essential, the officials said.
Allied forces are “getting close” to launching an assault to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and an IS stronghold, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vincent R. Stewart, a Marine Corps lieutenant general, told the 2016 Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington.
“I would imagine that the operation will unfold sometime in the next two, three months,” Stewart said, adding that “a long and difficult battle” may unfold in the city itself. Ejecting IS fighters from the largest population center they control in Iraq and Syria may have serious knock-on effects as their caliphate, or religious state, collapses.
“The threat that I believe will dominate the next five years for the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] will be the impact of the crushing of the caliphate, which will happen,” FBI Director James Comey said at the forum, which was sponsored by two associations of professional intelligence officials. “But through the fingers of that crush are going to come hundreds of hardened killers who are not going to die on the battlefield.”
A huge number of them are going to flow to Western Europe, Comey said, where they will plot the types of terror attacks that hit central Paris last November, killing 130 people, and in Brussels in January, leaving 35 dead and 300 or so wounded. Some will try to come to the United States, he predicted.
“Being equipped for the Paris/Brussels-type attackers flooding to Western Europe and trying to take the fight here to maintain ISIL’s [Islamic States in Iraq and the Levant] cred in the global jihad world is going to dominate our lives,” Comey said, using an acronym for the extremist group.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John O. Brennan said strengthening liaison relationships with intelligence services in other countries had been elevated to a core CIA mission, along with covert action, analysis, clandestine collection and counterintelligence.
IS has a much bigger global footprint than al-Qaeda ever did, Brennan said, and more countries are eager to work with the United States in combating the movement.
“That’s why I include liaison relationships among our five core mission areas,” he said.
While the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels spurred heightened intelligence sharing among the European Union’s 28 member-nations, a sign of how far that cooperation has to go emerged last weekend, when the French newspaper Le Monde published excerpts of a talk that Bernard Barbier, the former technical director of the French intelligence agency, had given earlier in the summer.
“It is impossible to build a single European intelligence service with 28 countries that do not have the same resources or the same culture,” Barbier was quoted as saying. “The best, relative to their number of inhabitants, are the Swedes. The Italians are bad. The Spanish are a little better, but do not have means. And the British…are strong but are they European?”
Image credits: AP/Michel Eule