The following are relevant excerpts from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’ testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in which he discussed the 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment his office has recently released.
“And, non-state actors including terrorists and criminal groups are exploiting weak state capacity in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America and the Caribbean, causing instability and violence both within states and among them.”
“Terrorists will use the Internet to raise funds and promote their malign messages; criminals will exploit cyber tools to finance their operations.”
“The terrorist threat is pronounced and spans the sectarian spectrum from ISIS, and al-Qa’ida to Lebanese Hizballah, and other affiliated terrorist organizations, as well as the state-sponsored activities of Iran.”
“US-based homegrown violent extremists (HVEs), including inspired and self-radicalized individuals, represent the primary and most difficult-to-detect Sunni terrorist threat in the United States.”
“ISIS’s claim of having a functioning caliphate that governs populations is all but thwarted. However, ISIS remains a threat and will likely focus on regrouping in Iraq and Syria, enhancing its global presence, championing its cause, planning international attacks, and encouraging members and sympathizers to attack their home countries.”
“Meanwhile, Al-Qa’ida almost certainly will remain a major actor in global terrorism as it continues to prioritize a long-term approach and the organization remains intent on attacking the United States and US interests abroad.”
“Iran will remain the most prominent state sponsor of terrorism and an adversary in the Middle East especially in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.”
“It will seek to expand its regional influence and will exploit the fight against ISIS to solidify partnerships and translate battlefield gains into political, security, and economic agreements.”
“And Lebanese Hizballah-with the support of Iran-has deployed thousands of fighters to Syria, and provides direction to other militant and terrorist groups, all fomenting regional instability.”
“Turkey will seek to thwart Kurdish ambitions in the Middle East, and the ongoing Turkish incursion into northern Syria is complicating ongoing counter-lSIS activities in the region and increases the risk to US forces located in the area.”
“Iraq is likely to face a lengthy period of political turmoil and conflict. The social and political challenges that gave rise to ISIS remain and Iran has exploited those challenges to deepen its of influence in Iraq’s military and security elements and diplomatic and political arms.”
“The war in Yemen between the Iranian-backed Huthis and the Saudi-led coalition is likely to continue and will worsen the already tragic humanitarian crisis for 70 percent of the population-or about 20 million people-in need of assistance.”
From the assessment:
— Iran will seek to expand its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, where it sees conflicts generally trending in Tehran’s favor, and it will exploit the fight against ISIS to solidify partnerships and translate its battlefield gains into political, security, and economic agreements.
— Iran’s retaliatory missile strikes on ISIS targets in Syria following ISIS attacks in Tehran in June were probably intended in part to send a message to the United States and its allies about Iran’s improving military capabilities. Iran is pursuing permanent military bases in Syria and probably wants to maintain a network of Shia foreign fighters in Syria to counter future threats to Iran. Iran also seeks economic deals with Damascus, including deals on telecommunications, mining, and electric power repairs.
— The conflict has decisively shifted in the Syrian regime’s favor, enabling Russia and Iran to further entrench themselves inside the country. Syria is likely to experience episodic conflict through 2018, even as Damascus recaptures most of the urban terrain and the overall level of violence decreases.
— Baghdad will have to contend with longstanding and war-hardened ethnosectarian divisions between Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds that were kept in check by the threat from ISIS. Despite ISIS’s loss of territory, the social and political challenges that gave rise to the group remain and threaten the cohesion of the Iraqi state.
— Turkey’s counterterrorism cooperation with the United States against ISIS is likely to continue, but thwarting Kurdish regional ambitions will be a foreign policy priority. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is likely to employ polarizing rhetoric, straining bilateral relations and cooperation on shared regional goals.