CIA Director John Brennan predicted Thursday that a resilient ISIS will retain its ability to launch and inspire attacks on the U.S. and the West despite the "accelerated" efforts of the Pentagon to inflict a battlefield defeat on the terror group.
"Unfortunately, despite all 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," Brennan said, using another acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
"In fact, 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," he said.
Brennan's pessimistic tone in prepared remarks for testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee contrasted with the upbeat assessments from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the White House that portrayed ISIS as a hollowed out organization losing ground in Iraq and Syria whose lasting defeat was inevitable.
Despite its losses, "ISIL has a large cadre of Western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West," and the group was improving its ability to smuggle them into the West hidden in refugee flows or by using the legitimate passports of foreign fighters attracted to the group, Brennan told the Committee.
In addition, the organization is making progress in streamlining its network of influence over its various branches in Libya and elsewhere, Brennan said. The branch in Libya is likely the most advanced, he said, and the ISIS offshoot in the Sinai has become the "most active and capable terrorist group in Egypt."
Brennan acknowledged that two years of airstrikes and the billions spent on training local forces for the fight against ISIS were having limited success.
"On the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, the U.S-led coalition has made important progress against ISIL," he said. "The group appears to be a long way from realizing the vision that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi laid out when he declared the "caliphate" two years ago in Mosul."
"Several notable indicators are trending in the right direction. 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," Brennan said.
However, ISIS remained a "formidable adversary" for the long term, as evidenced by the "heinous act of wanton violence that was perpetrated against innocents in Orlando, Florida, last weekend," Brennan said.
On the battlefield, "we anticipate that the group will adjust its strategy and tactics in an effort to regain momentum. In the coming months, we can expect ISIL to probe the front lines of its adversaries for weaknesses, to harass the forces that are holding the cities it previously controlled, and to conduct terror attacks against its enemies in Iraq and Syria," Brennan said.
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.