The State Department’s latest annual terrorism report emphasizes the growing influence of ISIL, claiming the Islamic State has surpassed al-Qaeda as the leading terror group. The report also finds a trend in “the rise of lone offender violent extremists in the West.” It notes the increasingly violent tactics of groups like Boko Haram and ISIL, which it describes as including “brutal repression of communities under its control and the use of ruthless methods of violence such as beheadings and crucifixions intended to terrify opponents.”
The document credits ISIL’s rise to the war in Syria, which has attracted more foreign terrorist fighters in 2014 than “the amount that traveled to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia at any point in the last 20 years.” It hints at the idea that ISIL’s proclamation of Caliphate is gaining support of other nations in the region, insinuating the group’s goal of establishing a state along the border of Iraq and Syria could potentially be achieved. It also describes an uncertainty about the future of Syria, where ISIL is one of several groups fighting for control of the politically unstable region.
The report touts its creation of the “Global Coalition to Counter ISIL,” referring to the group of nations which have agreed to work towards curbing ISIL’s influence in Western countries as well as their advances on the ground. The tactic of prosecuting suspected terrorists at home has been noticeably more prominent in recent years, with nations like the U.S. and Canada arresting people for conspiring to aid ISIL or fleeing the country to join the group. The document's repeated references to ISIL’s ability to achieve international support via social media and other means show how the State Department is working towards stopping those trends and undermining the group’s influence in Western nations through increasingly strict means.
Although the U.S. military is undeniably involved in the campaign against ISIL, President Obama has been hesitant to authorize the use of combat troops. The U.S. still, of course, conducts air strikes in the region and has U.S. military members stationed there to train the Iraqi Army. The Obama administration's policy towards ISIL has come under attack from opponents in Congress who have varying views on what the nation's role in the conflict should be. The State Department’s heavy emphasis on ISIL as a growing threat only suggests that the debate over how to effectively combat the group will continue. It’s certain to be a pressing issue in the 2016 election, especially with hawkish candidates like Lindsey Graham clashing with those who would act more cautiously as commander-in-chief.
One positive aspect of the report is that Cuba is no longer listed as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. As CNN reports, this is the first annual terrorism report that hasn’t included Cuba on that list. The rest of the report, which can be read here, gives further insight into terrorist activities in countries around the world. The fact that the document’s opening “Strategic Assessment” is almost entirely dedicated to ISIL, however, demonstrates that the group has become one of the U.S.’s top priorities.
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