WASHINGTON - Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution.
The wounds of the attacks on Paris are still raw in the West, where mourning is quickly being replaced by renewed fears and stepped-up security.
Current and former intelligence officials, like former CIA director James Woolsey, warn this is the new reality.
“We’re just getting started. I think ISIS is going to be with us for some time, even if their headquarters, their caliphate is captured or destroyed,” said Woolsey.
Counterterror officials believe that in some ways, Islamic State is using the attacks on Paris and on the Russian airliner in Egypt to show its resilience as slowly but surely its forces are being beaten back in Iraq.
“We've also seen some other things, like a reduction of the number of personnel sitting at checkpoints. So that gives an indicator that maybe things aren't as good as they could be in -- in ISIL land,” said Col. Steve Warren, part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation against Islamic State.
Still, Washington remains cautious, increasing security at home although officials say, for now, there are no credible threats to the U.S.
The fear is Islamic State’s both opportunistic and strategic nature, former counterintelligence operative Mubin Shaikh said via Skype.
“ISIS has had a plan to train people to send them back into their countries and stay in place and attack. It’s not a shift in strategy. It’s just them doing exactly what they said that they would be doing,” said Shaikh.
A U.S. counterterrorism official tells VOA Islamic State has evolved, moving from a group focused on securing territory for its self-declared caliphate to one that’s demonstrated an ability to strike far from home, seeking to cement its place as the world’s preeminent jihadist organization.