THE LEVANT – “ISIL is not invincible,” said National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Matthew Olsen, referring to the extremist organization (known also as ISIS and Islamic State) currently in control of large areas of both Syria and Iraq, during an event sponsored by the Intelligence Project at Brookings. Yet, said Olsen, the group still “poses a direct and significant threat to us, and to Iraqi and Syrian civilians in the region, and potentially to us here at home.”
After laying out the background describing ISIL’s rise and stating that “ISIL threatens to outpace al Qaeda as the dominant voice of influence in the global extremist movement,” Olsen emphasized that “it is important that we keep this threat in perspective and we take a moment to consider it in the context of the overall terrorist landscape. The rise of ISIL can be viewed as one, one manifestation of the transformation of the global jihadist movement over past several years.”
“ISIL has captured our immediate focus,” Olsen said, “but it is only one of the myriad groups that pose a threat to us as the terrorist landscape evolves and becomes increasingly complex and challenging for us.”
The NCTC director then laid out the strategies and tools being used to “confront and ultimately defeat ISIL.” These include engaging with a global coalition of international partners and an “all-of-government approach,” coordinating U.S. and partner military, intelligence, diplomatic and law-enforcement assets, both internationally and domestically.
Olsen focused in particular on the role that a representative Iraqi government must play. “Only a government in Iraq that is representative of all Iraqis,” he said, “and will make the necessary political reforms to unite the country will be effective in combating the group.”
Further, regional and international partners are supplying a range of assistance measures, from military to humanitarian assistance. “A broad international consensus against ISIL,” Olsen said, “will provide the foundation for concerted action to achieve a number of objectives.”
“ISIL and other groups threaten our people and our interest in the region,” he said in conclusion, “and if left unchecked they will seek to carry out attacks closer to home.”
Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project, introduced Olsen and moderated an audience Q&A session following the director’s remarks. In response to Riedel’s own question about Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram’s capabilities, Olsen again emphasized the challenge of and need to prioritize resources based on the threat: