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U.S. military facing new types of threats

Terrorism, and the growing threat to the United States and its allies. But we’re not just talking about low-tech terrorism defined by improvised explosive devices, hijacked commercial vehicles, and indiscriminate acts of violence against civilian targets. Today, America’s armed forces are facing a far more symmetrical threat from non-state actors.

“The Houthis are the first entity in the history of the world to use anti-ship ballistic missiles ever,” Navy vice admiral Brad Cooper recently told CBS’s 60 Minutes. He added that it would convey a “false sense” of superiority to describe the Yemen-based militia group as “ragtag.” “Ten years of being supplied by the Iranians very sophisticated, advanced weapons,” he added, has produced a well-armed and adept force firing powerful ordnance at both commercial vessels and U.S. Navy ships.

In recent days, U.S. armed forces positioned around the Gulf of Aden destroyed three “uncrewed surface vessels” maintained by the Houthi terrorist group Ansar Allah. The militia group separately launched three anti-ship ballistic missiles, none of which hit the coalition Navy vessels or merchant ships in range. A Liberia-flagged ship bound for China was, however, struck by an aerial drone. That ship may have survived, but at least two container ships have been sunk as a result of Houthi attacks. What’s more, the uptick in terrorist activity in the region has reinforced the wisdom of the international shipping consortiums that rerouted their vessels away from the Suez Canal and toward the much less viable path to Europe and the Americas around the Cape of Good Hope.

“Rates to ship goods across the Pacific have multiplied,” the New York Times reported on Monday. “It now costs over $6,700 to transport a 40-foot container from Shanghai to Los Angeles, and nearly $8,000 for Shanghai to New York. As recently as December, those costs were near $2,000.” The additional costs these carriers have assumed and will pass on to consumers are an inconvenience, but they pale in comparison to the deterioration of America’s implicit guarantees of global maritime security.

The U.S. news outlets reporting on the ongoing campaign of Houthi terror directed at international shipping — a campaign the Biden administration only reluctantly acknowledged but has so far been unable to contain — have developed the good habit of referring to the terrorist group as one that is “Iran-backed.” That’s true enough, but the Houthis aren’t the only Iran-sponsored organization in the region ramping up hostile activities.

In the immediate wake of the 10/7 massacre, virtually all of Iran’s terrorist proxies in the region erupted in an omnidirectional spasm of violence, but none more so than the Lebanon-based group Hezbollah. Since the Hamas-led atrocity, Hezbollah has fired thousands of rockets into Israel — a threat that compelled tens of thousands of Israeli civilians to evacuate areas of Israel near the Lebanese border to which they have not yet returned. Israel has responded with strikes on Hezbollah positions and safe havens deeper inside Lebanon.

“Since October the 7th, nearly 300 Hezbollah fighters and more than 80 Lebanese civilians have been killed, as have 20 Israeli soldiers and a dozen Israeli civilians,” PBS reported last week. Despite this activity, casual Western observers may not have known much about the second front in Israel’s defensive war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. That could soon change.

“The intense stage of the war with Hamas is about to end,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said over the weekend. At that point, he added, “We will be able to move part of our forces to the north.” A careful parsing of the statements from Israeli officials signaling an imminent pivot to the Lebanese border has left some analysts convinced there is an opportunity for a diplomatic resolution to this crisis, albeit a narrow one. But the Biden administration is doing its best to keep its hands clean.

In leaks to reporters this week, administration officials reported informing their Israeli counterparts that the United States has conveyed to Hezbollah its inability to restrain Israel from attacking the Shiite militia group. But the Biden administration’s efforts to play neutral mediator imply that the White House is invested more in postponing a conflict than helping Israel neutralize the Hezbollah threat.

The Biden White House has more than its own political prospects to worry about in the event of a full-scale conflagration between Israel and Hezbollah. The brightest star in the constellation of Iranian terrorist proxies is expected to retaliate not just against Israel but the United States, too. “The Iran-backed militant group would likely target U.S. personnel in the Middle East first,” Politico reported back in January. “And U.S. intelligence agencies are gathering data on Hezbollah that suggest it could be considering attacks on both U.S. troops or diplomatic personnel overseas, two of the officials said.” There is also a real threat that Hezbollah operatives inside the United States could execute attacks on domestic targets.

Hezbollah may have to get in line. In a widely read article published in Foreign Affairs this month, Harvard professor Graham Allison and former CIA director Michael Morell warn that the threat to the homeland posed by transnational Islamist terrorism has not been this acute in years. They note that FBI director Christopher Wray has testified that circumstances abroad have helped radicalize “homegrown violent extremists,” and that “the potential for a coordinated attack here in the homeland” by “Hamas or another foreign terrorist organization” has become “increasingly concerning.” America’s domestic-defense architecture is far more capable than it was before the 9/11 attacks, but terrorist groups only have to get lucky once. And they’re flooding the zone with activity:

In a March statement, [CENTCOM commander General Michael] Kurilla affirmed that both ISIS and al Qaeda “remain committed to inflicting violence.” Although U.S. forces have kept ISIS from controlling large portions of Iraq and Syria, by Kurilla’s count, the group still has at least 5,000 fighters. Over the span of just two weeks in early 2024, ISIS conducted 275 attacks — its highest rate in years. Al Qaeda, meanwhile, continues to operate from Afghanistan and Yemen.

Kurilla has called particular attention to ISIS-K, the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In March 2023 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, he warned that the group would be able to carry out an “operation against U.S. or Western interests abroad in under six months with little to no warning.” His words proved prescient earlier this year, when ISIS-K mounted the deadliest terror attack Iran had experienced since the founding of the Islamic Republic, in which two suicide bombers killed at least 95 people at a memorial on the anniversary of Soleimani’s death. ISIS-K struck again in March, when four terrorists killed 145 people and injured 550 more in a brazen attack on a concert hall in Moscow.

The common denominator here is Iran. But the Islamic Republic and its Shiite proxies aren’t the only threat Joe Biden must manage. Sunni organizations such as the Islamic State still seek to export violence to Europe and the United States, and the border crisis over which this president has presided has given those outfits ample opportunity to infiltrate the U.S. Indeed, terrorist operatives may already be here.

Via NBC News:

The Department of Homeland Security has identified over 400 immigrants who have come to the U.S. from Central Asia and elsewhere as “subjects of concern” because they were brought by an ISIS-affiliated human smuggling network, three U.S. officials tell NBC News.

While over 150 of them have been arrested, the whereabouts of over 50 remain unknown, the officials said, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement is looking to arrest them on immigration charges when they are located.

Perhaps the ISIS affiliations alleged here are so proximate as to be coincidental and harmless. Maybe the only offense these illegal migrants ever sought to commit is to violate American immigration law. Maybe Joe Biden will get lucky.

But the president has courted many unnecessary risks during his term in office. The arguments against Biden’s reelection over his inability to preserve price stability, border security, and peace overseas have significantly weakened his political position, but they have not yet sealed the deal for Donald Trump. Layering atop all that the claim that Joe Biden failed to keep Americans safe even at home would almost certainly deal a fatal blow to the president’s campaign.

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