Intelligence Forecast
October 2018

  1. The Elimination of ISIS and Relative Stability in Syria

As ISIS continues to be pushed back into smaller and smaller operational areas, the overall stability in Syria could see some relative positive outcomes. Though the ideology itself is far from being defeated, an all-out land defeat of ISIS would provide the region’s citizens with a breath of fresh air, relieving them from their oppression by the radical Islamic group. In addition to this possibility comes the dedication from Secretary of Defense Mattis to keep US troops in Syria as a stabilizing force. The reason to maintain US operational presence comes from an opposition to the Obama Administration’s decision to remove all forces from Iraq, which created a power vacuum and led to the creation of ISIS in the first place.

ISIS is currently contained in the eastern part of Syria and the northwestern parts of Iraq with military efforts being carried out almost daily in an attempt to force the radical Islamic followers from their refuge. The strikes against ISIS are largely being carried out by Syrian opposition forces with assistance and aid from US and coalition assets. Continued airstrikes from US planes have been a key factor in the fight against the Islamic State. Though ISIS continues to plan and direct attacks throughout the region, as well as inspire attacks across the globe, the elimination of their home bases would sever their ability to perform and inspire attacks throughout the world.

Keeping US forces in Syria, and the surrounding region, most likely comes from the reality that a withdraw from the area would create another power vacuum and allow either ISIS or another radical organization to retake power in the relatively ungoverned areas. In Syria, approximately 2000 US special operations soldiers are coupled with Kurdish forces. These forces advise and assist during operations which have largely been directed at taking ISIS out of power.

US forces in Syria also serve as a deterrent to larger world powers who would like to see their influences expanded by capitalizing on the Syrian crisis. Just as US troop presence in Poland and Latvia deter aggression from Russia into the Balkan states, US presence in Syria deters attacks from Assad’s oppressive regime as well as countries like Turkey, who largely opposed the democratic cause of the Kurds. Russia, which needs Syria as an access to the Middle East and a warm water port, will not overtly send strikes against US forces knowing full well the international consequences.

Keeping US troops in the country and in an active operational capacity requires a significant dedication of resources but feeds US interests at the same time. By deterring Russia and defeating ISIS both the region and the international community is stabilized. The situation in Syria remains relatively ambiguous and can change at any given moment. US presence helps to bring as much stability as possible to this issue.

  1. NATO Exercise and Russian Pushback

Operation Trident Juncture, a NATO joint training exercise with over 40,000 participants set to happen in Norway during late October and early November, is said to be the largest “high-visibility” exercise since 2015. The operation is going to test both NATO responsiveness and joint operation ability while at the same time testing Norway in their ability to manage a massive influx and troops and equipment to their country.

Though the exercise has been claimed to be for peaceful means and increase the cooperation of NATO countries and its supporters, Trident Juncture is a very real reaction to training operations which have come from Russia. In March of 2017, Moscow directed a simulated attack exercise against the Norwegian intelligence service. The all-too-real and unambiguous situation of Russian nuclear-capable bombers flying over a key Norwegian intelligence base, the location which monitors Russia’s nuclear submarines as they leave port for the open ocean, brought back to life the reality that Putin wants to see his nation expanded as an empire. Trident Juncture shows that NATO has the ability to respond quickly and decisively to any threat, Russian or not.

Russia also executed an exercise of their own, named Vostok 18, which saw a joint operation with China. The military training took place mainly between September 11th and 17th and saw over 300,000 Russian and 3500 Chinese military personnel partake. Since the exercises were so close together, it is likely intelligence was divulged on both sides and the operations were made to counter one another. Russia’s actions raise concern for the world because of their relatively unannounced execution, which matches the Russian nature of being provocative.

NATO officials have taken care to note that Operation Trident Juncture in not a show of force against any global power but instead a test of their own responsiveness and abilities. As stated, the exercise is going to be an overall assessment of NATO’s ability to react and Norway’s ability to host. Nonetheless, this message has taken criticism from both the private sector and Russia itself, with articles claiming that the exercise is a clear-cut message that Norway and other Russian bordering nations will not be backed down. Moscow itself, looking at the increased US Marine presence in Norway and the exercise itself, claimed that both are a type of attack rather than a deterrent force.

The international community is always changing when it comes to actions, reactions, and tensions. Exercise Trident Juncture is both necessary to stand up against belligerent nations like Russia and China as well as to assess the ability of NATO to respond to real-world situations. The propaganda from Russia claiming the joint operations are an attack on them comes only from the fact that Russia is acting as a threat. It can be expected that Russia will continue to push out negative response to otherwise peaceful NATO training, further diminishing the stability of the international community.

  1. A decrease of U.S. Troops on the Korean Peninsula

During the latest United Nations General Assembly, Ri Yong Ho, Foreign Minister of North Korea, addressed the outlook for future peace between North and South Korea, but only under certain circumstances related to US troops on the Korean peninsula. It’s apparent that Kim Jong Un wants the US to end economic sanctions as well as withdraw troops from the Korean peninsula entirely. The fulfillment of the requests from North Korea have been denied previously to some extent, but never completely put off the table.

The Trump administration has previously made statements about withdrawing troops from the Korean Peninsula stating that although it won’t happen immediately, it might be possible in the future. It’s perceivable that the South Koreans want tensions to decrease, as they have recently started to remove landmines along the DMZ. Although tensions need to decrease, the removal of American troops in South Korea leaves a large security threat for both the United States and South Korea.

Due to these strengthening relationships between the North and South Koreans, it is possible that South Korea will request removal of US troops in order to lessen the tensions on the peninsula. The process of denuclearizing North Korea is fundamentally important due to the risks that are at stake, but the South Koreans are ignoring the National Security threat. Although this is the farthest the US has come to bringing peace to the Korean peninsula in 65 years, the Trump administration shouldn’t put North Korean demands over common sense. This is especially the case since North Korea hasn’t fully denuclearized, which they have said they would do many times in history. The Trump administration shouldn’t trust the North Koreans, as proven under the Clinton and Bush administrations, the North Koreans will break promises of denuclearization.

It is expected that talks between Seoul and Washington will heighten in the upcoming weeks to discuss the possibilities pertaining to US sanctions on North Korea, as well as US troops in South Korea. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has made statements that stressed the need of sanctions against North Korea until they finish the complete process of denuclearization. It is against the United States interests to remove troops and ease sanctions on the Korean peninsula, but these talks will continue as another Trump-Kim summit is to be planned in the near future. Although it is possible the Trump administration might give in to North Korea demands, it should be noted North Korea has broken promises related to denuclearization multiple times in the past. If the Trump administration gives in, there is nothing stopping North Korea from breaking their promises and continuing the process of developing nuclear weapons.