WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2008 – The Pentagon’s top intelligence official today told a Senate committee the United States is operating in a security environment that is “unusually complex.” During a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee here, Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, presented an analysis of current and future threats facing the U.S.

“That threat spectrum is bounded on the one side by traditional nation states with significant military inventories, and on the other by non-state terrorists or criminal networks that exploit the gaps and seams between nations, cultures, laws and belief systems,” he said.

Outlining what he called “trends of concern,” Maples said current threats include weapons of mass destruction, increasingly sophisticated and longer-range ballistic missiles, improvised bombs and suicide weapons, outer space and cyberspace vulnerabilities, and underground weapons systems produced by potential adversaries.

On Iraq, Maples said efforts by coalition and Iraqi forces, plus intelligence cooperation from concerned local citizens and a ceasefire by a Shiite militia, have created an improved security situation. Officials also have noted a decline in the number of foreign terrorists entering Iraq.

“The trends are encouraging,” he said. “But they are not yet irreversible.”

Al Qaeda in Iraq has been damaged, but is attempting to reignite sectarian violence in part by conducting “high profile” attacks, Maples said. The terrorist network largely has moved into the more permissive areas of northern Iraq where it remains committed to planning and supporting attacks beyond Iraq’s borders, he added.

Maples said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, known as the Quds Force, continues to provide training, weapons and support to groups that attack coalition and Iraqi forces. “The Defense Intelligence Agency has not yet seen evidence that Iran has ended this assistance,” he said.

The intelligence director noted improvements to Iraq’s security forces. “Iraqi security forces, while reliant on coalition combat service support, have improved their overall capabilities and are increasingly leading counterinsurgency operations,” he said.

Turning to Afghanistan, Maples said successful operations by U.S. and NATO forces have inflicted losses on Taliban leadership, and prevented the insurgent groups from conducting conventional operations.

“Despite their losses, the Taliban maintain access to local Pashtun and some foreign fighters and is employing suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices and small arms to increase attack levels,” he said, citing ongoing challenges. “While the insurgency remains concentrated in the Pashtun-dominated south and east, it has expanded to some western areas.”

In addition to the Taliban, the central government is challenged by corruption and a strong narcotics trade, Maples said. Debate among NATO members on counterinsurgency execution has led to “differences on many levels and approaches” to reconciliation, reconstruction and the use of direct combat power, he added.

On Afghanistan’s national security forces, however, Maples said the Afghan army has fielded 11 of 14 infantry brigades, and more than one-third of its combat arms battalions have been assessed as being capable of leading operations with some coalition support.
Al Qaeda remains a threat to the stability of Afghanistan and surrounding nations and has made overtures to extend its reach into other continents, Maples said.

“Al Qaeda presents an increased threat to Pakistan, while it continues to plan, support and direct transnational attacks from its de facto safe haven in Pakistan’s largely ungoverned frontier provinces,” he said. “(And it) has extended its operational reach through partnerships and mergers with compatible regional terrorist groups, including a continued effort to expand into Africa.”

Maples added the Defense Department’s intelligence community is confident in the ability of Pakistan, a nation that possesses nuclear weaponry, to safeguard its arsenal. He also underscored the important role played by countries seeking to modernize their military forces, like China and Russia, and nations like Iran and North Korea which invest heavily in military capabilities.

Maples thanked the senators for supporting efforts by defense intelligence professionals, who he said work shoulder-to-shoulder with their national intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement counterparts.

“With the support of Congress, we continue to strengthen our ability to collect and analyze the military intelligence that policymakers and our commanders need in order to be successful,” he said.

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