U.S. intelligence agencies remain uncertain about danger posed by Islamic State

FSA

Hours before President Obama announced a new U.S. military offensive against the Islamic State, one of his top counter­terrorism officials testified to Congress that the al-Qaeda offshoot had an estimated 10,000 fighters.

The next day a new assessment arrived from the CIA: The terrorist organization’s ranks had more than doubled in recent months, surging to somewhere between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria.

The enormous discrepancy reflects, in part, significant uncertainty among U.S. intelligence agencies over the dimensions of and danger posed by America’s latest Islamist adversary.

But the trajectory of those numbers — and the anxiety that they have induced among U.S. counter­terrorism and military officials — also helps to explain Obama’s decision to go to war against an Islamist group that has yet to be linked to any plot against the United States.

In his speech, Obama laid out a rationale that leaned heavily on what-ifs. The United States has “not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland,” Obama said. But Islamic State leaders “have threatened America and our allies,” he said, and are..

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