Egypt. Portions of Egypt's Sinai region were a safe haven for terrorist organizations in 2015. The Government of Egypt views terrorism as one of the country's greatest threats and has dedicated significant military resources to combat indigenous and transnational terrorist groups. The Egyptian government continued its extensive security campaign focused on Northern Sinai against ISIL Sinai Province (ISIL-SP), launching Operation Right of the Martyr in September. The Northern Sinai was closed off to tourists, journalists, U.S. government officials, and NGOs in 2015.
ISIL-SP has claimed responsibility for increasingly frequent and sophisticated terrorist attacks against Egyptian forces, such as the simultaneous attack on multiple police and security installations in Sinai's Sheikh Zuewid on July 1; and high profile targets, for example downing a Metrojet airliner, killing all 200 passengers and seven crew members on October 31.
Through its Export Control and Related Border Security Program, the United States is working with the Government of Egypt to enhance Egypt's border security capabilities through the provision of land, air, and maritime border enforcement and targeting and risk management training for Egyptian Customs, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Transportation, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials. In addition, since 2009, the Department of State's Nonproliferation & Disarmament Fund has assisted Egypt with the provision of passenger and cargo vehicle x-ray detection equipment with the capability to inspect vehicular and truck traffic at fixed transportation checkpoints for WMD-related materials, conventional weapons, and other illicit items.
Iraq. Portions of Iraq remained under the control of ISIL during 2015, including the city of Mosul. However, after ISIL took control of large swaths of Iraqi territory in 2014, the Government of Iraq made steady, significant progress in retaking terrain from ISIL throughout 2015. Supported by the 66-member Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, the Government of Iraq retook more than 40 percent of Iraqi territory once controlled by ISIL by the end of 2015, including several key cities. In April, an Iraqi-led military effort retook the city of Tikrit, and by the end of the year 80 percent of internally displaced persons had returned to the city. In November, Peshmerga forces retook the town of Sinjar, a city that came to the world's attention in the summer of 2014 when ISIL committed atrocities against the Yezidi community.
At the end of 2015, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), accompanied by local Sunni fighters and police, liberated large parts of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province and a strategically important hub.
ISIL used the territory under its control in 2015 to produce sulfur mustard and IEDs filled with chlorine. The United States has been proactively working with our allies to dismantle this chemical weapons capability, as well as deny ISIL access to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) materials and expertise through interdictions and strengthening the ability of regional governments to detect, disrupt, and respond effectively to suspected CBRN activity.
Due to security conditions in Iraq, the Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) program has had difficulty implementing outreach activities. EXBS priorities previously included working with the Government of Iraq to develop and implement regulations and procedures related to The Act of the Iraqi National Monitoring Authority on WMD Non-Proliferation No. 48 of 2012 (INMA Act), adopt and implement a control list, and to enhance Iraq's border security capabilities related to the inspection and detection of WMD-related goods and technologies. However, these activities are largely on pause. Instead, the EXBS program is assessing equipment and training needs for security forces in the newly liberated regions, as they seek to consolidate gains and reclaim territory from ISIL.
The United States and Iraq strengthened their bilateral partnership to counter nuclear terrorism in September 2014 by concluding the "Joint Action Plan between the Government of the Republic of Iraq and the Government of the United States of America on Combating Nuclear and Radioactive Materials Smuggling." The arrangement expresses the intention of the two governments to work together to enhance Iraq's capabilities to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear smuggling incidents, and ultimately prevent terrorist groups from acquiring nuclear and radiological materials.
Lebanon. The Lebanese government does not control all regions of the country or its borders with Syria and Israel. Hizballah controls access to parts of the country, including restricting Lebanon's security services, which allows Hizballah to operate with relative impunity. The government took no action in 2015 to disarm Hizballah, to eliminate its safe havens within Lebanese territory, or to prevent the flow of Hizballah members to Syria or Iraq. Ungoverned areas along the un-demarcated Lebanese-Syrian border also served as safe havens for Nusrah Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and other Sunni terrorist groups in 2015, which operate in mountainous, mostly uninhabited zones where the government has limited reach. The Government of Lebanon has made attempts to eradicate these safe havens, however, and is engaged in sustained military operations to rid Lebanon of these Sunni terrorist groups. Palestinian refugee camps were also used as safe havens by Palestinian and other armed groups to house weapons, shelter wanted criminals, and plan terrorist attacks.
The United States works closely with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Internal Security Forces to combat terrorist threats along the Syrian border by providing counterterrorism training, military equipment, and weaponry.
Lebanon is not a source country for WMD components, but its porous borders make the country vulnerable for use as a transit and transshipment hub for proliferation-sensitive transfers, particularly with the conflict in Syria. The LAF Engineer Regiment partners with U.S. government agencies to detect and prevent proliferation and trafficking of WMD along the Syrian border.
The Export Control and Related Border Security program (EXBS) is providing robust commodity identification training for items that can be used in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons, in order to keep these items from transiting through Lebanon. EXBS was also launching a frontier border security interdiction training program, in partnership with the Department of Defense, to strengthen LAF and ISF border security and interdiction capabilities.
Libya. Libya's porous borders, fragmented security forces, and vast ungoverned territory have made it a permissive environment for terrorist groups such as Ansar al-Shari'a Benghazi, Ansar al-Shari'a Darnah, al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Murabitoun, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Due to the inability of the Libyan government to effectively administer its territory, terrorist organizations have found safe havens primarily in Sirte, Darnah, Benghazi, and Sabratha, although violent extremist groups operate with impunity throughout Libya. While the Libyan National Army launched a military operation in 2014 with the stated goal of removing violent extremists from Benghazi, it has not succeeded in fully liberating Benghazi from the control of terrorist groups. The government failed to eliminate terrorist safe havens in Libya in 2015, and has been unable to prevent flows of foreign terrorist fighters in and out of its territory. Terrorist training camps and facilitation networks exist throughout Libya; local tribes and minority groups frequently serve as facilitators, although this appears largely due to economic rather than ideological motivations. Libya serves as a major source and transit country for foreign fighters en route to Syria and Iraq. There are indications that foreign terrorist fighters are beginning to return to Libya or choosing to stay in Libya to fight there, increasing concerns that Libya has become a battlefield for violent extremist groups such as ISIL.
In 2013, the United States signed an agreement with the Libyan government to cooperate on destroying Libya's stockpile of legacy chemical weapons in accordance with its obligations as an Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) member state. Libya successfully completed operations for the disposal of its remaining mustard gas filled in artillery projectile and aerial bombs in January 2014. Libya also completed the disposal of its remaining bulk mustard in 2013. However, Libya retains a stockpile of natural uranium ore concentrate (yellowcake), stored in a former military facility near Sebha in Libya's south. This material represents a limited risk of trafficking and proliferation due to the bulk and weight of the storage containers and the need for extensive additional processing before the material would be suitable for weapons purposes.
Yemen. Throughout 2015, al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIL-Yemen exploited the political and security vacuum to strengthen their foothold and expand recruiting inside the country. The Yemeni government has operated in exile for much of 2015, greatly diminishing its ability to focus on counterterrorism efforts. AQAP and ISIL-Yemen have portrayed the unrest in Yemen as part of a broader Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict. By exploiting this sectarian divide, these groups have increased their support base in Sunni communities and enabled ISIL-Yemen, in particular, to gain a foothold in the country.
AQAP benefitted during 2015 from the conflict in Yemen by expanding its presence in the southern and eastern governorates. Establishing deeper tribal and familial relationships in these areas allowed AQAP to expand the territory it controlled during 2015 to Abyan, Taiz, and its largest safe haven in the port city of Mukalla. Access to the port enabled AQAP to increase its finances. AQ also maintains a presence in Aden.
While AQAP remains the predominant Sunni Islamist terrorist group in the country, there are seven known wilayat (province) pro-ISIL groups operating in 10 of Yemen's provinces, including Sa'ada, Sana'a, al-Jawf, al-Bayda, Taiz, Ibb, Lahij, Aden, Shahwah, and Hadramawt. ISIL-Yemen's "wilayat" are beginning to exert more influence by competing to obtain support from Sunni tribes and militias in the same areas. While the exact composition of the group is still unknown, its numbers are considerably smaller than AQAP's despite it having likely drawn members from some of the same disillusioned Yemeni AQAP members who previously supported ISIL in Iraq and Syria. While ISIL-Yemen has demonstrated a violent operational pace, it has yet to occupy significant territory.
Yemen's political instability continued to hinder efforts to enact or enforce strategic trade controls, leaving the country vulnerable as a transit point for WMD-related materials.