Friday, 22 May 2015
Who’s Part of the Islamic State Depends Whom You Ask. BY LARA JAKES
A U.S.-led coalition is grappling over how to fight the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed allies in Libya and beyond without taking its eyes off Iraq and Syria.
A violent extremist group in Libya has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and kills in the name of the Islamic State, but U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration is torn on whether it is, in fact, part of the Islamic State.
Declaring a brutal branch of the Libyan militant group Ansar al-Sharia to be an official offshoot of the Islamic State could potentially compel reluctant nations to use military force against extremists in Libya, further weakening the already faltering fight against the network. Washington is sharply divided, with U.S. officials describing a debate over the extremists’ growth in Libya as recent intelligence shows Islamic State leaders and fighters heading there from strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
Allies in Europe and the Mideast are similarly conflicted. As the Islamic State’s reach continues to spread, some countries now feel more threatened by the outcropping of extremists across Asia and in North Africa than by those based in Iraq and Syria.
But confronting what the Islamic State calls its “distant provinces” could come at a high cost: Diverting limited funds and focus to Libya likely would pull from the fight in Iraq and Syria, where extremist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is steadily seizing territory in his quest to establish an extremist Sunni caliphate. In the past few days alone, the group has captured Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, and the strategically important Syrian city of Palmyra.
In a clear illustration of Washington’s divide, one senior U.S. official said, “There is no question that there are ISIL fighters present in Libya” — including some taking orders directly from Baghdadi.
“They are so occupied with Syria and Iraq, they are not focused on ISIL affiliates in Libya.”
“Wherever ISIL is trying to arise, we are asking our partners to enlarge the scope.”