Peter Brookes: ISIS problem continues to spread
The White House is hosting a multi-day summit this week in Washington on the subject of “Countering Violent Extremism” at home and abroad.
Can you say: “It’s about time”?
While there has been plenty gnashing of teeth about the absence of “Islamist” from the confab’s title, let’s hope that the get-together will come up with some real answers.
Of course, the urgency of the problem is highlighted by the news of the brutal beheading by the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) of Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya.
Yes, I said “Libya” – not Iraq or Syria.
You see, the ISIS problem is spreading. Here are some of the places where we’re now seeing Islamic State “flags” pop up:
Iraq/Syria: The troubles here are old news, but ISIS now holds about one-third of each country, if you can imagine that. The latest reports say it now may have as many as 20,000 foreign fighters on its side — an unprecedented number.
Libya: Militants continue to take advantage of the chaos in Libya, including followers of the Islamic State. Air strikes launched by Egypt this week in response to the beheadings were both revenge for its nationals and a sign of concern about a brewing ISIS storm next door. Nearby Italy isn’t comforted either.
Yemen: The security nightmare here involves an absent central government, Iran-backed Houthis and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). It’s only worsened by reports of the presence of ISIS elements, possibly ex-AQAP operatives.
Pakistan/Afghanistan: As these two countries struggle with the Taliban and the Haqqani network, the Islamic State has drawn in local followers which will only complicate U.S. security interests in the region.
Nigeria: Last year, Boko Haram’s leader expressed support for the Islamic State. While a strong second to ISIS in bloodthirst, some experts see Boko Haram as an Islamic State-wannabe.
Russia: Some Chechen/Dagestani militants have reportedly split with an al Qaeda associate, the Caucasus Emirate, instead pledging fealty to the Islamic State. This isn’t good news for Moscow in volatile southern Russia.
Philippines: There are reports that militant Islamist groups (e.g., the Abu Sayyaf group) have sworn support to the Islamic State as Manila continues to battle a longstanding insurgency in the southern Philippines.
This list is neither encouraging — nor complete. Analysts might add any number of foreign terror groups of various sizes and significance to the above ISIS inventory.
The trouble is it seems that the Islamic State is finding admirers across the globe — and not only in terms of foreign foot soldiers traveling to Iraq or Syria to join the terror “army.”
We’re also not talking about Islamic State-inspired “lone wolves” or small terror cells in places such as Copenhagen, Paris, Ottawa, Sydney or New York.
It appears the Islamic State is establishing international outposts of operations. It’s also finding kindred spirits, especially among those with ambitions for high positions within the violent Islamist extremist movement – or who may want material support from wealthy ISIS for their local causes.
Everyone loves a winner — and unfortunately the Islamic State looks like a “winner” to some. That’s a problem, and it would be great if the White House summit would come up with some bold ideas to change that.
This article first appeared in the Boston Herald. Peter Brookes is a Fort Valley resident, a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. Follow him on Twitter @Brookes_Peter.