Analysis & Opinions - The New York Times

The Next Front in the U.S. Fight Against ISIS

| May 11, 2017

More than two years into the American-led campaign against the Islamic State, freeing the cities of Mosul, in Iraq, and Raqqa, in Syria, is within reach. But since the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the establishment of its caliphate from the pulpit of a mosque in Mosul in 2014, the Islamic State has claimed at least eight “provinces” in countries across the globe.

Countries in North Africa account for some of the largest portions of the nearly 40,000 foreign fighters who have flocked to join Mr. Baghdadi’s murderous cult, as well as the Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Recent worrying trends in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia should make the American government focus on countering the Islamic State’s global expansion and asking: What is the United States’ strategy for ensuring that the current progress in Iraq and Syria is not simply the opening act of a more far-reaching drama involving the Islamic State?

Egypt and Libya, in particular, could represent tipping points for the Islamic State and its global presence. In Egypt, the group appears to be employing the sectarian playbook used by its predecessor, Al Qaeda, in Iraq. An uptick in attacks against Christian minorities in Egypt, including twin bombing attacks on Coptic churches on Palm Sunday, mirror the Qaeda group’s campaign of terrorism against Shiite communities in Baghdad that was intended to intimidate locals and bolster its own recruiting.

The United States should be especially concerned about a repeat of this approach in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, which is already on edge thanks to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s strongman tactics against journalists, political opponents and human rights groups. For the past few years, the United States’ approach has been to provide carefully calibrated security cooperation while clearly condemning Mr. Sisi’s authoritarian actions. For example, the Obama administration supported Egypt’s fight against insurgents in the strategically vital Sinai region, yet withheld certain military sales and was outspoken about America’s concerns over Egypt’s human rights record.

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For Academic Citation: Monaco, Lisa.“The Next Front in the U.S. Fight Against ISIS.” The New York Times, May 11, 2017.