U.S. President Barack Obama’s comments to Congress the other day were very informative about his desire to be authorized in advance to instantly strike the Islamic State and its affiliates wherever and whenever he, the Commander-in-Chief, sees fit. This isn’t necessarily news, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted a few weeks back that Congress should not prohibit the U.S. administration from sending combat troops into the fray to confront Islamic State in Iraq and Syria if circumstances necessitate such a move. He contended at the time that such legal restrictions on the administrations ability to readily confront the group however and wherever it sees fit without first seeking Congressional approval could potentially serve to impede a future strike against Islamic State outside of the present Iraqi and Syrian territory presently occupied by that group.
President Obama himself echoed this point of view when he recently said that he wouldn’t hesitate to send in special forces to attack Islamic State, especially to take out its leaders if the opportunity arose, but would nevertheless stop short of a large deployment. He asked the lawmakers of the United States Congress to give his administration advanced authorization to extend its operations beyond the territories of Iraq and Syria if necessary and insisted that he “will not allow these terrorists to have a safe haven.”
Islamic State affiliates, not unlike the various affiliates of al-Qaeda across the world, have sprung up across the region, many of which were Islamist groups who already had very similar outlooks and decided to commit themselves to realizing the Islamic States’ self-professed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi goal of establishing a strict-Islamist caliphate having seen his groups successful conquests in Syria and Iraq. The Islamist Ansar Bait al-Maqdis group presently waging a terrorist campaign against the Egyptian state from the Sinai region have pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State. In addition to this an Islamic State affiliate in Libya are exploiting the instability and turmoil there in the wake of the 2011 war which saw the destruction of the regime of Mu’ammer Gaddafi by ragtag rebel groups with the assistance of NATO air and seapower. They have completely taken over the eastern coastal Libyan city of Derna, a city of around 100,000, and having planted the Black Flag of Jihad there proclaimed it to be another swathe of territory belonging to the caliphate. A Libyan envoy was recently quoted stating that, “What I think many people don’t know is how much [Islamic State] has infiltrated Libya [and turned it] into its ATM machine, gas station and airport from which it can basically attack any European target.”
In Egypt it was reported that the controversial government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is concerned about the turmoil in Libya and of course his own Sinai region. He is presently purchasing advanced Dassault Rafale jets along with a navy frigate from the French in a deal worth a staggering 5-6 billion euros. Both weapons that could be used to attack Islamists in neighbouring Libya if those Islamists were to attempt to attack or seize Egyptian territory as part of what they envisage will eventually be a gigantic caliphate which will encompass all the Middle East as well as vast parts of the African continent.
It seems clear that the Obama administration wants to be authorized in advance to target Islamic States and its affiliates wherever it sees fit in a manner not unlike how it has been conducting its controversial drone strikes in both Pakistan and Yemen against al-Qaeda related targets. Indeed the present ongoing campaign against Islamic State was begun without Congressional authority, a move the administration has justified by citing old measures authorized by the Congress to give the then George W Bush administration more leniency when it came to dismantling the al-Qaeda network in the wake of the September 11 2001 terror attacks against the United States.
In practice this could see an extension of the anti-Islamic State campaign into North Africa, ad-hoc military support of the Sisi regime in its own campaigns in the Sinai and possibly direct intervention once again in Libya. This time against targets it believes to be related to Islamic State in coordination with elements on the ground it believes to be friendly. Although given the chaotic anarchic state Libya has devolved into that won’t likely be very easy.
In the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater of operations its likely drone strikes will continue as par usual against targets the administration deems are either Islamic State or al-Qaeda related. And if Obama gets the broad authorization he seeks we will likely see an expansion of such strikes in other parts of the Middle Eastern and North Africa region wherever Islamic State cells or members are based. Operations which, if this administration gets its way, will be pre-approved so that wherever the administration deems there to be Islamic State or Islamic State-affiliated militants or operatives it can, without much hesitation, immediately use whatever means available to neutralize them.