- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2015

The Egyptian military is preparing to attack Islamic State militants operating in Libya for a second time just as U.S. military leaders are seeking an expanded mandate to stamp out the extremist group in any country where its members reside.

Cairo is preparing a new round on airstrikes in Libya, a senior U.S. official told The Washington Times, in retaliation for last month’s brutal beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians at the hands of the Islamic State militants.

“We have seen indications the Egyptian military is planning to conduct more airstrikes against terrorist targets in Libya,” the official said. “This is a sign that the Egyptian government is concerned about the instability in Libya and about the expansion of jihadi radicalism there. This is an area where our interests overlap and may present an opportunity for increased cooperation.”

The Embassy of Egypt in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The new strikes will come as Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command in the region, is expected to discuss with lawmakers Tuesday why congressional authority for an expanded mission is critical. Under the proposed military mandate, U.S. troops are now blocked from engaging in combat operations in any country for an extended period of time.



Libya is a hotbed of political strife and religious friction — an intoxicating cocktail for new Islamic State recruits and a troublesome combination for the U.S. military and intelligence community. Over the past week, senior U.S. officials have made clear their concerns about the country and its weak, divided central government.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told lawmakers last week that the United States needs to “step up” its game and acquire more intelligence surveillance of Libya. Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren added the Islamic State is turning existing terrorist organizations on the ground in Libya into long-distance supporters, but its presence there remains “somewhat in the initial stages.”

“A lot of this is rebranding in an effort to gain more attention, potentially gain additional resources,” he said.

Although Libya falls just outside Gen. Allen’s area of command, it shares a border with Egypt, and the military’s war-fighting authority opens the door for the United States to assist in the hunt for Islamic State militants operating inside Libya.

Although President Obama’s proposed AUMF comes with loose limitations on dispatching troops for an extended period of time, it gives the president the ability to interpret the AUMF’s “enduring offensive ground combat operations” however he sees fit, said Gordon Adams, professor of foreign policy at the American University’s School of International Service.

“The jury is still out, but, personally, I see nothing in the president’s language that would inhibit him from doing whatever he thinks is necessary,” he said.

Congress needs a concrete description of what the U.S. military would be willing to do to pursue Islamic State threats in other countries, according to Steve Ganyard, president of global security consulting firm Avascent International and former military assistant to the deputy secretary of defense. The longer that conversation fails to take place, the longer countries like Egypt — who are beginning to see Islamic State supporters multiply within their borders — will be left to fend for themselves.

The shared interest between the two countries is “strong and clear,” added Michael O’Hanlon, a national security and defense policy analyst at the Brookings Institution.

“This is a moment where Egyptians are feeling threatened, and they want to know who’s with them,” said Lincoln Bloom, former assistant secretary of state and the chairman of Washington-based think tank the Stimson Center.

Still, there is little indication that Congress will be able to approve the authority the U.S. military needs or pass a revised AUMF before the next election, Mr. Ganyard said.

“I think that this is just going to continue to be a political football,” he said.

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