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Libyan forces affiliated with government in Tripoli during combat against Islamic State militants, Sirte, Libya, Sept. 22, 2016 (AP photo by Manu Brabo).

The Islamic State’s Splintering North African Network

Monday, Jan. 30, 2017

With the self-proclaimed Islamic State besieged in Mosul and on the defensive in parts of Syria, the future of the group’s network beyond its core territory has been thrown into question. At its peak in 2014 and early 2015, the Islamic State established affiliates across the Middle East and North Africa that it labeled “provinces,” or wilayat, rapidly increasing its operational reach and influence. But with its senior leadership now facing considerable pressure in both Iraq and Syria, it is unclear whether the Islamic State will be able to maintain communications and organizational ties with these affiliates abroad. Moreover, as the Islamic State continues to lose territory, its allies may try to distance themselves from the group’s flagging brand.

The Islamic State’s recent travails in North Africa offer a telling snapshot of the challenges it is likely to face in maintaining its global presence. In the past six months, it has suffered both military defeats and defections in North Africa, leaving its network in the region fragmented. The biggest blow to its regional ambitions was the loss of the central Libyan city of Sirte, the Islamic State’s most promising outpost beyond Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, jihadi factions in Tunisia and Algeria, facing intense pressure from state security forces, are wavering in their commitments. These developments will likely benefit al-Qaida, which is positioning itself to absorb the Islamic State’s defectors. ...

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