NBC’s Richard Engel: ISIS ‘effectively taking over' Libya

According to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, who has been diligently monitoring press reports regarding the status of the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is losing momentum in their multi-front war to expand their nascent caliphate.

The view from the ground is, however, apparently far less rosy.

“I would not be overly optimistic that ISIS are ‘back on their heels,’ frankly,” NBC News Richard Engel reporter told Scarborough on Tuesday (hat tip to RCP).

There have been some advances in Baghdadi that the government is talking about, the Kurds who took that strategic supply route a couple of weeks ago are still advancing, and there is a Shi’ite militia massing on the edge of Tikrit. I don’t know if you consider that progress.

ISIS still control the main cities of Raqqa and Mosul, and ISIS just broke out into Libya, it is effectively taking over a new country, so if that is defeat, of ISIS, or on the road to defeat, I would hate to see what success would look like.

That sober assessment of the West’s floundering effort to reverse ISIS’s gains across the Middle East and North Africa should be disturbing, but it should not come as a surprise. The Islamic State’s latest front in Libya has been rapidly expanding, and now includes a significant swath of territory along the southeastern Mediterranean coast.

In The Wall Street Journal opinion pages on Tuesday, Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower Director Seth Cropsey warned that this condition could enable ISIS’s evolution into a burgeoning naval power. That could facilitate the return of piracy to the Mediterranean or even aid in ISIS ‘s efforts to infiltrate European nations like Italy, France, Greece, or Spain.

The risk of military conflict in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean is increasing. Deterrence does not demand ground forces. But at a minimum it does require moving U.S. naval forces eastward from Spain and relying on existing agreements—such as the one that the U.S. has with Greece—to use the naval base at Souda Bay on the island of Crete as the focal point for America’s Mediterranean naval forces.

Last summer, responding to Russia’s slow-motion invasion of Ukraine, then-NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the alliance was planning new bases in Eastern Europe. The alliance should also heed the call of former NATO Supreme Commander Adm. James Stavridis for “more robust maritime deployments both north in the Baltic and south in the Black Sea.”

Shifting naval forces in the Mediterranean to the east makes parallel good sense. A single amphibious ready group would provide a minimum ability to project U.S. power and control the sea. Adding a carrier or a multiple-vessel surface action group capable of striking ISIS targets on land would help stave off the use of the Mediterranean as a highway into Southern Europe for terrorists and their weapons.

The voices that will warn of American overextension and overreach in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean are the same voices that balked at intervention in Syria when it was still possible to contain the ISIS threat. It is a certainty that a cadre of unduly self-assured analysts in the West will insist that it is a fanciful notion that ISIS could ever enjoy even embryonic naval capabilities. The regularity with which these self-professed pragmatists have been proven wrong should instruct American policy makers as to the most logical response to ISIS’s growing regional threat.