A Whack-a-Mole Strategy

While the original whack-a-mole was a children’s game in which players used a mallet to hit toy moles back into their holes, it has now become synonymous with repeatedly getting rid of something, only to have more of that same thing appear.

Word that the number of terrorists in Libya belonging to the infamous Islamic State has more than doubled, and is now believed to be as many as 5,000, led a reporter to ask the following question at a press briefing last week:

“What would you say to those who say that the White House is sort of playing whack-a-mole across the region and losing, it seems? If you go into Libya you’re just going to take out another and they’ll pop up somewhere else. I mean, is that the strategy at this point?”

The question was a very valid one.

The long-winded response by Press Secretary Josh Earnest was typical of a media spokesperson trying to defend an unsuccessful policy. The first three paragraphs of his answer speak for themselves.

“No, I think the strategy as we’ve laid out has actually been to focus on ISIL’s efforts to establish a caliphate inside of Iraq and in Syria. And that’s why that has been the focus of our efforts. We’ve been mindful of these other places, like Libya and Afghanistan, where ISIL may turn some of their attention. But we know that they are focused on expanding ISIL’s footprint in Iraq and in Syria.

“And that’s why we’ve been so focused on that region of the world. And there are some new numbers to point to today that demonstrate some of the progress that we’ve made. The latest assessment about the number of fighters who are fighting on behalf of ISIL in Iraq and in Syria was — based on an earlier assessment — up to 31,500 fighters in that region of the world. There’s a new assessment from our intelligence community that indicates that that number is now up to about 25,000 fighters.

“Now, that means they continue to be a substantial threat, but the potential numbers have declined. And that’s a testament to the efforts of our partners on the ground who are taking the fight to ISIL on the ground. As a result of those efforts, ISIL has sustained significant casualties. It also is a testament to our aggressive military campaign in the air. The United States and our coalition partners have taken a number of airstrikes that have taken a number of ISIL fighters off the battlefield. It also is a testament to the success that we’re having in starting to staunch the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq and in Syria. ISIL is having more difficulty than they’ve had before in replenishing their ranks…”

What Mr. Earnest failed to address was the fact that if indeed there are now 5,000 ISIL terrorists in Libya, then when that number is added on to the current estimate of 25,000 ISIL terrorists in Iraq and Syria, the total reaches 30,000, hardly an improvement over the previous estimate of 31,500.

The growth of Islamic State in Libya is a grim reminder of the controversial decision in 2011 by President Obama to join a European-led air campaign to topple Muammar Gadhafi.

While few mourned the departure of the vicious dictator, whom President Ronald Reagan once called a “madman” and “the most dangerous man in the world,” Libya is hardly a safer place to live in since his ignoble death.

The country is currently split between two rival authorities, each with his own seat of government and parliament. Taking full advantage of the power vacuum, terror groups are flourishing.

The notion that ISIL has established a force in this North African country, numbering in the thousands, is something that the free world should be very worried about.

On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a report saying that thirty-four terror groups from around the world have reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group as of mid-December — and that number is expected to grow.

“The recent expansion of the ISIL sphere of influence across west and north Africa, the Middle East and south and southeast Asia demonstrates the speed and scale at which the gravity of the threat has evolved in just 18 months,” Ban said.

Adding to the threat, IS is “the world’s wealthiest terrorist organization,” Ban said.

Despite an embargo, it is estimated that the terror group earned $400-$500 million from oil and oil products in 2015.

When it comes to fighting terror, a whack-a-mole approach simply isn’t an option. Unfortunately, until the U.S. and its allies come up with a better plan, one that is both realistic and effective, it seems like this trend will continue.