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Struggles Push IS to Look for Alliances

  • Heather Murdock

FILE - This image taken from video by Nigeria's Boko Haram in May 2014 shows leader Abubakar Shekau; a pledge of allegiance to Islamic State by the group has been attributed to him.

FILE - This image taken from video by Nigeria's Boko Haram in May 2014 shows leader Abubakar Shekau; a pledge of allegiance to Islamic State by the group has been attributed to him.

As the Islamic State militant group struggles to hold ground and seize more, it is trying to either forge alliances with other militant groups or defeat them. These shifting relationships are altering the battle lines in the Middle East.

One of the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s most well-known rivals is Afghanistan’s Taliban, which publicly told IS to get out of its country.

A political researcher at Egypt’s Al-Ahram Foundation, Hala Mustafa, said the two groups are natural enemies.

“The Taliban is a local organization because it focuses on Afghanistan," Mustafa said. But IS, he said, "is a transnational organization. It’s more extremist, considering all the brutal practices it has adopted.”

The Taliban has lost many members to the Islamic State, and Mustafa said that pressure might have influenced the Taliban's negotiations with the Afghan government.

Max Abrahms, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S., said other Islamic State enemies, including the Syrian al-Qaida offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra, influence IS strategy.

“The Islamic State doesn’t cooperate particularly well with other groups," he said, "whereas the Nusra group very self-consciously is trying to assume a leadership position among other rebel groups in Syria.”

As a result, Abrahms said, as Nusra gains power in Syria, the Islamic State group focuses on international alliances, as it has with Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

For Boko Haram, Abrahms said, the IS tie makes the group appear more powerful. For IS, he said, the link provides another way to keep its name in the headlines.

“Boko Haram was getting about as much press as any group," Abrahms said. "And Boko Haram also was a natural fit for Islamic State, because Boko Haram, like Islamic State, seems to have no inhibitions on the use of violence.”

Other alliances, such as with militants in Egypt and Libya, serve the groups more directly by sharing training and weapons.

But, he said, IS can’t forever hold off the U.S.-led coalition trying to recapture territories it holds in Iraq and Syria. That means, he said, the militants are trying to establish affiliates more internationally so they can continue to fight in different countries.

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