PENTAGON - Islamic State militants are “very likely” to set their sights on ungoverned spaces in Africa if they are defeated in Iraq and Syria, according to the general nominated to lead the U.S. military’s Africa Command.
“That’s why instability inside Africa is to ISIL’s advantage,” U.S. Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday. ISIL is an an acronym for Islamic State.
Some studies estimate that 1 in 4 people will live in Africa by 2050, and Waldhauser warned the “scale and the scope of some of the issues that we see today certainly could be magnified significantly.”
“The seeds of a catastrophe are in place in terms of corruption, lack of economic growth, all of those kinds of elements,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said during the hearing.
Islamic State already has influenced fighters to pledge allegiance to them in Libya and West Africa.
Libya as a 'backup'
Waldhauser said IS has focused on Sirte, Libya as a “kind of backup” if it fails elsewhere.
But despite the large presence of IS there, the general said the U.S. is not currently flying any sorties over Libya, which both the general and committee member Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) agreed “makes no sense.”
“There are targets that are being developed but there have not been flights flown,” Waldhauser said.
The U.S. military has a small number of troops in Libya and has carried out strikes against Islamic State leaders and fighters in the past.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday the U.S. is prepared to strike in Libya again in the future, but the “ideal situation” would be for the U.S. military not to get further involved.
“If they [Libyans] are able to deal with this issue on their own, that would certainly be a good thing, and would be a factor going forward for us as to whether or not we need to carry out military action,” Cook said.
Islamic State accepted the allegiance of Boko Haram, the Islamist extremist group based in northeastern Nigeria, about a year ago.
However, Waldhauser said several months ago that about half of the Boko Haram members broke off and formed a separate group that is even more aligned with Islamic State beliefs.
“They were not happy with the amount of buy-in from Boko Haram into the ISIL brand,” he said.
The general warned that while the leader of Boko Haram has not shown significant interest in attacking Western targets, this new splinter group could. “That would concern me,” he said.
Waldhauser said Africa Command needs more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) to monitor the militants in Libya and West Africa, calling the lack of adequate ISR “one of the shortcomings” that needs to be addressed inside the combatant command.
WATCH: Related video of Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser testifying at Senate hearing