U.S. Official Says IS Forces Rising in Libya, Dropping in Iraq, Syria

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Libya has seen an influx of Islamic State extremists in recent months, while the number of jihadists in Iraq and Syria has dropped by several thousand, a U.S. defense official said Thursday.

About 5,000 IS fighters are now in Libya, the official said, up from earlier estimates of between 2,000 and 3,000.

The official added the United States now believes there to be between 19,000 and 25,000 IS fighters in Iraq and Syria, down from a previous count of between 20,000 to 33,000.

The release of the updated fighter tallies comes as the administration of President Barack Obama faces growing calls for the US military to step up actions against the IS group in Libya.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said IS fighters had seen their ranks thinned in Iraq and Syria by the ongoing U.S.-led coalition air campaign, while tightened travel restrictions have also had an impact. 

It's a "combination of battlefield deaths, desertions, internal disciplinary actions, recruiting shortfalls and difficulties that foreign fighters face traveling into Syria," the official said.

In Libya, IS jihadists already control the Mediterranean city of Sirte, the birthplace of former leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Libya has been in chaos since the NATO-backed ouster of the longtime dictator in 2011.

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