Ayotte presses Obama administration to 'define your enemy,' declare war with Islamic extremism

Sen. Kelly Ayotte pressed ahead Sunday with calls to get the Obama administration to declare war against radical Islam, as groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda gain strength across continents, following the purported beheading by ISIS of a Japanese journalist.

“It very much matters because you have to define your enemy,” Ayotte, R-N.H., told “Fox News Sunday.” “The administration should spend less time on political correctness and more time on a strategy."

Ayotte made her comments as Islamic State, also known as ISIS, continues to grow and solidify in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, where the extremist group now controls about one-third of the country.

Twice last month, the White House struggled with trying to define terrorism.

In the days after a deadly terror spree last month in France, President Obama was criticized for purposely avoiding calling the attacks an example of “Islamic extremism,” settling for the more generic “violent extremism.”

In January, twelve people were murdered in France when two brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, shot 11 journalists at a satirical magazine and later executed a police officer on a Paris street. Five other people were killed over the next two days by one of the brothers' associates.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the attacks suggested the world was “waging a war against Islamist extremists.” And British Prime Minister David Cameron said afterward that Europe and the U.S. face a “very serious Islamist extremist terrorist threat.”

In 2014, at least five Western hostages were killed by ISIS in less than three months: U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig, American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and Britons David Haines, a former Royal Air Force engineer, and Alan Henning, a taxi driver from northwest England.

Last week, the White House tried to explain why the administration sometimes classifies the Afghan Taliban as a terrorist organization -- and sometimes does not.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says Obama has avoided associating the attacks with Islam for the sake of “accuracy.”

“These are individuals who carried out an act of terrorism, and they later tried to justify that act of terrorism by invoking the religion of Islam and their own deviant view of it,” Earnest said. “We also don’t want to be in a situation where we are legitimizing what we consider to be a completely illegitimate justification for this violence, this act of terrorism.”

At least one Democrat -- Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran -- sides with Ayotte and other Obama critics.

“By his not using this term ‘Islamic extremism’ and clearly identifying our enemies, it raised a whole host of questions in exactly what Congress will be authorizing,” she recently told Fox News.

“Unless you understand who your enemy is, unless you clearly identify your enemy, then you cannot come up with a very effective strategy to defeat that enemy,” Gabbard continued.

As Islamic State continues its foray in the Middle East, Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups continue to grow in northern Africa.

Ayotte, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also said that testimony in recent hearings on U.S. efforts to stop the extremist groups suggests countries need America to take a stronger leadership role.

“Our word has to matter,” she told Fox News. “There’s a lack of strategy. Our word has to be counted on.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.