Unity government sought to strike ISIS in Libya

Friday 12/02/2016

Washington - In response to the growing threat of the Islamic State (ISIS), the United States is weighing the potential effec­tiveness of a military inter­vention in Libya to prevent the ex­tremist group from establishing a foothold in Sirte, similar to those in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria.
Libya’s daunting domestic chal­lenges, however, limit US options in Libya.
Mounting pressure in Iraq and Syria has prompted ISIS to shift resources to Libya. US defence offi­cials estimate that more than 6,000 ISIS fighters have arrived in Libya in the past six months.
The presence of ISIS in Libya started at the end of 2014 when 300 fighters left battlegrounds in Iraq and Syria to open a new front in North Africa. Even though an alliance of Libyan Islamist groups succeeded last July in expelling the fighters from Derna, ISIS seized control of Sirte in November.
Pentagon spokeswoman US Army Lieutenant-Colonel Michelle Baldanza told The Arab Weekly the United States remains “deeply con­cerned about the growing threat” of ISIS in Libya and said that the best way to counter this threat is “to help Libyans continue to build the national consensus”.
After neglecting Libya for more than two years, the international community is urging warring par­ties to end the political crisis to fo­cus on fighting ISIS. But the United Nations’ peace efforts are moving at a slow pace compared to the ex­tremist group’s rapid expansion as it attempts to consolidate control over the ports of Sidra, Ras Lanuf and Brega, which together account for 60% of Libya’s oil production.
Most importantly, rival parties in Libya have been more interested in fighting each other than ISIS. The greatest challenge of the fragile na­tional unity government remains to exert influence over the military and the armed groups across the country. Regardless of the political dynamics, the United States did not hesitate in November to target and kill Abu Nabil, one of the group’s leaders in Libya, in an air strike. Furthermore, US commandos have been operating in Libya for months, collecting intelligence and assess­ing local forces’ readiness and will­ingness to fight ISIS.
The limited US intervention will likely be similar to the one in Syria: air strikes and aerial surveil­lance along with the deployment of special operations to conduct raids against high-value ISIS targets and enable local forces to launch an offensive against the extrem­ist group. A sense of urgency to respond is shared by US allies. The threat ISIS poses in Libya is the proximity to southern Europe and the group’s connection to Boko Haram in Niger, which affects the stability of West Africa’s Sahel region and has spillover risks in neighbouring North African coun­tries.
With access to the Mediterranean and a strategic location between Tripoli and Benghazi, the West is concerned that ISIS in Libya will be­come a hub for European and North African fighters.
Yet the talk about an imminent intervention in Libya seems to be fading. Many governments, includ­ing Egypt and Britain, signalled a lack of appetite to support a direct intervention. The question remains if Washington will intervene with­out political unity in Libya or with­out an official request from the di­vided new cabinet.
Baldanza said the United States has demonstrated a willingness to take direct action to protect Amer­ica from “threats from abroad” but will continue in parallel efforts of “mitigating conflict, promoting stability and strengthening govern­ance”. She expected that these two goals “will increasingly be mutually reinforcing”.
If the political process fails in Lib­ya, the United States seems keen to act independently by striking ISIS. Yet, without an effective national unity government in place or local forces willing to lead the fight on the ground, any military interven­tion will have no guarantees of suc­cess.