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Op-Ed: U.S. France, Italy, and U.K. preparing for Libya military mission

There have been constant articles in the press about the threat of the Islamic State some exaggerating its successes and the extent of territory it controls. A second theme is that there are likely to be many more immigrants crossing the Mediterranean to the EU and that foreign intervention is needed to stop the flow. Most of the western nations ready to intervene have been waiting for the GNA to have control so that it will ask for military intervention and aid.
There are already special forces from several nations operating in Libya including the U.S., U.K. and France. They are trying to establish contacts with various militias. The west hopes they can be united against the Islamic State. The Washington Post reports: Planners at the U.S. Africa Command are now developing dozens of targets across Libya that American or European warplanes might strike. They range from the coastal city of Sirte, where the extremist group has established a refuge, to Ajdabiya, Sabratha and the militant stronghold of Derna. U.S. jets have carried out strikes against the group there twice since last fall. This seems rather odd. I understand that the IS has been driven out of Sabratha at least for the most part. The same is true of Ajdabiya from what I have heard. The Shura Council that occupies Derna is still fighting IS in the outskirts. IS was driven out ages ago. Maybe the Africa Command needs to be updated.

Ben Fishman, a White House official who was earlier responsible for Libya, said any U.S. campaign against the IS in Libya would be more limited in scope than its operations in Iraq and Syria. U.S. officials have been trying to seek permission to launch US flights from neighboring countries but so far Tunisia and Algeria have declined. There is no mention of Egypt. Missions will need to be launched from Italy, Spain, Greece or even the UK. Algeria is opposed to foreign intervention. Egypt too is wary of any intervention beyond its own on the side of the HoR and General Haftar in the east. Some analysts think that trying to bring militia on side with the GNA may actually cause more violence in Libya. The plan of the US, which coincides with that of the Libya Political Agreement, is to gradually absorb some of the militia forces into the national army. However, at present the Libyan National Army commander Khalifa Haftar does not even recognize the GNA as the legitimate government. The House of Representatives (HoR) located in Tobruk in the east also refuses to recognize the GNA until it receives a vote of confidence in the HoR and there is a constitutional amendment.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French Foreign Minister, urged the international community to be ready to help the GNA if asked, including military support. In comments to a French newspaper Ayrault said: “Libya is a concern shared by all the countries of the region and beyond. The chaos which reigns there today aids the rapid development of terrorism. It is a direct threat to the region and to Europe…We must be prepared to respond if the national unity government of (prime minister-designate Fayez) al-Sarraj asks for help, including on the military front.” However, Ayrault also warned that the international community should avoid the mistakes of the past as happened in Iraq that brought about extremism there and the advance of the Islamic State. He might have said the same thing about the intervention against Gadaffi.

A Libya International Assistance Mission has still not received concrete military commitments even after months of talks. Italy has promised to establish at least half the resources. Thousands of Italian or other EU troops could come to Libya to advise local forces on securing the capital. Such a move might simply confirm the suspicions that the GNA is imposed by foreign interests. Italy wants a UN Security Resolution and adequate security in Tripoli before deploying any troops.

Karim Mezran, a scholar at the Atlantic Council, said the Italians still do not have a coherent plan to help the Serraj government to deal with its militant foes: “It leads us to ask the question I’ve been asking from the beginning: Who’s going to provide the new government the support it requires on the ground?” The US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that once the Libyans were unified under the GNA they would rise up to expel the Islamic State since it is largely a foreign force. If foreign military units come to Libya, the Libyans could rise up against them as well. Carter also seems to be wrong in thinking that the IS are largely foreigners. US intelligence believes that the majority are Libyan although there are many foreign fighters.

While the GNA seems to be gaining power in the west, in the east it is still not even accepted as a legitimate government. Until the GNA is able to meet the demands of the military and the HoR in the east, military intervention would be in the face of a Libya still divided. It is a recipe for more conflict.

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