Western — 17 February 2016

Feb 17, 2016 | International actors

Despite the inconsistency of the Western community’s position vis-à-vis ISIS in Libya, as well as the faltering Libyan political process, an international bombing campaign of ISIS forces in the country seems a very probable prospect in the near future.

The unidentified airstrike on Sirte port on 15 February, which came after visibly increased reconnaissance flights over the city throughout last week, are likely the beginning of yet undisclosed international support missions (likely American) to forces in Misrata, who intend to liberate Sirte from ISIS.

Social media analysts monitoring ISIS in Libya observed an airplane, a Dornier 328-110, Registration Number 11-3075, belonging to the US Air Force. The plane seemed to be conducting routine flights from Italy to Misrata Airbase. Recent media reports have revealed that the US, UK and France sent military advisers to Libya to locate reliable partners for the fight against ISIS

Although US Secretary of State John Kerry, downplayed the US role or the intentions of President Barack Obama to intervene militarily in Libya, the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee (here) said that Obama is “on the verge of taking action” against ISIS in Libya. Senator Bob Corker’s comments come amid increased speculation about an American about-face in Libya towards a more aggressive engagement to combat ISIS. In reports last week, the Pentagon was said to be seeking $200 million in funding for military operations in Libya in the 2017 budget.

A new Guardian article (here), published on 9 February, quoted Tobias Ellwood, the UK Foreign Minister, saying that the UK Royal Air Force are already flying missions over Libya in preparation for the request to fight ISIS from Libya’s anticipated unity government. He did however stress that there was no possibility of UK troops going to Libya to fight ISIS forces themselves, and the extent of ground force involvement would be in training units of the LNA and the Petroleum Facilities Guard. Canada’s Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan says his country may also join the coalition against ISIS in Libya (here).

At the recent anti-ISIS meeting in Paris, Roberta Pinotti, Italy’s defence minister, said action must be taken to beat back advances made by ISIS in Libya before spring, aptly warning that “it is impossible for the international intervention to wait until the upcoming spring”. Pinotti said that there was “total agreement” among the coalition partners at the Paris meeting that Libya’s government should ask the West for help to fight ISIS, to avoid fueling “jihadist propaganda” of yet another Western invasion.

Seeing the new developments, Libya’s western border neighbors, Tunisia and Algeria, are planning an urgent meeting to coordinate border controls and prepare contingency plans for the looming impacts of intervention, which could include a new wave of Libyan refugees into their countries. The Tunisian Trade Minister said significant amounts of food was being rationed for fear of a large influx of Libyans. The Tunisian Foreign Minister reiterated his warnings last week, saying that military intervention is not a solution in Libya and that Tunisia would be the most negatively affected..

A new BBC article (here), published on 11 February, considered the extent of the threat posed to Europe by the ISIS enclave in Sirte. The article argued that it is much harder for ISIS to access Europe via Libya than it appears on the map. Relative to the ease with which ISIS jihadists and recruits have been able to travel between Syria and Europe, Libya’s role as a launch pad for attacks in Europe does not yet seem to compare. However, the article points out, and as international security officials agree, it is only as matter of time before ISIS builds itself a sophisticated base of operations for itself and will, in due course, launch attacks on Europe from Libya.