Western — 8 March 2016

Mar 8, 2016 | International actors

A recent article by the Washington Post said that the Pentagon had presented the White House with the most detailed set of military options yet for attacking the growing ISIS threat in Libya. The plans are said to include a range of potential airstrikes against training camps, command centres, munitions depots and other militant targets. Roughly 30-40 targets have reportedly been identified as likely candidates for airstrikes, which would support Western-backed Libyan militia efforts to retake ground held by ISIS.

Defence Secretary Ashton B. Carter outlined this option on a 22 February briefing to the White House, but apparently the plan is still on the shelf. Diplomatic efforts to prop up the UN mediated ‘Unity’ government are currently still taking precedent over military intervention considerations. But that does not mean the US will not take decisive military actions if ISIS actively threatens western interests inside Libya, as demonstrated by the 19 February airstrike against ISIS in Sabratha.

Tis newly refined Pentagon plan comes amid increasing reports that British, American, French and possibly even Italian Special Operations forces have been on the ground in Libya for months. They have reportedly been conducting reconnaissance, gathering intelligence, vetting and possibly advising Libyan militias deemed suitable partners to fight ISIS.

A new Stratfor report publishing on 7 March also discussed the latest Western military actions on the ground in Libya, and the new American-Italian coordination in this regard. Despite Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s insistence on 6 March that Italy would not send forces until the Libyan government issues an official invitation, coalition coordination centre has already established in Rome. Italian officials have also indicated that Italy has sent some 40 intelligence operatives and 50 Special Forces troops to Libya in recent weeks. Moreover, the U.S. Ambassador to Italy said on 4 March that ‘Italy will send 5,000 troops to Libya, 3,000 of whom might be part of a peacekeeping mission’. The ambassador added that Italy might also lead the action and help the internationally recognized government develop its structures in Libya. However, he said the United States does not expect Italy to take part in a bombing campaign. Italy’s external intelligence agency, AISE, allegedly has direct operations in Libya, and 12-man teams from the agency are reportedly on the ground already.

Italian Prime Minister Renzi’s remarks on television on 6 March criticised these statements, saying that, ‘We will do our part in the big intervention, but we want to wait until the new UN government is in Tripoli’, adding that, ‘War isn’t a video game and one must go quietly’. He said that, ‘If Libya is in this difficult situation, it is because in the past, some politician – and I mean no Italian politicians, but French – had the bright idea make a speech without thinking of the consequences’. Renzi’s remarks were also reported in a Le Stampa recently published article.

Meanwhile, the latest ISIS attack on a military compound in Ben Guerdane, is likely to speed up cooperation between Western countries and Tunisia in response to the ISIS threat. An announcement by Tunisian Defence Minister Farhat Horchani on 6 March indicates German and American technicians will arrive in Tunisia next week to help with the installation of an electronic monitoring system at the Libyan-Tunisian border. Surveillance is likely to be carried out by drones, and is expected to cover the 100-mile trench barrier built by Tunisian authorities, which stretches from Ras Ejdir to Dhahiba. Naval and manned-aircraft will also be used to monitor the border.