Libyan conflict: The Daesh factor

Libyan conflict: The Daesh factor

Western nations’ reaction to the deteriorating security situation in Libya, especially in the beleaguered city of Sirte, is pathetic to say the least.
A joint statement by the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK and US on Sunday offered nothing more than the usual words of condemnation over “the ongoing barbaric acts by Daesh-affiliated terrorists in the Libyan city of Sirte;” it called on “all parties in Libya aspiring to a peaceful and unified nation to join efforts to combat the threat posed by transnational terrorist groups exploiting Libya for their own agenda.”
The western nations reiterated “that there is no military solution to the political conflict in Libya and remain concerned that the economic and humanitarian situation is worsening every day.”
Such rhetoric is unlikely to have an effect on stalled peace talks between various Libyan parties, who remain pinned down since a provisional accord was reached in Morocco last month.
The internationally recognized government and Parliament in Tobruk have failed to extend control over much of the Libyan territory. The national army is in dire need of weapons and ammunition, but influential western powers refuse to lift sanctions despite repeated pleas by the government. Even in Benghazi militants continue to challenge the national army.
The latest statement on Libya underlines a lack of clear vision by Europe and the US. It ignores the deepening of the humanitarian crisis in that country and the fact that Libya remains a launching pad for tens of boats carrying migrants to European shores. Hundreds die every month as they make this perilous journey.
In Tripoli, where another government and Parliament still claim legitimacy, the situation is not better. The country has been carved up by various militias and tribal alliances. Libya is already a dysfunctional state and since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in October 2011, western interest in the war-torn country started to wane. The price of abandoning Libya will prove to be high both regionally and globally.
Daesh has used the political void in Libya to set up a base for itself, first in Derna, where local militias were able to chase its fighters out few weeks ago, and now in Sirte. Foreign jihadists had managed to ally themselves with local tribes, some from Qaddafi’s own clan, in order to spread in areas beyond the control of the two rival governments.
It is perplexing that while an international US-led coalition is striking Daesh positions in both Syria and Iraq, the militant group is allowed to grow in a strategically situated country, few hundred miles from European shores.
But it is not only western nations that are unable to adopt a clear strategy on Libya. Arab countries as well have failed to move beyond the rhetoric. The collapse of the Libyan state has affected the security situation in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria. Arms and fighters have slipped through the long desert borders to and from Libya. Egypt and the UAE have launched airstrikes against suspected militant bases in the past, but even as the threat of militant groups increases in Libya key Arab players are unable to agree on a united strategy.
The recognized Libyan government has asked for help to deal with the recent fall of Sirte including the launch of airstrikes. The Arab League was scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss the Libyan situation. This will be the first real test for the recent Arab League resolution to create a joint Arab force and one wonders if the will to put such a force to work will prevail.
If no action is taken, either by the Arabs or the international community, against the background of continued divisions by Libyan interlocutors, Daesh will continue to expand. It will be able to use the current political void to carve a chunk of Libya for its so-called caliphate. The threat to the region and to Europe will increase dramatically. That mini-state will attract insurgents from neighboring countries and the militants will become part of human trafficking and illegal migrant business. It is only a matter of time before Daesh will be able to smuggle fighters into Europe.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni echoed such concerns on Monday when he urged Libyans “to quickly agree to a power-sharing agreement.” He told a newspaper that “we either close (a deal) in a few weeks, or we will find ourselves with a new Somalia near (our) coast and we will have to react differently.” Such a scenario, he said, will change the international community’s goal in Libya from stabilizing the country to containing terrorism.
It would be prudent to consider the latter objective now and quickly. The reality is that the Libyans parties are too divided to agree on a national unity government anytime soon. Even if they do, implementing the accord will not be easy. Intervening in the Libyan conflict back in 2011 remains a controversial issue and is believed to have precipitated the collapse of an already fragile state. But the Daesh factor has changed everything.
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