U.S. officials admitted to Voice of America News on Wednesday they are deeply concerned about the Islamic State’s growing strength in Africa, emanating from their stronghold in Libya, but could offer only disturbingly vague talk of assembling an anti-ISIS “coalition” to address the problem.
It looks quite a bit like the old anti-ISIS coalition – the same “international community” of America, Britain, Italy, and France, all of them playing a “limited” role in Libya and reluctant to do more, at least until the Libyans can put together a unity government.
The VOA piece is filled with intelligence, military, and diplomatic officials darkly warning that time is running out to thwart an ISIS takeover of Libya, followed by a breakout into the rest of Africa, but that vital unity government still is not coming together.
With much of Libya still ruled by Islamist gangs and warlords, the “coalition” is reluctant to either drop Western ordnance into the hands of unsavory Libyan forces, put the lives of their soldiers at risk by fighting alongside unreliable Libyan militia, or “undermine” Libya’s “transition” back into a single unified state by relieving the pressure for unity represented by the ISIS threat.
“Our forces are completely stretched. It’s difficult now for us to intervene more,” one Western diplomat told Voice of America News.
“You cannot put off the kind of terrorism operations as this long process of government building continues to take place,” CIA director John Brennan told Congress last month.
“There is no group on the ground currently that cares enough about ISIS in Sirte, or has that effort up high enough on its priority list, to actually hit ISIS in its core terrain,” warned Institute for the Study of War analyst Harleen Gambhir.
Even if a Western coalition forms against ISIS in Libya, it might be “too little, too late,” according to Michael Horowitz of the Levantine group.
“ISIS has been able to largely expand to North Africa and south of it, using its Libyan colonies both as an entry point for its militants and as a magnet for local militants already operating inside the African continent,” Horowitz explained.
Even though the “coalition” doesn’t truly exist yet, ISIS is already using it as a recruiting tool. The Islamic State in Libya has been “spreading a nationalistic narrative, portraying itself as the most important bulwark against foreign intervention” according to a Reuters report.
Reuters describes a United Nations report released on Wednesday that also warned “Libya has become more attractive to foreign fighters who mainly arrive through Sudan, Tunisia and Turkey.”
The report quotes a “senior Islamic State militant” gloating in a recent interview how the Islamic State in Libya is growing “stronger every day.”
Writing at Newsweek, Dr. Amir M. Kamel of King’s College in London notes there are actually three distinct “governments” vying for control of Libya: the internationally-recognized government, currently exiled from the capital of Tripoli, and two feuding insurgent factions, plus an assortment of independent militias and gangs.
“It would be almost foolish to think that such an environment would not have been attractive to the likes of Daesh (ISIS) to establish a foothold in the country,” Kamel declared.
He offered an ominous warning that Libya may be impossible to unite under anything less than the brutal control practiced by the late dictator, Moammar Qaddafi. The U.S. and its “coalition” certainly are not going to use such tactics to achieve Libyan unity at gunpoint, but the Islamic State has no such qualms.