WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters this week that his administration’s involvement in stabilizing war-devastated Libya would be limited to combating the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
During a joint press conference at the White House with Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy, Trump declared, “I do not see a role in Libya. I think the United States has, right now, enough roles. We’re in a role everywhere.”
“I do see a role in getting rid of ISIS. We’re being very effective in that regard. We are doing a job, with respect to ISIS, that has not been done anywhere near the numbers that we’re producing right now,” said the president, later adding, “That role [fighting ISIS] will come to an end at a certain point, and we’ll be able to go back home and rebuild our country, which is what I want to do.”
Trump’s comments came after Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the top American commander in Africa, told lawmakers in March that Russia’s recent involvement in Libya is “very concerning,” adding:
The instability in Libya and North Africa caused by years of political infighting may be the most significant near term threat to the U.S. and allies’ interests on the continent. Stability in Libya is a long term proposition. We must maintain pressure on the ISIS Libya network and concurrently support Libya’s efforts to reestablish legitimate and unified government.
President Trump told reporters the United States military would continue to participate in efforts to annihilate ISIS in Libya.
“We have no choice,” he proclaimed, adding, “We are effectively ridding the world of ISIS. I see that as a primary role, and that’s what we’re going to do, whether it’s in Iraq or in Libya or anywhere else.”
Trump thanked the Italian leader for the part his country has played in fighting ISIS in Libya, a former colony of Italy.
Specifically, the U.S. president praised Gentiloni “for your leadership on seeking stabilization in Libya, and for your crucial efforts to deny ISIS a foothold in the Mediterranean.”
The Italian PM acknowledged that the U.S. played a “critical” role in pushing ISIS out of its Libyan stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte, located a few hundreds of miles from the European coast.
“Now the [U.S.] commitment must be political,” added Gentiloni, referring to support for the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli.
“We need a stable and unified Libya,” said the Italian PM. “A divided country and in conflict would make stability worse.”
Gentiloni made his comments in Italian and President Trump was not wearing an earpiece that would have allowed him to understand the Italian leader’s plea for U.S. support to bring political stability to Libya.
Although the U.S. military and its allies pushed ISIS out of its Libyan stronghold Sirte, once considered the largest ISIS bastion outside of Iraq and Syria, the jihadist organization remains a threat, according to Gen. Waldhauser.
“The status of ISIS in Libya is they right now are regrouping. They’re in small numbers, small groups…after they left Sirte, we developed intelligence. We bombed them on January 18 and they were in the southern part of Libya. They’ve scattered again now,” he said in March.
John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, added, “In Libya, the ISIS stronghold in Sirte has been degraded. But what remains is a divided nation littered with independent militias, flooded with arms and searching in vain for legitimate governance and political unity.”
Libya has been gripped by chaos since the U.S.-backed overthrow of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.