U.S., European Powers Ready to Arm Libyan Government Against Islamic State

Libya AFP PhotoMahmud Turkia
AFP/Mahmud Turkia

The Associated Press reported on Monday that the United States and allied nations would push for exemptions to the United Nations arms embargo on Libya, to arm the internationally recognized Libyan government against the Islamic State.

“The Government of National Accord has voiced its intention to submit appropriate arms embargo exemption requests to the UN Libya Sanctions Committee to procure necessary lethal arms and materiel to counter UN-designated terrorist groups and to combat Da’esh throughout the country. We will fully support these efforts while continuing to reinforce the UN arms embargo,” said a communique issued after a round of Libya talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and officials from more than 20 other nations.

The ISIS threat in Libya has been painfully obvious for quite some time, but there was still much reluctance to provide the Libyan government with arms. The country is politically unstable, the internationally-recognized government only controlled a portion of the country (not including its nominal capital of Tripoli), and the fear of terrorists getting their hands on foreign weapons was high.

Most of those factors are still in place. Dismayingly, the new “unity” government still isn’t as unified as the United Nations hoped. Both of Libya’s previous governments, including the internationally-recognized one in Tobruk, have displayed reluctance to work with the new “Government of National Accord.”

The Islamic State crisis, and the flood of refugees pouring from Libya into Europe, have grown too severe to be ignored. Also, the world powers convened for a summit in Vienna may hope they can convey a measure of enhanced credibility on the unity government by supporting its request for exemptions to the arms embargo.

“The United States stands ready to provide humanitarian, economic and security support to the new Libyan government on their request,” said Secretary of State Kerry, portraying such an exemption as essential for the new Libyan government to “acquire those weapons and bullets needed to fight Daesh and other terrorist groups.”

Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that stabilizing Libya “is the key answer to the risks that we have, and to stabilise Libya we need a government,” as reported by AFP.

Gentiloni said he was pleased with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s creation of a “presidential guard,” and his plan to create a “joint operations centre to coordinate a Libyan campaign to defeat the IS menace.”

The joint statement from the assembled ministers stated that they were ready to equip the Presidential Guard and “vetted forces” across Libya.

Sarraj, who attended the Vienna summit, said, “The situation in Libya is extremely bad, I’ll be very frank, economically, financially and security-wise,” and would require “the collaboration of all parties” to improve.

ISIS controls the port city of Sirte, with an estimated 5,000 fighters on the ground. While the Government of National Accord tries to organize a battle plan against them, a rogue military leader, General Khalifa Haftar — who has been marketing himself as Libya’s savior against the jihadi threat — has announced his own plans to liberate Sirte and Benghazi.