Another Western intervention in Libya looms
The shaky debut last week of a new unity government in Libya brings Western nations, including the United States, much closer to a renewed military mission there, and to a host of obstacles that will test their ability to secure a country gripped by Islamist extremism and civil war.
Tensions ran high on Wednesday after Fayez Serraj, a little-known Libyan technocrat selected as prime minister in a United Nations peace process, arrived by boat in Tripoli from Tunisia. Western officials hailed his installation in the Libyan capital as a sign that the country’s two-year political divide is finally coming to an end — despite the existence of rival governments in Tripoli and the country’s east.
The United States and European allies, including Italy, France and Britain, have made the unity government’s establishment a key precondition for launching twin missions to begin an international stabilization effort and help combat a growing Islamic State affiliate there.
Each of those tasks will be strained by tensions among militia factions that Western nations hope will form a unified front against terrorist groups and by strong reluctance among European nations to wade into Libya’s chaos — even among those countries most threatened by the Islamic State’s growth across the Mediterranean.
The tentative political progress comes as the United States moves forward with plans to launch intensified attacks against the Islamic State’s Libyan branch, which has up to 8,000 fighters and is the group’s strongest affiliate outside Iraq and Syria.
Planners at the U.S. Africa Command [website here] are now developing dozens of targets across Libya that American or European warplanes might strike. They range from the coastal city of Sirte, where the extremist group has established a refuge, to Ajdabiya, Sabratha and the militant stronghold of Derna. U.S. jets have carried out strikes against the group there twice since last fall.
The Pentagon is also seeking to improve coordination between U.S. Special Operations forces and their French and British counterparts, which have established small cells on the ground, seeking in part to line up friendly militias that can take on the extremist fighters…
U.S. officials continue to seek permission from neighboring countries to launch U.S. flights, which would allow American planes more watch time on surveillance or strike missions. So far, Tunisia and Algeria have declined, meaning that manned and unmanned missions would probably be launched from military installations in Italy, Spain or Greece, or from as far away as Britain.
The prospect of another Western intervention in Libya has divided North Africa…
But the biggest challenge will probably be divisions among Libya’s myriad armed factions…
After months of talks, the United States and European and Arab nations have yet to make concrete military commitments to what is known as the Libya International Assistance Mission [more here, including a mention of Canada], potentially undermining the nascent government, which needs to establish its legitimacy and impose order.
Italy has promised to provide at least half of the resources for that effort, which could bring thousands of Italian or other European troops to Tripoli to advise local forces on securing the capital.
But, in a reflection of European nations’ reluctance to get pulled into a risky overseas campaign, Rome has also laid out a series of conditions for sending troops, including a U.N. Security Council resolution [Russia? China?] and — most problematic — adequate security in Tripoli before Italian troops will be deployed…
Good luck in those shifting sands. Second verse similar to the first?