Before the West intervened in Libya in 2011 to depose former leader Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi, opponents to the campaign warned that it could become a Somalia on the Mediterranean. It appears that this prophecy is coming true.
Since Qaddafi’s fall and the civil war that followed, brutal terrorist thugs and criminal syndicates have seized territory and exploited populations. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced internally or fled to neighboring countries. In Sirte, once a popular coastal conference spot, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS)—which relocated its headquarters there after it was gradually pushed out of Derna, a coastal city east of Sirte—has targeted whole tribes for their resistance to its new order. Regular executions and disfiguring punishments occur in public squares. Although anti-ISIS forces appear to be in the process of launching an offensive to retake Sirte, ISIS has successfully entrenched itself there over the past year or so. Foreign fighters continue to swell its ranks. Even if the group is eventually removed from Sirte, either by an umbrella of militias under the new, UN-facilitated unity government or by another powerful bloc, ISIS will continue to pose a threat to Libya from other bases scattered around the country. In such a scenario, ISIS might take hold of the neglected southwest province of Fezzan, as well continue operating around Sirte, since it has overrun the strategic town of Bin Jawwad, 19 miles from the Sidra terminal, the country’s largest oil depot, as well as a number of strategic villages between Sirte and Misrata.
ISIS thrives in Libya because of the country’s lawlessness. And no political or military leader there has been able to unify local militias effectively against the group. Moreover, most Libyan political figures lack the willpower to set aside their petty grievances and work together to face ISIS, even though it constitutes a primary menace to Libya’s future.
TARGETING LIBYA’S OIL
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