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libya war

There aren't that many options left to solve the Libyan crisis: either a negotiated solution is found and a government of national unity formed or yet another international military intervention will be necessary. One way or the other, there is such a high level of social disintegration and chaos in Libya that diplomacy will not suffice and weapons will have to speak.

Despite the efforts of UN's mediator Martin Kobler, the ongoing peace talks face two major issues:

- Time: the advance of the ISIS is becoming dangerous and negotiations can't continue forever;

- Consensus: any agreement will have to obtain the true, and not just formal, consent of all parties, or it will be pointless.

If this will not to happen in the near future, a military intervention, similar to the one that ousted Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, will become necessary. The UN Security Council has already approved, on December 23, 2015, Resolution 2259 that authorizes an anti-terrorism military intervention in Libya if requested by the local government. What if there is no national unity executive? The UN will likely be able to find a representation that will fit its needs. Regardless of the UN Resolution, Chapter VII of the UN Statute still allows the use of force if dictated by circumstances.

Winds of war

As time passes, the military solution becomes inevitable. The ISIS is expanding in Libya, as the Italian Minister of Defense Roberta Pinotti has said. Italian warplanes have been placed in Sicily, surveillance flights take place every day, isolated bombings on islamist militias by unspecified forces (probably French) have already been carried out, and there is talk of US and British special forces boots on the ground. Slowly but surely, diplomacy is leaving room for an armed intervention.

Italy, geographically in the first line, faces two issues: preventing terrorism from taking root in a country across its coasts and stopping the endless flow of migrants coming from a country adrift. It is hence clear that, no matter which option is picked, Italy will have to play a primary role.

The terms of any intervention will have to be agreed with a national Libyan government. Without such a request or authorization, any action would risk being illegitimate – regardless of a UN Resolution granting it – and would require having a political solution already in place in the aftermath of the conflict. But if the latter is hard to find prior to an armed intervention and despite the ongoing negotiations, it will be even more difficult to broker one after a war.

fayez sarraj
Fayez Sarraj

Cui prodest?

In other words, we should understand who we want to fight for and to who the country will be delivered to after an international military action. There is no easy answer to these questions as Libya is now a country where everyone fights against everybody else. The sole institution keeping the country together is the Central Bank, which regularly pays its salaries to all the militias. Furthermore, the lack of consensus around an operation would imply that the forces on the ground would face both the ISIS and a portion of Libyans. Ideally, the war on terrorism should be dealt by Libyan land forces with international support and aerial bombardments.

The second issue is coordination. Once again France is overly active and, as has happened during the war to oust Gaddafi, it is acting without waiting for the outcome of the negotiations. The French recently assisted the Egyptian Rafale planes as they bombed islamist militias. Russia is also taking its first moves on its own. Without a proper international coordination, the effectiveness of the intervention will be hampered, as shown in Syria and Iraq.

Any political or military solution to the Libyan quagmire faces a number of internal hurdles. The Presidency Council, whose role is to lead to a government of national unity and that is currently led by Fayez Sarraj, is blocked by a series of vetoes and is the target of endless bargainings. The latter has not been able to move to Tripoli yet due to security concerns and despite the agreement signed by all parties in December 2015 in Morocco. Everyone theoretically agrees on the need to reconstitute a unitary state, but, regardless of this, every actor binds this objective to personal interests and ambitions. As mentioned, time is playing a crucial role.

The enemy advances

The ISIS in Libya has an estimated 5/6.000 combatants. The majority – around 70% – are foreign fighters, mainly from the Maghreb and Tunisia, while the Libyan component can rely on the support of a bunch of Gaddafi loyalists, similarly to Iraq where former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party led the insurgency. The islamists are expanding the areas under their rule and getting closer to the oil fields, probably to destroy them. They can rely on heavy weapons and have a portion of the coastline under their control for potential traffics of both men and weapons. The more the Libyan factions in-fight, the stronger the ISIS.

The Libyan branch of the Islamic State was created by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. He sent out one of his most trusted men to establish it. Abu Nabil al Anbari, aka Abu Mughirah al Qahtani, is an Iraqi former police officer turned terrorist during the time of Abu Musab al Zarqawi. He was arrested in 2004 and held in Camp Bucca where he met al Baghdadi. When the Caliphate was formed, al Anbari was appointed Wali, governor, of the Salaheddin Province. He was killed in a US air strike last December near Derna. He was replaced by another Iraqi: Abu Ali al Anbari. The latter has been a militant extremist since 2002 and is one of the Caliphs commanders and one of its “diplomats” capable of brokering deals with local tribesmen. The choice of these two men underlines the importance Libya has and will have for al Baghdadi. Along the same lines are the comments of Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs and General Joseph Votel, head of Centcom.

The main base for the operations of the ISIS is in Nawfaliyah, close to Ben Jawad, while the command seems to be in Sirte, with its 50 thousand inhabitants the biggest town under their control. As part of their modus operandi, the Islamic State has signed deals with the local population, imposed its laws and rules and killed any opposition. Wherever they go, they try to set up a state. What they did in Sirte was transform a Libyan bank into an Islamic bank. The ISIS in Libya can rely on the help of Ansar al Sharia and its 3/4.000 men, the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, the Shura Council of Mujaheddin in Derna and several other fanatic Islamic factions.

ahmed gheddafi
Ahmed Gaddafi

The chemical threat

As the terrorists advance, another unsolved issue resurfaces: the stockpile of chemical agents and weapons left behind by the Gaddafi regime and that the ISIS could potentially get its hands on, as some recent articles suggest. Gaddafi's cousin, Ahmed, seems to support this scenario. We wrote about this specific issue in the past (“Invisible Dog ­#15”, March 2013), as we have evidence of the stock of chemicals that were hidden by the Libyan dictator while he negotiated with the international community. Today, groups of loyalists could decide to hands these stockpiles to the ISIS.

Furthermore, someone is trying to get the Rabta chemical plant back on its feet and has started to contact experts abroad. It is unclear who is behind this and what they want. The person leading this effort is Ahmed Hesnawi, the man behind Libya's chemical weapons program under Gaddafi and one of the opponents of a deal to dismantle the chemical arsenal. A Serbian national is currently aiding him.

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