Media Coverage

Warnings of a ‘Powder Keg’ in Libya as ISIS Regroups

March 22, 2017

In an article for the New York Times, Eric Schmitt outlines the threat that ISIS cells in Libya continues to pose to Libya and the Sahel region, and discusses the cautious responses being taken by neighbouring countries and the US to counter this threat.

“The multiple militias and fractured relationship between factions in east and west Libya exacerbate the security situation, spilling into Tunisia and Egypt and the broader Maghreb, allowing the movement of foreign fighters, enabling the flow of migrants out of Libya to Europe and elsewhere,” General Waldhauser said.

Even before President Trump took office, vowing to intensify the global fight against ISIS, the Pentagon was accelerating its counterrorism efforts here in Central Africa.

The United States is building a $50 million drone base in Agadez, Niger. When completed next year, it will allow Reaper surveillance drones to fly from hundreds of miles closer to southern Libya, to monitor Islamic State insurgents flowing south and other extremists flowing north from the Sahel region…

“We must carefully choose where and with whom we work with to counter ISIS-Libya in order not to shift the balance between factions and risk sparking greater conflict in Libya,” General Waldhauser said.

Click here to read the full article.

Ignoring History: America’s Losing Strategy in Libya

February 28, 2017

In an article for Critical Threats discussing the US strategy towards Libya, Emily Estelle writes that:

“The current U.S. strategy will fail in Libya, as it has repeatedly in places such as Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. Further, ISIS is on track to resurge alongside al Qaeda.

The U.S. must develop a new strategy in Libya that prioritizes resolving the civil war. We should begin by working with our allies to isolate the country from the regional and global power competitions that are worsening the conflict within Libya. The U.S. should also support changes to the UN-backed unity government that promote inclusivity and reward stakeholders who are willing to compromise. We must keep pressure on ISIS while taking care to support the formation of legitimate armed forces that do not pursue polarizing political objectives or operate within al Qaeda’s orbit.

It is not too late for U.S. policy in Libya to succeed.ISIS is on its back foot, and many Libyan stakeholders are looking for paths to resolution. We must seize this opportunity to support a sustainable solution to the Libyan conflict so that recent success in Libya will stand the test of time.  We otherwise risk watching Libya return to chaos and allowing ISIS and al Qaeda (and possibly Russia) to secure an enduring safe haven on Europe’s doorstep.”

Click here to read the full article.

Libya After ISIS: How Trump Can Prevent The Next War

February 22, 2017

In an article for Foreign Affairs, Frederic Wehrey and Wolfram Lacher discuss the complexities of the Libyan political situation, the persistent threat that ISIS poses in the country despite their territorial defeats, and what role the US can play in helping Libya to avoid falling into greater conflict and insecurity:

“Now is the time for careful and robust American diplomatic leadership. The Trump administration must first school itself in the complexities of Libyan politics, shunning the easy and incorrect categorizations of “Islamist” and “secular” or “nationalist.” It must avoid viewing the country solely through a counterterrorism lens and sub-contracting its Libya policy to regional states, especially Egypt, whose partisan and securitized approach will produce more division and radicalization. Punting the Libya issue to Europe is also a non-starter; without American backing, a European role will lack credibility, inviting Russia to be the key power broker. Backing one side in Libya’s conflicts, as some regional leaders are seeking to persuade the United States to do, would trigger a major escalation and a long civil war.”

On ISIS:

“Today, ISIS is no longer a territorial force in Libya in any meaningful sense. That said, its demise presents a number of dangers. First, remnants of ISIS could still reconstitute themselves and sow trouble. Already, fighters have fled to the desert valleys south of Sirte, where they’ve tried to regroup in small encampments like the one the United States bombed on January 18 of this year. The group is said to have a residual presence around the Western town of Sabratha, a hub for Tunisian jihadists, and its clandestine cells are still capable of attacking in and around the capital. 

Beyond these specific threats, Libya remains an attractive host to jihadism, whether from ISIS, al Qaeda, or some new variant. The conditions are ripe: a long legacy of jihad, economic despair, a governance vacuum, and worsening polarization that could leave some communities feeling as if they have no recourse but violence. The networks and infrastructure of existing jihadist groups could easily give way to new mutations, much as ISIS co-opted or peeled away Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, Sabratha, and Sirte. Most importantly, jihadism thrives on conflict; ISIS expanded during Libya’s last round of factional fighting starting in mid-2014, inserting itself in the fissures wrought by the conflict between the so-called Dawn and Dignity camps.”

Click here to read the full article.

After ISIS: How to Win the Peace in Iraq and Libya

The European Council on Foreign Relations has published an excellent and highly informative paper written by Hayder al-Khoei, Ellie Geranmayeh & Mattia Toaldo looking at post-Isis stabilisation efforts with a special focus on Iraq and Libya, with the aim of assessing where European states can play a more meaningful role in ensuring that the important military gains of recent months are not squandered once the anti-ISIS guns fall quiet. The authors believe this is a track of increased importance given that the incoming US administration is likely to invest less resources than ever in strengthening sustainable stability, and that the fall out of failure will directly impact European interests in terms of the threat of terrorism and challenge posed by ongoing migration.

The paper’s policy recommendations for Libya are:

  • Strengthen the political coalition behind Tripoli’s government: the EU and its member states, through bilateral and multilateral mediation and engagement with Libyan political actors, could work to expand the coalition-backing unity efforts.
  • Help Libyans build a decentralised state: the EU should help to (1) unlock funds from the central government for municipalities; (2) encourage coordination and provide advice and recommendations on best practice; (3) promote capacity-building through ‘on the job training’ in Europe for Libyan civil servants.
  • Support deep reconciliation efforts: EU member states should provide logistical support or ‘adopt’ tracks of dialogue similar to those pursued in the past by countries undergoing democratic transition, like Spain or Bulgaria.
  • Pursue military de-escalation: the EU and its member states should support efforts to reach a military deal between different actors in western and southern Libya.
  • Conclude an economic deal to keep the country united: the EU and its member states must give concrete support to a deal that saves the country from economic collapse while addressing the legitimate concerns of eastern Libya about marginalisation within a unified Libya.
  • Do not forget Sirte (and Benghazi): de-mining, humanitarian relief, and building the conditions for the safe return of IDPs are priorities not just for Sirte’s residents but also for the stability of the rest of western Libya.
  • Deal with regional powers and Russia through the UNSC, and set up an EU member state ‘contact group’: its main policy should be to preserve the ‘architecture’ of resolutions and agreements negotiated by the UN and approved by the UNSC over the past two years with the support of the US, Egypt and Russia.

New Counterattack Against Oil Crescent Likely To Be Repulsed

December 23-27, 2016

On 25 December commanders from the Misratan Military Council, the main umbrella organisation for the city’s militias, met with Islamist BDB commanders and fighters in their base in Hun, a town around 300k, south of Sirte, to organise such a unified front. On 26 December, LNA fighter jets launched airstrikes against BDB positions in Hun. Critically, one of the Banyan al-Marsus coalition brigades suffered losses during the airstrike. The head of Misrata’s defence zone affiliated with the GNA’s Ministry of Defence and BM condemned the attack on 26 December and reiterated calls for Haftar’s exclusion from the political peace process. News reports indicate that a brigade affiliated with Bunyan Marsus incurred losses in the airstrikes. This is likely to add fuel to the fire of the Haftar-Misrata enmity, possibly consolidating more Misratan support for the BDB against the LNA. It could mean an escalation because it may draw Misratan fighters into the battle against Haftar on the side of the Islamists, which would give the allied former Libya Dawn fighters more chance of launching a successful, or at least more sustained, counter attack in the oil crescent. Conversely, that this counterattack has gotten no where fast seems to my mind to indicate that these issues will have to be settled through some kind of compromise as force cannot be successful.

On a separate but connected note, the overall oil picture in Libya and how production increases could affect world markets an OPEC’s attempts to curtail production was addressed in a useful article in Oil Price.com. This analysis assumes that production in the oil crescent is safe in the short term and I concur with this analysis.

My thoughts on the chances of a new policy of the Trump administration leading to a reconciliation among Haftar, Misrata, and Zintan were featured in an article in the Digital Journal.

Jason Pack, the author and North Africa analyst at Risk Intelligence, also notes that there is speculation that the Trump administration will also look more favorably on Haftar and his strong supporter Abdul el-Sisi, president of Egypt. Haftar has been to Russia recently and appears to be building up stronger relationships with Russia. He already has the support of Egypt, the UAE, and Jordan…

Pack, rightly warns, that should Haftar make a move against Tripoli, his opponents could soon unify. Pack believes that Haftar’s announcement is simply to give notice to his rivals and potential allies as well as provide leverage to be included in negotiations about Libya’s future. In spite of, or perhaps because of, Haftar’s threats, the UN envoy Martin Kobler insists that Haftar must have a place in any new Government of National Accord. However, it is unclear how Kobler or anyone else will be able to incorporate Haftar as commander in chief of a national army as seems to be his desire without having the GNA implode, Many members of the Presidency Council and even more the High State Council are apposed to Haftar having any role in a new GNA. Western countries continue to support the GNA and warn against having dealings with parallel institutions. Countries such as Russia, Egypt, and the UAE still pay lip service to the LPA but are paying no attention to warnings about dealing with parallel institutions.

To read the full article click here.

Peace in Libya? One Man Donald Trump is Unlikely to Ignore

December 24, 2016

In an article published in Middle East Eye, Rhiannon and I argue that Haftar’s growing influence and momentum in Libya mean that deals are increasingly being struck and compromises being made between rival factions in western Libya in order to avoid conflict and ensure a place under any new political agreement.  Trump is likely to pivot towards Haftar adding yet further momentum to these trends.  As the Transition Team may not hit the ground running immediately on Jan 20, we can bet than February and March will see a significant reshuffling of the the international community’s alliance structure.

Many speculate that the incoming US administration will look more favourably at anti-Islamist strongmen like Haftar and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, freeing them up from previous international norms which hamstring their attempts to crush their enemies…. On 14 December, Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) announced its intention to “liberate” Tripoli from what they dub militia and “Islamist” control. Two days later, it mobilised reinforcements at the Watiya airbase south of Zawiyya, the main oil port in western Libya.

On 14 December, the Zintanti Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) unit based in al-Rayayna in the Nafusa mountains lifted its two-year blockade on the pipeline running from southern oil fields to the Zawiyya refinery. This is expected to allow up to 400,000 barrels per day of crude to flow, which would significantly boost Libya’s oil exports and revenues. The National Oil Corporation had been pushing for this blockade to be lifted since Haftar reopened the oil crescent. It’s significant that this happened at the same time as LNA fighters were spotted moving south of Zawiyya.  As a result of Haftar’s inevitable role in future political agreements, it seems that through informal channels of contact between Haftar’s loose allies in Zintan and factions from Misrata and Tripoli a pipeline deal has been negotiated which seeks to benefit all these parties under any new peace process….

What does seem more certain, however, is that Haftar’s growing domestic and international power means that he and his allies must be brought inside the international political process on Libya. It might be that Donald Trump, with his flexible approach to diplomacy and his desire for a pragmatic defence of American interest abroad, may be just the person to do this.

To read the full article click here.

Ryayna Valve Blockade Lifted and Sidra Finally Ready to Export

December 14, 2016

The historic defeat of the Islamic State in Sirte is having many cascading effects. One is Misratan internal tensions, another is increased assertiveness of Haftar, and another is more oil is being brought online.  The Petroleum Facilities Guard announced today it has opened the Ryayna valve, essentially lifting the western region blockade on Al-Wafa, Al-Sharara and Al-Fil oilfields.  This means gobs and gobs of oil is likely to flow to Zawiyya shortly.  Bloomberg has connected this story with the Sidra finally being ready to process crude. Haftar is clearly a winner as he and his allies the Zintanis now seem to control all of Libya’s key oil arteries.

Libya is preparing this week to reopen two of its biggest oil fields and ship the first cargo from its largest export terminal in two years, as the war-torn OPEC state pursues plans to almost double crude output in 2017. Repsol SA-operated Sharara, Libya’s largest oil field, and the El Feel, or Elephant, deposit run by Eni SpA will soon start pumping crude to the Zawiya refinery and the Mellitah energy complex after pipelines reopened Wednesday, Mansur Abdullah, manager of the refinery’s oil movement, said by phone. The two western fields have been closed for more than a year and a half and have a combined output capacity of more than 450,000 barrels a day….

The oil fields of Sharara and El Feel are poised to reopen on Thursday after the NOC reached an agreement with protesters who had been blocking pipelines that connect them with Zawiya refinery and Mellitah complex, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said, asking not to be identified because the issue isn’t public. Zawiya has received instructions to prepare for the imminent reopening of the fields, the refinery’s Abdullah said.

To read the full article click here.

With IS Expelled from Libya’s Sirte, What Comes Next?

December 14, 2016

As always the intricacies, and obscure and complex interconnections of Libyan politics never ceases to surprise and amaze. Since last week’s liberation of Sirte by Misratan fighters, a whole range of proximal effects have dominoed outwards towards a very uncertain distal future: 1. Internal fissures inside Misrata; 2. Lifting of the longstanding blockade on the Ryanana valve in the West allowing the Western fields of Al-Fil and Sharara to come back online; 3. The further expansion of Haftar’s control and appeal; 4. A weakening of the UN process. I sought to explore all these interwoven strands in an article focusing on the dangers of internal tensions within Misrata for Al-Monitor.

Now that IS has been territorially defeated, the question of greatest significance for Libya’s trajectory is not the one the intelligence agencies are focused on, which is what the remnants of IS will do next. Rather, it is the question diplomats and analysts have long been pondering: What will the victorious Misratan fighters do next? Potential IS terror attacks may cause panic, but the actions of the fighters from the northwestern city of Misrata have the capacity to unify or conversely destabilize the whole country. The Misratans took down IS not out of a particular hate of jihadis, but out of a desire to obtain further Western support and become Libya’s dominant political force. The gambit may have backfired. Will we now see a hot civil war between Misrata and Field Marshal Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who dominates in Libya’s east? Or with the removal of a common enemy, will the component parts of Banyan Marsus (BM) break apart, allowing Misrata’s enemies to become the dominant military force in Libya?…

These internal Misratan divisions have been simmering for some time, and although they have been brought to the surface by recent events, this does not mean that Misrata is on the verge of civil war. Misrata, perhaps more than any other post-Qaddafi power center, has succeeded in overcoming internal strife in order to put its interests first. However, with Libya’s fluid alliances changing faster than ever, and the GNA possibly entering its dying days, what Misrata does next is likely to shape Libya’s trajectory over the coming weeks.  The world cannot afford a collapse of Misratan power and stability. Therefore, Western policymakers should not leave Misrata out to dry. America in particular must not let the Misratans go unrewarded for fighting and dying against IS. President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team should understand this all too well. Furthermore, for Libyans to be able to settle their differences and achieve a lasting political compromise, a genuine balance of power and mutually acceptable stalemate must first be reached. Only then should a new political process be initiated — ideally, one that includes both Hifter and the Misratans.

To read the full article click here. 

Bunyan Marsus Declares Victory Against IS in Sirte

December 6, 2016

On 5 December, al-Bunyan al-Marsus forces announced mission accomplished in Sirte against IS, declaring a final and total breakdown in IS ranks with many of their militants surrendering themselves to BM. According to the BM spokes-room, there are still some clashes in the Jiza al-Bahriya area with some remnants who are still trying to fight it out.

The full state of the situation is yet to settle but the political impact and ramifications are likely to be huge. If the fallout is handled positively, it could bolster the GNA and raise the stakes for Misrata and the western region in supporting the LPA. Negatively, if it is mishandled and conflict breaks out in Tripoli, pulling in forces from Misrata, this could be the death knell for the LPA and the GNA. Less than two weeks to the significant 17 December date, continued collapse and dysfunction may fuel the forces of conflict between Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and the western region militias and could play into what PC member Ali al-Gutrani has demanded; a transitional process to hand over government to the LNA and HoR.

You can read more about these developments from the Libya Herald here.

It has taken eight months, the lives of at least 712 Bunyan Marsous fighters (three of them in the final 24 hours) and the wounding, sometimes catastrophically of 3,210 more, but today the guns fell largely silent over Sirte as the last IS terrorists were killed or surrendered….

The final collapse of resistance may have had something to do with yesterday’s intense air onslaught.  US Africa Command said  there had been 15 airstrikes on 42 different terrorist positions. This brought to 492 the number of air raids the US has launched since it began supporting BM operation on 1 August.  The beachside properties in which IS made their final stand and much of the surrounding Ghiza neighbourhood have been reduced to rubble.

To read the full article click here.

Trump Will Make ISIS in Libya a Priority Says Security Adviser

November 10, 2016

The Libya Herald reports that a senior security adviser to Donald Trump has said that the president-elect is going to make the destruction of ISIS in Libya a priority. The article discusses reactions in Libya to Trump becoming the president-elect, arguing that his victory was welcomed across political divides in Libya.

Click here to read the full article.

Libya forces free 5 foreign captives from ISIS in Sirte

October 20, 2016

Reuters reports that Bunyan Marsus forces in Sirte have freed five foreign nationals (two from Turkey, two from India and one from Bangladesh)  following heavy fighting to free the ISIS’ remaining enclave in the city.

Debunking Trump’s Lies about ISIS and Libya and How Hillary Should Counterattack in the Second Debate

October 7, 2016

The Eye on ISIS team’s first major intervention in the presidential campaign has just come out! In it our Hate Speech International report, “Who pays for ISIS in Libya?”,  is featured in my major opinion article about Trump’s lies about Libya and ISIS in the first debate  and how Hillary should aggressively rebut them in the second debate. In it, I give Hillary some tips on how to change her strategy to keep Trump off guard in the second debate.

I am very proud of this article. It features my academic work as the key way to debunk Trump’s egregious lie that ISIS controls Libya’s oil. It is very encouraging to know that the Clinton campaign and various high profile supporters have referenced our work (offline thus far though) as they have sought to reference it to refute Trump’s claims that ISIS controls Libya’s oil. That is really a unique honour for us. This is a very important issue and if you could send around to people in the know that would be very valuable, especially before Sunday’s debate.

West Supports Resumption of Libyan Oil Exports as Means to Fight ISIS

September 26, 2016

Jason Pack, President of Libya-Analysis and Founder of EyeOnISISinLibya.com, is quoted in a Wall Street Journal article which discusses the Western diplomatic efforts taking place behind-the-scenes to support the resumption of oil exports in Libya, as a means for fighting ISIS.

“Western governments are pushing for a resumption of exports because they want to ensure Libya remains solvent, able to fight ISIS, and has the resources to conduct state building,” said Jason Pack of security-focused consultancy Libya-Analysis.

Click here to read the full article.

Haftar’s Takeover of Oil Crescent Could Weaken Anti-ISIS Coalition

September 14 , 2016

Jason Pack and Rhiannon Smith write an opinion piece for the Middle East Eye looking at how Haftar’s recent takeover of the oil crescent ports is likely further weaken the Government of National Accord (GNA), and how a haphazard, reactionary response from international and local actors could also weaken the coalition fighting against ISIS in Libya.

Already there are reports of anti-Haftar Islamist militias gathering to launch a counter-offensive, while it is conceivable that the Misratan-led forces currently fighting IS in Sirte will also turn their attentions to the LNA forces to the east once Sirte is liberated.

Unfortunately, the ingredients for a new phase of internecine conflict, centred on the oil crescent, are all there, and the dynamics will be made more complex given special forces from several Western countries that are currently on the ground supporting both the LNA and Misratan forces in their separate fights against IS.

Click here to read the full article.

Who Pays for ISIS in Libya?

September 5, 2016

The Libya Herald gives a write up of the launch of Hate Speech International’s (HSI) report ‘Who Pays for ISIS in Libya?” written by James Roslington and Jason Pack. The event was held at RUSI on London on 5 September. 

The report maintains that the key causative dynamic of the rapid defeat of ISIS in Sirte was possibly their pour financing. The ISIS financing model has always been predatory rather than productive. It has been dependent on loot, taxes, smuggling, corruption and coerced donations, the report explained.

Therefore, the report maintains, ISIS was only sustainable so long as it acquired progressively more territory to tax and plunder.

Bitter and Out of Touch: Mahmoud Jibril Lashes Out at International Community

August 30, 2016

In an interview with Al-Hayat translated by Al-Monitor, Mahmoud Jibril releases his vitriol scapegoating others, and especially the West, for the policies of appeasement of the militias of which he was the primary architect.  Fascinatingly, he believes that the international community’s pursuit of UN dialogue causes young Libyans to join ISIS and conspiratorially asserts that Western policies were meant to promote jihadism and prevent the centralisation of power post-Qadhafi. This shows the deep mistrust and political fragmentation which characterises the current Libyan political landscape.  Most revealingly, this interview must serve as a reality check for those who think the pro-HoR and pro-Emirati wing of Libyan politicians can be easily reconciled to the UN process.

When we wanted to dismantle the militias after the fall of the regime and a decision was issued by the Executive Office in this respect, why did the international community refuse this? …

We support the dialogue, but we are against the current approach. The government is doomed to failure, since it is not an efficient government. It has no army or police and no money. How will it meet citizens’ urgent needs? I advised Sarraj not to enter Tripoli so as not to become a hostage in the hands of the militias. He told me that he was being pressured to enter Tripoli….

Al-Hayat:  You talked about states funding terrorism in Libya. Can you name them?

Jibril:  I don’t want to mention names. But the intelligence of major states and the regional intelligence were watching the planes land at Libyan airports and transport IS terrorists from Syria and Iraq. Libya’s UN envoy to Libya submitted two reports during two of the UN Security Council’s closed sessions that the representatives of all members in 2012 and 2013 attended. He gave statistics, mentioned names, figures and states that violated the arms embargo on Libya and that supplied certain militias with weapons. Not a single state objected or condemned the action of these violating states.

Al-Hayat:  You reproach the dialogue for not including influential parties such as leaders of armed militias because they are powerful on the ground. Might there be dialogue with IS?

Jibril:  I am not talking about IS but about the militia leaders who carry arms and have no other alternative and those who are armed out of fear of the establishment of a state. Such a prospect is not in their interest as they committed crimes, accumulated wealth and gained social status. They would not want the return of the state because it would take away many of their privileges, and they carry arms out of necessity — not out of choice. But they know they are murderers and can be murdered, too. They want to enjoy the spoils of war and are searching for an escape because they do not want to die. But they were not offered an escape. They weren’t told they would be partners in building the state, and they definitely will not accept to be victims of its establishment. This is the real deal…..

Al-Hayat:  Do you think that those who committed murders can partake in building the state?

Jibril:  Crimes are not subject to a statute of limitations. Once a crime has been committed, its perpetrator must be punished. This is the rule. I think that many members of militias joined these militias due to the bad economic situation. The economy in place is an economy of militias and terrorism. When they see that the government is unable to pay salaries, many young men find themselves forced to join the militias; therefore it seems as if the international community is pushing Libyans to join IS and the armed militias. What will a young man do when [IS and the armed militias] offer him a salary between $2,000 and $3,000, a machine gun and influence among people, while the other alternative [the government] is unable to redress the economy or pay the salaries of government employees?

Marine Gunships Enter the Fight Against the Islamic State in Libya

August 23, 2016

An article in the Washington Post says that the US is now using helicopter gunships in the fight against ISIS in Sirte.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations, said Marine AH-1W SuperCobra helicopters participated in strikes against the Islamic State over the weekend. According to a U.S. Africa Command release, U.S. forces conducted nine strikes from Friday to Sunday, targeting Islamic State fighting positions and vehicles.

The Islamic State fighters have retreated “to the densest, most built-up part of the city,” the official said. “[The AH-1] is a platform that lends itself well to that kind of mission.”

Until recently, the airstrikes in Sirte have been carried out by fixed-wing aircraft, such as the AV-8B Harrier ground attack jets. Helicopter gunships, such as the Cobra, fly low and slow and are able to attack targets more directly and systematically than, say, a jet that releases a bomb while screeching overhead at hundreds of miles an hour. Yet gunships, flying at low altitude and low speed, are more at risk of getting shot down by ground fire and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, or MANPADS.

Click here to read the full article.

For IS, Losing Sirte Won’t Mean Losing Libya: Analysts

August 17, 2016

Libya Analysis’ Jason Pack was quoted in an article in the Daily Mail.

The thrust of the article is that after the loss of Sirte ISIS survivors are likely to disperse throughout the country and continue to engage in their terrorism.

It would probably prompt the group to change tactics, said Ethan Chorin, an American former diplomat in Libya and head of Perim Associates, a consultancy. Libya will “very likely see a shift in IS strategy to a more diffuse and intensified campaign of terror and intimidation,” he told AFP. “IS and like-minded Islamist fighters have consistently shown an ability to ‘melt away’ at will,” Chorin said.

“It is likely that the victorious militias will defy GNA rulings and expose the fact that the GNA is not actually a unity of anything,” said Jason Pack, a Libya-focused researcher at Cambridge University who consults for Western governments.” As always in Libya, it is the men with guns who hold political power, not those with fancy suits and titles.”

Click here to read the full article

After Sirte, What’s Next for ISIS in Libya?

August 17, 2016

Jason Pack, Ruwan Rujouleh and Nadav Pollak have an opinion piece on the Tony Blair Faith Foundation website.

Each of the authors presents his own belief:

Nadav Polak speculates that to divert attention from its loss in Sirte, ISIS may stage attacks on Italy. Italy is a suitable target for ISIS, he believes, because Italian forces were involved in the anti-ISIS Sirte effort, and the US might station drones there to use against ISIS in Libya.

Italy was already a desirable target for ISIS before its losses in Sirte, but now it might increase its efforts to target the country. Italian security agencies are already on edge and close cooperation with Libyan, American, and other European countries will hopefully help to stop any ISIS plans.

Jason Pack feels that the underlying weaknesses in Libya — the fractured political situation, proliferation of local militias, the smuggling and human trafficking all are breeding grounds for ISIS or other similar groups.

After the city is retaken, serious rifts within GNA-affiliated militias are highly likely between those supporting a full attack against General Khalifa Haftar in the east and those wishing to oust Islamist and extremist militias from Tripoli. Victorious militias will likely defy unity government rulings and expose the extent of the government’s lack of control. It is important to continue to stress the danger from sleeper cells, revenge attacks, and the enemies of the GNA working together with jihadis of all stripes, including former ISIS elements, to wage a guerilla war against the unity government and Haftar.

Ruwan Rujouleh believes that ISIS will rebound quite successfully from the loss of Sirte.

ISIS is an organisation that crosses borders both tactically and ideologically. It is likely that the group will transfer its battles to Libya’s neighbours if it loses the city, smuggling its fighters, estimated to number thousands, over the border. They would pose a real threat to neighbouring countries if they manage to run from Sirte.

Click here to read the full article.

Libya Seeks Nation-Building Partner in Washington

Aug 14, 2016

An article in AL Monitor discusses a Libyan effort to promote more US involvement in Libya towards nation-building.

The article is based on a recent interview with Libyan Chargé d’affaires to Washington Wafa Bugaighis.

The lesson here, the country’s envoy to Washington warns, is that focusing on narrow goals will bring neither stability to the region nor security to the West. “We know that Daesh [the Islamic State] is there because of the chaos,” not the other way around, Chargé d’affaires Wafa Bugaighis told Al-Monitor in a late June interview at her Watergate office. “You need to treat the cause. Otherwise, you will have terrorist groups multiplying by different names and agendas.”

Bugaighis is hopeful that the chaos since Moamar Gadhafi’s fall may finally be subsiding following the international recognition of the GNA [Government of National Accord] earlier this year. Now unity is needed in Libya itself, where a number of warlords and politicians have so far refused to get on board.

Top US officials have acknowledged the trade-offs between military strikes to eliminate immediate terrorist threats and the longer-term work of helping rebuild Libya. The US, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress in February, faces a “dilemma … in terms of a more robust military intervention in Libya, and the potential jeopardy that imposes to a very fragile evolving political process.”

Click here to read the full article.

 US Backed Libyan Forces Make Gains in the Coastal City of Sirte

Aug 12, 2016

Sputniknews had an audio interview with Jason Pack Founder of EOIL  regarding the progress being made by US-backed Libyan forces against ISIS in the coastal city of Sirte.

Click here to start the program. Pack’s portion runs from 14:01 to 18:15

U.S.-Backed Militias in Libya Claim to Retake ISIS Stronghold of Surt

Aug 11, 2016

An article in the New York Times indicates that pro-government Libyan militias backed by US airpower have retaken the coastal city of Surt from ISIS.

The Islamic State’s loss of Surt would signify the culmination of a summer-long offensive by militias from Misurata, under the auspices of the Government of National Accord, the Tripoli-based authority backed by the United Nations.

It comes against the backdrop of other military setbacks for the Islamic State, which once held wide areas of Syria and Iraq but has been forced to relinquish territory in recent months. Iraqi forces retook control of the city of Falluja from the Islamic State in June. The Syrian Army, backed by Russia, expelled the Islamic State from the ancient city of Palmyra in March. Syrian insurgents and Kurdish militias, including some American-backed factions, have been squeezing Islamic State positions in northeast Syria near Raqqa, the organization’s headquarters.

Click here to read the full article.

U.S. Special Operations Troops Aiding Libyan Forces in Major Battle Against Islamic State

Aug 9, 2016

The Washington Post reports that US forces aided by British troops are providing support to Libyan units in their effort to remove ISIS from the coastal city of  Sirte.

The new American operation in Sirte is the culmination of an extended, low-visibility mission in Libya by U.S. special operators, who established small outposts in recent months as part of an effort to build ties with friendly forces and increase American understanding of the complexities of political and militia factions.

The insertion of U.S. personnel closer to an intense battle, where the risks are much greater, highlights the importance of the Sirte operation. In addition to crippling a group believed to be linked to violence outside Libya, U.S. officials hope a victory in Sirte would bolster the standing of the disputed unity government.

Click here to read the full article.

As Obama Bombs ISIS in Libya, Are We Backing the Right Regime?

Aug 3, 2016

The Fiscal Times discusses the new American involvement in Libya.

The article highlights the many differing points of view about the wisdom of this American action.

Supporting the Libyan GNA, the U.S. military conducted “precision air strikes against ISIL targets in Sirte, Libya,” the U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement on Monday. The president authorized these airstrikes following a recommendation from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford. This is the third time in eight months the United States has attacked ISIS in Libya, but this is the first time the Obama administration has agreed to provide air support to the Libyan government’s ground troops “at the request of that government. … “It is in America’s national security interests in our fight against ISIL to make sure that they’re able to finish the job,” he said.

Yet others are worried about the continuing instability in Libya, or ISIS’ desire to provoke Western intervention, which may preclude a successful campaign against ISIS.

Still, Obama’s move could be premature, given the ongoing rivalries between the new GNA and the Libyan National Army, which is loyal to the government in eastern Libya. Jason Pack of Eye on ISIS in Libya told The Economist that there is no “unity government, just a rebranding of Misratan militias.” He said you can’t count on their loyalty.

Still others feel this new American engagement is too limited.

“Critics of the Obama administration insist that ISIS is growing stronger because Washington has not been aggressive enough in attacking the terrorists in Syria and Iraq,” said Tom Mockaitis, counter-terrorism expert at DePaul University, in ablog post. “They point to the wave of attacks in Europe, the San Bernardino shootings, and the Orlando night club massacre as compelling evidence that more strident military measures must be employed against this pernicious organization.” … But eliminating “ISIS requires a comprehensive, long haul strategy that combats the threat at all levels,” he said, indicating the importance of a carefully employed military force. While he didn’t comment on Libya specifically, he did acknowledge that sending ground forces into Syria would be a mistake.

Click here to read the full article.

Airstrikes in Libya: Will the US Be Drawn Into Another Quagmire?

Aug 4, 2016

Sputnik International publishes an article based on their interview with Jason Pack Founder of Eye on ISIS in Libya. The article includes audio of the interview.

Pack discusses the rationales behind the recent US airstrikes. At the highest level,

“Obviously we’ve [the West] been propping up the [Libyan] Government of National Accord (GNA), after eighteen months of UN negotiations, the West very much wanted to have a ‘unity’ government which would invite them to help in the fight against ISIS,” Pack, a Libyan researcher who runs the website EyeonISISinLibya.com, told Radio Sputnik.

Regarding the legality of US this involvement, Pack says

The new airstrike campaign is legal under international law, given that the GNA is Libya’s UN-recognized government. “Keep in mind that the sovereign and internationally recognized government…invited the US to conduct these airstrikes. That’s part of the reason that the GNA was set up, precisely to make that invitation in a way that is legally binding under international law.”

On top of the typical complications of everything Libyan,

Complicating the matter is that the US is backing different forces than its French and Italian allies [and]  Moreover, in Benghazi, [Khalifa] Haftar, who is the general of the opposing government, the House of Representatives government, is fighting against the Islamists there.

It should also be noted that Sputnik International titles their piece, “Airstrikes in Libya: Will the US be drawn into Another Quagmire?” Yet Pack is at pains to say,

Doing a few airstrikes does not represent a meaningful escalation.

The GNA Finally Calls for Western Airstrikes Against Sirte

Aug 1, 2016

According to the AP, 

The United States launched multiple airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Libya on Monday, opening a new, more persistent front against the group at the request of the United Nations-backed government, Libyan and U.S. officials said…   Serraj said his government is joining the coalition against IS, adding, “This is the time for the international community to live up to its promises to the Libyan people.”…

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said President Barack Obama authorized the strikes following a recommendation from Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cook told reporters that U.S. Africa Command will coordinate any strikes with the Libyans and that the new air campaign will last as long as the Libyans request assistance to eliminate IS from Sirte. The U.S. is also providing airborne surveillance and intelligence.Mohammed al-Ghasri, the commander of a pro-government militia known as al-Bonyan al-Marsous, said his forces gave target coordinates of Islamic State positions to the U.S. You can read the whole article here.

According to Jason Pack, “I think the short term impact is outrage on the libyan street that their government is in such open cahoots with the West.  The medium term impact is that a sustained campaign could help BM breakthrough against ISIS in Sirte. But the long term impact is only negative because the US has agreed to help with airstrikes without a genuine anti-ISIS coalition being formed and without that it is irrelevant. Even if Sirte were to be liberated, ISIS will still persist in Libya and the political impasse will not be solved. What is needed is sustained political engagement, not just airstrikes.”

Historical Analysis of the Rise and Current State of ISIS in Libya

July 11, 2016

In this podcast for GeoPoliticsAlert Jason Pack, founder of Eye on ISIS in Libya explains the historical roots of ISIS in Libya by tracing the involvement of Libyans in the Afghani and Iraqi jihads to the return into the anti-Qadhafi movements and then the post-Qadhafi rebranding of various Ansar al-Sharia and other jihadi offshouts into the ISIS fold in the years 2014-15.  Understanding this trajectory sheds light on the extent to which ISIS is an ‘authentic’ phenomenon in Libya, while also deriving from Levantine models.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Rebuilding of Confidence and Security is Key to Libya

July 11, 2016

Britain’s Ambassador to Libya Peter Millett gave a wide-ranging talk to the House of Lords, covering the situation in Libya, as reported by the Libya Herald. He stated that there are good signs and troubling ones as well.

On security, Millett said that Tripoli was calm and that the Presidency Council (PC)/Government of National Accord’s (GNA) ministers had started to operate from their ministries. He said that most of the Tripoli based militias were ”accepting and welcoming” of the LPA.[Libyan Political Agreement]

Outside of Tripoli,

“The security situation was not good”, Millett admitted. The GNA was trying to bring different militias under one unified command, he explained, adding that it was going to be difficult to achieve due to regional variations, but that ”it was a work in progress”. Elsewhere in the country, there is ”a lot of instability and insecurity” from militias and from IS/Daesh in and around Sirte.

Regarding the political situation Millet sees signs that the GNA [Government of National Accord] appears to be bringing the various factions together under its authority. As for ISIS, they are losing control of Sirte, but their forces might disperse across the country and bring instability wherever they go.

Click here to read the full article.

Has Sirte Fallen?

June 9, 2016

According to much Western media, and many credible sources among them, GNA Banyan Marsus forces have pushed inside Sirte and taken control of much of the center of the town. You can read from Maggie Michael writing for the AP and USNews here.  Looked at in one way these data mean that ISIS has been defeated.  Looked at another way, they have followed the perfect guerrilla strategy of fading away from a fixed point when outnumbered.

And despite this ambiguity this is, of course, a very positive development.  Bunyan Marsus is definitely inside Sirte and they have waged a brilliant campaign over the last three weeks. Yet, their alliance with the PFG and other actors is so weak that when ISIS counterpunches which one would have to imagine they will the anti-ISIS coalition (if there ever was one) will likely fall apart. In short, the Libyan political big picture stuff does not seem to be in place to sustain these early victories.  So don’t count ISIS out and  misunderstand what has and has not yet happened.

Much of the media is blowing these developments out of proportion and there is certainly going to be a lot of congratulating in the halls of the UN, Foggy Bottom, and Quai D’Orsay at how well the GNA is ‘supposedly’ performing. Such a sentiment is misguided as they are not acting according to a Western script but are addressing very real Libyan political and social imperatives.

Libya Unity Govt Allies (the PFG) Capture IS-Held Towns

May 31, 2016

The AFP have reported that the PFG have recaptured Nowfilah and Bin Jawwad from ISIS. In our understanding it is likely that ISIS has simply decided to barely contest these towns.

Five people were killed and 18 wounded in Monday’s fighting, sector commander Colonel Bashir Buthefira said. “Our forces have taken control of Nofiliya and are now advancing towards Harawa” about 75 kilometres (45 miles) east of Sirte, he said on Tuesday.

ISIS and Oil — Targeting Infrastructure to Weaken the GNA

May 17, 2016

EyeonISISinLibya.com Founder Jason Pack and Partner Lydia Sizer tackled the question of ISIS’s attacks on oil infrastructure in Foreign Affairs.  ISIS in not yet on the retreat in Sirte and won’t be till a genuine coalition of the major non-jihadist militias in Libya confronts it.  Yet, the West should try more serious incentivization to achieve that outcome. The idea of a naval blockade of Sirte could also be useful. Merely arming the GNA will be insufficient.

In fact, ISIS’ success depends on keeping Libya lawless, and one of its strategies to maintain the disorder is to block the unity government from generating revenue from its oil in the east. Libya relies on militias not accountable to the unity government to defend these sites, and ISIS can easily confront them to disrupt production at valuable installations in the oil crescent, such as its only operational port, the crucial Marsa Brega terminal.

Although ISIS has been weakened, even losing control of Ajdabiya in March 2016, it still poses a threat to eastern oil sites through its base in Sirte and the surrounding towns including Nawfaliyyah, Hawara, and Bin Jawwad. Over the past few months, according to locals in the area, the group has also been trying to secure transport routes from the south to help it bring in reinforcements from its other north African and sub-Saharan affiliates. Continued disunity among the local anti-ISIS groups will undoubtedly undermine any efforts to permanently push ISIS away from the major oil sites. The leaders of these groups are caught up in their own power struggle, which has even inadvertently aided ISIS’ goal of disrupting oil revenue. Forces loyal to General Khalifa Hifter, a former Qaddafi official who later defected, have initiated an oil blockade at Marsa al-Hariga to prevent the unity government from benefiting from exports from the port. This partisan maneuvershows that even supposedly anti-jihadist actors such as Hifter are incapable of putting aside their petty differences to work together against ISIS.

To read the whole article click here.

The Scramble for Sirte

May 14, 2016

In this article discussing the fight against the Islamic State in Libya, the Economist quotes EyeOnISISinLibya founder Jason Pack in noting that the race to liberate Sirte is solidifying the divides between the Eastern and Western governments. Rather than representing a source of collaboration, the liberation of Sirte has become a point of contention in the competing narratives which Haftar and Serraj represent. The true prize  for Sirte’s liberation is not the expulsion of ISIS, but an opportunity to lay claim to a “monopoly over the legitimate use of force.” The defining characteristic of a state and a notion whose absence has been a fixture of Libya’s post-revolutionary landscape.

It is, for now, “a rhetorical race to Sirte”, says Jason Pack of Libya-Analysis, a consultancy. No one has actually attacked the jihadists. General Haftar, who is backed by Egypt and the UAE, is still consolidating his supply lines. But he seems eager to prove himself an indispensable ally in the West’s fight against IS—and to increase his influence in future negotiations over the shape of Libya’s government. Some believe he is hoping for Mr Serraj to fail, and then to assume the role of strongman….General Haftar is raising tensions in other ways. He has refused to meet Martin Kobler, the UN’s envoy to Libya. And he has struck an alliance with commanders who served under Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s late dictator. IS, for its part, is likely to put up a vicious defence of its stronghold. America, Britain and France, which have troops on the ground in Libya, may eventually be forced to choose between backing Mr Haftar in his fight against IS in Sirte, or preserving the legitimacy of Mr Serraj.

To read the rest of the article, please click here.

May 12, 2016

U.S. Establishes Libyan outposts with Eye Toward Offensive Against Islamic State

Reporting on U.S. special operations’ efforts to facilitate collaboration with local partners in preparation for an offensive on Sirte, the Washington Post’s Missy Ryan idenifies the dilemma facing the U.S. initiative. In the context of internecine conflict between rivaling factions how can the U.S. initiative facilitate collaboration between groups competing against each other to liberate Sirte without inadvertently favoring one side over the other?

The Misuratan forces recognize the unity government in Tripoli; those loyal to Hifter do not. Likewise, three factions have established separate command centers to oversee an offensive against the Islamic State in Sirte, including Hifter; the unity government; and an alternate prime minister in Tripoli, who continues to assert his authority.

American officials fear that uncoordinated offensives will only afford the Islamic State an opportunity to grow stronger.

At the same time, some officials privately complain that foreign support for eastern forces loyal to Hifter — including from U.S. ­allies France and Egypt — makes consolidation of the unity government’s power more difficult.

“We have been working with our allies to urge focus on ISIL and not fueling rivalries across the country,” a senior U.S. official said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. Local factions are being asked to do the same, and “as the ISIL threat becomes clearer and clearer, it becomes easier to find Libyans who are prepared to do that.”

To read the full analysis please click here.

May 10, 2016

Don’t Believe Libya’s ‘Race to Sirte’ Rhetoric

Drawing upon research from the whole Eye On ISIS team, Jason Pack — founder of EOIL — wrote an article for Middle East Eye explaining how and why Haftar and the Misratans are fighting a rhetorical war over who is ‘more prepared’ and ‘more capable’ of taking on ISIS in Sirte. It would be beneficial for the fight against ISISif the various factions could put aside their petty grievances and focus on fighting a shared enemy. But events are moving in the opposite direction. In fact, the longstanding Cold War between the Misratans and the LNA has turned hot, with the clashes at Zillah on May 3. These blunders benefit ISIS which is able to pick off its opponents one by one catching them on their heels (like with the attacks at Abu Grein on May 5). The destructiveness of internecine conflict is further highlighted by the current standoff over oil in the East.

The presidential council of the UN-mediated Government of National Accord (GNA) and its affiliated, mainly Misratan, militias and the opposing Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Haftar have initiated a rhetorical race for Sirte. The Misratans and the LNA are the two main military forces inside Libya; they each appear poised to use the fight against IS to further their own dominance as well as to signal to the international community that they alone are the most trusted partner for confronting IS. This petty jockeying is likely to completely prevent the emergence of a genuine anti-IS coalition able to coordinate an attack on Sirte or administer conquered territory…..

Jadhran’s Federalist movement’s control over the oil crescent is now greatly diminished, especially after the arrival of Libyan National Army special forces commander Wanis Bukhamada to effectively mediate the peaceful cooperation of the Petroleum Facilities Guard and the army in the region. This means that the new government and the international community have effectively lost control of Libya’s oil region….

The “race” to Sirte is a trope used by Libya’s primary non-jihadist actors to whip up media frenzy attempting to gain international support. Each proclaiming their own righteousness, they attempt to weaken their traditional tribal and regional enemies denying them access to funds, arms and political support. No one can say if any serious fighting against IS will ever materialise. Even if certain militias do build up the gumption to attack Sirte, until a genuine coalition is formed, they are unlikely to be successful.Western policymakers and regional states shouldn’t trust their Libyan allies’ pronouncements that they are the “man for the job” to defeat IS. Results speak louder than words. And until now, claims to be confronting IS have only been dividing Libyans rather than uniting them.

To read the full article click here.

May 6, 2016

Rival Assaults on IS Stronghold Deepen Libya’s Chaos

Maggie Michael writing for the AP points out that a new civil war is erupting between Misrata and Hiftar, both of whom are cloaking their efforts to control Libya’s oil crescent resources as a race to liberate Sirte from the Islamic State.

“It’s now clear Misrata and Hifter will compete over Sirte in order to establish who rules really in Libya,” Mattia Toaldo, a Libya specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Associated Press in an email interview.The moves on Sirte threaten to further undermine Fayez Serraj … So far, with only patchy support from some factions, Serraj has been ensconced in a naval base in Tripoli since his return to the country in March, unable to exercise much power beyond his office walls — much like his predecessors…

On Tuesday, warplanes from Misrata struck fighters loyal to Hifter who were guarding oil installations in the Zallah area, 300 kilometers (180 miles) south of Sirte. Hifter sent reinforcements that battled with fighters allied to Misrata and drove them out.

To read the full article click here.

May 6, 2016

Libya Announces Anti-ISIS Task Force

In his Wall Street Journal article, Tamer El-Ghobashy reports on the Libyan unity government’s announcement to form a military task force against ISIS following the group’s most aggressive attempt to gain territory in months. It remains unclear how the joint task force will be formed or whether any militia commanders will heed the unity government’s call.

Late Thursday, Islamic State’s Tripoli Province, one of the three affiliates in the country, struck the Abu Grain checkpoint, 75 miles southeast of the commercial hub of Misrata, with a suicide car-bombing followed by a wave of gunfire. At least eight members of the security force that controls Misrata were killed in the coordinated attack, a senior security official said. Fighters for Tripoli Province said they had seized six towns near the checkpoint…They also had tightened their grip on the checkpoint, effectively severing the route used by the Misrata security force to supply its allies farther south in the province, the security official said.

The assault was launched from the coastal city of Sirte, which the extremist group has controlled since last year.

To read the entire article click here.

April 21, 2016

Tripoli Cannot Impose Unity on Libya

In an editorial for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, Jason Pack, the founder of Eye on ISIS in Libya worked closely with Nate Mason, a partner of Eye On ISIS in Libya, to evaluate the political, military, and economic environment in which the UN-brokered GNA will be implemented. Among the concerns are the various militias that currently control many services like electricity and water in various municipalities.  These militias would possibly retaliate if they felt short changed by a centralized government.  Moreover, the presence of ISIS, particularly in eastern Libya, is a continued threat to stability.  So, while the GNA has an opportunity for consolidating governance and initiating efforts to rebuild Libya, Western powers must be wary not to expect the unity government to exert comprehensive power throughout the country.
Libya is a consensus-driven society. It requires bottom-up conflict resolution to end the hostilities and refocus attention on rebuilding the country. The greatest obstacle to consensus, however, is fear among militias that they and their hometowns will not get a fair share of the spoils when the conflict ends. This, rather than religious or ideological concerns, is what motivates most militias.
he threat of attack on oil ports, wells and pipelines from the ISIS-controlled towns of Bin Jawad and Nawfaliyah remains extreme. After the ISIS attacks on al-Bayda field on 2 April, three key oil fields were evacuated on 8 and 9 April at the request of the Marada Martyrs brigade, an LNA-affiliated militia, due to the ISIS threat.
A deal between Haftar and the new government could be perceived as allowing him dominate eastern Libya. This has the potential to stoke opposition and strain whatever coalition the GNA can build in the west, where there is much opposition to Haftar. This puts the GNA in a bind. Without some kind of accord with Haftar, there is little possibility of establishing even nominal GNA authority in the east.

To read the full article, click here.

April 10, 2016

Staff evacuated from shuttered Libyan oil fields due to militant threat

In light of recent attacks on Libyan oil fields and terminals from ISIS militants, the staff of three oil fields have been evacuated.  Reuters reports that facilities have been damaged in prior attacks; however, ISIS does not have control over any oil fields.  This is of particular importance due to lower oil production in recent years as a result of labor disputes, militant attacks, and conflict between armed factions.

Mohamed al-Manfi, an oil official based in eastern Libya, said the Wafa field had been completely evacuated and the Tibesti and Bayda fields were partially evacuated after security forces warned of possible planned attacks.

A security source said told Reuters that fighters loyal to Islamic State had been mobilizing in Nawfiliyah, a town between the extremist group’s Libyan stronghold of Sirte and the oil ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf.

Earlier this month five members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard were killed in an attack by suspected Islamic State militants near Bayda field, about 250 km (155 miles) south of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf. The guard is a semi-military force that controls many oil facilities in the east.

To read the full article, click here.

April 8, 2016

Islamic State Threat in Libya ‘Almost Exaggerated’ — for Now

An article published by Voice of America discusses governmental and analyst skepticism over whether or not ISIS will be able to replicate its military surge of 2014 through Iraq and Syria in its current efforts to expand in Libya.  Despite specific obstacles barring the way for ISIS to surge in Libya, significant cause for concern does exist, though.  The number of ISIS fighters in Libya has doubled over the past year and there is pressure for ISIS leaders to view Libya primarily as a safe-haven and training ground for attacks against the West.

It is “significantly harder” for IS to operate inside Libya, “because they don’t have the homegrown people that know as much about Libya like they did in Iraq and Syria,” General David Rodriguez, the head of U.S. Africa Command, told Pentagon reporters Thursday.

Still, there is ample concern IS’s status in Libya will change, especially if the country’s political struggles continue.

“It is the most important holding for ISIS outside of Syria and Iraq,” said Jason Pack, founder of EyeOnISISinLibya.com.

“They don’t need more cannon fodder of disgruntled youth in the region,” Pack said. “They need Western-educated dual citizens.”

“Libya is a place to train such people and then have them attract more Tunisians and sub-Saharan Africans and build a political entity,” he added.

“The real threat might not be from Libya but from the menace and instability it radiates into Tunisia and other North African countries,” according to the Soufan Group’s Skinner.

To read the full article, click here.

March 30, 2016

Libyan Militias: The West’s Partners Against ISIS?

In a piece for the Global Observatory, Nate Mason outlines various cultural and structural variables contributing to the current strife in Libya, dating back to the nature of the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.  The aversion of rival militias toward forging unified command structures arises from both a disdain of central authorities and an underlying distrust of oil revenue management. This trend has become exacerbated as attempts to forge a GNA have become more fraught with corruption and incompetence.  As the UN-backed “Presidency Council” has not secured a popular mandate or an semblance of constitutional legitimacy, it is a very thin reed upon which to hang coordination against ISIS. As the Nascent Government lacks its own forces, Western powers are force into partnering with local militias against ISIS.  However, despite the GNA’s arrival in Tripoli, there will likely be a delay in decisive militia action against ISIS so long as the local militias demand more training, supplies, and support which they can use against their rivals rathe than working together against ISIS.  Should efforts to  delegate and decentralize power fail, Mason explains that convincing militias that conflict over oil revenue is actually a positive-sum not a zero-sum game is crucial.

For the foreseeable future, with or without a unity government, the factors that have propelled civil war will continue to drive conflict. Despite the emerging ISIS threat and ongoing economic collapse, most of Libya’s rival factions remain focused on maximizing short-term profits and subjugating one another. Indeed, the militias have shown little inclination toward unity or recognition of the threat of extremists. On the contrary, they have often cynically used the threat of ISIS to advance their own agendas.

Some Libyans view ISIS’ presence in Sirte as a mere rebranding of Gaddafi loyalists and reject the notion that it has widespread appeal elsewhere. This reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of ISIS strategy. The group initially participates in local politics by aligning with existing tribes. In this way, it is not perceived as an outside influence, against which Libyan culture has very strong protective instincts. Instead, ISIS is essentially treated as just another tribe to be negotiated with in traditional ways. This in large part explains the complacency of Libyans in the face of the group.

It is a high stakes gamble for all involved: the militias may underestimate ISIS, while foreign powers may install warlords not long after deposing a dictator.

To read the full article, click here.

March 11, 2016

The West Moves Discreetly in Libya

Strafor has written a general overview of how Western secret ops are interfacing with various Libyan militias in the fight against IS. There is no new news here but it is a good overview and puts about 200 French special ops on the ground in Benghazi.

Satellite imagery confirms the arrival of French special operations forces to Benina air base near Benghazi, Libya. The base, which is under the control of Gen. Khalifa Hifter’s forces, was rumored to host as many as 180 French soldiers in February, but this has been neither confirmed nor denied.

For several reasons, Western militaries must be discreet as they expand into Libya. First, many Libyans vehemently oppose their presence, forcing Western countries to operate under the radar to avoid political repercussions. Second, Western militaries must work delicately with Libya’s many different groups without getting pulled into competing rivalries. Finally, since many Libyans despise Gen. Hifter, French support of his forces is especially controversial. Still, his allies’ gains against militants in Benghazi make working with the general useful for French and other Western militaries.

For the whole article click here.

February 26, 2016

Forging a Libyan Anti-IS Coalition Should Trump a Unity Government

As so much is not being reported in the Western press about the gains that are being made against the jihadis in Benghazi and Ajdabiyya, I felt a need to wade into the debate with an article in Middle East Eye by declaring international attempts to force the GNA on the unwilling Libyans as tangential to the real priority: forging an anti-ISIS coalition.

As the longed-for anti-jihadi coalition seems to be materialising underfoot, the UN and the international media remain focused on the fictitious role of French Special Forces, remaining wilfully oblivious to the gains made by the Libyans themselves. The UN as of 25 February has failed to acknowledge the defeat of IS and Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi and Ajdabiya by the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the jubilation of returning displaced families to their homes.  Yet placing Western actions centre stage is likely to inhibit the Libyans from taking the initiative. Conversely, lauding Libyan progress, and offering to support, not impose, solutions, will reward those flexible actors who banded together….

General Haftar has long promised victory in Benghazi and his record thus far has been abysmal. By all accounts, he is a megalomaniac, senile, and lacking in diplomatic tact. He was discarded first by the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and then by the CIA for his lack of results. His spring 2014 coup against the Libyan government failed. His ensuing Operation Dignity contested the same strategic Benghazi neighbourhoods for almost two years with little-to-no progress made. He frequently cried wolf – declaring Benghazi liberated. These false pronouncements were broadcast and then repudiated by the international media, destroying his credibility. He has remained a polarizing figure and it will be difficult for unity to be achieved with him as the figurehead of the army.

And yet, his movement is now finally transcending him and achieving something. Why then is the world not paying attention and lauding this achievement? Doing so could be the key to bringing new stakeholders on board. Western diplomacy could be useful in easing Haftar out of power and letting his movement be led by a compromise candidate able to unify, rather than divide, Libya’s factions.

Read the full article here.

February 10, 2016

What’s to Be Done About the Rise of ISIS in Libya?

A excellent piece from PXW compares the positions and recommendations of myself, US Representative Adam Schiff, and Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti.  The article focuses on options for future action and dialogue concerning potential for future anti-ISIS airstrikes by Western actors in Libya.  Representative Schiff is calling for swift military action in Libya, where Minister Pinotti would rather see Western involvement if and only if a sovereign and unified Libyan government requests assistance.  Differing from both Representative Schiff and Minister Pinotti, Jason Pack submits that continued airstrikes would only serve the purpose of further fracturing political alliances and structure within Libya that already lie in disarray.  Instead, my recommendation would be for the West to support an anti-ISIS coalition of Libya militias.   Without the involvement of the Libyan people, it is entirely possible that Libya will become even more unstable, leading to increased security risks and a deterioration of already austere conditions.

Pack is certain that ordinary Libyans “don’t support ISIS, ninety plus percent of them are against it.” The only way to leverage that dislike is for representatives of the interested countries to knit together an anti-ISIS coalition of militias, “Muslim troops on the ground from the local country saying ‘ISIS doesn’t represent us.’” This coalition will be a long-term project, and will involve controversial incentives, political promises, and a great deal of patience, but Pack argues that it will be much more effective than airstrikes and other military measures.

Representative Schiff also sees Libya as an especially critical issue because, as ISIS has come under increasing pressure in the Middle East, Libya has emerged as a safe haven for the group’s senior leadership. In remarks to reporters, Rep. Schiff made the case that “we ought to be working with our partners to remove the leadership of ISIS that has been sent from Iraq and Syria to organize. That is not a permanent solution, but it does have an impact on their operational capability.”

Pinotti hopes an intervention that successfully weakens ISIS in Libya and lessens countrywide instability would also bring some relief for the other great crisis engulfing Italy and all of Europe – the flood of refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East. Although many are coming from Iraq and Syria, the principal battlefields, a huge number pass through Libya on the way to the EU, thanks to the country’s lawlessness and proximity to Greek and Italian islands. For the defense minister, the only way to stop the flow of refugees is stabilize Libya and stop it from “becoming a no-man’s land where Islamic terrorism can triumph.”

To read the full article, click here.

February 5, 2016

Will Obama Bomb ISIS in Libya?

An interesting, investigative Newsweek article appeared on 5 February presenting information on current US special operations in Libya outlines the concern of US and allied governments toward ISIS activity. The piece describes the actions of US commandos in gathering tactical evidence, conducting frequent flights from the Italian airbase Pantelleria to Libyan air bases, and holding meetings with local Libyan anti-ISIS militias. Despite current initiatives, the Obama administration has not yet called for any direct military action.  Pentagon and military officials suggest that the US will likely pursue a two-pronged approach consisting of targeted anti-jihadi airstrikes and support for a unity government that the US could then provide military aid to.  However, during these deliberations and preparations, ISIS continues to threaten the security of Libya, Europe, and Africa. The key insight is that the Pentagon is pushing for more action – airstrikes and training loyal militias – while the Obama administration is wisely more reticent.

To read the full article, click here.

January 29, 2016

U.S. Commandos Expand Anti-ISIS War into Libya

In a timely and important article, U.S. News discusses current US military initiatives in Libya and the potential for future western anti-ISIS campaigns.  Noting previous airstrikes against Jihadi targets and the presence of US Special Forces in Libya, the article underlines the importance of establishing a legitimate government in Libya which can then call for western assistance.  US officials are also quoted on the potential dangers that could stem from increased revue from oil sales; however, there is lack of evidence to suggest ISIS has the capacity to sell Libyan crude oil.  Both the commentary of senior US officials and the lack of substantive action thus far suggest that the presence of elite troops and potential plans to expand military campaigns will be ineffective at best.

Some members of Congress have expressed concern that the Obama administration’s preliminary plans for Libya won’t work and will only endanger these forces, particularly if it mirrors the current strategy in Iraq and Syria of limiting conventional military trainers to bases and sending out only small teams of commandos to strike Islamic State group targets.

“We’re looking at taking decisive military action against ISIL [in Libya] in conjunction with a legitimate political process,” Dunford told reporters during a recent trip to Paris for talks with U.S. senior military counterparts there.

To read the full article, click here.

January 23, 2016

U.S. and Allies Weigh Military Action Against ISIS in Libya

A piece in the New York Times speculated about the potential of expanded US military action against ISIS in Libya.  It appears US officials are groping for an effective plan of action to mitigate ISIS maneuvers.  The NYT quoted top US national security officials concerning the deteriorating security conditions in Libya and demands for a more assertive stance.

“The ISIL branch in Libya is one that is taking advantage of the deteriorating security conditions in Libya, putting itself in the position to coordinate ISIL efforts across North Africa,” Nicholas J. Rasmussen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in an interview on C-Span last month.

“On ISIS in Libya, we have to be more assertive,” said Ben Fishman, a former top National Security Council official on North Africa affairs and editor of a new book, “North Africa in Transition.” “We have to increase bombing of ISIS while we are working to support the new unity government.”

To read the whole article, click here.

This is all well and good for Eric Schmitt and US national security officials to advocate for US military intervention or support in the fight against ISIS in Libya, but it can only be actualized if the Government of National Accord is successfully installed in Tripoli and coherently calls for Western assistance.  At present, that seems a slim chance.  A more interesting article would debate what American and western responses will be if the GNA is never installed in Tripoli or fails to adequately call for western support.

January 22, 2016

Islamic State Pouring ‘Gas on Fire’ in Libya

Alison Pargeter elegantly summed up the problems facing the newly appointed GNA ministerial list in a piece on Thursday the 21st for the Washington Review. She echoes concerns I have voiced on this blog and in my most recent articles, particularly that Libya is apolitical, that a zero-sum competition for power is shaping the interaction of forces on the ground and that appeasement is yet again the order of the day in the way that bargains are struck and ministries are handed out.  She concludes and I strongly agree that ‘But to keep on throwing the same solution at a seemingly intractable problem, as the international community is doing, will lock Libya in a perpetual state of chaos and instability that serves no one, least of all the Libyans themselves.’ For me this means the international community needs to move from offering the same carrots and making the same appeasements to switching to the sticks of sanctions and punishments for spoilers and getting their hands dirty.

Despite Libya’s tiny population of just 6.4 million inhabitants, this new ‘expansive’ government comprises a whopping 32 ministers, this being the only way to appease all the different constituencies vying for a piece of the pie.  That this Government of National Accord should have been composed in this way reflects the uncomfortable reality that Libya is no longer a single unit. Despite the endless protestations that it is still one country, one consequence of the 2011 revolution and its aftermath is that Libya has fractured not just on a regional level but locally too.

The situation is made worse by the fact that Libya is devoid of politics. If Qadhafi worked for forty years to depoliticise Libya, then the revolution of 2011 has buried politics completely. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, the new Libya has not witnessed the emergence of meaningful political parties, let alone political activism or even any ideological debate. The role of Sharia that is has polarised Egypt and Tunisia since their revolutions has hardly raised its head in Libya. The 17th December political agreement upholds the principle that “Islamic Sharia is the source of all legislation, and that all that contradicts it shall be deemed null and void” did not attract even a ripple of debate. And the competing forces of today are divided not by ideas but by a struggle for control. Indeed, the new freedom that has accompanied the fall of the Qadhafi regime has unleashed an urge to fight rather than an urge to debate.

To read the full article, click here.

January 4, 2016

ISIS Sabotages Libyan Oil Terminals Presaging Further Expansion

On January fourth, the Islamic State in Libya again targeted Libya’s al-Sidra terminal. Two suicide trucks attacked the main checkpoint to the terminal and set the fuel tanks on fire. ISIS also took over the Harouge (formerly Veba) oil company buildings in Sidra as well.  The attack  was quickly repulsed a by PFG forces who managed to kill 5 and arrest 7 ISIS supporters.  Nonetheless, it would be a misinterprettation to see these developments as a setback for ISIS.
Sources report a large mobilisation of ISIS heavy artillery  to the towns of Noufaliyah, Harawah and Bin Jawwad. This indicates that the group is actually expanding its range of operations and are successfully capitalizing on the political vacuum to become central Libya’s most dynamic military force.    According to Benoit Faucon of WSJ ISIS is employing a strategy similar to the one they used in Syria and Iraq of sabotaging key oil installations so that they are of less value to the government, then once they are more loosely defended, capturing them.
Predictably, Haftar and his allies are trying to be seen as riding to the rescue. As such, there are also reports of LNA airstrikes near Sidra on ISIS targets.  A counteroffensive could be developing but it seems unlikely that the requisite actors would be able to put aside their petty grievances to work together coherently against ISIS.  Although ISIS do not control any oil ports yet, various publications and leaks suggest that British SAS special forces could be  preparing to lead an  international team to take back control of any oil fields which would fall under ISIS control. This seems not feasible as the international community’s first task is to implant the National Unity Government in Tripoli and let that government ‘call’ for international support against ISIS before acting.
And even more predictably, attempts to stand up the unity government are faltering.    An attempt by the UN envoy Martin Kobler, to convince the Tripoli-based GNC to support the Libya Political Agreement (LPA) ended in failure after talks in the Libyan capital with GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain collapsed.

As the GNA struggles to form a government, relocate to Tripoli and even obtain HoR approval, IS looks intent on capitalising on the  power vacuum. Unfortunately, the weakness of the GNA’s presidency council and its PM, in contrast to the high-visibility of the actions taken by the UN envoy, are sending very negative signals about the actual content of sovereignty and legitimacy in the new government. However many moderate and sensible Libyans support the GNA it still has the optic of being an ineffectual Western implant. This optic plus the intractable disagreements about Haftar’s role and the location of any GNA continues to undermine and render ineffective the already fragile political agreement. Only a bold act of leadership by the main militia leaders and political factions to put aside their petty grievances and work together against ISIS can save Libya from falling further into the abyss.