International media widely speculated last week about the potential for Western intervention against ISIS in Libya, fuelling controversy and tension inside the country, and even provoking citizens to begin stockpiling essential goods in Benghazi and other areas in Eastern Libya.
The value of the Libyan Dinar (LYD) also plummeted, reaching a record low on the black market. On 1 February, the LYD was trading at four LYD to the US Dollar. The currency rose slightly to 3.6 LYD to the Dollar on 2 February, following a meeting of 22 foreign ministers in Rome to damper speculation about international intervention in Libya.
According to the New York Times,Secretary of State John Kerry said that members of the American-led coalition fighting ISIS had agreed to intensify their efforts to defeat the group, but he ruled out sending United States forces to intervene against ISIS in Libya. He added that the US and other nations agreed to “a very specific schedule” for backing the formation of a national unity government in Libya, a process which the United Nations (UN) has struggled to mediate for more than a year. Kerry said President Obama had made clear that he had no appetite for sending American troops into Libya, and that ‘it is not in his horizon at the moment’.
Paolo Gentiloni, the Foreign Minister of Italy, and Laurent Fabius, the Foreign Minister of France, also said their governments were not currently contemplating military operations inside Libya, contradicting statements made by both countries’ defense ministers in the past few days.
Italy’s Defense Minister, Roberta Pinotti, told Italian media outlet Corriere della Serra last week that her country was considering joining the US, Britain and France in military intervention to stabilise Libya, with the caveat that this would only possible with a request by Libyan authorities.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reiterated his warnings regarding the ISIS threat from Libya in a new TV interview on 31 January before the Rome meeting. It seems that France is, in fact, more concerned than other Western nations about ISIS in Libya, as a recent article in Le Figaro highlights. According to the paper, French defense officials will not wait for the formation of a government before drawing up military plans to counter ISIS, highlighting two major ‘triggers’ that would likely pave the way for intervention in Libya; a new ISIS attack in Europe of Libyan origin, or a sustained ISIS expansion into the oil crescent or deep south of Libya.
Philip Hammond, Britain’s Foreign Minister, also said that his country doesn’t plan to deploy troops in Libya, but rather seeks to give strategic & intelligence support to the new government.
In a Guardian report on 1 February, Downing Street said, “no decisions had been taken regarding British troops” avoiding questions about whether they would be deployed in a combat or training role. Britain’s Ministry of Defence did not confirm recent reports in the Daily Mail and the Times that it is willing to send as many as 1000 British troops to participate in the offensive.
The recent report in the Daily Mail, which caused considerable controversy in Libya, stated that a team of Royal Air Force officers and MI6 agents reportedly met near Tobruk (reportedly at Jamal Abdul Naser Airbase just outside the city) to draw up plans for airstrikes against ISIS, along with French and American special forces.
The rhetoric of a new international intervention in Libya against ISIS intensified dramatically after the US defense establishment publicly weighed-in on Libya last week. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on 28 January that allies were preparing options to prevent ISIS from establishing training sites in Libya and welcoming foreign fighters.
His statement, followed by others from General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs ofStaff, who said military officials were “looking to take decisive military action” against ISIS, adding that the US sent advisors to prepare options and coordinate with ‘partners’ on the ground.
The latest international mixed messages, within the confusing context of the Libyan political process, likely points to a further, now more visible, disconnect between the diplomatic and defense institutions of Western nations.
The Libyan political process, as supported by the UN and foreign diplomacy institutions, has failed as yet to provide a much needed political and legal framework to stabilize Libya and fight ISIS, in fact, possibly fuelling dynamics that directly facilitated the expansion of the group.
This failure reflects a serious and long-standing lack of strategy and political vision for post-conflict Libya amongst the intervening states in 2011. It is also indicative of the failure (and possible corruption) of the UN bureaucracy mediating a solution between Libyans.