Al-Jazeera reports on a study conducted by the US Army War College, which suggests that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) remains a “persistent threat” in Libya and could rise again unless the nation’s ongoing conflict is brought to an end.
It added that the terrorist group retained its capacity to launch “small-scale” attacks in Libya, which is a shift from its previously predominant tactic of “shock and awe raids.”
ISIL is Still Active in Libya
Considering the UN and Turkish-backed Government of National Accord’s (GNA) armed forces succeeded in defeating ISIL in May 2016 in the strategic city of Sirte, this is an alarming development. The study suggests that most of the terrorist group’s activities have moved to Fezzan in the southern Libyan desert.
If ISIL was going to succeed in expanding its number of recruits, then Libya is an easy target for the terrorist group for many reasons.
Firstly, the country has been torn apart by a civil war conducted by two opposing armies. One of the main rival forces in Libya is the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar, which has the support of Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The GNA, the LNA’s main adversary, has the backing of the US, the UN and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If the international community should learn any lessons from the last decade, then it is that IS’s recruitment strategy thrives during civil wars.
As The Atlantic’s David Ignatius argues, ISIS’s rise in Syria was made possible by several factors. The terrorist group began as a bottom-up movement, with mosques gathering their own young recruits to defend their local areas.
Syria Showed How Civil Wars are a Breeding Ground for Terror
Because of a lack of US intervention, the Free Syrian Army, whose stated goal was to overthrow Assad’s government once the Syrian civil war started in 2011, received inadequate training. Although the US tried to bolster covert Syrian missions with an overt “train and equip” program backed by $500 million in congressional support, the initiative proved to be a disaster. President Obama terminated it in October 2014. This meant that Jabhat al-Nusra and his ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates were able to fill the vacuum left by the moderate opposition in Syria.
Poverty is another factor that can cause terrorist groups like ISIS to prosper, and according to the Index Mundi, about one-third of Libyans live at or below the national poverty line. The country suffers from widespread power outages, caused by shortages of fuel for power generations. Living conditions, including access to drinking water, medical services and safe housing have declined since 2011. A study conducted by International Alert in 2016 discovered that poverty, desperation and the desire for revenge pushed many Syrians to join ISIS, particularly among adolescent boys and young men between the ages of 12 and 24. There is no reason why many Libyans today would not feel the same way as many Syrians did back then.
The Libyan War Must End as Soon as Possible
Therefore, it is vital that the Libyan people are involved in a peace settlement between Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin. As Thomas M. Hill of the US Institute of Peace argues, Libyan citizens have played an active role in making peace a reality through initiatives like successfully convincing some youth in the city of Misrata to quit the local militia.
Fehim Tastekin of Al-Monitor argues that Turkey could acquiesce to Russian control over the city of al-Jufra in exchange for Turkish control over Sirte. However, carving up Libya between Russia and Turkey could only boost ISIS’s support further. That is why it is vital that US President Donald Trump intervenes in this conflict to prevent Putin and Erdoğan from exerting their influence over the war-torn state.
Because of recent history, there are many reasons to believe that the findings of the US Army War College could come true. It is vital that all the superpowers that have a stake in the Libyan conflict come to an agreement soon, and that the Libyan people are consulted on any progress toward peace. The worst outcome for Libya right now is if many of its citizens fall under ISIS’s influence again.