The US ponders military action against ISIS in Libya
Pentagon looking at ‘military options’ to stop Islamic State from gaining more ground, four years after US air campaign helped topple Libyan dictator Gaddafi
The Pentagon is considering fresh military action in Libya more than four years after conducting an air campaign that helped topple dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a spokesman said on Wednesday.
Officials are currently “looking at military options” to stop the Islamic State militant group from gaining ground in another oil-rich Mideast nation, said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook.
At present, US efforts in Libya are focussed on identifying local allies to work with, for what a senior military officer has envisioned as a “decisive” confrontation with Isis.
US warplanes ceased operations after Gaddafi’s body was dragged through the streets of Tripoli in October 2011, and since then a security vacuum has persisted in the country, prompting lingering questions about the wisdom of the US intervention.
Those questions intensified after four Americans, including a US ambassador, were killed in Benghazi the following year.
They have persisted as one of the intervention’s advocates within the Obama administration, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, campaigns for the presidency. Senator Ted Cruz, a leading contender for Republican candidacy, has said the Libya war made “no sense”.
Cook acknowledged that the “metastasis” of Isis beyond its primary base in Iraq and Syria has prompted the Pentagon to revisit the question of a renewed war in Libya.
A “small group” of US forces had made contact with Libyan militiamen, “simply to get a sense of who the players are”, Cook said, amid a fractured security landscape with multiple and overlapping combatants.
Although the US personnel are likely to be special operations forces, Cook did not specify how many of them had taken part in the mission, nor if they were still operating in Libya. Cook portrayed the contact as closer to a broad assessment mission than the so-called “shaping operations” that precede imminent combat.
“We are extremely worried about the metastasis of Isil in a number of locations, Libya being just one of those locations,” Cook said.
In recent weeks, the Pentagon has forecasted an expanded effort worldwide against a jihadist army whose persistence and reach have taken the world by surprise. Defense secretary Ashton Carter said in a speech that beyond Iraq and Syria, the US would launch a “flexible and nimble response” against Isis in its north African strongholds and elsewhere, citing a November strike in Libya that killed an accused Isis leader.
Last week, the senior US military officer, joint chiefs of staff chairman General Joseph Dunford, said he and his French counterpart were preparing for “decisive military action” against Isis in Libya. Dunford said he desired nesting a military campaign within a political settlement that has eluded Libya and its foreign allies since the downfall of Gaddafi.
In December, the presence of a US special forces unit in Libya was revealed after photographs of the troops were posted on a Libyan military Facebook page. The incident was preceded by an attempt at making contact with potential allies amongst Libyan forces. Cook did not clarify whether the December foray was the only one, but occasionally used the present tense to refer to the outreach.
“They’re trying to get a clearer picture of what’s happening there, and they’ve made contact with people on the ground to try and get a better sense not only of the threat that [Isis] poses there but the dynamic on the ground in terms of the security situation,” Cook said.
“We’re looking for partners who can give us a better sense of the security situation, and it’s not just the United States that has a keen interest here, it is our foreign partners as well.”