On Monday the United States began air strikes against Islamic State (IS) targets in Sirte, Libya. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook in a statement said US President Barack Obama sanctioned the strikes after requests from the United Nations-backed Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA).
With this Washington has taken the war against IS to Libya, far away from Iraq and Syria. Under Obama’s presidency, and after pulling out its troops from Iraq, the US has adopted the policy of supporting conflict against jihadists by providing air power.
The last time the US carried out an air strike in Libya was in February. At that time, the White House declared an attack on a farmhouse in the coastal city of Sabratha, west of the capital Tripoli, “successful”. However, Serbia claimed that two of its diplomats, who were kidnapped in November 2015, were also killed in the US strike.
The sustained attack on jihadists, including IS and al-Qaeda, has paid off, but it will be a long time before there is any semblance of peace in Libya. The main reason for this is that the factors that led to the present chaos are yet to be addressed.
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The GNA-led forces are making substantial progress in Sirte, unless there is a governance system IS, or other militias, will continue to exploit the administrative vacuum existing in Libya since 2011.
Until April, Libya had three governments, all staking a claim as a legitimate force to run the country and at loggerheads with the other: The National Salvation government in Tripoli, a government in Tobruk backed by Libya’s House of Representatives, and the United Nations-backed GNA. It is worth noting that the GNA, when it took office in March, reached Tripoli in boats as the airspace was closed by the “government” in Tripoli. While the National Salvation government stepped down in April, the Tobruk government still opposes the GNA.
Libya today is a warzone where various nations, including the US, Britain and France, are fighting, and the GNA has little knowledge about the presence of these groups. On July 20, the GNA was taken by surprise when three French soldiers were killed by the Benghazi Defence Brigade, a rebel group, in Libya. The French forces were working with General Khalifa Haftar, who acknowledges the Tobruk government and rejects the GNA.
The resumed air strikes in Libya come days after Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Clinton was US secretary of state when the US consulate in Benghazi was attacked killing four US personnel, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, on September 11, 2012. Many critics blame Clinton for the present chaos in Libya and accuse her of supporting and arming anti-Gaddafi forces, many of them extremists. If Clinton wins in November, one hopes that where she failed as secretary of state she wins as president — and does justice to the people of Libya.
Defeating IS in Libya is one part of the battle, forming a credible and secular government is another. For this, nations must be on the same side of this war. At the moment different nations are backing different groups in Libya, and that’s not helping. US intervention in Libya is a reminder of how decisions taken in haste will come back in one troubling form or the other.