A former high-level US official told Congress this week that he’s concerned with what he sees happening with ISIS in Libya.
Former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday and said the US will have to be ready to help a new government control territory in Libya as ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh) expands its influence there.
“I’m watching what’s happening in Libya with concern,” Ford said.
“They have an increasing ability to project military power out of their base at Sirte, and they have a safe haven space to organise, plan, and recruit. Just as the attack in Paris was organised in Syria, so they have space in Libya to do the same kind of thing.”
The New York Times reported in November that as western countries ramp up strikes against ISIS’ de-facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, ISIS is preparing a sort of backup capital in the coastal city of Sirte, Libya.
While ISIS has other affiliates throughout Africa and the Middle East that have pledged their allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s branch in Sirte is the only one that ISIS central leadership directly controls.
And Sirte’s proximity to Europe is concerning considering ISIS’ recent focus on mounting attacks in the West.
ISIS seems to be mimicking its Iraq and Syria strategy in Libya, seizing territory, imposing strict laws, and setting up propaganda “media points” in the city.
And Libya might be an ideal location for the terrorist group considering not only its proximity to Europe but also the lack of a functioning government and rich oil resources.
“Even if the Islamic State, which is capturing oil facilities, even if it can’t sell oil the way the Islamic State affiliates in Iraq and Syria have done, they may be able to use the oil assets they have locally to generate revenues,” Ford said in his congressional testimony.
“They are an administration,” he added.
ISIS has already begun attacking Libyan oil facilities in an effort to find a new source of funding as airstrikes target ISIS’ oil resources in Iraq and Syria.
Ford emphasised the need to get a functioning government installed in Libya.
“It will be important … to help a new Libyan government and to help it control territory, and we will need to be ready to do that,” he told Congress.
Fathi Ali Bashaagha, a politician from Misrata, Libya, told The Wall Street Journal in November: “We don’t have a real state. We have a fragmented government. Every day we delay on a political deal, it is a golden opportunity for Islamic State to grow.”
Rival governments in Libya agreed to a draft peace accord in October, but so far it has not been implemented, according to The Journal.
ISIS is now thought to have thousands of fighters in Libya.
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