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IS on Libyan coasts motivates foreign intervention

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LIBYAPROSPECT – Heba Mahmoud

International Alliance intentions for military intervention in Libya under slogan “fighting terrorism” became obvious, especially after Italian Foreign Secretary, Roperta Penotti, stated that the Alliance will move forward in fighting the Islamic State (IS) in Libya, despite not forming the Government of National Accord (GNA), intervention would be on request from Libyan authorities, so it doesn’t seem as foreign invasion. Penotti confirmed that Italy sent fighter jets to Trabani air base, beside marine forces in the Mediterranean, according to a report by aljazeera Center for Studies (translated by LIBYAPROSPECT).

In the light of recent statement from American and European officials, there is a direction to preamble western public opinion for close intervention. US state of defense website quoted head of common chiefs of staff, Joussef Danford, saying that “there is a need to take decisive decision to the fight Islamic State inside Libya”. His statement came after meeting with his French counterpart. Danford said “we fear that Libya would become launchpad for more terrorist attacks across Africa”. France is planning to deploy 3500 troops, beside anther 3500 in Sahara North Africa.

During the last two years, drone fighters, used by the European Union, continued to fly over Libyan coasts to gather intelligence about smuggling activities and military locations. US airstrikes targeted the IS leaders in Libya more than once, latest one killed Abu Nabil Al-Anbari in Derna, according to US state of defense. In June 2015, Pentagon announced the death of Mukhtar Belmukhtar in air raid by drone in Ajdabiya, according to the report.

And within military preparations context, US state of defense website pointed to “American military unites inside Libya to communicate with Libyan forces and coordinate military preparations” in endeavor from Washington to topple military powers on the ground. US marines were seeming in Wotya airbase last December. The based is controlled by forces from western Libya known by “tribes’ army”, which is affiliate to the House of Representatives. American and British Commandos were also sent to Libya for surveillance and intelligence gathering, the report said.

The IS executed many operations inside Libya that motivate foreign intervention to stop its expansion; as it targeted police training center in Zliten (150 km eats of Tripoli) on 7 January. Beside eastern gate of Ran Lanuf in Oil Crescent area, where Petroleum Facilities Guards are positioned.  Ras Lanuf operation is part of intense fighting in the Oil Crescent area after the IS attacked Al-Sedra and Ras Lanuf oil ports, 180 km east Sirte. Beside human losses among Oil Facilities Guards, armed confrontations caused fires in oil tanks, after the IS controlled Bin Jawad, west al-Sedra port. The IS then posted photos of the executers, three of them are black skinned, which underlines links between the IS and other terrorist groups in Africa.

Attacks against oil facilities is not new, at the end of 2014, the IS launched series of attacks that killed Libyans and foreigners, such attacks against Waha field, Mabrouk, Bahu. And during the same period, the group attacked number of security gates between Sirte and Misrata, between Misrata and Tripoli, and one the road leading to Sebha.

Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace, was the latest town freed by revolutionaries. Since then, no government controlled the city, which is 450 km from the capital Tripoli. Chief of staff only sent armed battalions to positions around the city. Sirte inhabitants are mixture from Ferjan tribes, Gadadfah, Meadan, Werfella, Amamra and tribes from Misrata. Many of them supported Gaddafi regime as they benefited form it to get jobs and services. The city became breading area and save haven for the IS elements, who came from everywhere exploiting chaos and security situations across the country, within growing disputes after the beginning of Dignity Operation, led by Khalifa Haftar, in 2014. By the end of 2014, Sirte became important IS stronghold, not just in Libya but in North Africa, according to the report.

The report added that the group was empowered by returnees. who formed Gaddafi battalions and fled once revolutionaries entered Sirte in 2011. Both goals are the same, which is to end different forces inside Libya after Gaddafi. As for Sirte tribes, some accepted begrudgingly IS existence, others saw it is better as some of their members joined the group and from anther side, the IS existence guarantee the city won’t fell for those who took off privileges they used to have under Gaddafi.

The IS was even more empowered when foreign fighters joined its ranks (mostly from Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan and African nations); the IS leadership called new recruits to join the group in Libya exploiting chaos across borders and people smuggling through Libyan desert and shores. This was obvious in comments by the IS leaders like Abu Mohamed Ansari, in which he called “Mujahedeen” to migrate to Libya and join the IS.

The number of the IS fighters are 2000-3000 fighters, according to Security Council report, issued last November, as hundred foreign fighters entered Libya after intense bombing campaign against the group in Syria and Iraq.

The report added, Foreign powers followed with interest, the IS expansion, broadcasted, via western media, enormous messages that the group, from its basis in Sirte, is targeting Europe as its fighters are only 300 km from European shores. Such messages included information confirmed that the IS is training fighters to use civil planes through Aviation Room that simulates cockpit in civil aircraft, which leads to the question how the group acquired such technology. The IS control Gurdhabiya air base in Sirte since last June.

Europe became part of that field situation in range of possible IS targets, according to security assessment by Quilliam Research Institution; as the IS controlled planes and aviation systems left by Gaddafi regime. Beside, its existence among populated areas hardened any bombing missions.

The group managed to control more territory during last months at east, west and south Sirte, which was confirmed by Commander of battalion 166 Mohamed Hassan, commander of checkpoints security forces between Sirte and Misrata, beside eye witnesses inside Sirte.

The IS ambition seems clear in expanding from its strategic locations inside Libya, Libya is the only country, after Syria and Iraq, where the group controls whole cities, from Heisha, 100 km west of Sirte, to Harawa and Nufalya at the east, to Bin Jawad, 150 km east of Sirte. Hence, oil fields became within its reach, especially to south Bin Jawad, Al-Sedra and Ras Lanuf like Waha, Mabrouk and Bahy. We can’t speak of the Libyan oil without mentioning its huge importance for beneficiary countries like Italy, Spain, UK, US, and China.

The west is cautiously considering IS plans; western security thinking after 9 /11 doesn’t exclude that those who are able to explode cars can explode airports and planes, as long as it is consistent with their ideologies to cause the greatest amount of damage possible. Here we are not speaking of just F-16 or Mig31, but about civilian and commercial planes.

Western fear increased with the growing migrants’ crisis who cross the Mediterranean from the same shores where the IS control three main cities inside Libya; Sirte, Benghazi and Derna; reports pointed that tens of thousands of secret migrants managed to cross to Europe during last years. Beside Europe, especially countries with muslim population, is concerned about recruiting more and more foreign fighters to join the group in its new stronghold.

Mutual security reports, circulated among the EU institutions, pointed that western officials are pressuring the International Alliance to take action toward growing violence, security collapse in Libya and threats if the IS after international efforts to bring Libyans factions to accept unity government failed.

Rome conference on Libya, was attended by forty countries beside US and Arab league, is clear prove; the conference decided to support the formation of the unity government emanating from Skhirat agreement and threat to impose sanctions against spoilers, commit to arms embargo, provide urgent help for state institutions, especially humanitarian aid and fight against the IS.

In the conclusion the report said that all previous factors provide adequate motivations for the west and US to intervene may be during coming months under slogans like (fighting terrorism). But the question is, will the IS be able to send or smuggle Libya’s oil as it did in Iraq after controlling Beji refinery? As all Mediterranean ports are under EU observation, who can impose nautical ban in Libya as it imposed air ban in 2011.

On the opposite, the IS control over Oil Crescent area will cause complications for some countries like UK, as it would be hard to target its positions from the air or sea. That’s why oil crescent could become the IS’s next fortress, in case its basis in Sirte and Nufalya were bombed or attacked with land troops. Airstrikes only won’t end the IS because it uses civilians as human armors as in Syrian Reqqa.

The difficult choice in front of the Government of National Accord, in its fight against the IS, is its ability to take over about 300 km on Libyan coasts, thwart the IS plans to target Europe. What is left is all inclusive reconciliation between Libyan factions and face the group from inside.