Out of control: Post-Gadhafi Libya goes from murderous chaos to worse

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — In a country awash with automatic weapons, overwhelmed by warring militias, and lacking an effective central government, there’s little wonder why global terrorist groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have found fertile ground for expansion.

In the aftermath of the chaos which following the brutal civil war which toppled the Gadhafi regime almost five years ago, this giant North African country bordering the Mediterranean presents both a political power vacuum as well as a streamlined route for refugees flooding into southern Europe.

The UN Security Council unanimously approved a crackdown on weapons smuggling into Libya as to stem the flow of arms where there are three guns for every citizen in this lawless land. According to Martin Kobler, the UN point man for the country, “The arms fuel the conflict. These shipments must stop if there is any serious hope of bringing peace to Libya.”

The tragedy at Benghazi confirmed the collapse of a meaningful U.S. role in Libya.
The tragedy at Benghazi confirmed the collapse of a meaningful U.S. role in Libya.

While reaffirming its strong commitment to the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and national unity of Libya” the UN resolution, reiterated its “grave concern at the growing threat of terrorist groups in Libya proclaiming allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Da’esh”, as well as other groups with Al Qaida affiliations.

The Resolution also warned about the flow of foreign fighters into the conflict.

Illegal arms smuggling by sea, in violation of a previous arms embargo, has kept the political pot boiling and helped supply ISIL.

Libya’s fate comes amid a dire assessment by CIA Director John Brennan that global ISIL capability has not decreased.

Thus the Council has authorized a European Union naval task force crackdown to stop, search, and seize weapons on the high seas off the Libyan coast. The European Union’s ongoing “Operation Sophia” will be strengthened.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini stated in Brussels, “The EU’s Operation Sophia lunched one year ago to fight traffickers and smugglers networks, has been at the forefront to Europe’s response to the refugee and migrant crisis in the Mediterranean.” She added the new UN resolution will now enable Operation Sophia to play a important role in implementing the arms embargo.

Operation Sophia has saved more than 15,000 lives and apprehended 71 smugglers and disabled 139 smuggling ships on the high seas.

Beyond illegal arms shipments there’s the people smuggling networks operating from the coast. As British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft stated, “Libya faces twin threats. Just as Da’esh continues to exploit Libyan territory, criminal gangs continue to exploit the fear of people seeking a safer future. The waters of the Mediterranean are now synonymous with suffering.”

According to the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR), over 2,000 drowned in making the treacherous sea crossing to Italy this year alone; 49,000 survived the journey to Italy. Most migrants come from Senegal, Gambia, and Eritrea.

Libya resembles a political quilt where tribalism and Islamic fundamentalism, and elements of oil rich modernism intersect in a witches brew of churning chaos.

During the so-called Arab Spring, many Libyan opposition groups staged a violent uprising against Col. Gadhafi’s regime. Under the original plan to protect at risk civilians in the city of Benghazi, the French, and later the British and USA, supported a UN Security Council resolution which in effect gave the green light for regime change in Libya.

The overthrow of the tyrant Gadhafi while laudable and long overdue, opened a pandoras box of acute instability where Islamic fundamentalist militias and Al Qaida terrorists filled the void.

The premeditated Jihadi attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and the killing of the U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and four other Americans, are part of the shameful record which still shadows Hillary Clinton’s legacy.

There are three key issues

First stabilize the internationally backed but domestically wobbly Government of National Accord first in the capital Tripoli, and then beyond. This presents a major political hurdle given that rival militias control large parts of the country. This problem may be more complicated than eliminating the emerging ISIL networks.

Second, the EU must stop the weapons flow which fuels the conflict. But this is easier said than done. Libya is a lawless land awash with weapons.

Third, to curtail the criminal networks of people smugglers who send hapless migrants from west and central Africa unto unsafe boats towards the Italian waters with the goal of reaching Europe. Last year more than a million illegal migrants mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, flooded into Europe with Germany and Sweden as prime destinations.

Libya remains a dangerously fractured and fragile state. Instability from illegal migrant flows and a widening spillover from jihadi terrorism poses lethal local and regional ramifications.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]

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