AFRICOM nominee: ISIL threat grows in Libya as Obama blocks airstrikes

by WorldTribune Staff, June 22, 2016

The United States has developed solid intel on Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) targets in Libya but has not taken action as airstrikes require presidential approval, which President Barack Obama has not given, the general nominated to lead U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) said.

“There are targets being developed but there have been no flights … flown,” Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 21.

Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser. /Marine Corps via AP
Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser. /Marine Corps via AP

Waldhauser said he lacks the authority to order airstrikes against ISIL in Africa without Obama’s approval, but the general said he would launch strikes if he had the authority.

“It would certainly contribute to what we’re trying to do inside Libya,” he said.

The ISIL presence, meanwhile, continues to grow in Libya, threatening attacks against Europe and elsewhere, Waldhauser said. The terror group is said to have between 4,500 to 6,500 fighters in Libya. It had only 1,000 last year.

“An unchecked ISIL in Libya could become an external operations hub threatening Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, shipping in the Mediterranean, and our European allies,” he told the committee.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the current crisis in Libya is due in large part to “the failure of the United States and international community to put forth a comprehensive strategy” after Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s ouster, and to the failure of the Obama administration’s reactive approach to dealing with terrorism.

Under questioning from Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, Waldhauser said he agreed that U.S. military forces should be carrying out bombing strikes against ISIL in Libya.

Waldhauser said some ISIL jihadists are leaving the group’s stronghold in Sirte amid an advance by UN-backed unity government forces and are moving into alternate safe havens in the south and west of the country.

“Whether Libyan forces can clear and hold Sirte remains unknown,” he said, adding that until recently “ISIL-Libya was considered the most proficient Islamic State branch outside of Iraq and Syria in terms of its ability to project force and govern territory.”