U.S. weighs intervention in Libya to back new unity government

Special to WorldTribune.com

As Libya’s unity government shows signs of taking hold, the United States and European allies are developing a plan to strike Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) targets in the north African country.

The establishment of a unity government is a key precondition for launching an international stabilization effort and to help combat a ISIL’s growing presence, U.S. officials said.

Fayez Serraj
Fayez Serraj

Fayez Serraj, a little-known Libyan technocrat selected as prime minister in a United Nations peace process, arrived in Tripoli from Tunisia last week. Western officials saw it as a sign that Libya’s political divide is coming to an end even though rival governments remain in Tripoli and the country’s east.

The U.S. plans to launch intensified attacks against ISIL’s Libyan branch, which is based in the coastal city of Sirte and has up to 8,000 fighters.

U.S. Africa Command is working to developing a list of targets across Libya that American or European warplanes might strike, including the main ISIL base in Sirte and the stronghold at Derna.

The Pentagon said it is seeking to improve coordination between U.S. Special Operations forces and their French and British counterparts, which have established small cells on the ground in Libya. U.S. and allied forces are also looking to line up friendly militias that will fight ISIL.

Analysts warn that outreach to militia groups, who helped topple Col. Moammar Gadhafi and have repeatedly fought each other since 2011, could intensify factional violence and reduce the odds of national reconciliation.

“I would caution [against] international intervention of this nature, in this form and at this time, without having a coherent plan for these groups to work together,” said Anas El Gomati, director of the Sadeq Institute, a Libyan think tank. “If they are all fighting one another, how are they going to fight ISIL?”

The U.S. also has struggled to get neighboring countries to join the fight. So far, Tunisia and Algeria have declined, meaning that manned and unmanned missions would probably be launched from military installations in Italy, Spain or Greece, or from as far away as Britain.

Meanwhile, a unit of guards in charge of securing installations in Libya’s so-called “oil crescent” in the east of the country pledged its loyalty to the new unity government headed by Serraj.

“All the oil terminals under our jurisdiction have been placed under the authority of the unity government,” a guards official told AFP.

On March 31, 10 western Libyan cities also pledged support for Serraj’s government. It was seen as a major blow to the unrecognized Tripoli government which is refusing to cede power.