ISIS In Libya Poses The Real Danger To The West

ISIS In Libya Poses The Real Danger To The West

Men in orange jumpsuits purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State (IS) are marched by armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli, in this still image from an undated video made available on social media on February 15, 2015. Islamic State released the video on Sunday purporting to show the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya. In the video, militants in black marched the captives to a beach that the group said was near Tripoli. They were forced down onto their knees, then beheaded. Egypt's state news agency MENA quoted the spokesman for the Coptic Church as confirming that 21 Egyptian Christians believed to be held by Islamic State were dead. REUTERS/Social media via Reuters TV (CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY VIDEO. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES

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When rebels toppled Muammar Gadhafi in the fall of 2011 after 42 years as the country’s dictator, Libya held elections, passed an interim constitution and quickly ramped oil production back up to the levels from before the war. But peace didn’t last.

The elections in 2014 were declared invalid because Islamist parties received little support and newly elected members of parliament were forced to flee to the eastern part of the country where they established the internationally recognized parliament.

Since then, the country has had two governments and with them two militia coalitions that have several times engaged in combat against each other.

ISIS has been eyeing the torn Libya for a while now, as both governments, busy getting at each other’s necks, are unable to stop it. In February 2015, Islamic State quickly captured Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte. Since then, it has controlled an almost 300-kilometer long strip of the Libyan coast. It is believed to have grown to a force of 6,000 men. Libya is especially important the ISIS as a strategic point. Should Syria and Iraq fall under pressure from the West, Libya could serve as safe haven.

The Islamists have informants and sleeper cells and they move freely along the south, spreading across the country under cover of deceptive peace. Each government, however, claims it has long been warning against ISIS infiltrating Libya and blames the other for failing to formulate a plan to stop it. And so the North African country has become a hub for European foreign fighters who are either unable or unwilling to travel to Iraq or Syria.

Europe is against a military action in Libya before a unity government is formed. Without it, unilateral Western military operations are likely to inflame nationalist sentiment and push more Libyans to Islamic State, a senior European official said.

US forces, however, have realized the danger that ISIS in Libya poses for the West’s security and have carried out their first airstrikes on one of the militant group’s bases in Libya’s territory.

“Islamic State, which has spread across Libya by taking advantage of conflict between the country’s two rival governments, has become too strong to be rolled back without U.S. help,” said Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, the commander of U.S. special-operations forces in Africa, and estimated that American aid will be needed even if the two governments were to unite.