Will Libya be the new Daesh headquarters?

Published December 10th, 2015 - 10:14 GMT
Ruined buildings in the Daesh-held city of Sirte, Libya. (AFP/Mahmud Turkia)
Ruined buildings in the Daesh-held city of Sirte, Libya. (AFP/Mahmud Turkia)

Speculations abound over the possibility that the Daesh epicenter could move from Iraq and Syria to Libya after the international extremist group recently took over the Libyan coastal city of Sirte, among other developments.

Ahmed Al-Mesmari, the spokesperson for Libyan Army Chief of Staff, said in a phone interview with Ahram Online that he believes this possibility is not in the cards for the time being, though it cannot be completely ruled out as a possible long-term scenario.

In his view, Daesh's mission to control Syria and Iraq – establishing a comprehensive "Islamist state" by taking over larger parts of both countries than they currently hold – has not yet been accomplished, thus making it less likely that they would shift focus to Libya in the immediate future.

In the distant future, however, extremists might seek to capitalize on their presence in Libya to create a new hub for themselves, Al-Mesmari said, adding that political and military developments will determine such a fate.

The Libyan air forces have been continuously executing operations over areas in Benghazi where fighters from multiple extremist groups are positioned.

Daesh, the Benghazi Revolutionaries, and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Al-Sharia are the groups targeted by the Libyan air force. But the strikes, Al-Mesmari said, are not very effective, due to the army's limited firepower and lack of international support.

"Cairo is the only capital which provides support to and coordinates with the Libyan armed forces... Libyan history will remember the role Egypt has played in standing next to the Libyans since the beginning of the crisis," he said.

"We agree with Cairo that what is going on in Derna, Benghazi and Sirte is identical to what's happening in [North] Sinai, and that their expansion affects Egypt one way or another."

The Libyan airstrikes primarily aim at dispersing these groups in Benghazi and preventing them from advancing as much as possible.

However, Benghazi, in the east of the country, is not the only Libyan city plagued by militancy.

Last August, Daesh swept the area of Nofaliya, east of Sirte in western Libya, and declared it a principality under their control.

A similar attempt by the group in Derna in April 2014 failed because of al-Qaeda's vast influence in that area.

Al-Qaeda is one of the militant groups that has built on the nationwide mayhem caused after NATO bombed and removed the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising. They used a power vaccum in the last four years to spread their operations across Libya and consolidate their presence.

Meanwhile, NATO has announced that it will not join the international attacks on militants in Libya amid a lack of national unity, although last week the Pentagon confirmed that a US airstrike recently killed Abu Nabil, the Iraqi-born Daesh leader in Derna.

As international and regional powers mostly shy away from systematically backing the Libyan army, Daesh's domination is not expected to decrease.

Considering the status-quo, Al-Mesmari sees Daesh as the greatest beneficiary.

“The group might try to capitalise on their presence in Libya and create a new hub there,” he said.

This will mainly depend on the vision and action of the international powers involved in either supporting or battling Daesh in Syria, Iraq and Libya, he said.

“We in Libya have decided to go with what [Libyan General Khalifa] Haftar has announced; that we will cooperate with whoever fights terrorism in Libya."

General Haftar was appointed last March as army commander for the country's internationally recognised government.

Since the civil conflict erupted in the country, Libya has had two rival parliaments, governments and armed forces - one based in Tripoli and the other internationally recognised one in Benghazi.

Al-Mesmari believes some countries are opposing the officially recognised government and are actually backing third-party extremists. He pointed fingers at "masterminds" and "supporters" in Turkey and Qatar as well as "the collusion of the Sudanese government."

Al-Mesmari said his side is conducting two adjacent dialogues, including one with Germany's Martin Kobler, the new UN special envoy to Libya.

“There is also the Libyan dialogue that creates optimism among the Libyan population because it saves Libya from the prospect of international supervision," Al-Mesmari said.

"After all, we work as a patriotic army under the flag of the parliament and we are not involved in the political process, but political stability is definitely in favour of the country's stability."

Russia’s call for an international alliance to fight terrorism in Syria while supporting embattled Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad had a positive effect on Libya, Al-Mesmari said.

“The appearance of the Russian bear on the Syrian scene has changed a lot... it has changed the one-sided vision of the battlefield.”

By Ahmed Eleiba

Editor's note: This article has been edited from the source material

© Copyright Al-Ahram Publishing House

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