SHAFAQNA – While Libya stands today free of the political demons of its past, free of the shadows of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, and the miasmas of totalitarianism, the nation has yet to find its way back to stability. If anything Libya stands worse for wear since the NATO waged its “humanitarian intervention”.
Back in 2011 the UN Security Council legitimized NATO’s calls for military intervention when it issued a resolution which argued that in view of Gaddafi’s “crimes against humanity” the world had a responsibility of care before the people of Libya. It is such a stance which eventually permitted NATO forces to unleash their military forces against the Gaddafi regime.
If NATO’s intervention back in 2011 was hailed a success in that it allowed for Gaddafi’s demise, it also opened up Libya to the likes of al-Qaeda, and ISIL, de facto fracturing an otherwise relatively united nation. Since its liberation Libya has reverted to its pre-colonial set up – back when tribes were still looking to assert their competing authorities over one another, thus making territorial unity but a mirage in the distance.
Abdelkader Abderrahmane, an independent geopolitical researcher and analyst on African security recently noted in an interview: “Gaddafi is gone, as are the foreign fighter planes, but Libya is far from stable. There are two rival governments – one in Tobruk and one in Tripoli – and the so-called Islamic State has been making major gains in the embattled and now chaotic country. Foreign powers have been expressing concern about the group’s expansion in the oil-rich state, and although US Secretary of State John Kerry has ruled out another military intervention, there are signs that such action may be on the cards.
Some Libyans, forced to flee ISIL or live under its rule, are themselves beginning to discuss intervention as the only way forward.”
Although the NATO has long argued that if not for its intervention Libya would have suffered many great crimes, somewhat trying to rationalize a second coming of sort, many experts have cautioned against it – pointing to the first failures of foreign interventionism.
“A new intervention would have dramatic consequences for Africa, already suffering under the weight of Islamist radicalisation,” said Abderrahmane.
Indeed, with a budget of billions and an estimated fighting force of anywhere between 52,000 and 275,000, according to various estimates, the so-called Islamic State has the finances and the manpower to take a firm hold in Africa. Rather than destroying IS, a military intervention is likely to send it into a dangerous flight that will resonate in the rest of the continent.
If forced to make a getaway, IS fighters – not to mention those from other groups with a presence in south Libya like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – will have no trouble crossing the Sahel and Maghreb’s porous borders, finding safe haven further south.
According to the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies an estimated 25 000 to 30 000 foreign fighters would have already swollen ISIL ranks, with about 7 000 fighters in Libya itself – a number which could very well double should the NATO returns to the offensive, playing into the group’s argument that Western powers seek to colonize the African continent once more.
If ISIL has relied on its foreign fighters to expand its reach, the group’s ability to recruit locals should not be underestimated. In January Algeria arrested some 300 Moroccans attempting to cross into Libya – the suspicion is they were planning to join the 1,500 Moroccans already among ISIL’s ranks.
The fear is that ISIL could metastasize across Africa, now that it has gained a foothold into Libya. “Once outside Libya, ISIL may form stronger ties with other militant groups that are on the rise in Africa, such as al-Shabab, Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Boko Haram. Perhaps a worse (and more likely) scenario than unity is that the differences between these groups will lead them to compete for who can draw the most blood,2 noted Abderrahmane.
These groups are already piling up quite the death toll in Africa: AQIM and its affiliate al-Mourabitoun claimed responsibility for a January attack on a hotel in Burkina Faso’s Ouagadougou that killed at least 30; Ansar Dine copped to killing 5 UN peacekeepers in a February attack in northern Mali; al-Shabab killed 14 civilians when they attacked a Mogadishu hotel later that month; and AQIM hit again in mid-March, killing at least 16 people on an Ivory Coast beach. And these are hardly the only examples of Islamist militant action in the region.
Amin Ketem, an Algerian researcher explained that a second intervention by the NATO could have devastating effects on neighbouring Tunisia, at a time when its institutions remain fragile. Just out of a revolution, and a brush with Islamism, Tunisia will likely crumble should ISIL militants be pushed to retreat within its borders. “A spillover onto Tunisia would be catastrophic for the region, notwithstanding the fact that ISIL could link up to its other branches in the region and create a massive regional front.”
He added: “some 3,000 Tunisians are believed to be among ISIL’s ranks. If foreign powers do make a move, it won’t just be existing fighters Africa has to worry about. A foreign military intervention in Libya would undoubtedly trigger support for IS from other disaffected Libyans, not to mention those from other countries. Foreign intervention could also give IS’s leadership an excuse to call for further attacks like those in Paris or Brussels, carried out by undetectable lone wolves.”
Beyond the immediate risks a second intervention in Libya would present it is also important to consider the human repercussions such a move would ultimately represent. At such a time when Europe stands in the throes of a veritable human exodus, more violence and bloodshed will only feed the monster.
As US President Obama once noted: “Just because we have the best hammer does not mean every hammer is a nail” – meaning wars are not always the solution … Sometimes other paths need to be carved out.
By Catherine Shakdam for the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies