Expanding the Theater?

Brandon Louis Wallace is a Spring intern with the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. He is currently an undergraduate studying International Relations at Duquesne University. His post below discusses the current situation in Libya and why this may lead to our military’s expansion of its theater of operations.

Photo credit: Abdullah Doma / AFP

Yesterday, President Obama convened his National Security Council on the Counter-ISIL strategy to discuss intensification of the campaign in Libya. The administration made no comment as to the assessments, however the President emphasized that the United States will continue its mission against the Islamic State in any country pertinent to its strategy. A week earlier, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford commented, “It’s fair to say we’re looking to take decisive military action against ISIL [in Libya)] in conjunction with a legitimate political process.”

Top military officials have amplified their comments on the metastasizing threat of the Islamic State in Libya in recent weeks. Coalition forces have been successfully running targeted special operations missions in Libya while increasing intelligence gathering efforts- consider the Delta Force raid which resulted in the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, now standing trial for the death U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Coalition officials should be fearful of the internal Libyan conflicts as Islamic State operations continue to take advantage of the instability. Two contending governments- the General National Congress (Tripoli) who are supported by the Dawn militia and the House of Representatives (Tobruk) who are supported by the Libyan National Army- have inadvertently created the conditions for violent, criminal, and surreptitious networks to flourish.

Smuggling and trafficking networks have spawned fresh fighters and capital. Tunisian Jihadists, and various fighters across the MENA, flow through Libya in their trek to join the front lines of the Islamic State. Al Qaida affiliates al-Mourabitoun, and AQIM (al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb), as well as proxy factions like Ansar al-Shariah and the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade continue to fight for strategic control of port territories such as Derna.

Libya represents a particularly troubling challenge to the campaign against the Islamic State. In the absence of a conclusive force, the power vacuum of Libya will be an asset to terrorist networks. Critical infrastructures will be targeted and smuggling routes will provide a substantial source of illicit revenues for terror operations.

In yesterday’s State Department Press Briefing, Mark C. Toner (Deputy Department Spokesman) responded, “We’ve seen ISIL establish a foothold in Iraq, given some of the instability there, and we’ve seen it establish a foothold in Syria, obviously given the tremendous instability caused by the Assad regime there. So I just acknowledged that we are concerned about ISIL being a threat, establishing – seeking to reach out and establish a presence in Libya, and as such, we’re going to look at ways we can attack it there.”

Instability serves as a reminder of the importance of exporting good governance, responsible policing practices, and capable military institutions