Defeating the Islamic State: Remaining Challenges
ISIS may soon be evicted from Sirte, but that is hardly the end of its presence in Libya. At best, this would be a essential prerequisite towards a politically unified country. Andrew Engel of The Washington Institute has published a report on the situation.
The battle to uproot the Islamic State in Libya (ISL) from Sirte, the group’s de facto North African capital, may soon result in victory for the Western-backed Operation Binyan Marsous (Solid Structure). Although defeating ISL in the heart of Libya’s “oil crescent” is cause for celebration, the group will continue to conduct irregular warfare and could find safe haven in the southern desert, while some of its foreign fighters might return to their home countries to wage terrorist attacks. Moreover, other violent extremist organizations (VEOs), including those associated with al-Qaeda, continue to pose security challenges of their own. The political front is no less fraught — Washington had hoped the battle against ISL would unify opposing factions around the Government of National Accord (GNA), but this unity has yet to materialize, and political infighting remains a significant obstacle to stabilization.
Libya continues to suffer from its own political disunity. As long as it remains splintered, it is a haven for extremist organizations.
Political stalemate could continue after ISL is ejected from Sirte. Haftar’s LNA and associated House of Representatives in Tobruk have opposed joining the Tripoli-based GNA. The GNA is supported by Western powers as the unifying body through which Libya’s arms embargo may be lifted, and it is nominally in charge of Operation Solid Structure. On July 1, four GNA members from the east resigned, likely under pressure from Haftar and his allies. If the battle to deny ISL its North Africa capital cannot unify the country’s three governments into one, then it is unclear what will.
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