Monday, February 22, 2016

Libya must be next front in the war against ISIS

Written by: Matthew Fisher, National Post 

Canada’s larger training mission with the Peshmerga in northern Iraq will not get underway until the back half of May, but preliminary discussions are already underway about what must come next.

Photo: CAF Combat Camera: OP IMPACT
The U.S. has performed airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Libya, and Italian, British and French forces are planning an international mission there, but Ottawa has said little about Canadian involvement in the country.

And what must come next is Libya.

Turning the Islamic State group back in Mesopotamia is the first part of a larger battle to rein in this gang of murderous religious zealots whose ambitions are much greater than simply dominating a stretch of desert between Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Although a long way from being defeated, Islamic State appears today to be on the defensive in Iraq. But the Daesh brand — and those who claim an allegiance to it and its dream of a vast caliphate where Shariah law is supreme — continues to grow in other parts of the Islamic world, from Southeast Asia to Afghanistan, subSaharan Africa and North Africa.

This is especially true of Libya, which has been allowed to devolve into a lawless state since NATO warplanes deposed Moammar Gadhafi. Libya’s importance is obvious: it sits at the crossroads between southern Europe and Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, where Islamic terror is encouraging others in equatorial Africa, and it has a malignant influence on events in Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt.

Islamic State is already causing grief for Egypt and putting pressure on Israel because of its machinations in the Sinai Peninsula, where the independent Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping organization is led by a Canadian — Maj.-Gen. Denis Thompson, who once ran Canada’s war in Kandahar.

How will NATO respond if Islamic State becomes seaborne and uses North Africa as a launching point for terrorist attacks on southern Europe or to disrupt trade in the Mediterranean? After all, unlike Iraq and Syria, Libya is practically in Europe’s backyard. Tripoli is less than a thousand kilometres from Greece and Italy, and even closer to Malta, with its strong ties to Britain and membership in the European Union.

What role Canada and the West might play across this much broader canvas is already being talked about in Ottawa, at NATO headquarters in Belgium and at announced and unannounced meetings in Washington, D.C., Europe and the Middle East.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the marine who is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke late last month of the need “to take decisive action” against the group in Libya. U.S. jets and drones carried out airstrikes three days ago against an Islamic State training camp on the Mediterranean coast near Tunisia, and U.S. special forces are undoubtedly already conducting covert operations in the neighbourhood.

An Italian three-star general is to lead an eventual international military mission in Libya, although what shape it will take and what its mandate will be remains unclear. The British will help the Italians. The French are to be involved, too.

Ottawa has said almost nothing publicly about its potential involvement there. However, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan had private talks about Libya in Europe in December and again this month.

In many respects an international operation against Islamic State in Libya would be tailor-made for Canada, given the Trudeau government’s championing of what has been described as Canada’s unique expertise in helping failed states with a comprehensive approach that includes governance, humanitarian aid and development.

Another f actor t hat should compel Canada to act: we bear some responsibility for the chaos now gripping Libya. A Canadian general, Charlie Bouchard, ran the successful NATO air campaign against Gadhafi in 2011. Regrettably, neither Canada — which contributed CF-18 fighters to that push — nor its allies had any plan to restore order in Libya once Gadhafi was gone. The anarchy that followed the dictator’s death created a vacuum Islamic State has inevitably and ruthlessly exploited.

Canada’s special forces, already assisting the Peshmerga in Iraq, will likely be involved in Libya. But these commandos should only be a small part of an eventual whole-of-government approach using parts of Canada’s Afghan template, which could involve conventional forces serving as trainers, as well as experts from half a dozen government ministries and agencies to help establish the stability that Libya desperately needs.

The bedlam in Libya presents the UN Security Council with an opportunity to pass a resolution authorizing an international response to Libya. For once, Western, Russian and Chinese interests may be in sync on such an undertaking.

The Islamic State’s rise in Iraq and Syria happened largely because the West and its Arab allies were asleep to the consequences, including the refugee crisis it spawned. The key for Canada and its allies is to get ahead of the group for once, and end its ability to dominate the narrative. Eliminate the jihadists in Libya before they can establish the deep roots there that they have now in Iraq and Syria.