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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

U.S. prepares to send troops to Libya. Will Canada follow?

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

In 2011 the Canadian government and military joined with other nations to overthrow Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, middle, gets a tour of Canada's CF-18s by Lt.-Col. Daniel McLeod, left, and Gen. Charles Bouchard prior to delivering a speech at Camp Fortin on the Trapani-Birgi Air Force Base in Trapani, Italy. After seven months in the country, the Canadian Forces will be back in Canada Friday.
(Then) Prime Minister Stephen Harper, middle, gets a tour of Canada's CF-18s by Lt.-Col. Daniel McLeod, left, and Gen. Charles Bouchard prior to delivering a speech at Camp Fortin on the Trapani-Birgi Air Force Base in Trapani, Italy. After seven months in the country, the Canadian Forces will be back in Canada Friday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
The Canadian government and military played key roles in overthrowing Gadhafi and highlighted those efforts as a significant victory both for Libya and Canadians.

At the time then Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird reinforced Canada’s support for the rebel groups fighting Gadhafi, pointing out they had a well developed plan that would transform the country into a democracy. “The one thing we can say categorically is that they couldn’t be any worse than Col. Gadhafi,” said Baird.

But there was no plan. In fact, Canada and other nations who took part in the Libya war ignored intelligence that among the freedom-loving “rebels” were Islamic extremists.

The country promptly fell apart into a new civil war. The Islamic State has carved out portions of Libya for its staging and training areas. Other Islamic extremists have their portions of the country.

In September 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended Canada’s role in Libya, suggesting that neither it nor NATO can be held responsible for the chaos that has since engulfed that country.

Now it seems the U.S. military is getting ready to send troops back to Libya. The Canadian government has suggested it could follow.

Here is some background reading on the developing situation. The two articles below were written by the Associated Press:

The number of Islamic State militants in Libya has doubled in the last year or so to as many as 6,000 fighters, with aspirations to conduct attacks against the U.S. and other nations in the West, says the top U.S. commander for Africa.

Army Gen. David Rodriguez, head of U.S. Africa Command, said that local Libya militias have had some success in trying to stop the Islamic State from growing in Benghazi and are battling the group in Sabratha. But he said that decisions to provide more military assistance to the Libyans await a working national government.

The latest numbers for IS in Libya make it the largest Islamic State branch of eight that the militant group operates outside Iraq and Syria, according to U.S. defense officials. The officials were not authorized to provide details of the group and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. has conducted two airstrikes in Libya in recent months targeting Islamic State fighters and leaders, but Rodriguez said that those are limited to militants that pose an “imminent” threat to U.S. interests. He said it’s possible the U.S. could do more as the government there takes shape.

The U.S. and its allies are hoping that a U.N.-brokered unity government will be able to bring the warring factions together and end the chaos there, which has helped fuel the growth of the Islamic State. The U.S. and European allies would like the new government to eventually work with them against IS.

The U.S., France and other European nations have sent special operations forces to work with Libyan officials and help the militias fight. In February, American airstrikes hit an Islamic State training camp in rural Libya near the Tunisian border, killing more than 40 militants. And last November, a U.S. airstrike killed top Islamic State leader Abu Nabil in Libya. He was a longtime al-Qaida operative and the senior Islamic State leader in Libya.

Rodriguez said, however, that it will be a challenge for the Islamic State to become as big a threat as it is in Iraq and Syria because of resistance from local Libyan fighters and the population, which is wary of outside groups.

He said the militias in Libya have fought Islamic State militants in Benghazi and Derna with some success, and fought hard in Sabratha with more limited gains. Efforts to battle the group in Sirte have not worked as well, he said. Their biggest problem, he said, is that often the militias fight among themselves.

“It’s uneven and it’s not consistent across the board,” Rodriguez told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. “We’ll have to see how the situation develops, but they are contesting the growth of ISIS in several areas across Libya, not all of it.”

Asked if waiting for the new government to form will allow the Islamic State more time to gather momentum, Rodriguez downplayed the risk.

“It’s going to be a challenge for them to get to that point because of the Libyan population, people and militias that are out there,” he said. “It could be a bigger fight and everything. But again, we’re watching that very carefully and taking action as we see those threats develop.”

SECOND ASSOCIATED PRESS ARTICLE

In a move fraught with risk, the United States and other world powers said they would supply Libya’s internationally recognized government with weapons to counter the Islamic State and other militant groups gaining footholds in the chaos-wracked country’s lawless regions.

Aiming at once to shore up the fragile government, and prevent Islamic State fighters and rival militias from further gains, the U.S., the four other permanent U.N. Security Council members and more than 15 other nations said they would approve exemptions to a United Nations arms embargo to allow military sales and aid to Libya’s so-called “Government of National Accord.”

In a joint communique, the nations said that while the broader embargo will remain in place, they are “ready to respond to the Libyan government’s requests for training and equipping” government forces.

“We will fully support these efforts while continuing to reinforce the UN arms embargo,” the communique said.

With support from all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the plan is unlikely to face significant opposition from any quarter.

The communique was issued at the end of the talks that gathered U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and top officials from more than 20 other nations to discuss ways to strengthen Libya’s fledgling government. The aim is to give the internationally recognized administration more muscle in fighting Islamic State radicals and end its rivalry with a group to the east claiming legitimacy.

The step will boost the government’s efforts to consolidate power and regain control over Libyan state institutions like the central bank and national oil company. However, it also comes with risks, not least of which is that the arms may be captured or otherwise taken by the Islamic State or other groups.

Kerry called the plan “a delicate balance.”

“But we are all of us here today supportive of the fact that if you have a legitimate government and that legitimate government is fighting terrorism, that legitimate government should not be victimized by (the embargo),” he told reporters.

Libyan Premier Fayez al-Sarraj said his government would soon submit a weapons wish list to the Security Council for approval.

“We have a major challenge ahead of us,” in fighting extremists, he said. “We urge the international community to assist us.”

Before the meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier outlined the high stakes at hand.

“The key question is whether Libya remains a place where terrorism, criminal human smuggling and instability continue to expand, or if we are able, together with the government of national unity to recover stability,” he told reporters.

The challenges are daunting.

Libya descended into chaos after the toppling and death of Moammar Gaddafi five years ago and soon turned into a battleground of rival militias battling for powers. More recently, the power vacuum has allowed Islamic State radicals to expand their presence, giving them a potential base in a country separated from Europe only by a relatively small stretch of the Mediterranean Sea.

Also worrying for Europe is the potential threat of a mass influx of refugees amassing in Libya, now that the earlier route from Turkey into Greece has been essentially shut down. British Foreign Secretary David Hammond said his government had received a request from the Libyan government to bolster its Coast Guard — a project “which will address Libyan concerns about smuggling and insecurity on their border but will also address European concerns about illegal migration.”

In Libya, meanwhile, the U.N.-established presidency council on Monday effectively gave the go-ahead for 18 government ministers to start work, even though they have not received backing from the parliament.

The council was created under a U.N.-brokered unity deal struck in December to reconcile Libya’s many political divisions. It won the support of a former powerbase in the country’s capital, Tripoli, but failed to secure a vote of confidence by the country’s internationally recognized parliament, based in Tobruk, a city in eastern Libya.

The U.N. deal also created the internationally recognized government, through a de facto Cabinet to administer the country under Prime Minister-designate Fayez Serraj and the 18 ministers will answer to him.

Divisions in the Tobruk parliament between boycotters and supporters of the new government have prevented the house from reaching a quorum to endorse the council.