While Libya continues to be awash with weapons five years after the revolution that overthrew Muammar Qaddafi, subsequent years of fighting have left many sides short of ammunition and other supplies. There is a need to allow the forces fighting the Islamic State’s expansion in Libya to have access to the means to prosecute the fight. The move is, however, a calculated risk that may inflame the civil war tearing the country apart.
Five years after the revolution in Libya erupted against the Muammar el-Qaddafi regime in February 2011, the United States is once again contemplating a military intervention in the North African country. The need for U.S. action against the Islamic State in Libya is stark. The Islamic State (IS) first emerged in Libya in late 2014 by gaining small numbers of adherents from the country’s patchwork of Islamist militant organizations. Since then, the Islamic State has managed to establish cells across the country.
The UN Security Council, under a U.S. presidency, unanimously adopted Resolution 2250, on Youth, Peace, and Security on December 9, 2015. Despite the historic nature of the resolution—the first specific to youth and security—it is not necessarily surprising that this first of its kind resolution should come now, as the world is seeing widespread instability, fragility, and violence.
Tactical gains against ISIS/ISIL, such as the retaking of Ramadi, should not be mistaken for strategic success. Dislodging ISIS from large swaths of Iraq and Syria will not address the conditions that made the group’s rise possible—the political oppression and destitution of large populations in both countries.
There is a growing cacophony of voices questioning why there is not more progress in the White House’s stated goal to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.” Indeed, although ISIL’s territory in Iraq and Syria shrank by 9.4 percent in the first six months of 2015, ISIL’s presence has grown significantly in other areas of the Middle East and North Africa since mid-2014. What gets lost in the cacophony is that the Counter-ISIL Strategy is not designed to be a quick win or overwhelming “shock and awe” campaign, nor is the onus solely on the United States to defeat ISIL.
Russia’s military deployment into Syria this month adds a layer of complexity to a multifaceted conflict, complicating how the war there will be fought and how it will end. Russian assets in Syria heighten the risk of altercations with counter-ISIS coalition forces and provide Russia with leverage in diplomatic engagement on Syria’s future.