US President Barack Obama has instructed key advisors to explore military action against Islamic State group in Libya, as top French defense officials warned the militants could hide amongst refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Europe.
Nearly two years after America began airstrikes against IS in Iraq and Syria, the White House is looking to speed up the destruction of the global terror group, ratcheting up efforts to retake Syria’s Raqqa and Iraq’s Mosul but also the group’s newer strongholds in central Libya. Fearing that IS’s base in Sirte could become a “back up” caliphate on the doorstep of Europe, the Americans are drawing up plans for possible military intervention.
“[The Defense Department] stands ready to perform the full spectrum of military operations as required,” its spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Baldanza told AFP on Saturday. That could include more airstrikes or joining a UN-backed ground force.
“We also continue to work with the international community to mitigate conflict in Libya, promote stability, and strengthen governance” Baldanza added.
“When good weather comes to the Mediterranean, there is the risk that (IS fighters) could make the crossing, mixing in with refugees. It’s a major risk,” he said.
The top French official acknowledged the danger of “transferring conflict” in Syria and Iraq to a new conflict in Libya and emphasized that a political solution was the “only way to eradicate” the problem.
“There must be a government of national unity. There’s a serious political process under way, supported by the UN Security Council. I think it’s urgent,” he added.
The Americans also emphasized the need for the UN-backed political solution to the 18-month civil war – maintaining that military decisions in Libya had coordinated with the Libyan authorities, who have warned against unilateral action on Libyan soil calling it akin to a declaration of war.
The West had hoped the creation of the joint body – which includes representatives from Libya’s main warring factions – would end an 18-month civil war allowing all sides to focus on combating IS.
A UN-brokered peace deal – that outlined the formation of the unity government – was signed by representatives of Libya’s rival sides in December. However, last week the HoR voted against the proposed 32-ministry cabinet saying it was too big and would therefore be ineffectual.
The lawmakers also rejected one clause in the December peace deal, which would allow the government to appoint military officials, over fears it could lead to the dismissal of controversial but popular army chief Khalifa Haftar. They demanded it be removed or they would not accept the agreement.
The General National Congress – the rival parliament anchored in Tripoli that opposes Haftar – has opposed the peace deal, rebuking lawmakers who signed on to it in December.
The bizarre and embarrassing incident raised questions about whether the US had unilaterally sent forces to other parts of the country.
The president and his administration is also under pressure from the Republicans who – eyeing the November US presidential elections – have criticized Obama and his one-time secretary of state Hillary Clinton for failing to prevent the rise of IS in Libya since 2011 NATO-backed revolution which toppled Muammar Gaddafi.
“Congress has been calling for a real strategy from the president to defeat ISIS,” said a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“We’ll see whether this is just more talk or if it will be backed up with the will and the resources necessary for victory.”