According to some news reports the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, sometimes just called IS) is on the ropes in Libya – a troubled country located in North Africa.
It appears that ISIS is about to be dislodged from its haven in the small city of Sirte on the Mediterranean seacoast by local militias that back various Libyan political factions. Since 2014 the country has been divided between two governments – one operating in Tripoli (on the coast in the West) and the other in Benghazi (on the coast in the East). Each is backed by a loose coalition of tribes, militias, and political factions.
ISIS was able to establish a base of operations in Libya in the midst of the current period of internal conflict that has followed the post-Muammar Gaddafi era. For a period of time the ISIS enclave has steadily grown and expanded. At its peak ISIS controlled over 100 miles of coastline. Many foreign fighters have traveled to Libya to link up with IS in Sirte. CIA Director Brennan recently (mid-June 2016) testified before Congress saying that there are an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 IS fighters located in Libya. In the past several months various Libyan armed groups have been confronting IS and the terror group is slowly losing ground.
Unfortunately, even though ISIS may lose its base in Sirte, it could likely relocate to the Southwest of Libya in a desert hinterland. From that location it will be free to operate unhindered by local militias. The various militias currently in opposition to ISIS are less interested in the defeat of ISIS and more interested in the control of the oil refineries and revenue of stemming from the Sirte seaport. So it is unlikely that ISIS will be pursued once it has relocated.
There have been a small number of U.S. special operations forces deployed in Libya since early 2016 working in an advisory role. In January a small element of U.S. Special Forces were on the ground exploring the possibilities of working with Libyan groups to oppose the Islamic State. Later a small U.S. special operations contingent was deployed to Libya. In addition, press reports indicate that British, Italian, and possibly Egyptian special operations forces may also be assisting some of the militia groups.
ISIS, if it is allowed to operate from southwestern Libya, will be able to connect with other militant groups in the region – such as Boko Haram in Nigeria. It remains to be seen if the local militias, aided by special operations advisors, will destroy ISIS in place or merely move it along to another more remote location in Libya.
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