22 FEBBRAIO 2016
Peace Prospects Fade as Libya Chaos Deepens

ROME — Four year on from a NATO air campaign that triggered chaos in Libya, the country has grabbed headlines again as Islamic State fighters make a murderous debut alongside warring militias, rendering the return of stability ever more remote.

The release of an ISIS video of the beheading of 21 Christian Egyptians in Libya this month showed the Islamic group was serious about expansion in the lawless country, prompting a debate at the UN and talk of Western military intervention.

But analysts warned of dire consequences of sending soldiers into a country awash with weapons. "It would be very hard to know who to fight and who to support," said Gabriele Iacovino, a analyst coordinator at the International Study Center in Rome. "And peacekeepers would be the perfect target for ISIS."

The US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain appeared to agree, issuing a joint statement on Feb 17 that a UN effort to get militias to form a unity government was the "best hope" for peace.

But analysts said that was easier said that done.

The arrival of ISIS follows a slow, four-year collapse of the central government in the wake of NATO's campaign backing rebels who unseated Moammar Gadhafi.

Today, two hostile governments have effectively split the country. Moderate Islamicists rule in Tripoli backed by Qatar and a government set up in Tobruk — which is internationally recognized — is backed by Egypt.

Iacovino said that any diplomats hoping the arrival of ISIS would push the two sides into talks were overly optimistic. "ISIS is not yet a strong enough common enemy as Gadhafi was," he said.

"If there are to be talks in Libya, they need to be held either at tribal level, because that is where the power is, or between Qatar and Egypt, who are behind a proxy war in Libya."

The Tobruck government is backed by a military force led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a former Gadhafi officer who joined the opposition against him. "He can count on former Gadhafi officers and equipment including about 100 MiGs — even if most are in poor shape — Czech L29 aircraft and Mi-17 and Mi-18 helicopters," said a Libya expert who declined to be named. "He doesn't have much artillery but he does have air superiority, and he does have support from Egypt. It is possible that Egyptian equipment has found its way into his hands."

Over in Tripoli, the February 17 militia is the strongest in the city and has been "well armed with light arms and radios" by Qatar, Iacovino said. The Libya expert said the Libyan Dawn coalition of militias in Tripoli also boasted "tons of armored personnel carriers that came out of nowhere."

Iacovino added that the militias had also raided Gadhafi's stockpiles for Russian ZU-23 anti aircraft weapons, which they use on the back of pick-up trucks.

Iacovino estimated the ISIS fighters at their stronghold in Derna at 5,000-8,000, plus 3,000-5,000 converts from other militias who have signed up. "They are all Libyans," he said. "Derna has been a jihadi hotbed for 20 years, which Gadhafi could not overcome. They first aligned with al-Qaida then ISIS, which will help them recruit more successfully from Mali. Now they are looking to gain control of Libyan oil income."

Some of the new recruits, he added, came from the Ansar al-Sharia militia, which took part in the 2012 attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi. "It is possible that they have brought with them arms originally supplied by Qatar, possibly anti-tank weapons," he said.

In response to the ISIS killing of Egyptian Christians in Libya, Egyptian F-16s bombed ISIS positions in Derna on Feb. 17 and reportedly followed up with a special operations assault on the city, which sits close to the Egyptian border.

At the UN, Egypt pushed to overturn the UN embargo on weapons sales to Libya to help the country defend itself against ISIS, but other nations were cautious. Official arms sales to Libya would benefit the internationally recognized Tobruck government, but not the Tripoli government, harming the chances of a deal between the two.

"In any case, the embargo has been ignored by both sides, with arms smuggled through ports, airports and land routes," said Benjamin Fishman, a regional expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Sending a peacekeeping mission into Libya, even after a truce between the two sides, would be risky, Iacovini said. "You would be up against tanks and [portable air defense systems]."

Before he joined the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Fishman was the principal officer responsible for US policy toward Libya on the National Security Staff at the White House from April 2011 to September 2013.

He said he still backs the 2011 NATO bombing mission against Libya, but added mistakes had been made subsequently.

"The elections in 2012 were encouraging, but what happened next was due to decision making by interim governments, a lack of institution building and problems with demobilization, disarmament and reintegration," he said. "Boots on the ground would have exacerbated the problem."

Fonte: Defense News