This article is the fifth of our series focusing on scenarios depicting interventions in the Libyan war. In our previous article, we discussed a Qatari intervention in Libya on the Islamist side. Here, we shall detail scenarios for an international intervention in Libya from beyond the region, which could occur if the nationalists and their internationally recognized government (at least until power is officially transferred to a unity government) extend an invitation to external actors, or if the unity government fails entirely. The unity government could fail if rival Libyan politicians are unable to form a unity government at all, or if the unity government is formed, but fails to make progress and thus disintegrates into former factions.
If we remember the beginning of our set of scenarios 2, at this stage, international actors from beyond the region have decided to militarily intervene in favor of one of the two governments. We chose to develop an intervention on the nationalist side and not on behalf of the Islamists (see terminology in next paragraph) because the latter would be too unlikely – considering that if the intervention does not help the more anti-Islamist movement survive (i.e nationalists), the intervening countries would be in a position of having to support an Islamist state where some of its armed factions had military alliances with groups like Ansar al-Sharia.
Considering the future names of potential factions that would result from a new split between the unity government, we shall use the label nationalist for the nationalist/liberal-dominated Council of Representatives (COR) and any future anti-Islamist factions; Islamist to note the General National Congress (GNC) and any future pro-political Islamic movements; and Salafi will remain the label of choice for groups that reject democratic institutions and embrace jihadism.
Sub-scenario 184.108.40.206: An International Intervention Coalition is Formed to Enter the Libyan Conflict in Favor of the Nationalists
Concerned with the expansion of Salafi power and territory in Libya where the rivals are struggling to form the unity government (or where the unity government has failed to do so), countries from outside the region form an international intervention coalition to protect their national interests and begin combatting Salafi threats in Libya. With current Islamic State (IS) leaders migrating to Libya, and the diverting of jihadists from Syria and Iraq to IS groups in Libya, the intervening powers are among the leading active participants of Operation Inherent Resolve, as they decide to organize it within the framework of the Operation.
In an attempt to avoid serious questions of legality and to avoid opening the door to accusations of Western imperialism, the leading advocates for an intervention coalition attempt to get Russia, and China, to contribute to the intervention. With no united legitimate Libyan government to invite the coalition, diplomatic pressure or persuasion on Russia and China could assist in securing a UN Security Council approval for intervention in Libya – thus avoiding serious issues of legality. However, as the nationalist government and parliament are those currently recognized internationally (Yahoo News, February 24, 2016; Voice of America, February 25, 2016), the multinational coalition decides to emphasize this feature to assert the legitimacy of its coming intervention.
With either a stalled effort by the rival governments to form the unity government, or the failure of a Libyan unity government and no likelihood in the short-term of a renegotiated political solution, several nations decide to contribute military forces to form the core of Libya’s intervention coalition. These members include the United States, the UK, France and Italy. Once opposed to hasty military intervention and promoting a political solution when the prospect of a unity government was still alive, Italy and France were drawn into the intervention coalition when the GNC and COR’s efforts to form a unity government stalled, or when the unity government failed and Libya descended further into the depths of civil war. Having experienced attacks on its citizens by Islamic State militants out of Libya, France and Italy decide to contribute to the coalition in a way proportional to their interests. After approval by the UN Security Council [as a fully legitimate Libyan government does not exist – would it exist domestically, then there would be no civil war], France contributes fighter aircraft to the air campaign, military advisers to train indigenous partners on the ground (if such partners exist – we will detail in future scenarios), special forces and intelligence, and starts wondering if it should also send troops as was done in Mali. Meanwhile, Italy contributes fighter aircraft and military advisers as well, potentially in addition to reconnaissance aircraft and allowing U.S. and UK fighter aircraft to operate out of bases in Italy.
[We have chosen only a few nations from beyond the region that would likely participate in this intervention coalition for the sake of the scenarios, although participating to the coalition would certainly not be limited to these states.]
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 220.127.116.11 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
- Stalled efforts to form a unity government. If the rival governments take exceedingly long to make any progress on forming a unity government – essentially stalled efforts – while the Salafi threats grow exponentially, concerned international actors will likely be forced to intervene to protect their security interests.
- Failure to form a unity government and make progress. If the Libyan parliaments fail to implement the agreed-upon structure of a unity government, or they form a unity government but fail to operate cohesively and then fragment into their former rivalry, the likelihood of this scenario significantly increases. See Scenario 1 (4) – Failed Negotiations and Scenarios 1 (3) – A Successful Peacebuilding Mission for details on how this might occur.
- The legality of a military intervention. The legality of recent interventions has become a murky issue lately, particularly regarding Syria. The timing of an international intervention would affect whether it is disputed or not. If a coalition intervenes after having been invited by the internationally recognized COR (see War in Libya and its Futures: State of Play – Nationalist Forces (1) and (2)), it would be justified, but would have stronger justification if invited by a unity government. If the Libyan unity government quickly fails and the actors fragment back into factions, there could be dispute over who has legitimacy, since the unity government would have held all political authority before falling apart. At that point, approval by the UN Security Council might be needed in order to garner international backing for intervening – perhaps only after diplomatic pressure is applied to Russia and China. But if the Security Council cannot come to a consensus on intervention, outside the right to self-defense, any other military intervention falls under questionable legality.
- The level of Salafi threats in Libya at the time of intervention. Currently, the Islamic State in Libya has a stronghold in the region of Sirte, which threatens nearby Misrata in the west and the oil fields to the east. Recent estimates put Islamic State militants and sympathizers operating in Libya around the low thousands – many of which are in the Sirte area, with smaller groups operating in other areas of Libya. In addition, Al-Qaida affiliates operate primarily in Northeastern Libya, with training camps and smuggling routes in the south. The Islamic State in Libya, as al-Qaeda, currently occupies a strategic position that links Islamic State affiliates in Africa to those in the Middle East. Thus, Western powers currently feel compelled to deal with the Salafi threats, and intervention will likely happen soon – increasing the likelihood of this scenario occurring.
- Whether or not Libya is considered an extension of Operation Inherent Resolve. With senior Islamic State commanders reportedly migrating to IS strongholds in Libya (Gatehouse, BBC News, February 3, 2016; Schmitt, The New York Times, February 4, 2016), as well as ISIS leaders in Syria telling African IS recruits to “stay put in Libya” instead of passing through to Syria, Libya is becoming the next stronghold outside of Syria and Iraq. If their presence in Libya continues to grow as their numbers in Syria and Iraq decline (Schmitt, The New York Times, February 4, 2016; Kuwait News Agency, February 23, 2016), the Islamic State in Libya may be declared an extension of Inherent Resolve, thereby increasing the likelihood of this scenario occurring, as powers already involved in the operation shift resources and forces towards Libya.
- The willingness of countries to contribute forces to an intervention that lacks a fully legitimate Libyan government. The countries included in our proposed intervention coalition are currently operating in Libya in a limited capacity, or are opposed to intervention now, but will likely change course if an Islamic State attack on their country emanates from Libya or if the unity government fails and all political solutions dissipate. The U.S., UK and France already have Special Forces on the ground, while the U.S. and UK have conducted airstrikes in Libya (MEA Risk, February 19, 2016; The Nation, January 24, 2016; Altaqi and Aziz, Middle East Briefing, February 11, 2016; Wintour, The Guardian, February 9, 2016; Malta Independent, February 1, 2016; Hanly, Digital Journal, February 18, 2016; Taylor, Reuters, February 24, 2016; The Libya Observer, February 23, 2016). France is working closely with the Pentagon to develop a plan of action for full-scale military intervention after an invitation by a unity government (The Nation, January 24, 2016; Caravelli, World Tribune, February 3, 2016; Middle East Monitor, February 4, 2016); and Italy just signed an agreement with the U.S. to allow armed drones to take off out of its base in Sicily, but only after the Italian government approves each mission, and they can only be used in defensive strikes for ground forces “engaged in anti-Isis missions” (Kirchgaessner, The Guardian, February 22, 2016). Italy and France have stated their intentions of only intervening once a national unity government is established and invites international assistance, although French military advisers are reportedly already consulting and training Haftar’s Libyan National Army, as well as conducting fighting operations (ANSAmed, February 2, 2016; Middle East Monitor, February 4, 2016; Masi, International Business Times, February 1, 2016; Daou, France24, February 25, 2016; Herreros, Huffington Post, February 25, 2016; The Libya Observer, “French Commandos are fighting with Haftar’s forces in Benghazi, sources say“, 23 Feb 2016). Stalled efforts to form a unity government, the failure of a Libyan unity government and or a terrorist attack emanating from Libya increases the willingness of France and Italy to participate in an intervention, which in turn increases the likelihood of this scenario, as shown by the latest U.S. as well as French interventions.
- The cost and capability to deploy intervention forces. Although the willingness of each country to deploy forces in an intervention coalition depend on the geopolitical and security climates at the time of intervention, the costs and capability may be, notably for European countries a break, especially considering involvement in other operations. We can assume that the United States will contribute the most aircraft, UAVs, and personnel (Special Forces, forward air controllers, intelligence/support personnel), followed by the UK with perhaps several Special Forces teams and support personnel, as well as fighter aircraft, followed by France and Italy, who contribute fighter aircraft and a couple hundred personnel (Special Forces, intelligence, military advisers) – depending on their mission role. Coalition members could also shift aircraft and personnel from Syria/Iraq to Libya, depending on the progress of Inherent Resolve in the Levant and members’ unwillingness to contribute additional forces, but ability to shift forces. ***Force estimates based on contributions to Inherent Resolve, current personnel operating in Libya, national interests, and total military force strength (McInnis, Congressional Research Service, November 18, 2015; Zway, Fahim and Schmitt, The New York Times, January 18, 2016; UK Defence in Numbers, UK Ministry of Defence, August 2015; Defence Key Figures, France Ministry of Defence, 2015).
Sub-scenario 18.104.22.168.1: The International Coalition Attempts to Partner with Libyan Factions for Its Intervention
Wanting – and needing – reliable partners in Libya, the intervention coalition attempts to connect with armed factions that have primary interests in actively combatting Salafi groups. Although Libya offers an array of armed factions, only a few are palatable to the coalition. The overall problem facing the coalition is the unreliability, poor organization, tribal allegiances, and shifting interests of Libyan factions – making partnership risky and unpredictable in the long-term. Furthermore, the coalition quickly learns that partnering with particular groups only fosters tribal and local rivalries, as the rivals of coalition-partnered factions turn to ally with other groups (perhaps even Salafist groups) to shift the balance of power. The coalition partners risk becoming pawns in Libyan “games” they do not master. However, the coalition accepts these risks, as they desire more to have at least some Libyan partners on the ground to label the intervention as a Libyan-partnered intervention, rather than a Western-imposed one.
— Alwasat Libya (@alwasatengnews) April 14, 2015
With stalled efforts to institute a fully domestically legitimate government, or seeing a unity government no longer in existence after failure and fragmentation, the coalition focuses on partnering with groups that offer strategic positioning, influence, and determination to combat Salafist threats. Thus, it starts partnering with Misrata, Zintan, and the Libyan military, notably of which, Zintan and Misrata mitigate their tense rivalry to take on Islamic State threats (see Mitchell, “Nationalist Forces II” for Misrata-Zintan rivalry). Partnering with these three groups provides strategic partners that can engage Salafi threats in Northeastern Libya, the Sirte region, and Northwestern Libya.
Meanwhile, and to make sure it will not meet critical setbacks should some of its partnerships fails, the international coalition supports further recruitment and training within the Libyan army to combat Salafi threats in Libya.
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 22.214.171.124.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
- The level of common interest that can unite Libyan groups. International powers will be forced to choose from the actors on the ground that are willing to partner with them, and thus will likely partner with the Libyan military, Misrata, and Zintan. The overarching problem is that tribal and regional interests often outweigh the “common ground” that is needed for Western powers to leverage against Salafi threats (Wuite, The Interpreter, February 12, 2016). Although U.S. and UK Special Forces have been attempting to find reliable partners on the ground for the past several months, the effort has proven extremely difficult. For example, a U.S. Special Forces team sent to Libya in late 2015 was “driven out of the country shortly after their arrival” by local militias (Deutsche Welle, January 28, 2016). With tribal, regional, political, and religious interests often outweighing common interest to completely focus on Salafi threats, the likelihood of finding partners decreases.
- The ability to partner with Misrata brigades against Salafi threats. With a partner in the east (Libyan military), the intervention force would likely turn to Misrata as a partner in the west. The Misrata brigades are perhaps the only reasonable faction outside the nationalist forces with which an intervention force could partner, considering its strategic position northwest of the Islamic State stronghold in Sirte and its majority support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Furthermore, Misrata has experienced fighters and, according to Misratan politician Abdulrahman Swehli, has already made “military and intelligence” links with U.S. Special Forces (Zway, Fahim and Schmitt, The New York Times, January 18, 2016). By default, partnering with Misrata would severely weaken the Islamists, who either decline in political authority after the withdrawal of Misrata, or are defeated by the nationalists after Salafi threats are mitigated. With Misrata’s focus now on the Islamic State and Sirte rather than protecting the GNC or opposing the nationalists (The Associated Press, February 19, 2016), the likelihood of partnering with the intervention force increases.
- The ability to partner with Zintani militias against Salafi threats. Zintan is potentially showing signs of working with rivals against Salafi threats in the region, which could make Zintani militias easier to enlist as partners in a coalition that targets the same threats. A recent Islamic State attack in Sabratha (rival of Zintan and the nationalists) prompted Zintan to medically treat wounded militia members from Sabratha that opposed the jihadists – a potential sign that “Zintan and Sabratha may be prepared to cooperate in the fight against Islamic State” (Elumami, Reuters, February 24, 2016). Furthermore, main militias from Zintan and Misrata held truce talks and cease-fires that allowed them to withdraw a majority of their forces from fighting each other, and shift them to confront Islamic State threats (El-Ghobashy and Morajea, The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2015). If both Misrata and Zintan are enlisted into an intervention coalition (not showing partisanship is key), the likelihood of this scenario increases.
- The level of risk between partnering with existing armed groups or supporting and training a nationalist army. Attempting to partner with existing armed groups potentially means a shorter period of time, considering they won’t have to be sent off for training and incorporation into the nationalist army – which translates into forces already on the ground that can quickly engage Salafi threats. Furthermore, they remain in their cohesive, local militias, instead of being mixed into the nationalist army that has fighters from various regions and tribes that were once enemies – potentially creating a non-cohesive force. However, supporting and training the national army that is committed to fighting the Salafi groups could be seen as promising, instead of relying on existing groups that have their own interests and ambitions. We consider partnering with existing groups from Zintan, Misrata, and the Libyan military necessary if the goal is to engage Salafi threats as soon as possible.
In our next post, we shall detail scenarios where the coalition intervenes with Libyan partners.
Featured Photo: An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off on a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve by USAFE AFAFRICA [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr
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