This article is the sixth of our series focusing on scenarios depicting interventions in the Libyan war. In our previous article, we discussed the preliminary stages of an international coalition created to intervene in Libya in favor of the nationalists – either by invitation from the nationalist government, or if the new unity government fails and fragments. However, Libya’s new Government of National Accord (GNA) is now recognized by the U.S., UK, Italy, Germany and France as “the only legitimate government in Libya” (European Union Statement, March 13, 2016; Musa, Boston Globe, March 13, 2016), which means that any international intervention that favors the nationalist side will now occur only after (and if) this unity government fragments into former factions. Note that many of the indicators and factors underlined below will be operative in both the scenario detailed here and the forthcoming scenario focused on an operative GNA.

At this stage of our scenario (see Mitchell, “International Intervention” February 29, 2016), international actors from beyond the region have formed a coalition to enter the Libyan conflict in favor of the nationalists, and attempt to partner with Libyan factions to support the intervention.

Note: 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 those that supported the nationalist/liberal-dominated Council of Representatives (COR) and any future anti-Islamist factions; Islamist to note those that supported 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.

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Sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.1: The International Coalition Intervenes with Libyan Ground Partners

The international coalition deploys ground forces in Libya to work with the Libyan military, Misratan factions and Zintani factions, as well as initiates an air-strike campaign against Salafi targets. Considering the complex dynamics of Libya’s war, an international intervention that retains its Libyan ground partners hinges on keeping the overall force together by focusing on engaging Salafist groups and reconstructing Libya as common goals. With a history of rivalry (see Mitchell, “Nationalist Forces 2,” December 1, 2014), the ability of Zintan and Misrata to cooperate with the international coalition relies on the larger threat of Salafist expansion – particularly in areas near Zintan or Misrata. Overall, the ability for this international intervention strategy to succeed relies on partnering with the more powerful and organized factions (Misrata, Zintan, Libyan military), but also progressively partnering with other tribes and factions. By using Misrata, Zintan, and the Libyan military as building blocks for a partnered intervention, the international coalition progressively attracts many of the Arab tribes in the north, which are also threatened by Salafist groups. However, it encounters difficulties in fully partnering with the minority tribes of the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou, as they oppose foreign troops in their territories (reminiscent of colonialism), and have no guarantee of adequate representation in any future government, since they are unsure of what to expect from a nationalist government if the Islamists are defeated – especially considering their history of unresolved political grievances under various governments. Nonetheless, the international coalition continues to pursue positive communication with the minority tribes in a bid to win their support throughout the intervention.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.1.4.1.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The willingness of partnered Libyan groups to stay focused on the common goals, rather than pursue alternate agendas. If any of the partnered Libyan groups – Zintan, Misrata, or the military – revert back to their old objectives/agendas rather than fully engaging Salafist factions, the likelihood of this scenario decreases. Furthermore, a strong desire to stabilize and rebuild Libya must be the ultimate end goal of partnered Libyan groups.
  2. The level of determination of Zintani and Misratan leadership to follow through with a peacebuilding strategy, rather than return to their rivalry. If, after mitigating or altogether destroying Salafist factions with the rest of the coalition, Zintani and Misratan leadership are determined not to return to civil war and pursue a peaceful transition through a peacebuilding phase, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  3. The level of opposition by rival tribes or factions towards Misrata or Zintan. If rival tribes are so fervent in their opposition that they begin to challenge Misratan or Zintani power (through territorial grabs, forming competing alliances that threaten Misratan or Zintani tribes, etc.), the coalition and its Libyan partners may begin to experience fragmentation if Misrata or Zintan withdraw their forces to protect their people or territory – thus decreasing the likelihood of this scenario. Considering the tribalism and rivalry in Libyan society, this indicator is likely to play a role in the cohesion of an international intervention that partners with Libyan factions (see Tribal Dynamics and Civil War I, II, and III).
  4. The perception of Libyan tribes and militias towards foreign forces. Considering the deep impact of colonization on Libya’s tribal groups (Mitchell, “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War 1,” April 13, 2015), some may consider foreign troops on Libyan soil reminiscent of colonization. Some militias – even ones on the nationalist side – may consider foreign intervention as a violation of Libyan sovereignty. Thus, negative perception of tribes and militias towards foreign forces could prompt them to actively oppose international forces on the ground. The Islamic State has begun to exploit that perception by “spreading a nationalistic narrative, portraying itself as the most important bulwark against foreign intervention” (United Nations letter from Panel of Experts on Libya, March 9, 2016). Furthermore, the partnering of international ground forces with particular armed groups in Libya could be seen as a sign of partisanship by other militias (Wehrey and Lacher, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 7, 2016), who could then seek to actively oppose foreign forces. Increased opposition by tribes and militias decreases the likelihood of this scenario.
  5. The level of tribal incentives to support the intervention and its partnered Libyan forces. Having seen the result of a previous international intervention in Libya (2011), and still harboring unresolved political grievances from the post-intervention governments (see “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War 2” and “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War 3”), the minority tribes of the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou may decide to either oppose or remain neutral to supporting the intervention. Furthermore, these tribes may lose all faith that external “assistance” will bring stability to Libya and by extension, its tribes. For example, leaders of the Toubou tribe are examining the potential of an independent Toubou state in Southern Libya – after having experienced the repercussions of Libya’s instability and having lost hope in the international community to help Libyans bring stability back to their country (Hatita, Asharq Al-Awsat, March 14, 2016). However, one, two, or all three minority tribes may also view intervention as an opportunity to gain influence or reward with whichever government comes to power after the intervention – as was the case with the Toubou, who gained expanded control of Southern routes and borders from the National Transitional Council for supporting the revolutionaries in 2011 (see Mitchell, “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War 3,” May 11, 2015). If the minority tribes see that partnering with the international coalition provides more advantageous, the likelihood of this scenario increases.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.1.1: The International Coalition and Libyan Partners Succeed against Salafist Groups and Defeat the Islamists

By strategically coordinating with Misrata, Zintan, and the Libyan military, the international coalition begins to dismantle Salafist organizations in Libya primarily through precision air strikes, and by advising Libyan ground partners as well as by deploying Special Forces to conduct missions alongside Libyan ground forces. Although some tribes and factions oppose international intervention and the coalition’s partnering with certain Libyan groups, the coalition and its partners actively work to destroy the Salafists as quickly as possible, in order to transition to a peacebuilding phase that would be inclusive of all Libyan tribes.

Conducting such an offensive on Salafi groups across Northern Libya with partners from the Libyan military, Zintan, and Misrata lessens the Islamists’ influence, power, and territory by default. With incremental loss of territory and legitimacy, the Islamists are eventually defeated by the nationalists, who use their partnerships with Misrata and the international coalition to reduce the Islamists’ territory as they engage Salafist threats around Sirte and the Northwestern region of Libya. Facing heavy ground and air attacks on their coastal strongholds, some Libyan Salafist groups shift their bases in order to operate out of Southern Libya – a shadow of their former strongholds in the North – while others integrate with Salafist groups operating in the Sinai. Shifting Islamic State militants from Libyan wilayats to Wilayat Sinai would contribute to a successful intervention in Libya, but would pose a large problem for Egypt (Aboulenein, Reuters, March 2, 2016; Nisman and Horowitz, Reuters, February 16, 2016; Dabiq, issue 13).

Although the international coalition might have preferred to see reconciliation between the two sides, it opposed implementing a forced political resolution, instead allowing the Libyans to determine their political solution (a government supported by the nationalists). The international coalition and its Libyan partners eventually destroy or mitigate the Salafi threats, and the nationalist-supported government takes over as the sole governing authority in Libya – having defeated the Islamists. Once Salafist threats are mitigated or destroyed altogether, there is a risk of a returning rivalry between Zintan and Misrata, as they (and the Libyan military) compete for political and military power in the absence of a common threat. Considering the history of favored tribes holding political influence (see Mitchell, “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War 1,” April 13, 2015), a new government coming to power forces many tribes to vie for political influence, unless equal tribal representation is implemented (see “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War I” and “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War II” for issues stemming from unequal tribal representation in the government).

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.1.4.1.1.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of support for Salafi groups in Libya – particularly once intervention is heavily propagandized. An influx of external support in the form of foreign fighters, resources, and leadership would boost the operational capabilities of Salafi groups in Libya, which could improve their efforts to hinder intervention forces. Furthermore, Salafi groups could foster recruitment from marginalized indigenous groups, which the Islamic State has done around the Sirte area, Tripoli, and Sabratah (United Nations letter from Panel of Experts on Libya, March 9, 2016). Salafi groups could also use the intervention for propaganda purposes, which could boost its external support as well.
  2. The willingness of partnered Libyan groups to stay focused on combatting Salafist threats, rather than pursue alternate agendas. If any of the partnered Libyan groups – Zintan, Misrata, or the military – revert back to their old objectives/agendas rather than fully engaging Salafist factions, the likelihood of this scenario decreases.
  3. The type of intervention strategy put forth by the involved nations. The success of an international intervention to destroy Salafi threats in Libya relies significantly on the type of strategy used. The most likely strategy would be a light-footprint strategy that consists of an aerial campaign, Special Forces, training of indigenous forces, and shared intelligence with reliable Libyan groups. However, the issue with a light-footprint strategy is that it could easily turn into a mission creep operation where primary objectives could continually change, resulting in an unplanned, protracted intervention – particularly considering the dynamics of Libya. This type of strategy was recently proposed by the Pentagon to the White House, which included airstrikes against critical Islamic State targets that would “open the way for Western-backed Libyan militias to battle Islamic State fighters on the ground” (Schmitt, The New York Times, March 8, 2016).
  4. The level of opposition by the international coalition to force a political solution. With the current level of Salafi threats and the likelihood of a failed political solution (which becomes a certainty if a unity government fragments), the international coalition may be less willing to focus on a forced political solution between the nationalists and the Islamists if it means relieving pressure on the Salafists. If the international community is able to recognize the complexity and dynamics at work in Libya, it will realize that more of a forced political solution will be useless in the long-term, and thus is willing to allow the decline of the Islamists as the coalition and its partners combat Salafist threats.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.1.2: The International Intervention Results in Protracted Conflict as Libya’s Civil War Expands

After deploying its forces to Libya, the international coalition quickly begins to encounter additional opposition from Libyan militias and tribes that are vehemently opposed to foreign intervention – particularly once the coalition partners with their rivals, as well as when civilians get killed as a result of intervention strikes. Tribal dynamics, competing interests between factions, and differing views of legitimacy (in regard to intervention) contribute to the expansion of war. Lacking the full support of the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou tribes, the international coalition begins to face increasing challenges that contribute to protracted conflict, particularly in Southern Libya, where the Tuareg and Toubou control territory. Without cooperation from these tribes in Southern Libya, the international coalition struggles to prevent Salafist groups from expanding there, which in turn enables a protracted conflict. Furthermore, Salafist groups use the intervention as propaganda to boost their numbers and capabilities in Libya – all of which contributes to an expanded, and protracted civil war.

This intensified and protracted intervention can lead to one of three potential outcomes: the international force and their partnered groups emerge victorious and transition to peacebuilding, they emerge victorious and fail to transition to peacebuilding (re-escalation of conflict), or, not wanting to get dragged further into a protracted conflict, the international coalition withdraws from Libya and the intervention fails.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.1.4.1.1.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The inability of the international coalition to ease tensions between non-partnered factions. If members of the international coalition are unable to ease tensions with tribes and factions that aren’t militarily partnered with the coalition, the likelihood of this scenario increases. As the number of civilian casualties from coalition airstrikes and ground force operations begin to increase (particularly in the more tribal-dominated areas), so does the likelihood of this scenario.
  2. The level of tribal incentives to support the intervention and its partnered Libyan forces. Having seen the result of a previous international intervention in Libya (2011), and still harboring unresolved political grievances from the post-intervention governments (see “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War 2” and “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War 3”), the minority tribes of the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou may decide to either oppose or remain neutral to supporting the intervention. Furthermore, these tribes may lose all faith that external “assistance” will bring stability to Libya and by extension, its tribes. For example, leaders of the Toubou tribe are examining the potential of an independent Toubou state in Southern Libya – after having experienced the repercussions of Libya’s instability and having lost hope in the international community to help Libyans bring stability back to their country (Hatita, Asharq Al-Awsat, March 14, 2016). However, one, two, or all three minority tribes may also view intervention as an opportunity to gain influence or reward with whichever government comes to power after the intervention – as was the case with the Toubou, who gained expanded control of Southern routes and borders from the National Transitional Council for supporting the revolutionaries in 2011 (see Mitchell, “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War 3,” May 11, 2015). If the minority tribes see that partnering with the international coalition provides more advantage, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  3. The willingness of Libyan tribes and militias opposed to intervention to engage the new coalition and forego any peaceful resolution. As these tribes and militias feel increasingly marginalized (maybe their rivals are partnered with the coalition) and some of their tribe or family members become civilian casualties, their willingness to engage coalition forces and abandon any peaceful resolutions also increases.
  4. The level of exhaustion of tribes and other factions. If the minority tribes or other factions experience high levels of exhaustion from continued war, the likelihood of this scenario decreases.
  5. Indicators 1, 2, 3 for sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.1.1 act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.1.2.1: The International Coalition and Libyan Partners Emerge Victorious after Protracted Conflict, Transition to Peacebuilding

Because of Misrata’s, Zintan’s and progressively other groups’ partnership with the international coalition and major nationalist forces, the destruction of Salafist capabilities, and waning of the Islamists’ influence and territory, the Islamists and Salafi groups are considered defeated. Thus, the international intervention is deemed successful while the Libyan military, as well as Misratan, Zintani and other factions, emerge as the victorious powers. With the nationalists and the Misratans as the primary powers in Libya (after usurping the Islamists), they work with the international coalition to implement a peacebuilding process. The difference between a coalition and nationalist victory here and in 2.1.1.4.1.1.1 is that this victory only takes place after a protracted conflict.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.1.2.2: The International Coalition and Libyan Partners Emerge Victorious, but Fail to Transition to Peacebuilding – Back to Civil War

Because of Misrata’s partnership with the international coalition and major nationalist forces, the destruction of Salafist capabilities, and waning of the Islamists’ influence and territory, the Islamists and Salafi groups are considered defeated. Thus, the international intervention is deemed successful while the Libyan military, as well as Misratan and Zintani factions, emerge as the victorious powers. However, this leads to a renewed power struggle if the international coalition and these Libyan powers fail to implement a peaceful transition plan (see Mitchell, “A Successful Peacebuilding Mission?” September 28, 2015). Furthermore, the failure to implement a strong stabilization phase and peacebuilding plan allows marginalized tribes and factions to re-escalate the conflict.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.1.2.3: The International Intervention Fails, Forces a Withdrawal or Drawback

Facing a drawn-out conflict that would require extensive international forces and other resources, as well as not seeing any possibility for a peaceful solution, or having to deal elsewhere with more pressing matters, the international coalition decides to withdraw its forces, or significantly draws back its forces and externally supports some of the major factions in their fight against Salafi threats. This, in turn, could potentially lead to a unilateral or Arab League intervention if Salafi threats expand, as discussed in earlier scenarios.

In our next post, we shall detail scenarios where the international coalition fails to partner with Libyan groups.

Bibliography

Featured Photo: U.S. joint terminal attack controllers call for an A-10 Thunderbolt II during a close air support training mission by 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Photographers [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

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Ahmed Aboulenein, “In Islamic State battle, Cairo struggles to rally Sinai tribes,” Reuters, March 2, 2016

Daniel Nisman and Michael Horowitz, “New Islamic State franchise threatens Egypt,” Reuters, February 16, 2016

Eric Schmitt, “Pentagon Has Plan to Cripple ISIS in Libya With Air Barrage,” The New York Times, March 8, 2016

Frederic Wehrey and Wolfram Lacher, “The Next Front Against ISIS,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 7, 2016

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