This article is the seventh of our series focusing on scenarios depicting interventions in the Libyan war. In our previous article, we discussed an international intervention that entered the Libyan conflict in favor of the nationalists, but partnered with several powerful Libyan factions. Though the coalition prefers as many Libyan partners as possible, they focus more on the powerful groups, such as Zintan, Misrata, and the Libyan military. At this stage of our scenario, the international coalition encounters difficulties in partnering with Libyan factions and faces the potential of partnered groups breaking away.

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 Salafist will remain the label of choice for groups that reject democratic institutions and embrace jihadism.

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Sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2 The International Coalition Encounters Difficulties in Partnering with Libyan Factions

Although most Libyan factions have a common enemy – notably the Islamic State – the international coalition begins to encounter difficulties in partnering with them. The Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou, as well as a few militias from Zintan and Misrata, oppose partnering with foreign forces as they consider foreign intervention an illegitimate action. Misratan militias are distrustful of partnering with forces that are loyal to General Haftar, which contributes to the complications of an integrated partnership. Military leadership under General Haftar expresses distrust of Misratan factions, as Misrata supported the General National Congress and sided with the Islamists. Sentiment of the Zintan-Misrata rivalry (see Mitchell, “Nationalist Forces II,” December 1, 2014) also impairs the ability of their armed groups to truly partner over time together with the international coalition. Furthermore, some factions partner with the coalition solely because their rival agreed to partner with the West, while others take the opposite side of their rivals, which automatically weakens the foundation that the coalition attempts to build for its intervention. In attempting to build a foundation of competent Libyan partners that will rally against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in coordination with international forces, the coalition seriously underestimates the importance of tribal allegiances, personal interests, and rivalries in Libya that present serious reliability issues before a foundation can even be attempted. Unmet expectations and needs of Libyan factions also contribute to partnership difficulties. Expectations and needs include money for their fighters, weapons and munitions, and their leaders being included in the decision-making process of military operations. By not treating Libyan partners with respect or not giving them a sense of legitimacy, the coalition significantly weakens the overall cohesiveness of intervention.

Map of Libyan positions by Thomas van Linge

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. 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 and tribes – even some 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).
  2. The level of pressure on international actors to not arm or work alongside an array of Libyan militias, considering failures in Syria. If Western governments come under intense pressure to not arm or train Libyan militias, the likelihood of this scenario increases. Considering the cost of the U.S.-Syrian rebel program and the inability of the U.S. to control its own Syrian partner forces (RT, November 6, 2015; Bulos, Hennigan, and Bennett, Chicago Tribune, March 26, 2016), Western governments may quickly be pressured into abandoning a partner strategy and opting for an airstrike campaign instead.
  3. The willingness of Islamist or Misratan groups to partner with nationalist groups that are loyal to General Haftar. Considering their hatred of General Haftar (see Mitchell, “Islamist and Misrata Forces I,” January 5, 2015), Islamist and Misratan groups might not be willing to partner with a coalition that includes the military under Haftar’s command – even if the intervention objective is focused on Salafist threats. It is highly likely that the opposition to partnering with Haftar’s forces and the coalition could only be overcome by exhaustion resulting from years of civil war. Thus, the longer the fighting continues, the more likely the Islamists and Misratans might be willing to partner with Haftar’s nationalists.
  4. The level of remaining sentiment stemming from the Zintan-Misrata rivalry. 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 MorajeaThe Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2015). However, smaller militias from both sides may still harbor animosity toward one another. If a majority of the militias from both Misrata and Zintan are enlisted into an intervention coalition, the likelihood of this scenario decreases. The key is to offer a non-partisan partnership that is focused on destroying their common enemy (Salafist groups).
  5. The legitimacy of a faction’s reason to partner with the international coalition. A group’s reason to partner with the coalition is more legitimate if they partner under the unifying goal of destroying Salafist threats. However, the reason for partnering loses legitimacy (and thus, the partnership foundation is already weakened) if groups partner simply because their rival partnered, or if they are doing the opposite of their rival. The partnering of international ground forces with particular armed groups in Libya could be seen as a sign of partisanship by other militias, and thus cause them to oppose any partnership (Wehrey and Lacher, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 7, 2016).
  6. The ability to meet expectations and needs of Libyan partners. The coalition will need to meet some expectations or needs of Libyan groups if they are to partner for the intervention. Of practical importance, Libyan militias will need funding to pay their fighters, as many Libyan militias lack sufficient cash (Stewart, CBC News, April 10, 2016). More importantly, the coalition will need to treat Libyan partners with respect and include their leadership in the decision-making process. If it fails to do so, Libyan partners may quickly separate from the coalition, citing their treatment as less-legitimate partners by the coalition.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2.1 The Coalition Intervenes with Limited Libyan Ground Partners and Maintains Enough Cohesiveness to Destroy Salafist Threats

Despite the many difficulties of forming a cohesive ground force, the international coalition manages to cobble together a patchwork of Zintani and Misratan factions that can work alongside the military – although not all militias from Zintan and Misrata are willing to partner. Furthermore, the Amazigh, Tuareg and Toubou tribes either remain neutral or oppose the idea of foreign forces in Libya, and thus do not partner. The coalition deploys Special Forces and training advisors on the ground to work alongside and help train the limited number of Libyan ground partners. With Special Forces and air power from contributing countries, as well as Libyan ground partners, the coalition engages Salafist strongholds. By integrating its ground forces with each Libyan partner, the coalition contributes to see its Libyan partners staying focused on the single uniting goal of destroying Salafist threats, such as the Islamic State. By constantly encouraging each Libyan partner’s focus on this uniting effort and beginning to achieve some success against Salafist militants, the coalition is able to maintain just enough cohesiveness to mitigate and subsequently destroy the main Salafist strongholds.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The willingness of Libyan factions to partner with the coalition despite some of their militias opposing the partnership. In the Dawn of Libya coalition, as well as within Misrata itself, there tend to be some hardline militias that do not agree with what the rest of the faction is pursuing (Mezran, Atlantic Council, August 12, 2015; Libya Herald, June 18, 2015). If the main Libyan factions are still willing to partner with the coalition despite some hardliners in their group, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  2. The efficiency of the air and ground strategies to destroy Salafist strongholds. The success against Salafist strongholds relies on the efficiency of the air and ground strategies, as well as the ability of Libyan forces to carry out the ground campaign. If the strategies rely too heavily on the ability of the Libyan militias to move tactically and quickly, the likelihood of this scenario decreases. However, if the air and ground strategies are well balanced and efficient, the likelihood increases.
  3. The ability of coalition ground forces to efficiently integrate with their Libyan partners. If coalition Special Forces and tactical air controllers are able to properly integrate with their Libyan partner groups – particularly militia groups – the likelihood of this scenario increases. By having limited numbers of coalition ground forces operating alongside each partner group, the coalition is better able to encourage its indigenous partners to keep focused on destroying Salafist strongholds.
  4. Indicator 1 of scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2 also acts here in a similar way.
  5. Indicators 1 and 2 of scenario 2.1.1.4.1.1.1 also act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2.2 The Coalition Intervenes with Limited Libyan Ground Partners, but Quickly Fractures

Similar to the scenario above, the coalition manages to form a patchwork of various Zintani and Misratan factions that will partner with the Libyan military in support of the overall international intervention. The coalition forces and its Libyan partners begin to target and engage Salafist strongholds, but the Libyan partnered factions quickly begin to lose cohesiveness as rivalries, tribal allegiances, and exclusion from the decision-making process (regarding coalition strategy) quickly overcome the uniting goal of destroying the Salafist threats. Militias from Zintan and Misrata begin to revert to their rivalry while in close proximity to each other, and the Misratans begin to re-focus on their hatred of General Haftar while his military forces fight alongside them. With rivalries coming to the forefront during the campaign to destroy Salafist strongholds, the Libyan partnership quickly fractures and the ground offensives largely fail.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The Libyan partners’ inability to restrain their rivalries and tribal allegiances. By working in very close proximity to each other, some of the Libyan groups will likely be unable to restrain their rivalries with other groups. Furthermore, if groups with rival tribal allegiances are in close proximity, they may turn on each other rather than stay focused on targeting Salafist threats. The likelihood of this scenario increases if the Libyans are not able to keep their rivalries and allegiances in check.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2.2.1 The Coalition Withdraws, Back to Civil War

Facing a complete failure in partnering with strategic Libyan factions and not wanting to exacerbate civil war, the coalition withdraws its intervention forces. The Libyan factions then return to civil war.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2.2.2 The International Coalition Abandons an Integrated Partnering Strategy, Pursues an Airstrike Campaign Strategy

Norwegian F-16s during Operation Odyssey Dawn

Facing legitimacy, reliability, and internal conflict issues in partnering with groups from rival sides of the civil war, the international coalition abandons this integrated partnering option with Libyan factions. Instead, the international coalition only coordinates with the military and begins to formulate an airstrike campaign strategy that focuses on Salafist threats. The coalition sends some advisors to help train the military, but overall avoids the use of ground forces from the contributing countries. Not wanting to get bogged down in another civil war by contributing ground forces and training Libyan groups, the international coalition eagerly contributes to an airstrike campaign strategy that will pummel Salafist capabilities from the air while the Libyan military prepares to launch a ground offensive on the strongholds.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2.2.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of support for Salafist 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 Salafist groups in Libya, which could improve their efforts to hinder intervention forces. Furthermore, Salafist 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). Salafist groups could also use the intervention for propaganda purposes, which could boost its external support as well.
  2. Indicators 1 and 2 of scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2 also act here in a similar way.
  3. Indicators 3, 5, 6, 7 of scenario 2.1.1.4 also act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2.2.2.1 Coalition Airstrikes put Pressure on the Salafists, Enables Nationalists to Defeat the Islamists

After coordinating an airstrike campaign strategy with contributing nations and the nationalist forces, the coalition begins to target strategic Salafist positions in Northern Libya. With the coalition airstrikes putting significant pressure on Salafist fighters and capabilities – notably against Islamic State targets in Sirte and al-Qaeda trafficking routes in Southern Libya – the nationalists shift more forces to Western Libya. By bulking up its forces in the West, the nationalists are able to degrade the Islamists’ fighting capabilities and eventually defeat them both militarily and politically. With the Islamists no longer posing a political or military threat to nationalist forces, the nationalists take over and institute a central governing authority. Future Islamist movements are repressed as the new nationalist government attempts to stabilize Libya and eliminate any remaining Salafist groups. Recognizing the importance of the minority tribes in the stabilization process, the new government attempts to better include the Toubou, Tuareg and Amazigh – regardless of who they supported during the civil war.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2.2.2.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The ability of the coalition to keep constant pressure on Salafist groups and impair their operational capabilities. The efficiency of the coalition to keep constant pressure on Salafist groups depends heavily on the number of aircraft and support personnel, availability of precision-guided munitions, and intelligence on Salafist targets. If coalition forces lack any of these critical elements, the likelihood of this scenario decreases. Past indications occurred when NATO partners ran low on precision-guided munitions only three weeks into Operations Odyssey Dawn/Unified Protector, and when Operation Inherent Resolve coalition forces borrowed from the United States munitions stockpiles to keep their missions going (Cenciotti, The Aviationist, April 17, 2011; Pawlyk, Air Force Times, March 28, 2016). The U.S. Department of Defense also announced that the number of its precision-guided munitions is at a low point and will need to be replenished in 2017 (Pawlyk, Air Force Times, March 28, 2016).
  2. The strategic focus of nationalist forces. The strategic focus of the nationalist forces significantly affects the likelihood of this scenario. If nationalist forces are focused on defeating the Salafists first, the likelihood decreases. However, if they revert to defeating the Islamists once coalition airstrikes put significant pressure on Salafist groups, the likelihood increases.
  3. The level of support for Salafist 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 Salafist groups in Libya, which could improve their efforts to hinder intervention forces. Furthermore, Salafist 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). Salafist groups could also use the intervention for propaganda purposes, which could boost its external support as well.
  4. The willingness of the new government to better include the minority tribes in the political process. The new government must recognize the importance of the minority tribes in the stabilization and rebuilding processes (see Tribal Dynamics and Civil War I, II, and III), as well as be willing to politically include any minority tribe that opposed them during the civil war. The Southern Libyan borders are crucial to stabilization and peacebuilding, and thus the Tuareg and Toubou must be considered vital partners for the new government. If the new government is willing to better include the minority tribes in the political process, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  5. The level of exclusion on the Islamists from participating in the nationalist-formed government. If the nationalists attempt to exclude the Islamists from political participation in the new government the same way that Libyan groups wanted to keep Qaddafi-supporters out of the post-2011 intervention governments (Shennib and Donati, Reuters, May 5, 2013), the likelihood of this scenario increases. The exclusion of Islamists from the political process will likely impact the peacebuilding phase, as Islamists will protest for political inclusion.
  6. The willingness of Islamist and Salafi-nationalist groups to coordinate their efforts against the nationalists. Some of the Islamists currently have ties to the hardliner Islamist groups in Eastern Libya (some of the coalitions include Salafi-nationalists), and have loosely allied with them to oppose Haftar’s Operation Dignity (Amer, The Washington Institute, December 18, 2015; Mitchell, “Islamist Forces II,” January 26, 2015; Libya Channel, December 31, 2015). By allying with coalitions of mixed Islamists and Salafi-nationalists, the more moderate Islamists have already shown their willingness to unite with extremist groups against a common enemy. Recently, the Derna Mujahidine Shura Council – a Salafi-nationalist group (see Mitchell, “Islamist Forces II”) – announced its support for “any government” where “(Islamic) Sharia Law is the only source of any legislation, and anything in the form of legislation, laws or rules that contravenes sharia is rejected” (Libya Herald, December 24, 2015). The willingness on both sides to ally and coordinate against a common enemy, as well as the Salafi-nationalist’s support of a Sharia-based government increases the likelihood of this scenario.

Sub-scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2.2.2.2 Coalition Airstrikes Exacerbate Civil War

Although the coalition’s impressive airstrike campaign helps to degrade the Salafists’ capabilities, it exacerbates civil war as the Libyan factions begin to view the Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates as the Western intervention’s problem – thus allowing the remaining Libyan factions to reinforce their own forces in fighting each other for power. By forcing significant pressure on Salafist strongholds from the air, the coalition inadvertently reduces the one unifying goal that brings differing Libyan factions together in facing the larger threat.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2.2.2.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. Libyans’ perception of the intervention. As the coalition’s airstrike campaign begins to destroy Salafist capabilities and break down their strongholds, there is the possibility of Libyans perceiving the Salafist threats as the West’s problem. Knowing that the intervening countries need to target Salafist threats for their own countries’ security, Libyan factions see the intervention as an opportunity to let the coalition deal with the Salafists as the rival Libyan factions launch new offensives against each other.
  2. Indicator 1 of scenario 2.1.1.4.1.2.2.2.1 also acts here in a similar way.

Bibliography

Featured Photo: Libyan rebels during the 2011 revolution by FreakFrame [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via Flickr

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“Derna Mujahidine Shura Council will support “any” Islamic Sharia government,” Libya Herald, December 24, 2015

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

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