This article is the second of our series focusing on scenarios depicting the range of spillover that could stem from the Libyan war. In our previous article, we detailed two scenarios of spillover that initiate a renewed war encompassing more than just Libya. We discussed a case of spillover in one direction – where Europe is drawn into this renewed war, as well as spillover in two directions, where Algeria and Niger are also drawn into the war. In this article, we shall conclude the spillover scenarios with a contagion taking place in all directions (west towards Algeria, south towards Niger, east towards Egypt, and north towards Europe).

It is important to note our choices for spillover sub-scenarios. There are many combinations that could occur under spillover conditions, but we have chosen three examples that maybe considered as ideal-types with particular country cases for the sake of brevity: spillover in only one direction (north towards Europe), spillover in two directions (Algeria/Niger), and spillover in all directions (Algeria/Niger/Egypt/Europe). Spillover in all directions, of course, is not limited to just Algeria, Niger, Egypt, and Europe – it can also include Tunisia and Chad. For the sake of brevity, we chose one country in each direction for this scenario. Furthermore, the intensity of and response to spillover plays a key role in these sub-scenarios. The renewed war – now encompassing new actors outside of Libya – is altered significantly as intensity and response levels rise. However, we shall only briefly outline these scenarios, as they are fundamentally new conflicts and would require new scenarios to fully understand their depth.

Migrant/Refugee: For the purposes of the spillover scenarios, we have chosen to use the BBC’s use of the term migrant, which refers to people migrating to other countries that have not yet received asylum (BBC News, March 4, 2016). However, we use the term refugee when referring to Libyans fleeing the discussed conflict.

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 2.2.3 Conflict Spills Over in All Directions (Algeria, Niger, Egypt, and Europe)

Smuggling operations crossing the Libyan-Algerian border expand as conflict continue to rage. Islamist militants also utilize the smuggling routes to infiltrate Libya from Algeria and join Salafist groups there. As Algeria increases the security of its border region with Libya, Islamist militants turn to join extremist groups already operating in Algeria, while spreading to other now easier routes, both north, using the sea and boats and south to Niger. Furthermore, conflict between the Toubou and Tuareg tribes over the lucrative smuggling routes causes their kinsmen from Algeria, Niger, and Chad to cross into Libya, while Salafists move even more freely to and from Libya – thus turning the Southern Libya conflict into a regional conflict between tribal forces. See Mitchell, “Libyan War Spills Over to Europe, Algeria, and Niger – Sc 2.2 (1) – Scenarios for the Future of Libya” for a more detailed spillover scenario in Algeria that has already been discussed.

Niger begins to experience spillover from the Libyan conflict as Toubou and Tuareg cross from Niger into Southern Libya. The severity of tribal conflict in Southern Libya determines whether or not conflict breaks out between the Tuareg and Toubou within Niger’s borders. Facing significant pressure in Libya, as well as the threat of international intervention, jihadists begin relocating their operations to Niger. Considering Niger’s instability and already existing threat of Boko Haram, which leads wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyyiah for the Islamic State (see Lavoix, “At War Against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War,” updated June 20, 2016) and operated initially essentially in southern Niger – notably in Diffa and Bosso (see June attacks – UN News Centre, June 6, 2016; Donovan, UNHCR, June 7, 2016), the increase of jihadists arriving from Libya prompts a serious military response and increased operations near the Niger-Libyan border. See Mitchell, “Libyan War Spills Over to Europe, Algeria, and Niger – Sc 2.2 (1) – Scenarios for the Future of Libya” for a more detailed spillover scenario in Niger that has already been discussed. Nonetheless, the Salafist fighters coming from Libya and those controlling the South increasingly connect.

Posted on the Official Page for the Military Spokesman of the Armed Forces Facebook page, 30 May 2016

Meanwhile, considering the presence of Islamic State groups already in the Sinai, the spillover from Libya causes greater instability throughout Egypt. Smugglers utilize routes through the Libyan-Egyptian border to covertly transfer drugs, migrants, militants and weapons – all of which undermine Egypt’s stability. The porous border between the two countries allows Salafist groups to move fighters and weapons between strongholds in Libya and the Sinai. General Haftar increasingly uses Egypt’s assistance to train his forces and to receive weapons. As a result, Islamic State militants target remaining Egyptian migrant workers in Libya. Meanwhile, their Salafist brothers in the Sinai begin to increasingly attack Egyptian targets in retaliation for Egypt’s assistance to Haftar’s forces. Wanting to expand their operations and keep pressure on rivals, al-Qaeda affiliates in Libya escalate their attacks on Haftar’s forces in the east, as well as Egyptian forces along the border. Attacks by Salafist groups forces Egypt to militarily strike back in Libya in a series of operations – effectively opening up a second front in its fight against terrorism (Libya to the west, and the Sinai to the east). The target proves however elusive as it now moves increasingly easily also to the south. To retain Egypt’s support, Haftar’s forces exert additional pressure on Salafist groups as punishment. As the nationalists put intense pressure on these Salafist groups, militants are smuggled into the Sinai region to bulk up their group’s capabilities against Cairo. Wilayat Sinai makes a general call to their global supporters to join their war in Egypt, with tremendous impact on an already dwindling tourism.

If Egypt successfully closes its border and prevents weapons and militants from infiltrating, there is the risk that Salafist groups already in Egypt will launch increased attacks against border security targets in order to disrupt their efforts. However, if Egypt is unsuccessful in closing the border, Salafist groups in Libya and the Sinai will be able to reinforce each other with fighters and weapons – depending on the need in each country. Regardless of success or failure to close the border, spillover from the Libyan conflict permeates Egypt, which increases its instability and draws Egypt into the renewed war.

The migrant flow from Libya into Europe increases as Libyan actors forsake some state functions – such as border security – in order to bolster their frontline forces. Salafist groups utilize the migrant flows to smuggle jihadists into Europe to carry out attacks. These jihadist cells originating in Libya begin targeting European populations as an alternative to fighting mounting pressure in Libya. Two new routes to Europe are now opened, one from Algeria and one from Egypt, taxing European capabilities to deal with the rising threat. Furthermore, the deployment of European advisers and Special Forces in support of Libyan actors against Salafist threats also results in jihadists attacking European targets. If Europe is unsuccessful in stopping the migrant flow, it continues to experience terrorist attacks emanating from Libya. If successful, Europe changes the conflict in Libya. With less opportunity to infiltrate European countries, jihadists begin to increasingly target the government and military officials of the other Libyan actors. This, in turn, forces the Islamists and nationalists to focus more on the Salafist groups. With the migrant flow stopped, the refugees and migrants stuck in Libya cause further instability in the coastal regions, join armed groups as an alternative, or head to neighboring countries – all of which affect spillover and the war in Libya. See Mitchell, “Libyan War Spills Over to Europe, Algeria, and Niger – Sc 2.2 (1) – Scenarios for the Future of Libya” for a more detailed spillover scenario in Europe that has already been discussed.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.2.3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The ability of militants to use smuggling routes to infiltrate Egypt. The likelihood of this scenario increases if militants are able to infiltrate Egypt through smuggling routes. With civil war in Libya to the west and Egypt dealing with a Sinai problem to the east, militants are more easily able to utilize established drug, migrant, and weapons trafficking routes to infiltrate Egypt (AhramOnline, October 2, 2015).
  2. The ability of Egypt to effectively patrol its border. With Libya not able to secure its side of the border, the responsibility falls to Egypt to secure the entire border. Already having to deal with jihadists in the Sinai, Egypt will likely not be able to secure the entire Libyan-Egyptian border, which allows smuggling rings to profit by moving drugs, weapons, migrants, and militants to and from Libya. A previous indication of Egypt’s attempt to secure the border occurred when it increased its ground and air presence on the border, as well as reached an agreement with the U.S. in 2015 on a “Border Security Mobile Surveillance Sensor Security System” along the Egyptian-Libyan border (Nkala, DefenseNews, July 26, 2015; Muhlberger, AhramOnline, January 27, 2016).
  3. The stability of Egypt. Egypt’s internal stability determines how much it will be affected by spillover from Libya. The level of economic and political stability, as well as terrorism in the Sinai region, all affect Egypt’s overall stability. Past indications affecting its stability occurred when Egypt’s economy faced currency depreciation and a decrease in tourism and investment (Karuri, Africa News, July 4, 2016); as well jihadist groups continuing an insurgency from the Sinai region (STRATFOR, June 29, 2016).
  4. The level of pressure on Salafist groups to migrate operations towards Egypt. If the Islamists, Misratans, and nationalists put enough pressure on Salafist groups to the point of destroying them completely, the jihadists will likely be more willing to shift their operations to Egypt, which increases the likelihood of this spillover scenario. Geographically, the Salafist hotbed of Derna is very close to the Egyptian border and will most likely be the origin of jihadists fleeing into Egypt if this indication occurs.
  5. The willingness of Egypt to support Haftar and his forces. Egypt’s level of willingness to support Haftar and provide military assistance to his forces will play a role in the Salafists’ level of retaliation. The likelihood of this scenario increases the more Egypt directly supports Haftar. Past indications occurred when Egyptian President El-Sisi called on international support for General Haftar and his National Army (Middle East Monitor, March 18, 2016); when Egypt armed Haftar and the Libyan National Army (Dettmer, Voice of America, May 17, 2016; Toaldo and Fitzgerald, European Council on Foreign Relations, June 15, 2016); and when Egypt offered military training and intelligence assistance in 2014 to the forces under the Tobruk government – which included Haftar and his forces (Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures: State of Play – Nationalist Forces (2),” December 1, 2014).
  6. The Salafists’ level of retaliation towards Egypt. The level of Salafists’ retaliation towards Egypt is rooted in Egypt’s assistance for the hated General Haftar. The more Egypt supports Haftar’s forces, the higher the level of retaliation. In Libya, Salafists will likely target Egyptian migrants or Egyptian security personnel on the border. Salafist groups operating in the Sinai will likely carry out attacks within Egypt as retaliation for events in Libya.
  7. The willingness of al-Qaeda to intensify its presence in Libya and Egypt. If al-Qaeda begins to lose influence as a result of pressure from other Libyan actors, it may try to intensify its presence in Libya. Furthermore, if instability continues to increase in Egypt, and if Islamic State groups in the Sinai are seeing greater success, al-Qaeda may attempt to increase its presence their as well. In either case, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  8. Indicators 1-8 of sub-scenario 2.2.1 also act here in a similar way.
  9. Indicators 1-10 of sub-scenario 2.2.2 also act here in a similar way.


Featured Photo: Still from “New ISIS Video Shows Recruits Training in Sinai Peninsula, Egypt,” April 4, 2016

“Assessing the Jihadist Threat in Egypt: The Sinai Peninsula,” STRATFOR, June 29, 2016

“Attacks by Boko Haram continue in Niger’s Diffa region, forcing more people to flee – UN,” UN News Centre, June 6, 2016

“Egypt’s army sometimes operates beyond border to ‘chase smuggler’: Libyan FM,” Ahram Online, October 2, 2015

Helene Lavoix, “At War Against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War,” The Red Team Analysis Society, November 23, 2015

Jamie Dettmer, “Will Arming Libya’s ‘Unity’ Government Escalate Conflict?” Voice of America, May 17, 2016

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures: State of Play – Nationalist Forces (2),” The Red Team Analysis Society, December 1, 2014

Ken Karuri, “Egyptian pound facing another devaluation as dollar shortage persists,” Africa News, July 4, 2016

Louise Donovan, “Thousands flee Boko Haram attack on Niger town,” UNHCR, June 7, 2016

Mattia Toaldo and Mary Fitzgerald, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, June 15, 2016

“Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts,” BBC News, March 4, 2016

Oscar Nkala, “Tunisia, Egypt Boost Libyan Border Security,” DefenseNews, July 26, 2015

“Sisi calls for support for Libya’s Haftar,” Middle East Monitor, March 18, 2016

Wolfgang Muhlberger, “A Thorny Dossier: Egypt’s Libya Policy,” Ahram Online, January 27, 2016