In this article, we shall assess the likelihood of a total victory in Libya in the medium term by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. By victory, we mean a complete victory by one side over its adversaries, which is not imposed from the top down by external powers. In the previous article, we evaluated the likelihood for the lasting victory of each government, finding that a COR victory was least unlikely.

Now that intervention is already occurring, as we saw in our article on intervention scenarios, the “Salafist Victory” scenarios are considered sub-scenarios of Scenario 2: Intervention instead of independent scenarios. As such, this will be reflected in the indicators, mapping and likelihoods. Indeed, as events unfolded and intervention took place, scenarios 4, which were about “a total Salafist victory” without intervention, have now become impossible (likelihood = 0).

Scenario, Libya, Libyan scenarios, indicator, warning, war, geopolitical uncertainty, Islamic State, Al Qaeda, likelihood
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A few of the dynamics included in the indicators below would benefit, in the framework of commissioned scenarios, from a more in-depth look that would affect the likelihood. For the purposes of this article, we made less detailed assessments to obtain initial estimates.

Note: In the following article, we shall use the acronym COR for the Council of Representatives (nationalists), GNC for the General National Congress (Islamists), and GNA for the UN-backed Government of National Accord (unity government).

Evaluating the Indicators

*The likelihood of each indicator below is based on the current reality on the ground, which may warrant a change of likelihood as we progress through each scenario in the forthcoming articles, as happened here regarding intervention.

The following scenarios and their indicators will show how we determined the numerical likelihoods based on current realities. We use the following table for our likelihood levels:

Scenario, indicator, warning, war, geopolitical uncertainty, likelihood

Note: In March of this year, GNA Defence Minister Mahdi Barghathi announced they have evidence of cooperation between Islamic State and al-Qaeda forces in Libya. “Al-Qaida is providing logistics and support to help ISIL re-group and launch attacks,” he said (Nathan, The Telegraph, March 1, 2017). It is important to note that such cooperation could potentially increase the likelihood of a Salafist victory. In that case, new further scenarios could be built, considering notably the global evolution of the Islamic State which could, how improbable it may seem right now, lead to a changed worldwide type of relationship between the two jihadist entities. Alternatively, a temporary collaboration leading to a jihadist victory could be followed by infighting between the two jihadist actors, which would then allow possibly other groups to strengthen again, leading to renewed civil war.

Scenario: An al-Qaeda Victory (<1%)

1. Would less focus from external actors allow al-Qaeda to operate unimpeded? 37.5% (Improbable). Based on the combined likelihoods of indicators 1A and 1B, this indicator has an overall likelihood of 37.5%.

1A. Are conflicts or threats elsewhere reducing Libya to a secondary interest for external actors? 50% (Improbable). The United States is currently providing support for the offensives to liberate Raqqa and Mosul (Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve Facebook, June 24, 2017; Snow, Military Times, June 9, 2017), and the Pentagon is increasing troop levels in Afghanistan to deal with threats (Baldor and Burns, Military Times, June 15, 2017). Meanwhile, tensions with North Korea are also preoccupying the Trump administration (CNBC, May 26, 2017; Mason and Rampton, Reuters, July 7, 2017). Furthermore, President Trump expressed his disinterest in getting involved in Libya, except for providing support to counter the Islamic State (Thrush, The New York Times, April 20, 2017). Russia, on the other hand, is still focused on Syria (Vasilyeva, Military Times, June 24, 2017), but is increasingly turning its attention to Libya as well, including increasing its diplomatic ties (News Ghana, June 13, 2017; Kozhanov, Chatham House, May 30, 2017). Meanwhile, the European Union and European states are dealing with terrorist attacks (Fattah and Nasseri, Bloomberg, June 19, 2017), but have focused more on Libya because of the Manchester bomber’s ties to the Islamic State in Libya (Callimachi, The Boston Globe, June 3, 2017). The ongoing refugee crisis also implies that Libya remains high on the agenda (Mulholland, The Telegraph, July 2, 2017). The Qatar situation may be at the forefront for many regional actors (Beaumont, The Guardian, July 7, 2017; Bayoumy, Reuters, June 23, 2017), although Qatar still has ties to Libya (Cafiero and Karasik, LobeLog, June 20, 2017), and Egypt has also launched airstrikes into Libya following an ISIS attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt’s Minya region (Magdy, Al-Monitor, June 1, 2017). Considering these varied focuses, we gave this indicator a 50% likelihood. It’s also important to note the potential future impact of external actors’ efforts throughout the rest of North Africa—notably the newly formed G5 Sahel force (Diallo, Reuters, July 2, 2017)—which are focused on countering jihadist threats outside Libya, but nonetheless could affect Libya’s civil war and the likelihood of this indicator.

1B. Are intervening actors more focused on targeting the Islamic State or one of the government coalitions rather than Al-Qaeda? 75% (Highly Likely). The U.S. role in Libya is currently limiting itself to countering Islamic State threats (Thrush, The New York Times, April 20, 2017), while the remaining intervening actors—Egypt, UAE, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy—are providing measures of support to the GNA or COR as they combat each other’s armed groups (see our post “Scenario 2 Intervention”). The intervening actor overtly targeting al-Qaeda-affiliated groups is Egypt, which launched a series of airstrikes against the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (Eye on ISIS in Libya, June 6, 2017). As a result, we gave this indicator a 75% likelihood.

2. Is al-Qaeda in Libya facing minimal fragmentation? 40% (Improbable). Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi was one of the better-known al-Qaeda affiliates in Libya—that is until it announced its disbanding in May 2017 (Counter Extremism Project; BBC News, May 28, 2017). Some Ansar al-Sharia fighters reportedly defected to the Islamic State after their group’s dissolution was announced (Counter Terrorism Committee, the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, and the Libya Sanctions Committee, June 27, 2017). As noted by Jihadology.net, Ansar al-Sharia’s dissolution could also “undermine the ideological convictions” of al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council (BRSC) (Jihadology, May 31, 2017). Despite the years-long siege of Derna by Haftar’s forces, the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC) has not shown overt signs of fragmentation. Considering the defection of some al-Qaeda fighters to the Islamic State and the potential to cause further fragmentation in the BRSC, but also the lack of fragmentation with the DMSC, we gave this indicator a 40% likelihood.

Scenario, Libya, Libyan scenarios, indicator, warning, war, geopolitical uncertainty, Islamic State, Al Qaeda, likelihood
Derna Mujahideen Shura Council checkpoint

Note: In May 2016, the DMSC claimed it had no ties to al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood (Ibrahim, The Libya Observer, May 31, 2016). More recently, the DMSC announced their full support for Libya’s Grand Mufti, Sadek Al-Ghariani (Eye on ISIS in Libya, April 4, 2017). However, several senior DMSC leaders have strong ties to al-Qaeda, and one of the coalition’s main militias—the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade—appears to be linked to al-Qaeda as well (Joscelyn, The Long War Journal, June 12, 2015). Furthermore, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has released statements in support of the DMSC, as well as the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (Joscelyn, The Long War Journal, July 9, 2015). Considering these realities—notably laid out by Thomas Joscelyn (Long War Journal)—we refer to the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council in this article as a jihadist entity with ties to al-Qaeda.

3. Is al-Qaeda in Libya expanding their territory and influence? 40% (Improbable). Ansar al-Sharia’s dissolution, the loss of jihadists’ control in Benghazi (BBC News, July 6, 2017), and Haftar’s siege of Derna (preventing al-Qaeda affiliates there from expanding) (Dahan, Middle East Eye, May 29, 2017) greatly impacted the likelihood of this indicator, although al-Qaeda’s influence in southern Libya should not be overlooked. According to the Joint Open Briefing of the Counter Terrorism Committee, the ISIS and al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee, and the Libya Sanctions Committee, al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the south have “established ties with nomadic and marginalized communities and local armed groups”—of which their merging in March 2017 could very well have solidified their presence in the area and expanded their influence (Counter Terrorism Committee, the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, and the Libya Sanctions Committee, June 27, 2017). As a result, we gave this indicator a 40% likelihood.

4. Are Libyan or foreign jihadists continuing to join Al-Qaida’s ranks? 20% (Improbable). The Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council was able to easily recruit fighters from Misrata until January 2017—a reliable recruitment flow until the Misrata Municipal Council announced an order to cut off military support for the BRSC. Without this reliable source of fighters, the BRSC turned to tribes (Panel of Experts on Libya, UN Security Council, June 1, 2017). However, the success of recruiting from these alternative sources likely had very limited success. In a video released on April 29, 2017, the leader of the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council “laments the lack of support received by jihadists from many Libyan cities” (Jihadology, May 2, 2017). Meanwhile, Derna has been under a tight siege for more than a year (Dahan, Middle East Eye, May 29, 2017), meaning al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Derna likely have greater difficulty garnering recruits from outside the city. In April, a DMSC statement said, “The war is on despite the lack of support that we have” (Assad, The Libya Observer, April 2, 2017). However, we are unsure of the siege’s effect on recruiting within Derna—of which some of the civilian population may join the al-Qaeda affiliates’ ranks in response. Considering these realities, we gave this indicator a 20% likelihood. As we mentioned in indicator 1A, external actors’ operations against jihadist actors in the Sahel could very well impact the ranks of Libya’s al-Qaeda affiliates (whether bolstering or detracting from their flow of fighters)—and thus would affect this indicator’s likelihood.

Scenario, Libya, Libyan scenarios, indicator, warning, war, geopolitical uncertainty, Islamic State, Al Qaeda, likelihood5. Are the COR, GNC, and GNA losing political and military cohesion? 19% (Highly Unlikely). The COR and GNA continue to lose political and military cohesion as the weeks go by. Former members of the GNC, and most recently the GNA, formed the Southern Political Bloc to focus on the needs of southern Libya. Naji Mukhtar—head of the new bloc—noted the “weak performance” of the GNA as the reason for forming the political body (Assad, The Libya Observer, June 20, 2017). Meanwhile, Amazigh military officers are reportedly creating an Amazigh military council in response to “the policy of exclusion and marginalization practiced by the Presidential Council and its government towards the Amazigh in Libya” (Ibrahim, The Libya Observer, June 22, 2017). Furthermore, several Amazigh municipal councils are threatening to withdraw their support of the GNA (Alharathy, The Libya Observer, June 30, 2017). Idriss Boufayed, a member of the GNA’s High Council of State, recently called for the council’s president Abdul Rahman Swehli to step down—whereby the first deputy would act as interim president until a new election. Boufayed cited Swehli’s “great failure in the performance of his duties” as the justification for resignation (Najjair, The Libya Observer, June 22, 2017). Within the COR, several boycotting members are threatening to use legal procedures to force COR Speaker Aqilah Saleh to “reform the internal work codes,” which Saleh supposedly violated (Assad, The Libya Observer, May 30, 2017). According to sources speaking with The Libya Observer, Operation Dignity hardliners within the COR are attempting to “topple Aqailah Saleh in order to cancel the position of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces because it overlaps with Khalifa Haftar’s title ‘the Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan Army’” (Ibrahim, The Libya Observer, May 26, 2017) Furthermore, the Awaqir tribe appears to now be at odds with Haftar’s Operation Dignity over allegations that Dignity forces allowed ISIS fighters to escape Benghazi (Ibid). Lastly, the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Libya reported that the Toubou tribe is “increasingly divided” over Haftar’s lack of support (Panel of Experts on Libya, UN Security Council, June 1, 2017). Considering these realities, we gave this indicator a 95% likelihood. Note: the 19% likelihood is the combined likelihoods of 5 and 5A, since indicator 5 is also dependent on indicator 5A.

5A. Are al-Qaeda’s intentions, capabilities, strategy and tactics in Libya effective enough to degrade the willpower and resources of the GNC, COR, and GNA coalitions? 20% (Improbable). al-Qaeda’s ability to degrade willpower and resources of the Libyan coalitions (and their governments) is most notable in the case of Haftar’s Operation Dignity. The resilience of Al-Qaida affiliates in Benghazi and Derna—despite sieges and fierce fighting—have forced Haftar to keep a focus and presence in eastern Libya (BBC News, July 6, 2017). However, Haftar’s control of Benghazi, the dissolution of Ansar al Sharia, and the siege of Derna have diminished al-Qaeda’s primary offensives in Libya. As a result, we gave this indicator a 20% likelihood. But it’s also worth noting this likelihood could increase or decrease depending on the level of success for the G5 Sahel force to inflict losses on the region’s Al-Qaida groups.

6. Is the Islamic State’s strength weakened in Libya? 85% (Almost Certain). The Islamic State lost its stronghold in Sirte at the end of 2016. The remnants of their fighters are regrouping south of Sirte and Bani Walid, as well as in southern and western Libya, but are now forced to travel in small groups (for fear of debilitating airstrikes)—attacking infrastructure and ambushing GNA and COR forces (MENA Stream, May 8, 2017; Nathan, The Telegraph, March 1, 2017; Jihadology, May 10, 2017; Assad, The Libya Observer, May 31, 2017; Lewis, Reuters, February 10, 2017; Panel of Experts on Libya, UN Security Council, June 1, 2017; Najjair, The Libya Observer, June 10, 2017; Pack, Smith, and Mezran, Atlantic Council, June 2017). These small-scale attacks prove the Islamic State in Libya is still alive and able to tactically disrupt other actors; furthermore, the reported cooperation and movement of fighters between al-Qaeda and IS forces in Libya could reinforce the Islamic State (Counter Terrorism Committee, the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, and the Libya Sanctions Committee, June 27, 2017; Nathan, The Telegraph, March 1, 2017). But overall, the Islamic State in Libya remains relatively weak compared to 2015 and early 2016. Considering these realities, we gave this indicator an 85% likelihood.

Summary: Likelihood of an al-Qaeda Victory

After calculating the likelihood of each indicator, we assess that an al-Qaeda Victory would be highly unlikely—less than 20%.

Scenario, Libya, Libyan scenarios, indicator, warning, war, geopolitical uncertainty, Islamic State, Al Qaeda, likelihood
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Scenario: An Islamic State Victory (<1%)

1. Would less focus from external actors allow Islamic State forces to operate unimpeded? 32.5% (Improbable). Based on the combined likelihoods of indicators 1A and 1B, this indicator has an overall likelihood of 32.5%.

1A. Are conflicts or threats elsewhere reducing Libya to a secondary interest for external actors? 50% (Improbable). Based on the assessment provided in indicator 1A of the al-Qaeda Victory scenario, we gave this indicator a 50% likelihood. But we also recall the potential for the G5 Sahel force’s failure or success to affect this likelihood in the future.

Scenario, Libya, Libyan scenarios, indicator, warning, war, geopolitical uncertainty, Islamic State, Al Qaeda, likelihood1B. Are intervening actors more focused on targeting al-Qaeda affiliates or one of the government coalitions? 65% (Likely). As noted in indicator 1B under an al-Qaeda Victory scenario, most intervening actors—Egypt, UAE, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy—are providing measures of support to the GNA or COR as they combat each other’s armed groups (see our post “Scenario 2 Intervention”), while the U.S. is limiting its role to countering IS forces (Thrush, The New York Times, April 20, 2017). The intervening actor overtly targeting al-Qaeda-affiliated groups is Egypt, which launched a series of airstrikes against the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (Eye on ISIS in Libya, June 6, 2017). As a result, we gave this indicator a 65% likelihood.

2. Is the Islamic State in Libya facing minimal fragmentation? 85% (Almost Certain). Despite losing their stronghold in 2016 and seeing some of their training camps bombed in January 2017 (Joscelyn, The Long War Journal, January 19, 2017), the remaining Islamic State fighters have shown resilience and continue to carry out operations despite their limitations and smaller numbers (Lewis, Reuters, February 10, 2017; MENA Stream, May 8, 2017; Jihadology, May 10, 2017; Assad, The Libya Observer, May 31, 2017; Pack, Smith, and Mezran, Atlantic Council, June 2017). We have also seen more reports of al-Qaeda fighters defecting to the weakened Islamic State rather than IS jihadists defecting to other groups (Counter Terrorism Committee, the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, and the Libya Sanctions Committee, June 27, 2017). As a result, we gave this indicator an 85% likelihood.

3. Is the Islamic State in Libya expanding its territory and influence? 10% (Highly Unlikely). After the fall of their stronghold in Sirte, the Islamic State in Libya migrated to the areas south of Sirte and Bani Walid, as well as Libya’s southern and western regions (MENA Stream, May 8, 2017; Panel of Experts on Libya, UN Security Council, June 1, 2017; Najjair, The Libya Observer, June 10, 2017). The U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State training camps in January resulted in the death of 85 jihadists—prompting remaining IS forces to operate in very small groups and use unpatrolled roads (Nathan, The Telegraph, March 1, 2017). Due to their now-decentralized force and inability to control any meaningful amount of territory, we gave this indicator a 10% likelihood.

4. Are Libyan or foreign jihadists continuing to join the Islamic State’s ranks? 25% (Improbable). There are reports that some Ansar al-Sharia members defected to the Islamic State after Ansar al-Sharia dissolved (Counter Terrorism Committee, the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, and the Libya Sanctions Committee, June 27, 2017). Recently, three Kenyans and a Somali refugee were recently arrested on suspicion they were en route to Libya to join Islamic State forces (Agutu, The Star, May 9, 2017). But based on the overall lack of strategic military actions by IS forces (Pack, Smith, and Mezran, Atlantic Council, June 2017), as well as the overall lack of Libyan and foreign actors launching airstrikes or ground operations against Islamic State remnants in southern Libya (remembering that IS movements are monitored by U.S., Italian, and GNA forces) (Pack, Smith, and Mezran, Atlantic Council, June 2017), we surmise that IS recruitment has slowed to a trickle compared to its time in Sirte. Considering these realities, we gave this indicator a 25% likelihood. However, this likelihood has the potential to change, based on the Sahel force’s impact on regional al-Qaeda groups. Depending on the level of impact to Libya’s al-Qaeda affiliates, Islamic State forces may or may not see an increase in fighters defecting to their ranks, which would affect the likelihood of this indicator.

5. Are the COR, GNC, and GNA losing political and military cohesion? 23.75% (Improbable). Based on the justification provided in indicator 5 of the al-Qaeda Victory scenario, we gave this indicator a 95% likelihood. Note: the 23.75% likelihood is the combined likelihoods of 5 and 5A, since indicator 5 is dependent on indicator 5A.

Scenario, Libya, Libyan scenarios, indicator, warning, war, geopolitical uncertainty, Islamic State, Al Qaeda, likelihood
Islamic State VBIED attack on Haftar’s forces

5A. Are the Islamic State’s intentions, capabilities, strategy and tactics in Libya effective enough to degrade the willpower and resources of the GNC, COR, and GNA coalitions? 25% (Improbable). Considering their dispersal and their adaptation to targeted airstrikes, IS forces in southern Libya have only been able to carry out small ambushes and attacks on rural infrastructure (Lewis, Reuters, February 10, 2017; Pack, Smith, and Mezran, Atlantic Council, June 2017). Furthermore, considering interventions, the IS jihadists are unable to mass for a coordinated offensive without the high risk of being targeted. However, small groups of IS fighters could also evade airstrikes and degrade the coalitions’ willpower and resources over time—especially if pressure from the coalitions is not consistent. As a result, we gave this indicator a 25% likelihood.

6. Is al-Qaeda’s strength weakened in Libya? 60% (Likely). Although there are some al-Qaeda affiliates still operating, and some al-Qaeda affiliates have merged in southern Libya (Counter Terrorism Committee, the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, and the Libya Sanctions Committee, June 27, 2017), the dissolution of Ansar al-Sharia led us to give this indicator a 60% likelihood. The Derna Mujahideen Shura Council is still active, although the entire city is besieged by Haftar’s forces (Dahan, Middle East Eye, May 29, 2017), thus denying their ability to increase their ranks and expand their territory. But it’s also worth noting this likelihood could increase or decrease depending on the level of success for the G5 Sahel force to inflict losses on the region’s al-Qaeda groups.

Summary: Likelihood of an Islamic State Victory

After calculating the likelihood of each indicator, we assess that an Islamic State Victory would be highly unlikely—less than 20%.

Scenario, Libya, Libyan scenarios, indicator, warning, war, geopolitical uncertainty, Islamic State, Al Qaeda, likelihood
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In our next article, we shall determine the likelihood of these Salafist victories lasting and leading to a Libyan caliphate.

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Feature Photo: Islamic State in Libya posted on C. Anzalone Twitter page, 2 June 2017

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