In this article, however unlikely it would appear currently*, we shall assess the likelihood of a lasting victory by the Salafists — in other words, the ability of Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State to not only achieve victory, but also to maintain lasting control. 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 initial victory of both Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, finding that an Al-Qaeda 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 to be sub-scenarios of “Scenario 2: Intervention” instead of independent scenarios. As such, this will be reflected in the indicators, mapping and likelihoods. As events unfolded and intervention took place, scenarios 4, which were about a Salafist victory without intervention, have now become fully impossible (likelihood = 0).
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 in future updates.
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: An Al-Qaeda-Controlled Libya: <1%
1. Would Al-Qaeda affiliates be willing to pursue a cohesive strategy for ruling Libya, regardless of which affiliate consolidates the most power? 50% (Improbable). Throughout Libya’s civil war, Salafist groups have formed alliances to more effectively confront enemy coalitions (see Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures: State of Play – Islamist Forces II”). However, once they defeat all other actors, their differences may degrade their ability to implement a unified strategy. As we discussed in “War in Libya and Its Futures: State of Play – Islamist Forces II,” some of these Salafist groups have different focuses and have sometimes even opposed each other. However, we would need to do a more comprehensive study on each of these groups to determine a more accurate likelihood. With this in mind, we gave this indicator a conservative likelihood of 50%.
2. Would any remaining Islamic State forces defect to Al-Qaeda or flee the country? 60% (Likely). Based on the suspected mutual cooperation between Islamic State forces and Al-Qaeda fighters in southern Libya (Nathan, The Telegraph, March 1, 2017; The Economist, May 27, 2017) (which differs from these two organizations’ hostilities on a strategic scale), we surmise that it is possible for some Islamic State fighters to defect—particularly if they have lost cohesiveness as an organization, lack financial backing, or become disillusioned (as was the case with Antar al Kindi, who defected from ISIS in Yemen to join Al-Qaeda) (Joscelyn, Long War Journal, January 23, 2016). It is also likely that some may migrate to other wilayats, such as neighboring Wilayat Sinai in Egypt. However, we left room in the likelihood to account for the lack of information regarding the composition and mindset of current Islamic State forces in Libya. As a result, we gave this indicator a 60% likelihood.
3. Do Al-Qaeda’s methods of rule minimally affect its acceptance by the Libyan population? 55% (Likely). In some areas of Libya, Al-Qaeda affiliates have provided public services and emphasized a national movement, perhaps to gain public support and brand themselves as an alternative to the Islamic State and its foreign influences (James Wheeler, Twitter, September 23, 2015; Michael Horowitz, Twitter, May 28, 2015; Stanford University, August 24, 2016; Zelin, Foreign Policy, August 12, 2013). Following public backlash against Ansar al Sharia’s attack on the U.S. consulate in 2012, the group rebranded as Ansar al Sharia in Libya to “build a more national movement and rebuild trust with Libyan communities” (Stanford University, August 24, 2016). In addition to the name change, the group also performed charitable acts and provided social services in Benghazi (Zelin, Foreign Policy, August 12, 2013). These strategies help foster acceptance by the local communities and allow Al-Qaeda to promulgate Sharia law through local and less-coercive means. Furthermore, the United Nations reports that al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the south have “established ties with nomadic and marginalized communities and local armed groups” (Counter Terrorism Committee, the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, and the Libya Sanctions Committee, June 22, 2017)—of which their merging in March 2017 could very well have solidified their presence in the area and expanded their influence. However, we would need to do a separate study on the depth of Al-Qaeda’s influence in local populations and minority tribes to determine a more accurate likelihood. Compared to the Islamic State’s method of rule in Libya, Al-Qaeda appears to have gained wider acceptance with local communities. With this in mind, we gave this indicator a likelihood of 55%.
4. In the unlikely case of an Al-Qaeda victory, would the COR, GNC, and GNA politically fragment without armed support? 90% (Almost Certain). Without the support of armed groups (because we are in the case where Al-Qaeda has secured a total victory), these governments would lack the ability to project any political power and continue to experience internal divisions—causing a higher likelihood of political fragmentation. Recently, COR member Abu Shagour resigned from the parliament citing the body’s inability to reform (Libyan Express, August 28, 2017); another member stated that the COR’s Speaker is the source of political division and ought to be replaced (Libyan Express, August 22, 2017); and three members of the GNA rejected recent orders by GNA Prime Minister Sarraj saying he violated his position’s authority (Assad, The Libya Observer, September 4, 2017). Considering these governments are already fragmenting with armed support, we gave this indicator a 90% likelihood.
5. Would external actors be unwilling to militarily intervene in Libya following an Al-Qaeda victory? 50% (Improbable). At the moment, external actors intervening in Libya are largely focused on degrading the capabilities of the Islamic State, rather than Al-Qaeda. The United States is seemingly intent on an ISIS-first strategy, although the Trump administration has pursued raids on Al-Qaeda in Yemen (Reuters, May 22, 2017). In Libya, groups of U.S., UK, Italian, and French special forces are aiding the Libyan governments in their counter-terrorism efforts against the Islamic State (Libyan Express, August 7, 2017; Sputnik News, August 11, 2017). Egypt, however, has focused on both terrorist organizations—launching airstrikes in Libya against the Islamic State in February 2015 (Malsin and Stephen, The Guardian, February 17, 2015) and Al-Qaeda affiliates in Derna in May 2017 (Stephen, The Guardian, May 27, 2017).
Al-Qaeda’s choice of strategy would also affect this indicator’s likelihood. If it uses a grassroots strategy to control territory and local populations but rejects the Islamic State’s strategy of capturing and governing swaths of territory by force as a quasi-state, the likelihood of military intervention may decrease. If the Islamic State is gaining power elsewhere, and if geopolitical events (such as North Korea’s missile launches) overshadow external actors’ national interests in Libya, the likelihood of military intervention may also decrease. Considering these realities, we gave this indicator a 50% likelihood.
Summary: Likelihood of a Lasting Al-Qaida Victory
After calculating the likelihood of this scenario and multiplying it by the likelihood of its victory scenario in the previous article (upon which it is dependent), we assess that a lasting Al-Qaida victory would be highly unlikely—less than 20%.
Scenario: An Islamic State-Controlled Libya: <1%
1. Would any remaining Al-Qaeda forces defect to the Islamic State or flee the country? 65% (Likely). Based on the example of Ansar al Sharia, we surmise that some surviving Al-Qaeda fighters would likely shift their allegiance to the Islamic State. Some prominent members of Ansar al-Sharia reportedly defected to the Islamic State over the years, and after its disbanding in May 2017, some of its members allegedly defected to what was left of the Islamic State in Libya (Deutsche Welle, May 28, 2017; Counter Terrorism Committee, 1267/1989/2253 ISIL and Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee, and the Libya Sanctions Committee, June 22, 2017; Moore, Newsweek, April 8, 2015). It is also believed that jihadists move back and forth between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State groups in Libya (The Economist, May 27, 2017), which would make defection to the Islamic State a more natural move for Al-Qaeda affiliated fighters. Foreign fighters in Al-Qaeda’s ranks could also return to their home countries or migrate to other Al-Qaeda groups in North Africa or the Middle East. Considering these realities, we gave this indicator a 65% likelihood.
2. Do the Islamic State’s methods of rule minimally affect its acceptance by the Libyan population? 15% (Highly Unlikely). The Islamic State faced opposition by Libyans in both Derna and Sirte, which decreases the likelihood of being accepted by the Libyan people in a future scenario. In Derna, the local population did not turn out at Sahaba Mosque for a meeting on the Islamic State’s caliphate (Kaufman and Fresco, Vocativ, October 7, 2014), local Salafist militias refused to pledge allegiance to a group outside Libya’s borders (Ibid; Mitchell, The Red Team Analysis Society, January 26, 2015), and Islamic State fighters opened fire on Derna citizens protesting its rule (Newsweek, June 12, 2015).
Islamic State militants entered Sirte in February 2015, but according to residents, the implementation of a stricter interpretation of Sharia—as well as the religious police and harsh punishments that accompanied it—began to take place in August (Raghavan, The Washington Post, August 23, 2016; BBC News, February 3, 2016). Despite this initial period where Sharia was not strictly enforced, nearly 85% of the city’s population fled while the Islamic State was in control (Pack, Smith, and Mezran, Atlantic Council, June 2017). The Islamic State also publicly executed civilians and killed dozens of tribal leaders and Salafist clerics who refused to pledge their allegiance to al-Baghdadi—the leader of the Islamic State who has several times been reported killed, most recently by Russia and the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (BBC News, February 3, 2016; Shay and Baras, The Institute for National Security Studies; Calamur, The Atlantic, July 11, 2017; Farrer, The Guardian, August 31, 2017).
Coercion, which is ingrained in the Islamic State’s strategy, has alienated the organization with much of the Libyan population (shifting their strategy from coercion to one of gaining favor with the population could increase the likelihood of this indicator, although such a shift is unlikely). However, some tribal populations may willingly accept the Islamic State in a bid to gain influence (Lavoix, The Red Team Analysis Society, April 25, 2016; Lavoix, The Red Team Analysis Society, May 16, 2016). As a result, we gave this indicator a 15% likelihood.
3. In the unlikely case of an Islamic State victory, would the COR, GNC, and GNA politically fragment without armed support? 90% (Almost Certain). Without armed backing, members of the COR, GNC, and GNA would likely be hunted down and arrested and or executed by the Islamic State; in 2014, ISIS conducted the same actions against Iraqi election candidates (NBC News, November 29, 2014). Facing death without the support of armed forces, lacking the ability to project any political power, and already experiencing internal divisions, these governments are likely to politically fragment. As discussed in the corresponding indicator under an Al-Qaeda scenario, the COR and GNA are already fragmenting with armed support—hence we gave this indicator a 90% likelihood.
4. Would external actors be unwilling to militarily intervene in Libya following an Islamic State victory? 5% (Highly Unlikely). Already, external actors are increasing their military intervention to specifically help Libyan forces counter the Islamic State. As we discussed earlier in this article, Western special forces are actively targeting the Islamic State in partnership with the Libyan governments (Libyan Express, August 7, 2017; Sputnik News, August 11, 2017), while Egypt has previously launched airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Libya, including recent air strikes on an Islamic State convoy crossing into Egypt from Libya (Malsin and Stephen, The Guardian, February 17, 2015; Reuters, June 27, 2017). If other geopolitical issues become more pressing than an ISIS-ruled Libya, external actors may be less willing to militarily intervene, which would then increase this likelihood. But considering the current security priorities and increased intervention of the international community in relation to the Islamic State, we gave this indicator a 5% likelihood for the time being.
Summary: Likelihood of a Lasting Islamic State Victory
After calculating the likelihood of this scenario and multiplying it by the likelihood of its victory scenario in the previous article (upon which it is dependent), we assess that a lasting Islamic State victory would be highly unlikely—less than 20%.
In our next article, we will provide the updated likelihoods for indicators from all scenarios.
*When developing a set of scenarios it is indeed crucial to look at all scenarios, even those which look impossible at the time of scenario-building. This is the only way to prevent gray swans (see Lavoix, The Red Team Analysis Society, January 21, 2013) and to make sure planning does not unwittingly lead to less preferred futures.
Feature Photo: Posted by C. Anzalone, Twitter, 2 June 2017
Adam Nathan, “Isil ‘regrouping in southern Libya with support of al-Qaeda and preparing for further attacks’,” The Telegraph, March 1, 2017
Ansar al-Shariah (Libya), Stanford University, August 24, 2016
Aaron Y. Zelin, “Libya’s jihadists beyond Benghazi,” Foreign Policy, August 12, 2013
Abdulkader Assad, “Presidential Council collapsing from the inside as three members reject Al-Sirraj’s decisions,” The Libya Observer, September 4, 2017
“British Special Forces troops operate in Libya to block IS regrouping, combat human traffickers,” Libyan Express, August 7, 2017
“Challenges in Countering Terrorism in Libya,” Counter Terrorism Committee, the 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, and the Libya Sanctions Committee, June 22, 2017
Chris Stephen, “Egypt hits Libyan terror camps again after attack kills 29 Copts,” The Guardian, May 27, 2017
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Helene Lavoix, “The Islamic State in Libya – When Libyan Tribes Pledge Allegiance to the Khalifah,” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 16, 2016
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James Wheeler, Twitter post, September 23, 2015
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Jason Pack, Rhiannon Smith, and Karim Mezran, “The Origins and Evolution of ISIS in Libya,” Atlantic Council, June 20, 2017
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Michael Horowitz, Twitter post, May 28, 2015
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Shaul Shay and Av Baras, “The Islamic State in Libya: Challenge and Response,” The Institute for National Security Studies
Sudarsan Raghavan, “Inside the brutal but bizarrely bureaucratic world of the Islamic State in Libya,” The Washington Post, August 23, 2016
Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State defector in Yemen apologizes to al Qaeda,” Long War Journal, January 23, 2016
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