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Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 4.1 An Al-Qaida Victory

This article focuses on the first of the scenarios depicting a Salafist victory, where Al-Qaida (AQ) becomes the dominant force on the battlefield, defeats the other actors, then works towards establishing the caliphate. In our previous scenario we detailed the scenario of a nationalist victory where the new government guides Libya towards a secular and nationalist state where Sharia is not a source of governance.

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-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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Scenario 4 Salafist Conquest

In this scenario, a “Salafist victory” refers to the cessation of major hostilities resulting from a Salafist group’s military domination of the other actors. Once a Salafist group – either Al-Qaida or the Islamic State – defeats the others, it will be in a position to rebuild Libya as an Islamic State governed by Sharia law.

As the war drags on, the Islamist and nationalist coalitions fragment – thus replacing powerful coalitions on the battlefield with weaker, singular players, or, they become too exhausted to achieve a total military victory; meanwhile, Salafist groups’ strength increase in numbers and capabilities, allowing them to make strategic gains. With the rival governments now significantly weakened, the Salafist groups finally become the dominant military force and achieve a total victory. Having gained the military victory and now having the dominant influence in Libya, the Salafist groups begin rebuilding the country as an Islamic state.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 4 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of exhaustion suffered by the Islamists and nationalists. Heightened levels of exhaustion will decrease the ability of the Islamist and nationalist coalitions to achieve a military victory. Having to simultaneously fight each other, as well as the Islamic State and Al-Qaida may increase exhaustion levels, thus increasing the likelihood of a Salafist conquest.
  2. The level of cohesion of the Islamist and nationalist coalitions. If either of the coalitions begins to lose cohesion, their risk of fragmentation begins to increase. Also affecting their cohesion is the coalitions’ ability to maintain ties with the tribes loyal to them. The fragmentation of one or both coalitions increases the likelihood of this scenario, as the Salafist groups could more easily exploit the situation and defeat weaker, singular factions instead of having to face a large coalition. A past indication occurred when some of the Misratan brigades in the Dawn of Libya coalition pledged support for the unity government and others refused – instead, forming the Steadfast Front (STRATFOR, April 2, 2016).
  3. The willingness of the Islamists and nationalists to unite to defeat the Salafist threat. If the Islamist and nationalist coalitions temporarily unite to defeat a growing Salafist threat, the likelihood of this scenario decreases. Although the coalitions may not cease all hostilities against each other, they may agree to divert more of their forces to focus on a mutual Salafist threat. A past indication occurred when militias from Misrata and Zintan agreed to a truce in order to combat the advance of Islamic State forces (El-Ghobashy and Morajea, The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2015).
  4. The number of jihadists joining the ranks of Salafist groups in Libya. An increase in the number of jihadists crossing into Libya will increase this scenario’s likelihood. If Salafist groups are able to significantly increase their ranks as the Islamist and nationalist coalitions grow weaker, they will begin gaining the upper hand in military capabilities. A past indication occurred when hundreds, if not more than 1,000, Boko Haram fighters joined the Islamic State’s ranks in Libya (Paton, International Business Times, March 5, 2016).
  5. The quality of jihadists fighting in Libya. If Al-Qaida and Islamic State groups in Libya are able to recruit large numbers of experienced Libyan fighters or import experienced jihadists from other countries, the likelihood of this scenario increases. With more experienced fighters, the Salafist groups will pose a larger threat and be more difficult to repel. A past indication occurred when Islamic State leadership sent senior members to Libya (The Soufan Group, March 3, 2016).
  6. The ability of either Al-Qaida or the Islamic State to militarily defeat all other armed actors. If Al-Qaida or the Islamic State is unable to defeat the Islamist and nationalist coalitions, as well as each other, this scenario could not occur. An Al-Qaida victory would require the defeat of the rival coalitions as well as the Islamic State, while an Islamic State victory would require the defeat of the coalitions and Al-Qaida. The ability to achieve a total military victory would largely depend on the above indicators, as well as the level of external support and the current situation of regional conflicts.
  7. The level of Al-Qaida expansion in Africa. If Al-Qaida affiliates in Africa grow in strength and are able to carry out increasingly-successful attacks, Al-Qaida in Libya will likely gain better access to fighters, weapons, and other resources, thus increasing the likelihood of this scenario occurring. Al-Qaida expansion throughout Africa would also benefit AQ in Libya by diverting the focus and counter-terrorism assets from international operations in the region. Past indications of diverting external counter-terrorism assets occurred when the United States deployed military assets to Niger, Cameroon, Central Africa, and Somalia with the purpose of conducting or supporting counter-terrorism efforts (RT, December 5, 2016; Savage, Schmitt, and Mazzetti, The New York Times, November 27, 2016).
  8. The severity of conflicts or threats elsewhere that reduce Libya to a secondary interest. If conflicts or more significant threats arise elsewhere that consume the focus and military resources of external actors – particularly the United States – the international focus on Libya will lessen, thus increasing the likelihood of this scenario.
  9. The severity of the European Union’s core problems that push Libya to the background. This year, the European Union saw failed policies, Brexit, and the beginning of a shift towards populist movements. Now facing what the BBC calls a “looming existential threat” (Mardell, BBC News, December 6, 2016), the EU has had to refocus many of its priorities. If the EU’s existential issues remain severe during an Al-Qaida victory in Libya, the likelihood of this scenario increases.

Sub-scenario 4.1 An Al-Qaida Victory

With the Islamists and nationalists having significantly weakened the Islamic State in Libya, the stronger Al-Qaida affiliates are able to more easily defeat Islamic State forces. In the aftermath, Islamic State jihadists are either killed while defending their last strongholds, or flee the country.

Considering its opposition to democratic institutions, Al-Qaida uses violence to eliminate political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party, and uses the threat of force to prevent future political movements from arising. However, once political parties are removed, Al-Qaida turns toward a local form of rule – one where local councils are responsible for governing their own people – overseen by a central AQ organizational structure.

Having learned lessons from Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Qaida leadership in Libya turn over the responsibility of everyday governance to local civilian councils. Implementing a grassroots approach to influencing and controlling populations, as well as seeing the strategic mistake made by the Islamic State (declaring a caliphate too soon, taking territory, and aggressive action beyond the Levant – thus prompting massive international intervention), Al-Qaida shuns a strong centralized form of government that the Islamists and nationalists would have utilized, and instead covertly integrates itself into the local councils to garner domestic legitimacy and avoid foreign intervention. This model gives the illusion that Libyans are self-governed by their own local councils instead of Al-Qaida, but of course, Al-Qaida members are embedded within local councils to ensure AQ’s long-term strategy in Libya is carried out.

Propaganda photos by Ansar al-Sharia highlighting its “Department for Public Works”, posted by Michael Horowitz, 28 May 2015

Again, applying lessons from AQAP and AQIM, Al-Qaida focuses on the problems of the local populations while gradually applying selected Sharia principles, instead of forcefully implementing full Sharia law. By assisting with public services and providing charitable acts, Al-Qaida gains the trust and support of Libyans, and make them “sympathize with us and feel that their fate is tied to ours,” as emphasized in an AQAP strategy document (Green, The Washington Institute, December 12, 2013). Through a selective implementation process of Sharia, Al-Qaida tactfully avoids the harshest provisions until the Libyan population is more susceptible to its implementation (note: this process has the potential to exceed our 3-5 year analysis timeline). Once Sharia is close to being fully integrated in Libyan society, the Al-Qaida leadership in Libya begins propagating the country as an Islamic emirate.

Al-Qaida’s organizational structure in Libya is somewhat similar to the Islamic State structure. Based on a comparison of the organizational structures of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Qaida’s organization in Libya has a head leader, a Shura council [consultative body], a military wing, a propaganda wing, and a Sharia council [judiciary body] (Counter Extremism Project, AQAP, AQIS, and AQIM). The Islamic State also has the Caliph [leader], the Shura council, the Sharia council, and the Military council in its central hierarchy (see Dr. Helene Lavoix, “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – The Calif and Legitimacy,” and “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Means of Violence” for detailed analysis of the Islamic State structure). However, Al-Qaida’s governance strategy in Libya is profoundly different from that of the Islamic State. Once they secured the city of Sirte, Islamic State fighters called on residents to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – the caliph of the Islamic State, cracked down on forbidden vices, and enforced Sharia law on the population, including severe punishments such as ‘flogging, stoning, amputation, and execution” (Zelin, The Washington Institute, August 6, 2015). Wanting to avoid this strategy and gain the support of the Libyan people, Al-Qaida utilizes a localized governance model with a very gradual implementation of Sharia – all while its leadership directs its will and influence on the population from the background.

To gain influence over the tribes, Al-Qaida members begin marrying into the tribes and recruiting their unemployed youth. Furthermore, the localized system of governance allows the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou to become more autonomous and not have to endure systematic discrimination by a centralized state – an appeal that earns some favor, despite tensions that exist between Libyan tribalism and Salafism (Mitchell, “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War III,” May 11, 2015). To lessen these tensions and avoid drawing attention to incompatibility, Al-Qaida does not overtly attempt to draw the tribes into its long-term strategy for the caliphate. With Al-Qaida’s growing presence in Libya comes an influx of fighters and resources from other countries. Such an influx coming through southern Libya boosts the economic gains for the Tuareg and Toubou, who become dependent on the jihadist-dominated trade routes for money and other support.

Ansar al-Sharia snipers in Benghazi train by shooting at picture targets of General Haftar and Egyptian President el-Sisi, posted by Oded Berkowitz, 16 September 2015

After achieving military victory, the Al-Qaida groups initiate a vengeance campaign against hated political and military figures that have not fled the country, as well as outspoken opponents of Al-Qaida. By eliminating prominent leaders that once opposed Salafist groups during the war, Al-Qaida removes any future possibility of opposed Libyans rallying around one of these leaders in a resurgent insurgency; it also provides a useful propaganda piece to rally Al-Qaida affiliates around the region.

Jihadist recruits training near Benghazi

Victory over the Islamists and nationalists by Libya’s Al-Qaida groups earn the recognition of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, who seeks to integrate them with its regional organization and increases the amount of money, fighters, and weapons flowing into the country. With Libya now under the influence of Al-Qaida, it offers a safe haven for jihadist training camps. This allows Al-Qaida in the Sinai Peninsula (AQSP), AQIM, AQAP and smaller Al-Qaida affiliates in the region to send their fighters to Libya for training. Libya’s vital trade routes also allow Al-Qaida a protected route to transnationally move fighters, arms, and resources with greater ease. A victory in Libya thus allows Al-Qaida to expand its operations across the region with the added benefit of defeating what is left of the Islamic State there.

Unless Al-Qaida begins launching widespread attacks out of Libya, the international community is very hesitant to intervene. Considering Al-Qaida’s new support from the population, the lack of friendly armed factions on the ground, and no desire to commit large amounts of troops, the international community – particularly Western powers – do not wish to get involved in a large-scale occupation. Alternatively, some countries – such as Egypt – see a direct threat from an Al-Qaida-controlled Libya and decide to intervene. However, this would require new scenarios to fully understand their depth.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 4.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of the Islamic State’s strength. The level of Islamic State strength or weakness will impact how long it takes Al-Qaida to dominate the battlefield. If the Islamists and nationalists manage to degrade Islamic State strongholds and capabilities before becoming weak themselves, the likelihood of this scenario increases. A past indication occurred when the Islamist and nationalist coalitions cleared the Islamic State stronghold in Sirte (Amara, Reuters, December 6, 2016).
  2. The ability of Al-Qaida affiliates in Libya to defeat the Islamic State. In order to defeat Islamic State forces in Libya, Al-Qaida’s affiliates will need to form a united and coordinated front to destroy remaining IS strongholds and quash leftover IS cells. The likelihood of this scenario increases if Al-Qaida groups launch a united military offensive against the last Islamic State strongholds. A past indication occurred when an Al-Qaida linked jihadist alliance – the Mujahideen Shura Council – drove the Islamic State out of its burgeoning stronghold in Derna (Joscelyn, The Long War Journal, April 20, 2016).
  3. The willingness of Al-Qaida to base its strategy on lessons learned from AQAP and AQIM. Implementing learned lessons from regional Al-Qaida organizations is crucial to the success of the Libyan branch. If Al-Qaida in Libya is willing to adopt the strategy recommendations from AQAP and AQIM, the likelihood of this scenario significantly increases. However, both recommendations would have to be implemented: 1) gaining the support of the population by allowing local institutions to govern (although still very much influenced by AQ, and overseen by the central AQ leadership in Libya) – an example set by the AQAP group that seized Al Mukalla (Hubbard, The New York Times, June 9, 2015) and 2) gradually implementing Sharia law while primarily focusing on the needs of the local population to gain their support and trust – advice from both AQAP and leaders in AQIM (The Associated Press, February 14, 2013; Green, The Washington Institute, December 12, 2013).
  4. The willingness of Al-Qaida affiliates to unite behind a cohesive, long-term strategy for Libya. Alliances between Al-Qaida affiliates in Libya do not mean that they all will immediately unite behind a cohesive strategy for the long-term. Considering the more localized nature of Libya’s Al-Qaida affiliates (e.g. Ansar al-Sharia in Derna, Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade [primarily Derna]), they may compete for leadership roles or instead wish to pursue their own strategy in their areas of influence. If these groups are unwilling to participate in a cohesive long-term strategy, the likelihood of this scenario decreases.
  5. The ability of AQ to embed itself in the local councils. If local civilian councils are vehemently opposed to Sharia and Al-Qaida, and are aware of the jihadists’ strategy, they may prevent AQ members from participating in the local councils or even having a presence in their town or city. In this case, the likelihood of this scenario decreases.
  6. AQ’s ability to provide public services and charity to the population. Providing public services and charity to local populations has proven to generate positive support for Al-Qaida groups in Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen (Masi, International Business Times, April 7, 2016; Zelin, Hudson Institute, April 6, 2015), and thus will likely play a role in Al-Qaida’s grassroots strategy for Libya. If Al-Qaida is able to establish effective public service groups throughout the country, this scenario’s likelihood increases. Past indications occurred when Ansar al-Sharia’s “General Services Directorate” provided aid to families in Benghazi, Derna, and other towns (Joscelyn, The Long War Journal, June 30, 2015).
  7. The timing of AQ’s implementation of Sharia law. The timing would likely have a serious impact on the likelihood of Al-Qaida succeeding in Libya. If the group forces too much of the strict principles of Sharia on the population too quickly, it will likely lose support. However, if it adopts AQAP’s advice on incremental implementation (see Green, The Washington Institute, December 12, 2013), the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  8. The willingness of the minority tribes to cooperate with Al-Qaida. If Al-Qaida takes a multi-faceted approach to gaining influence over the minority tribes, it will likely increase the willingness of the tribes to cooperate. By marrying into the tribes, its fighters establish familial ties. Through its recruitment of unemployed tribal youth, as well as the influx of fighters, arms, and illicit goods across the southern trade routes, Al-Qaida increases economic opportunity for the tribes, which help boost their willingness to cooperate with the jihadists. And lastly, Al-Qaida’s reliance on local and tribal councils allows these tribes to be more autonomous and not dependent on a central state for their political rights. The likelihood of this scenario increases if the minority tribes are more willing to cooperate with Al-Qaida.
  9. The level of AQ’s desire to eliminate leaders from the Islamist and nationalist camps. Al-Qaida will likely target leaders that are outspoken in their opposition to Sharia law and or Al-Qaida as a whole. In the event of an Al-Qaida conquest, political and military leaders from the rival coalitions may flee the country; Al-Qaida leadership may put a bounty on the heads of those remaining in the country. However, they may not target the Islamist leaders from the Dawn of Libya and the General National Congress that had connections with Al-Qaida affiliates during the war. A past indication occurred when Ansar al-Sharia (an Al-Qaida affiliate) put a bounty on General Haftar and some of his key commanders (Wehrey, Carnegie Middle East Center, June 19, 2015).
  10. The willingness of external actors to militarily intervene in Libya. In the case of an Al-Qaida victory in Libya, the international community would certainly have cause for extreme concern. However, the global situation and the reality on the ground in Libya will likely determine the willingness of external actors to militarily intervene. If an abundance of conflicts and geopolitical situations outside of Libya are preoccupying the focus and military resources of external actors, they may be less willing to commit to a full military incursion. Furthermore, no friendly Libyan factions would be available to partner with a foreign coalition. If external actors are considerably hesitant to militarily intervene in Libya, the likelihood of this scenario increases. However, if some countries – like neighboring Egypt – perceive an imminent threat from an Al-Qaida-controlled Libya, they may decide to act unilaterally, thus decreasing the likelihood of this scenario occurring.

Bibliography

Feature Photo: Ansar al-Sharia gun position, posted by The Long War Journal, 30 June 2015

Aaron Y. Zelin, “The Rise and Decline of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya,” Hudson Institute, April 6, 2015

Aaron Y. Zelin, “The Islamic State’s Burgeoning Capital in Sirte, Libya,” The Washington Institute, August 6, 2015

Alessandria Masi, “Al Qaeda Winning Hearts And Minds Over ISIS In Yemen With Social Services,” International Business Times, April 7, 2016

“Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP),” Counter Extremism Project

“Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS),” Counter Extremism Project

“Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM),” Counter Extremism Project

“AP: Al Qaeda letter found outlining Mali strategy,” The Associated Press, February 14, 2013

Ben Hubbard, “Al Qaeda Tries a New Tactic to Keep Power: Sharing It,” The New York Times, June 9, 2015

Callum Paton, “Isis in Libya: How Boko Haram jihadis are flocking to join Daesh’s holy war in North Africa,” International Business Times, March 5, 2016

Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt, and Mark Mazzetti, “Obama Expands War With Al Qaeda to Include Shabab in Somalia,” The New York Times, November 27, 2016

Daniel Green, “Al-Qaeda’s Shadow Government in Yemen,” The Washington Institute, December 12, 2013

Dr. Helene Lavoix, “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – The Calif and Legitimacy,” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 25, 2015

Dr. Helene Lavoix, “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Means of Violence,” The Red Team Analysis Society, June 15, 2015

Frederic Wehrey, “Splitting the Islamists: The Islamic State’s Creeping Advance in Libya,” Carnegie Middle East Center, June 19, 2015

Hani Amara, “Libyan forces clear last Islamic State holdout in Sirte,” Reuters, December 6, 2016

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (3),” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 11, 2015

Mark Mardell, “Could the European Union fall apart?” BBC News, December 6, 2016

“New report reveals spread of US war on Al-Qaeda around the world,” RT, December 5, 2016

Tamer El-Ghobashy and Hassan Morajea, “Two Main Libyan Militias are Maintaining a Truce to Battle Islamic State,” The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2015

The Soufan Group, “The Islamic State’s Expansion Strategy in Libya,” TSG IntelBrief, March 3, 2016

“The Sun Sets on Libya Dawn,” STRATFOR, April 2, 2016

Thomas Joscelyn, “Ansar al Sharia Libya fights on under new leader,” The Long War Journal, June 30, 2015

Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State fighters retreat from bases outside Derna, Libya,” The Long War Journal, April 20, 2016

Libya’s Future Scenarios – Sc 2 (7) Libyans vs International Coalition, Tensions ahead

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

Brian Stewart, “Commando-style diplomacy finds an unexpected foothold in war-torn Libya: Brian Stewart,” CBC News, April 10, 2016

David Cenciotti, “Operation Unified Protector (was Odyssey Dawn) Explained (Day 29),” The Aviationist, April 17, 2011

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

“Failed Syrian rebel training program cost US taxpayers $2 million per fighter – report,” RT, November 6, 2015

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

Ghaith Shennib and Jessica Donati, “Libyan parliament bans ex-Gaddafi officials from office,” Reuters, May 5, 2013

“IS rebukes Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council in verbal counter-attack,” Libya Channel, December 31, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 2 (6) International Intervention with Libyan Partners,” The Red Team Analysis Society, March 21, 2016

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (1),” The Red Team Analysis Society, April 13, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (2),” The Red Team Analysis Society, April 20, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (3),” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 11, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures: State of Play – Islamist & Misrata Forces (1),” The Red Team Analysis Society, January 5, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures: State of Play – Islamist Forces (2),” The Red Team Analysis Society, January 26, 2015

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

Karim Mezran, “Libya: Half an Agreement is Better than No Agreement,” Atlantic Council, August 12, 2015

“Letter dated 4 March 2016 from the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011) addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, March 9, 2016

Nabih Bulos, W.J. Hennigan, and Brian Bennett, “CIA-armed militias are shooting at Pentagon-armed ones in Syria,” Chicago Tribune, March 26, 2016

Nisreen Amer, “The Use of Violence in Libya,” The Washington Institute, December 18, 2015

Orlana Pawlyk, “Air Force ‘loans’ bombs to coalition partners in war on ISIS,” Air Force Times, March 28, 2016

“Salah Badi Creates ‘Libya Dawn 2’ as Libya Dawn 1 Crumbles,” Libya Herald, June 18, 2015

Tamer El-Ghobashy and Hassan Morajea, “Two Main Libyan Militias Are Maintaining a Truce to Battle Islamic State,” The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2015

Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 2 (6) International Intervention with Libyan Partners

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.

Click to access larger image

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

Abdul Sattar Hatita, “People of Toubou Seeking Independence in Libya,” Asharq al-Awsat, March 14, 2016

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

Jon Mitchell, “Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Scenarios 1 (3) – A Successful Peacebuilding Mission?” The Red Team Analysis Society, September 28, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 2 (5) International Intervention” The Red Team Analysis Society, February 29, 2016

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

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (1),” The Red Team Analysis Society, April 13, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (2),” The Red Team Analysis Society, April 20, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (3),” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 11, 2015

“Letter dated 4 March 2016 from the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011) addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, March 9, 2016

“Ministerial meeting in Paris France, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, USA, EU – Statement on Libya,” European Union, March 13, 2016

Rami Musa, “Libya’s new government ready to take power,” Boston Globe, March 13, 2016

“The Rafidah,” Dabiq, issue 13

Evaluating Scenarios and Indicators for the Syrian War

Every year, The Economist, in its “The World in…” series, assesses it successes and failures regarding its past yearly forecasts (e.g. for 2012). This is an exemplary behaviour that should be adopted by all practitioners: if we are to deliver good and actionable strategic foresight and warning, and to improve our process, methodology and thus our final products, then we should always evaluate our work. Having now completed our last series of updates on the state of play for the Syrian war, we can now start assessing how our own scenarios and indicators fared so far, if they need to be updated and the potential methodological improvements that we should endeavour.

Evaluating the scenarios

As the Geneva conference took place (see previous post), we have obviously been in the case of scenario 1 – Negotiating Peace for Syria in Geneva, in its version 1.2 – all but the Salafis.

Geneva

Thus the overall definition of this scenario and the possibility to see it happening were correctly anticipated, including the fact that the Salafi-Nationalists would refuse to participate in the negotiations. The “Jihadis” were, of course, excluded as foreseen. The fact that the regime of Bashar al-Assad was not represented by a person acceptable to both the regime and the “opposition” – as imagined in the scenario – implied that the negotiations could not be successful.

We moved thus to scenario 1.2.2 – Back to civil war – Salafis’ advantage?  The likelihood to see this scenario happening rather than its alternative, scenario 1.2.1 – An unlikely very fragile external peace was also correctly anticipated (the likelihood was portrayed through the thickness of the lines on the overall presentation for the scenarios – see also explanation in report in pdf – Potential Futures for Syria in the Fog of War).

The latest efforts by the Friends of Syria, notably the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to strengthen militarily the SMC and the “moderate opposition” (see previous post), may also be seen as an attempt, as far as the U.S. and Western countries belonging to the Friends of Syria, to counter the advantage we anticipated the Salafi-nationalists would have in this scenario and that appeared as likely before Geneva.

We are here at the heart of the difficulty of evaluation as evolving understanding by various actors and related decisions have the potential to alter the likelihood and the content of scenarios. In the case of a product delivered publicly by a think tank, thus without the capacity to trace with certainty any influence on decision-making, we cannot know if actions that could, in the future, infirm scenarios are a sign of failure (we failed to anticipate the main potential chains of decisions for actors and the related scenarios) or success (we anticipated properly and a change of understanding related to the scenarios led to new actions).  This would not (or should not) be the case if influence on decision-making can be traced. Indeed, in the case of a strategic foresight and warning process being established or created within an institutional framework (be it for a single product/issue or for the full organisation of units/offices) care will be taken to make sure this traceability can be ensured.

scenarios Syrian War, indicators, evaluating scenariosWhatever the case, methodologically, the new military strengthening of the “moderate opposition” emphasises – as underlined in the introduction of the full report on the future of Syria – that the scenarios we created and that were focused on the Syrian actors and the Syrian battlefield, should be complemented by a detailed state of play for all external actors, then leading to revised scenarios and potentially to more cases and narratives. The difficulty then will be to find the right balance in the number of scenarios, enough to cover most “lines of plausibility” but not too many that would be confusing to readers and decision-makers.

We also correctly considered that the Kurds would be involved in a peace conference, and that their participation would initially stem from the Supreme Kurdish Council (SKC) and estimated that their presence or absence would not influence the immediate prospects for the conference. In reality, in Geneva, we indeed had a Kurdish representation but if it evolved from the SKC as anticipated, this was only temporary, and it led the Kurdish National Council (KNC), which finally went to Geneva as only one part of the overall Syrian opposition delegation, to leave the SKC, while the SKC sponsored the implementation of the autonomous Rojava (see The Kurds and Rojava, State-Building in the Syrian War).

sipanhemo1 scThus, we underestimated the internecine fights within the Kurdish groups. We also potentially underplayed the Kurdish response to the lack of support and interest for the Kurdish issue both within the Syrian “opposition” and within the international “community”, considering their determination to see their fate taken into account and not to be again a powerless pawn in others’ game, as shown by the creation of Rojava. As a result of the evolution within the Kurdish nexus, the potential strategic importance of the Kurds has most probably changed, and the various existing scenarios should be supplemented to reflect this evolution. Existing scenarios should also be revisited in this light.

Scenarios, cicil war, SyriaConsidering furthermore our increasingly unstable world, as underlined by the crisis in Ukraine and Crimea, the potential scenarios regarding a partition (that was mentioned – see grey box – but not detailed as it was estimated to be outside the chosen time frame, i.e. 5 years starting April 2013), even if the Syrian Kurds make sure to emphasize this is not their aim, may similarly start to be addressed more in detail. We see here at work the difficulty to make scenarios under the fog of war as well as the complexity to address timeline and timeframe notably in a global, connected world in transition.

Checking the indicators

Let us now check the indicators we had identified to estimate the likelihood to see scenario 1 happening.

The question we had selected that presided over the choice of indicators that should be monitored in the future (i.e. once the scenarios finalized) is “What could enhance the likelihood to see such a scenario happening?”

When an indicator is monitored, the facts that are collected and correspond to the state of the indicator at a specific moment in time are called indications. In other words, an indicator is a variable that may take a range of values in reality. We then use the indications collected to make an assessment of the possible answer question related to the indicators.

To take an analogy, if we imagine many roads leading to scenario 1, each indicator could be seen as a traffic light opening or closing each road, and each indication would be the colour taken by the traffic light. Furthermore, at each traffic light, the longer the driver would stay the higher the odds it would choose another path or decide about doing something else than going to scenario 1. If all traffic lights show the colour green, then all drivers should arrive quickly to scenario 1 while the likelihood that each arrives are also enhanced. The arrival of as many drivers as possible enhances the likelihood to see scenario 1 happen. Of course, reality is more complex, most of the time there are more than one traffic light on the same road, while some roads and some drivers may be more important than others.

When we also asked the question “What are the supporting facts increasing the plausibility of scenario 1?” to be able to estimate what was the likelihood to see this scenario happening at the time of the creation of the scenarios, we were looking for the indications existing when the scenarios were written.

  1. The civil war in Syria drags on: Yes
    • meeting syrian weaponsWith specific evolution favouring diplomatic talks between international powers: Yes (notably as a consequence of the chemical disarmament following the August 2013 crisis – see corresponding part in Update 7 October 2013, Al-Assad regime groups). The type of evolution over the winter 2012/2013 that made scenario 1 plausible in the first place continued and thus reinforced the likelihood of the scenario, until making it a reality. For the sake of clarity for future monitoring, what was used to assess probability in May 2013 could have also been rephrased and made explicit for the future, rather than left in an implicit form.
  2. Fear by external actors to see further use and spread of chemical weapons: Yes, as exemplified during the August 2013 crisis.
  3. Heightened fear by external actors to see the Syrian conflict spilling over further: Yes, considering the evolution in both Lebanon and Iraq, which only worsened with time. Yes also, in the “diplomatic” field, when we consider the hardening of the Saudi position, for example.
  4. Difficulty to implement rapidly, efficiently and with a high likelihood of success any other solution: Yes, with the American and European fear and inefficiency (to moderate according to country) in reacting to the chemical weapons’ crisis, on the one hand, and with, on the other, potentially, the difficulty of Russia (and Iran) to always influence the regime of Bashar al-Assad (see for example Iran’s reaction to the chemical weapons crisis – e.g. Marcus George, 16 Sept 2013, Reuters, and the speed with which Russian minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov picked upon and supported the chemical disarmament’s solution).
  5. Cost of intervention for intervening countries: Yes, especially for the U.S. and Europe, not only in economic terms, considering public expenses and budgets, which continue being reduced, but also in terms of popular support, as again shown during the chemical weapons’ crisis.
  6. Increased violence and multiplication of attacks during negotiations as actors will seek the strongest bargaining position possible at the negotiation table: Yes. Indeed, no ceasefire took place while new military positioning took place among the various actors’ supporters (see previous post).
  7. Discussions, declarations, bargains and twists regarding the participation of various actors: Yes, as the month leading to Geneva showed, including the “affair” of Iran’s invitation by the U.N. – e.g. BBC News 20 January 2014, or the impact of Geneva on the Kurdish groups (see above), or the reconfiguration of the Salafis groups and their relationship to the NC and the SMC. This was (and still is for the future, when another peace conference will take place) a particularly important indicator as from the composition of the delegations and their relative strength depends the result of the conference.

As all indicators turned “green and even greener” (see analogy above on traffic lights) as time went by, then it meant that the likelihood to see scenario 1 happen, as well as the proximity of the event on the timeline both increased. The content of the indications (those facts that are collected and correspond to the selected indicators) told us which sub-scenario would happen and enhanced the already identified  likelihood to see the peace talks succeed or fail and thus to see sub-scenario 1.2.2 take place, which is equivalent to a specific version of scenario 2.

This evaluation shows first that scenario 1 and its sub-scenarios, as well as the related indicators are valid and can thus be kept for the future, as one day another peace conference will take place.  It also shows how both strategic foresight and strategic warning should be utilized jointly. It then underlines that the scenarios should now be supplemented by more sub-scenarios, especially to consider the potential novel strategic strength of the Kurds, as well as the change in policy of some of the Friends of Syria. Meanwhile scenarios envisioning a partition of Syria may now be added in more detail.

By checking scenarios and indicators, updating and supplementing them accordingly, we make them a coherent organic whole, which takes stock of reality as time passes and thus remains useful to policy and decision-makers.

Featured image: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joins with attendees the Syrian Donors’ Conference for a group photo in Kuwait City, Kuwait, on January 15, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Methodology to Analyze Future Security Threats (2): a Game of Chess

This post is the second of a series looking for a methodology that would fulfill the challenging criteria demanded by our time. Previously, we saw that a single “story” initially told at a general level, the political dynamics that are at the core of a polity, could be used to build the very specific model needed to answer a strategic foresight and warning (national security) question or a political risk interrogation.

Very practically, how shall we do that? How are generic dynamics going to help us with our task? How can we proceed? This is what we shall see now. Continue reading Methodology to Analyze Future Security Threats (2): a Game of Chess

Towards an Operational Methodology to Analyze Future Security Threats and Political Risk (1)

In this day and age of speed, not to say haste, unequally shared resources and wish to relatively easily obtain answers to complex questions, we are faced in strategic foresight and warning analysis (or political risk analysis) with a very serious challenge. We must choose a methodology that:

  • allows for a “good enough” analysis (Fein, 1994), i.e. an analysis that will allow for proper decisions to be taken;
  • can be used relatively quickly (the one minute crystal ball prediction will however remain impossible);
  • can be used relatively easily, without scaring both analysts and officers;
  • can be used, for most actors, relatively cheaply;
  • keep the analyst in control (most of the time opaque software and tools are regarded with suspicion);
  • allows for team and collective efforts;
  • transmits a minimum of knowledge in political science and international relations, as sometimes – or often – people analyzing political and international issues and related risks come from diverse backgrounds.

Continue reading Towards an Operational Methodology to Analyze Future Security Threats and Political Risk (1)

Visualising the Steps to Foresee the Future and Get Ready for It

The architecture of the Red (Team) Analysis Society website is built following this process. Each section strives progressively to address the various challenges that are met at each step, to explain and apply various possible methodologies and tools, and finally to deliver real-life strategic foresight and warning products.

Foresight, warning, process, strategic foresight and warning

This graphic description of a step by step process to anticipate the future in an actionable way is grounded in more than a decade of work with and about systems of anticipation, from early warning systems to prevent conflicts for aid agencies to strategic warning and strategic foresight with security and intelligence agencies and practitioners, in research for commissioned reports and teaching on the topic, as well as on more than twenty years experience in the field, in central administration and in research in war, international relations, political science, analysis and policy planning.

See also:

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Featured image: Stanley Kubrick exhibit at EYE Filminstitut Netherlands, Amsterdam – The War Room (Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)- By Marcel Oosterwijk from Amsterdam, The Netherlands [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Strategic Foresight & Warning Analysis

See below for list of articles in this section.

Strategic Foresight and Warning (SF&W) is at once process and analysis.

By SF&W analysis we mean all methodologies and related issues allowing for the development of an understanding grounded in reality that will generate best anticipatory products, useful to decision-makers and policy-makers for carrying out their mission.

The larger SF&W analytical method can be seen as following the following steps, with use of various methodologies and related challenges for each step:

Strategic Foresight and Warning analytical methodology, foresight analysis, scenariosAn example of what is involved in step 1 is given here with the bibliography and links on the one hand, with the Red (Team) Analysis Weekly on the other. A more detailed discussion of step 1 and 6 can be found in the section scan & monitor.

The second (Creating the model I & II) and third steps (Determining criteriaVariables, values and consistency in dynamic networks and finally Using ego networks in foresight analysis) of the foresight part of the method are developed with the use of The Chronicles of Everstate as example. Those steps are also addressed in the series “Assessing future security threats“.

Part of the content of steps 2 and 3 may move from one to the other step. If fully dynamic networks with precise timeline and Bayesian networks were constructed, then the first part of step 3 (identify values, timeline and probabilities) would be included in step 2. Here it is part of step 3.

The monitoring part of step 6 is done for various issues through The Sigils, as well as through The Weekly. These real life indications allow checking the validity of the scenario, and updating the model used for each issue, as done, for example, in the section on end of year predictions. They also allow identifying new emerging issues ( the feedback on step 1).

List of articles