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Libyan War Spills Over to Europe, Algeria, and Niger – Sc 2.2 (1) – Scenarios for the Future of Libya

This article is the first of our series focusing on scenarios depicting the range of spillover that could stem from the Libyan war. In our previous article, we concluded the scenarios for international intervention in light of a fragmenting unity government. In this article, we shall focus on scenarios related to conflict spillover in only one direction (towards Europe), and then spillover in two directions (west towards Algeria and south towards Niger).

These scenarios are grounded in the premises that the evolution of the civil war leads to spillover. As a result, the war changes from an internal civil war within the bounds of Libyan borders with a measure of external involvement, to a renewed war that encompasses more than just Libya. Indeed, the war now includes all the territories where it spread. The type and intensity of the spillover will also determine how actors – notably those which are newly involved as a result of the spillover – will respond, and inevitably, the fate of the war.

It is important to note our choices for spillover sub-scenarios. There are many combinations that could occur under spillover conditions, but we have chosen three examples that maybe considered as ideal-types with particular country cases for the sake of brevity: spillover in only one direction (north towards Europe), spillover in two directions (Algeria/Niger), and spillover in all directions (Algeria/Niger/Egypt/Europe). Furthermore, the intensity of and response to spillover plays a key role in these sub-scenarios. The renewed war – now encompassing new actors outside of Libya – is altered significantly as intensity and response levels rise. However, we shall only briefly outline these scenarios, as they are fundamentally new conflicts and would require new scenarios to fully understand their depth.

Click to access larger image

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

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.

Sub-scenario 2.2 Spillover

External military support (for example, see Terrill, Strategic Studies Institute, December 2008 pgs. 2-4 for the effects of external military support in Iraq), the tribal character of the war, with tribal “land” overriding modern states boundaries, migrant flow, the fragility of states in the region, and Salafist threats with their global claims and connections originating from Libya are the primary factors that contribute to the potential spillover. Conflict spillover from Libya affects potentially some states significantly more than others, depending on geography and stability level, as well as on the factors mentioned above.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The stability level of bordering countries. If bordering countries suffer from instability, they are more susceptible to spillover effects than more stable countries. The lower the stability level of a state, the more likely this scenario will occur. For example, Niger is already plagued by the Boko Haram threat, institutional weakness, lack of development, and a deteriorating political climate, which makes it highly susceptible to experiencing spillover from the Libyan conflict (Jezequel and Cherbib, International Crisis Group, February 19, 2016; Melly and Shepherd, Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, April 19, 2016).
  2. The pattern and intensity of migrant flows. The more migrant routes that go into Europe affect how difficult it is to stop the migrant flow. Multiple migrant routes spanning the width of the Mediterranean is harder to stop than only having to focus on one or two concentrated routes. Furthermore, the intensity of migrant flows through each route also affects the likelihood of this scenario. High-traveled routes increase the likelihood of significant spillover.
  3. The level of external support for Libyan actors. By backing particular Libyan actors in the conflict (whether through funding, weapons, military training, or partnering), external actors increase the likelihood of spillover. Particularly with Al-Qaida and Islamic State actors involved, external actors may fall victim to terrorist attacks on their home soil – depending on who they support and their level of support. A past indication occurred when Islamic State militants executed 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya (Mullen, CNN, February 16, 2015) – sending a clear message to Egypt, who has faithfully backed General Haftar’s forces throughout the conflict.
  4. The strength of transnational tribal ties. As discussed in Tribal Dynamics and Civil War I, II, and III, tribalism plays a significant role in Libya. Any conflict involving the Tuareg or Toubou runs the risk of spilling over throughout the region – considering their tribal ties extend across various state borders in North Africa. Conflict between the Tuareg and Toubou over vital smuggling routes, in particular, increases the likelihood of spillover.
  5. The length of the war in Libya. The longer the war in Libya continues, the higher the likelihood that it spills over. The length of war increases the number of refugees, potentially allows Salafist groups the time to expand their capabilities, and creates a demand for transnational arms and militant smuggling.

Sub-scenario 2.2.1 The Conflict Spills Over to the North (Europe)

Having to fight each other, as well as jihadist elements (although the Islamic State may be losing strength in Sirte at the moment, this scenario focuses on Libya 3-5 years from now, when Al-Qaida and Islamic State groups may regain strength), the Islamists and nationalists focus more on retaining territory than securing the borders to stop the migrant flow. As a result, the masses of migrants headed into Libya are able to more easily cross the Mediterranean into Europe. European countries – who are already dealing with Libyan war refugees leaving Libya because of the war, as well as the migrant flow from Turkey – experience this spillover effect on a large-scale by sea from war-torn Libya. The migrant spillover also contributes to the terrorism spillover, in that Salafist groups utilize the migrant flow from Libya to infiltrate European countries and carry out attacks. As the Islamic State groups in Libya face mounting pressure from the other Libyan actors, they funnel small cells of jihadists to Europe using the migrant route. The jihadists then begin targeting European populations as an alternative to fighting the war in Libya. Furthermore, the deployment of European advisers and Special Forces in support of Libyan actors against Salafist threats also results in jihadists attacking European targets.

Faced with increasing flows of migrants from Libya, and with new attacks carried out by perpetrators who can be traced originally to Libya, Europe works to stem the flow by deploying naval and coast guard units in the Mediterranean to intercept migrant boats and turn them back. It also attempts to compensate African countries on migratory routes to harbor migrants in an effort to prevent them from entering Libya in the first place. If Europe is unsuccessful in stopping the migrant flow, jihadists continue to enter as migrants in order to carry out deadly attacks on European populations while recruiting radicalized natural-born European citizens to carry out additional operations. A new type of war encompassing both Libya and Europe continues developing.

If successful in mitigating the migrant flow (and by default, restricting the ability of jihadists to enter by sea), the entry of Europe in the conflict through spillover now changes the conflict in Libya. With less opportunity to infiltrate Europe using the migrant routes from the Tripoli and Benghazi areas, the Salafists begin shifting their operatives to increasingly target government and military officials of the Islamists and nationalists. This shift in strategy forces the rival governments to heighten security around their political centers, and to divert more military forces against Salafist groups. Furthermore, the masses of migrants and Libyan refugees stuck in Tripoli and Benghazi, as well as in the south of Libya, contribute to instability in those areas, with some turning to armed groups as an alternative. Large groups of migrants and Libyan refugees may even head south or southwest to cross the borders into Algeria or Niger (see scenario below).

Lastly, European oil investments and imports from Libya continue being negatively affected as the nationalists, Islamists, and Salafist groups fight for control over Libya’s vital oil fields and production facilities. The surge in Salafist attacks and increased conflict over oil resources drastically impacts the willingness and ability of European companies to invest in Libyan oil and import it, which economically hurts both the Islamists and nationalists that are trying to export oil for funds.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.2.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. Remaining unchecked pockets of Salafists on Libyan territory. The existence of unchecked Salafist groups in Libya would increase the likelihood to see Salafist groups maneuvering to funnel jihadists into Europe. Furthermore, it would also impact both possible outcomes. If Europe fails to stop the migrant flows, the new conflict born out of the spill over persists and intensifies. Alternatively, if the migrant flows are stopped, these same groups could more easily target Libyan government and military officials of both the Islamists and nationalists.
  2. The existence of naval patrols in the Mediterranean trying to stem the flow of migrants. Europe’s ability to mitigate the migrant flow depends heavily on border closings for landlocked countries, and a naval presence in the Mediterranean for coastal countries. The existence of naval patrols in the Mediterranean would probably increase the likelihood of mitigating migrant flow, although the current attempt – named Operation Sophia – has produced questionable results (see Rossi, skyNEWS, June 16, 2016).
  3. The level of pressure on Salafist groups. The level of pressure against Salafist groups may affect their willingness to smuggle jihadists into Europe posing as refugees. If Al-Qaida and Islamic State strongholds are weakened, and their influence waning, they may resort to sending some of their members to Europe as an alternative to fighting a losing struggle in Libya. A past indication occurred when forces under the unity government made significant progress against the Islamic State stronghold of Sirte (Rossi, skyNEWS, June 16, 2016).
  4. The ability of Salafist groups in Libya to smuggle jihadists in to Europe. If Salafist groups on the coast are able to fill a boat with migrants (along with a few undercover jihadists) and sail towards a highly trafficked migrant sea route towards Europe, the likelihood of spillover increases. With so many migrants stuck waiting on Libya’s shore, it would not be difficult to deceive a group of migrants into paying for a boat trip to Italy.
  5. The deployment of European advisers and Special Forces in support of Libyan actors. If European advisers or Special Forces are operating in Libya – regardless of whom they support – the likelihood of spillover increases. With Salafist groups fighting militias from both sides, they will be inclined to attack European targets for simply operating in the country – regardless of which side. Past indications occurred when French and British Special Forces teams began operating in Libya (BBC News, May 26, 2016; Sputnik News, February 26, 2016).
  6. The position of the Libyan governments regarding migrants. Similar to President Erdogan’s exploitation of the migrant crisis for monetary gain (Berger, New Eastern Outlook, March 4, 2016), the Islamist and nationalist governments may offer to increase border security and develop more migrant detention camps in exchange for compensation. If European governments are desperate enough to make a deal with the Libyan governments, the Libyan governments will in turn rely on their militias to run the migrant camps. If both the Libyan and European governments are willing to partner for the sake of keeping migrants in Libya, the likelihood of spillover decreases.
  7. Europe awareness and willingness to address fully the evolving nature of the war. If Europe is not aware, or is unwilling, to properly address the renewed war, the likelihood of significant spillover increases. European leadership may simply not recognize the full danger of renewed conflict; or if it does, but delays in responding, it will likely feel the full effects and have to invest even more willpower and resources to mitigate war.
  8. The level of conflict over Libya’s oil resources. Conflict between the Islamists, nationalists, and Islamic State groups affect Libyan oil exports, and thus affect global oil prices. Islamic State attacks on oil facilities, combined with back-and-forth captures of oil fields by Islamist and nationalist forces, increase the likelihood of economic spillover in the world’s oil sector (Faucon and Said, The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2016; al-Warfalli, Reuters, March 3, 2015). A previous indication occurred when clashes near the Es Sider and Ras Lanuf oil terminals affected oil prices in late May 2016 (Tuttle, Bloomberg, May 29, 2016).
  9. Indicator 2 of scenario 2.2 also acts here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.2.2 Conflict Spills Over to the West (Algeria) and South (Niger)

Algerian troops protecting the border, posted on the Military of Algeria Facebook page, 7 June 2016

With both Libya and Algeria unable to fully secure their shared border, Libyan migrants make their way into Algeria. Since Malian and Syrian migrants significantly outnumber the Libyan migrants in Algeria, the continuous flow of Libyan migrants into the country is a minor spillover effect. The primary spillover comes from terrorism, arms smuggling, and trans-national tribal ties.

Map by the Norwegian Center for Global Analysis (NGCA) in NCGA and Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, Libya: Criminal economies and terrorist financing in the trans-Sahara, May 2015 – click for larger image

Although cross-border arms and drug smuggling in Libya’s southern and south-western areas is not a new phenomenon, Libya’s civil war and the growth of extremist groups in the region make smuggling across the Libyan-Algerian border more concerning. Islamist militants also use the smuggling routes to infiltrate Libya and join Salafist groups operating there. Facing constant instability and threats from Libya, Algeria tries to divert more security forces to the border areas. Meanwhile, the Islamist militants trying to cross the Algerian-Libyan border to join Libya’s war turn to the extremist groups already operating in Algeria, and begin bulking up their capabilities. Furthermore, renewed conflict between the Tuareg and Toubou over the lucrative smuggling routes push some of the Tuareg in Algeria to cross the border and assist their Libyan counterparts, which then prompts Toubou fighters from Niger and Chad to join the fray – thus turning the Southern Libyan conflict into a regional conflict between tribal forces.

Similar to Algeria, Niger falls victim to tribal spillover from the Libyan conflict – particularly, the tribal conflict in Southern Libya for control of vital smuggling routes. As a result, both Tuareg and Toubou fighters from Niger cross the border to assist their Libyan tribesmen. The severity of tribal conflict in Southern Libya determines whether or not conflict breaks out between the Tuareg and Toubou within Niger’s borders. Furthermore, the Islamists’ and nationalists’ progress against the Salafist groups, as well as the threat of strong international intervention, prompts some jihadists to relocate their area of operations to Niger. The level of progress against Salafists also impacts the militants that are headed north towards Libya through Niger. If the Salafists are steadily losing territory, militants may forego Libya and attempt to connect with extremist groups already operating in Niger. Considering Niger’s instability and already existing threat of Boko Haram, the increase of jihadists arriving from Libya prompts a serious military response and increased operations near the Niger-Libyan border.

Map of Toubou populations by ArnoldPlaton [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.2.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The capacity of Europe to stop the flow of migrants (see previous scenario). As discussed in the previous scenario, Europe’s ability to stop the flow of migrants affects the likelihood of spillover to the south or southwest. However, the current attempt to stop this flow may actually be exacerbating the situation (see Rossi, skyNEWS, June 16, 2016). Furthermore, there are an estimated 800,000 migrants waiting on Libya’s shore to cross the Mediterranean (O’Reilly, Gulf News, May 29, 2016). If Europe is unable to stop this massive flow of migrants from Libya, the likelihood of this scenario decreases.
  2. The level of progress to combat Salafist groups in Libya. If Salafist groups begin to significantly weaken and lose territory in Northern Libya, and particularly if Europe has cut off the migrant flow across the Mediterranean, they may turn south or southwest and cross into neighboring countries. A past indication occurred when forces under the unity government made significant progress against the Islamic State stronghold of Sirte (Rossi, skyNEWS, June 16, 2016).
  3. The ability of militants to use smuggling routes to infiltrate Libya. By utilizing heavily trafficked trade routes through Algeria and Niger (see The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, May 11, 2015), militants can infiltrate through Southern Libya and head north to connect with prominent Salafist groups there. The lack of border security and the lucrative business of the trade routes for tribes in the area allow for these militants to cross in to Libya. A past indication occurred when up to 1,000 Boko Haram fighters utilized smuggling routes to join Islamic State groups in Libya (Paton, International Business Times, March 5, 2016).
  4. The ability of Algeria to efficiently patrol its border. If Algeria is unable to efficiently patrol its border, the likelihood of spillover increases. Arms trafficking and Islamic militants pose a problem for Algeria’s 1,000km long border with Libya. Algeria’s Minister for Maghreb Affairs has stressed the importance of securing the border areas between his country and Libya – citing fears of spillover, while Algeria’s Deputy Defense Minister has heightened border security in the recent past (Karuri, AfricaNews, May 2, 2016; Reuters, March 14, 2016). Algeria has deployed additional troops to the border, and reportedly uses surveillance drones to spot arms traffickers and militant activity (Reuters, March 14, 2016). Increased efforts have thus far uncovered a cache of weapons near the Libyan border and captured members of a Libyan arms smuggling network operating near the border (NewsGhana, May 30, 2016; Albawaba News, May 19, 2016). However, the increased security efforts could also inadvertently increase the strength of extremist groups in Algeria, as militants attempting to cross in to Libya are cut off by the increased military presence.
  5. The real stability of Algeria. Algeria’s stability will determine its ability to effectively respond to Libyan spillover. Although Algeria ramped up its security measures on the border (see indicator above), its economy has suffered as a result of low global oil prices (Fakir and Ghanem-Yazbeck, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 11, 2016). Rising unemployment, corruption, and an “overbearing state bureaucracy” have incited social unrest (Serrano, Foreign Affairs, May 27, 2016). If the trend of social unrest and an increasingly fragile economy continue, Algeria may become more susceptible to spillover.
  6. The willingness of jihadists to relocate to Niger. Jihadists would likely only be willing to relocate to Niger if they face significant pressure in Libya and their groups are on the verge of defeat. Their willingness to travel to Niger instead of fighting to the end increases the likelihood of this scenario. A past indication occurred when Islamic State militants reportedly left their strongholds in Northern Libya and began migrating south towards Niger and Chad (Farge, Reuters, February 11, 2016).
  7. The stability of Niger. Niger’s stability level will play a significant role in how much it will be affected by Libyan spillover. It currently faces jihadist threats – particularly by Boko Haram, political tension, drought, food insecurity, poverty, and “economic fragility” (Shepherd and Melly, Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, April 2016) – thus increasing the likelihood of this scenario.
  8. Niger’s control over its territory. The inability to efficiently control its own territory makes Niger more susceptible to spillover effects. The fact that one of the major smuggling routes in the region goes through the Nigerien-Libyan border is indicative of Niger’s inability to control that sector (The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, May 11, 2015). A past indication of failing to control its territory occurred when Niger struggled to control the Lake Chad region during a Boko Haram bombing campaign in 2015 (Shepherd and Melly, Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, April 2016).
  9. The severity of conflict between the Tuareg and Toubou in Southern Libya. High levels of conflict between the Tuareg and Toubou will increase the likelihood of this scenario. Fighting for strategic control of vital trade routes in Southern Libya may turn into a regional conflict between the tribes, which would certainly expand into neighboring Niger. A past indication occurred when the Tuareg and Toubou heavily fought for control over Ubari, the nearby oil fields, and the cross-border trade routes in the area (Murray, Middle East Eye, January 17, 2015).
  10. The willingness of Tuareg and Toubou in bordering countries to cross in to Libya. The willingness of these tribes to cross the border into Libya and join the conflict depends on the severity of the conflict (see indicator above) and the strength of the tribal ties – likely on the familial level. A past indication occurred when Toubou tribesmen in Chad crossed in to Libya to help their cousins fight the Zawiya (CapitalNews, March 22, 2012).

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Featured Photo: Syrian and Iraq refugees arrive in Lesvos, Greece, by Ggia [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia

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