Tag Archives: war

Evaluating Likelihoods for Libya’s Future – Scenario 1

Having detailed the various potential scenarios for Libya’s future over the next three to five years, we shall now evaluate the likelihood of the scenarios thanks notably to their indicators. We shall use the methodology developed by The Red (Team) Analysis Society, building upon Heuer (“Assessing Probability of a Scenario”, in Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, pp.156-157) and the capability given by indicators. This methodology allows us to obtain an estimated likelihood, which is considered not only as good enough for the purpose of anticipation through scenarios but also as remaining usable by analysts. Bayesian Networks (BN), using Pearl’s work (1985), would provide us with even more accurate estimates, but the use of BN for analysts, furthermore in the framework of issues which analysis is mainly qualitative, remains so far too heavy and time-consuming.

In this article, we shall determine the likelihood of the primary scenarios for a peaceful solution between the main Libyan actors (excluding Salafist groups), which we started to detail in “Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Scenarios 1: Towards Peace? (1).”

Organizing the Scenarios & Indicators

In order to mathematically deduce the likelihood of this scenario and its sub-scenarios, we organized the sub-scenarios in such a way as to correctly account for scenarios not detailed in our posts previously because they were not necessary in terms of narrative and understanding of the future of Libya – they were implicit (see graph below).

Click to access larger image


With the main scenarios now organized, we compiled all their indicators from their corresponding articles and selected the indicators that were absolutely necessary for that scenario to occur. There were two reasons for this approach: first, we wanted to be as accurate as possible with determining the likelihood; indicators like the creation of a Joint Arab Force would be far less significant than the Islamists’ view of General Haftar affecting their willingness to participate in peace talks. Although these ‘lesser’ indicators do indeed contribute to strategic foresight and warnings for Libya’s future, and will provide us, in terms of monitoring with indications regarding the evolution towards a scenario or another, they are not absolutely necessary for that specific scenario or sub-scenario to occur*. Second, only having ‘primary indicators’ allows us to more easily monitor their reality on the ground for assessing the likelihood, and thus let us update their likelihood between posts to maintain the accuracy of the final likelihoods at the conclusion of this series. Monitoring for warning once the likelihood of all the scenarios is established would however use also ‘secondary indicators’.

To ensure the reliability of the mathematical process, each scenario’s group of indicators is mirrored in its counterpart or opposite scenario, but the way each indicator is phrased is inversed to match that scenario’s likelihood of occurring.

For example, indicator 6 of scenario 1.3 [Peace Negotiations, Without an External Mediator, Lead to a Signed Peace Treaty] is “Do the Libyan actors agree on the role of Islam in the unity government?” Since the Islamists advocate for the use of Sharia, and the nationalists do not, their agreement on the role of Islam in a new government is necessary for this scenario to occur. However, in scenario 1.4 [Peace Negotiations, Without an External Mediator, Fail], indicator 6 states “Do the Libyan actors disagree on the role of Islam in the unity government?,” since this disagreement on the role of Islam would prevent a signed peace treaty.

After organizing the scenarios, selecting and grouping their primary indicators, we began to compare the ideal indication for each indicator to see the scenario occurring with the reality of the indication on the ground to determine the likelihood for each (for more on indicators and indications, see Helene Lavoix, “Evaluating Scenarios and Indicators for the Syrian War”, 10 March 2014, RTAS).

Evaluating the Indicators

*The likelihood of each indicator is based on the current reality on the ground, which may warrant a change of likelihood as we progress through each scenario in the forthcoming posts.

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

Scenario: Libyan Actors Agree to Participate in Peace Talks Mediated by External Actors

Are Libyan actors willing to attend and participate in peace talks mediated by external actors? 50% (Improbable). Currently, there are major factions that are either refusing or delaying to participate in peace talks facilitated by UN actors or individual states (such as Algeria). The Steadfastness Front has refused to join such negotiations, and has opposed the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) (Toaido and Fitzgerald, European Council on Foreign Relations). Meanwhile, General Haftar turned down Algerian-led peace talks between himself and the GNA (Middle East Monitor, January 3, 2017) and refuses to meet with UN Special Representative Martin Kobler (Fishman, The Washington Institute, January 19, 2017). However, other actors have already shown their willingness to participate in UN-led peace talks, as exhibited by those who have supported and joined the GNA. Furthermore, a group of members of the Council of Representatives (COR) have engaged in dialogue with Algerian mediators and a UN delegation regarding a peace agreement (Libya Herald, January 26, 2017; Libya Herald, January 17, 2017), although other COR members are still resistant to peace talks. Considering these realities, we gave this indicator a 50% likelihood to see the necessary indication happen, which rates as improbable.

Do the identities of the external mediator(s) have a minimal effect on the willingness of Libyan actors to participate? 30% (Improbable). The former UN envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, accepted a job in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) while mediating peace talks between the General National Congress and Council of Representatives (Al Jazeera, November 5, 2015). Because the UAE openly backed the COR, supporters of the GNC were enraged, which likely deepened mistrust of the United Nations. More recently, the plane carrying UN Special Representative to Libya Martin Kobler was denied permission to land as he was flying to Tobruk to speak with members of the COR – a government whose members are increasingly opposed to Kobler (Prentis, Libya Herald, January 18, 2017). Even Grand Mufti Sheikh Sadiq Al-Gharyani has expressed disapproval for UNSMIL and Kobler, saying, “The UNSMIL is cooperating with Satan, it has neglected the victory of Libyan people over ISIS, therefore, it’s time to call for replacing it” (The Libya Observer, December 7, 2016). Such distrust and disapproval of UN mediators has certainly had an effect on the willingness of Libyan actors to be actively involved in peace talks, thus we gave this indicator a 30% likelihood.

Do views on General Haftar have a minimal effect on the willingness of Haftar opposition forces to participate? 15% (Highly Unlikely). Considering the Islamists’ overwhelming opposition to Haftar and Misrata’s serious concern of a Haftar dictatorship (Saleh, Financial Times, January 25, 2017), we gave this indicator a 15% likelihood.

Are the armed coalitions facing a prolonged stalemate? 20% (Highly Unlikely). Based on the estimates of military strength and territorial control (see indicator below), we gave this indicator a 20% likelihood.

Are the armed coalitions relatively equal in terms of military strength and territorial control? 20% (Highly Unlikely). Although Misrata forces solidified their presence in central Libya by liberating Sirte from the Islamic State, Haftar’s forces control more territory and recently made significant gains in Benghazi against Salafist groups (Critical Threats, January 2017; BBC News, January 25, 2017). Furthermore, all the Misrata brigades under the command of the Misrata Military Council have joined the forces of the Government of National Accord (The Libya Observer, January 30, 2017), leaving the General National Congress and its coalition significantly weakened. As a result, we gave this indicator a 20% likelihood.

Have Libyan actors failed to secure military backing from external actors? 45% (Improbable). General Haftar and his nationalist allies have recently made gains in finding external actors who are increasingly stepping up their military support. Egypt has reportedly been caught sending arms to Libya in violation of the UN arms embargo (Saied, Al-Monitor, January 23, 2017), although it denies this accusation, and the UAE is speculated to soon deploy fighter jets in support of Haftar (Libyan Express, February 7, 2017). Russia, meanwhile, has made public shows of support for General Haftar and his forces (Daou, France24, January 25, 2017; Libya Prospect, December 1, 2016), including flying wounded nationalist fighters to Russia for medical treatment (Markey, Reuters, February 1, 2017). Considering much of this has not yet transitioned to concrete military backing, and considering that the other actors have not secured support from external actors, we gave this indicator a 45% likelihood.

Are external actors restraining the amount of pressure on Libyan actors to participate in peace talks? 25% (Improbable). External actors have incrementally increasing their pressure on Libyan actors to participate in dialogue and reach an agreement. Last year, the European Union imposed sanctions on Libyan politicians that were considered to be obstructing the Government of National Accord (BBC News, April 1, 2016). More recently, the EU suggested that it might lessen the sanctions against these Libyan leaders in order to facilitate a dialogue (ANSAmed, February 7, 2017). The European Union has also agreed to give the Government of National Accord a 215 million dollar package and funding for the Libyan coast guard in order to stem the migrant flows from Libya (BBC News, February 3, 2017). Such an action puts pressure on the GNC and COR, as evidenced by the COR’s condemnation of the deal (GeopoliticsAlert, February 8, 2017). Considering these realities, we gave this indicator a 25% likelihood.

Determining Likelihood

After calculating the likelihood of each indicator, we organized each numerical value in tiers with independent indicators standing alone and dependent indicators linked together according to dependency. Using scenario 1.3 again as an example, the likelihood of indicator 5 [Are the armed coalitions facing a prolonged stalemate?] occurring is dependent on the likelihood of indicator 4 [Are the armed coalitions relatively equal in regards to military strength and territorial control?].

We then took the first of each pair of opposed scenarios and multiplied the numerical likelihoods of each indicator to find the likelihood of that scenario. In our first scenario where Libyan actors agree to participate in peace talks mediated by external actors, the product of the indicators’ likelihood was .001134 – a less than 1% likelihood for that scenario. After finding the product of the first scenario, considering probabilities’ rules, we subtracted it from 1 to get the likelihood for its counterpart (1-x[sc 1 likelihood]=sc 2 likelihood). Thus, the likelihood of Libyan actors deciding to not participate in peace talks brokered by external actors is .9982, or 99.82%.

To determine the likelihood of their sub-scenarios, we followed the same process for each pair of scenarios and, because trees of scenarios obey to the rules of probability for dependent events, multiplied the product of each sub-scenario to their parent scenarios.

Click to access larger image

After evaluating the main sub-scenarios, as well as their primary indicators, we thus assess that Scenario 1 Towards Peace would be highly unlikely – less than 20%, considering current situation.

In our next post, we shall begin to determine the likelihood of the various 2.x scenarios.

*In terms of graph and network representing the future of Libya, they would be antecede the variables used for this specific scenario by more than two steps and/or be on adjacent paths.


Feature Photo: Row of Libyan flags in Tripoli by Ben Sutherland, [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

“Algeria continues Libya peace efforts with visit of pro-LNA HoR group,” Libya Herald, January 17, 2017

“Anger at UN chief negotiator in Libya’s new job in UAE,” Al-Jazeera, November 5, 2015

Ben Fishman, “Shifting International Support for Libya’s Unity Government,” The Washington Institute, January 19, 2017

“EU may reduce sanctions to foster Libyan peace,” ANSAmed, February 7, 2017

Fighting Forces in Libya: January 2017 map, Critical Threats, American Enterprise Institute

“Grand Mufti calls for UNSMIL replacement; praises victory over ISIS,” The Libya Observer, December 7, 2016

“Haftar and Russia agreement…Where it goes?” Libya Prospect, December 1, 2016

“Haftar refuses peace talks with UN-backed government,” Middle East Monitor, January 3, 2017

J. Pearl, “Bayesian Networks: A Model of Self-Activated Memory for Evidential Reasoning,” (UCLA Technical Report CSD-850017), Proceedings of the 7th Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, University of California, Irvine, CA, 1985, pp. 329-334.

Jamie Prentis, “UNSMIL’s Martin Kobler refused clearance for Tobruk landing,” Libya Herald, January 18, 2017

“Libya And Italy Sign Migration Deal,” Geopolitics Alert, February 8, 2017

“Libyan Islamists lose Benghazi district to Haftar’s forces,” BBC News, January 25, 2017

“Libyan politicians hit by EU sanctions over new government,” BBC News, April 1, 2016

Marc Daou, “By supporting Marshal Haftar, Russia marks its territory in Libya,” France24, January 25, 2017

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

“Migrant crisis: EU leaders agree plan to stop Libya influx,” BBC News, February 3, 2017

“Misrata brigades join Libyan National Army,” The Libya Observer, January 30, 2017

Mohamed Saied, “Egypt goes against international current with Libya support,” Al-Monitor, January 23, 2017

Patrick Markey, “Eastern Libya forces fly wounded to Russia in growing cooperation,” Reuters, February 1, 2017

“UAE on verge of sending Mirage 2000s to support Haftar’s looming war on western Libya,” Libyan Express, February 7, 2017

“UNSMIL team in Tobruk for talks with HoR,” Libya Herald, January 26, 2017

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.

Click to access larger image

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.


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

Impacts of the Conflict in Ukraine – Geopolitics, Uncertainties and Business (3)

With this article and the next one, we shall use the instability and conflict in Ukraine and the related impacts on businesses to continue enhancing our understanding of the way businesses and the corporate world could usefully anticipate or foresee geopolitical and political risks and uncertainties.

Here we shall review two major impacts of the war in Ukraine. First we shall look at the surprising cost of sanctions related to Ukraine on businesses of sanctioning countries. Second, we shall move to the multiple impacts of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. With the forthcoming second part, wondering how a firm could have avoided or to the least mitigated  these impacts, we shall use what we learned to identify main lessons to improve strategic foresight and warning, anticipation and risk management of geopolitical and political risks and uncertainties for the corporate sector. These will thus be added to the points previously identified in “Lessons from and for the Brexit – Geopolitics, Uncertainties, and Business (2)”, after a general framework was defined in “Businesses and Geopolitics: Caught up in the Whirlwinds?” (1).

Continue reading Impacts of the Conflict in Ukraine – Geopolitics, Uncertainties and Business (3)

Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 3.2 A Nationalist Libya

This article focuses on the second of the scenarios depicting a total victory for one Libyan faction, where the nationalist coalition – loyal to a non-Islamist and nationalist government – is victorious and guides Libya towards a secular and nationalist state where Sharia is not a source of governance. In our previous scenario we detailed the scenario of an Islamist victory where the new government gradually, with different paths according to speed, implements Sharia law and puts Libya on the path towards an Islamic state.

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.

Click to access larger image

Sub-scenario 3.2 A Nationalist Libya

In this scenario, a “real victory” refers to the cessation of major hostilities resulting from a belligerents military domination of the other. Once a belligerent militarily defeats the other, it will be in a position to rebuild Libya as either an Islamist or secular state.

By achieving a real victory against the Islamist-dominated coalition and government, the nationalist coalition sets up its non-Islamist government and endeavours to organize the new Libyan state. This new government projects a secular-nationalist rule of law, and firmly opposes the use of Sharia law as a basis for legislation.

The nationalist government is determined to first secure the porous southern border. It knows it has two major options. Either it makes a deal with the Tuareg and Toubou to increase their representation in government and promises to address their other grievances if they secure the southern province to prevent jihadists from entering the country and assist in stabilization efforts throughout the Fezzan. Or, it exclusively pre-occupies itself with post-civil war affairs in the north and begins to ignore the Tuareg and Toubou. Both minority tribes in the south thus feel abandoned – the Toubou are angry that their alliance with the nationalist coalition did not result in a seat at the power table, or even a request for meaningful post-war assistance, while the Tuareg are afraid that they especially will be left out, considering their opposition to the nationalists during the war. In this case, the odds to see them deciding to split away from the Libyan state in protest and form their own tribal states, or to hold southern Libyan oil resources as collateral for political concessions – thus forcing the government to address the minority tribes increase. Considering both the value of past war alliances and the risks entailed by not doing so, the nationalist government finally chooses the first option.

The nationalist leaders start implementing a strict anti-Islamist agenda. Not wanting to include former adversaries that promoted a system alien to their beliefs and challenged their legitimacy, the new government takes measures to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party. In an effort to completely dismantle Islamist movements in Libya, the government arrests, charges, and prosecutes prominent Islamist politicians and militia leaders. It then welcomes those affiliated with Qaddafi’s regime to be involved in the new state, partly as a means to increase domestic legitimacy among the Qaddafists, but also as a means to consolidate power. This announcement draws much support from former Qaddafi officials and particularly Qaddafi’s tribe – the Qadhadhfa – who felt marginalized after the revolution and whose men and also some elders became a recruiting pool for the Islamic State in Sirte. Seeing this as an opportunity to restore some of their influence in the government, as well as seeing that the Islamist defeat leaves only the Salafist groups left to be targeted (to which many Qadhadhfa fighters belong), the pro-Qaddafi tribes that didn’t originally ally with the nationalists now shift their support to the new government.

Bolstered by the new government’s actions to ignore Sharia law, the Salafist groups denounce Libya as a kafir state and state their intention to destroy it. However, as far as the Islamic State is concerned, they are weakened by the loss of the pro-Qaddafi tribes, which spurs a renewed propaganda push to attract more foreign jihadists. Salafist groups that experience a surge of foreign jihadist recruits renew their insurgency against the Libyan government. Those which do not succeed in either attracting enough foreign recruits or local ones grow weaker and unable to hold territory as they did during the civil war. Thus, they shift from a more centralized semi-state with territory and governance to a decentralized underground terrorist organization that avoids conventional warfare, causes mass civilian casualties through terrorist attacks, and specifically targets security personnel, secular judges, and political and military leaders under the nationalist government. However, this renewed insurgency and its outcome would require new scenarios to fully understand its depth.

Meanwhile, the nationalist coalition and government struggles at first to gain international legitimacy. The Western powers tread lightly in regard to signaling open support for the new government – mostly to see the initial actions made by the new government that signify its national and international intentions. With the migrant crisis still a serious problem for the EU, it opens diplomatic relations with the nationalist government to work out a solution that would stem the flow of migrants from Libya’s shores. In a unilateral move that is the result of unsatisfactory solutions put forth by the EU, the United Kingdom offers assistance to Libya in an effort to counter the human-trafficking networks that significantly contribute to the migrant routes through Libya. (In an alternative sub-scenario, where the migrant crisis is already abated, the EU stands alongside the U.S. as they wait to see how the government sets the tone for stabilization and rebuilding). Meanwhile, Russia expands its ties with the nationalists and quickly negotiates arms deals with the government – knowing that the new Libyan military will need to be outfitted, while it allows Russia to further gaining influence with a new power in the Middle East/North Africa region.

General Haftar represents a strong anti-Islamist ideology in Libya, which appeals to Egypt and the UAE.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates continue to support the nationalist government as it takes action to exclude Islamists from power and crack down on Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated supporters throughout Libya. Libya’s other neighbors also recognize the legitimacy of the new state and begin working with the government to make sure no insecure borders could lead to renewed insurgency. Having backed the Islamist government – whom they considered the legitimate government – and seeing the new government’s efforts to crack down on Islamist groups, Qatar and Turkey denounce the nationalist government.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 3.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The government’s level of priority to include minority tribes in the state. Once it begins functioning as the country’s sole political authority, the new government will take measures to first stabilize war-torn Libya, and then begin the rebuilding process. Depending on a variety of factors and agendas, the government could potentially prioritize other issues over the political inclusion of minority tribes; issues such as eliminating terrorist groups, ramping up oil production and exports, developing a new and united military, finding a solution to the massive migration problem, securing financial assets, and mitigating any existing financial crises.
  2. The tribes’ willingness to break away from the state in a partition. If the new government begins passing important legislation or drafts a new constitution without their full representation and blatantly ignores their political grievances, then the tribes could take action to form their own autonomous tribal states. A past indication occurred when the Amazigh tribe refused to recognize a Libyan constitution drafted by a constitutional assembly that lacked sufficient tribal representation because “we do not recognize those who do not recognize us,” (Nationalia, February 21, 2014). The Amazigh Council then announced its intention to create an Amazigh-only Parliament (Ibid.). A similar indication occurred when Toubou and Tuareg militia leaders “threatened to pursue regional autonomy for Fezzan” when one of the former Libyan transitional governments cancelled “fake” ID cards held by the Tuareg and Toubou (Lacher, Security Assessment in North Africa, February 2014).
  3. The tribes’ willingness to hold oil resources as collateral to gain full representation in the new government. An alternative to tribal partition in response to the lack of political inclusion or civil rights could take place in the form of holding resources as collateral. Considering oil production would be a priority for the new government, the takeover of oilfields, pipelines, or production facilities by tribes would impair the government’s ability to control its own resources needed to rebuild the country. The Libya Herald points out that the Amazigh, Toubou, and Tuareg are all “within striking distance from one sort of oil facility or another” (Zaptia, Libya Herald, July 27, 2016), making this action a real possibility for any of the minority tribes. Past indications occurred in October 2013 when armed Toubou tribesmen blockaded the Sharara oilfield (Lacher, Security Assessment in North Africa, February 2014); in late October 2013 when an Amazigh group occupied the Mellitah terminal and threatened to cut the gas flow to Italy if the Amazigh representation in the constitutional drafting committee was not increased (Pack and Cook, Majalla, December 9, 2013); a day later when a Tuareg group shut down the southern Sharara oilfield demanding “greater access to citizenship registration, development of local areas, and the reinstatement of local council members rejected by the central government,” (Pack and Cook, Majalla, December 9, 2013); and in December 2013 and January 2014 when the Toubou occupied the Sarir power station to “demand greater representation in Kufra’s municipal government,” (McGregor, The Jamestown Foundation, January 23, 2014).
  4. The existence of belief systems on the nationalist side that vary from fiercely nationalist to a milder version of the nationalist ideology, as well as the relative strength of their supporting groups. Once the nationalists achieve a real victory, there may be various levels of beliefs that impact the reach of the government’s anti-Islamist agenda. There are certainly those that are fiercely nationalist, like General Haftar, but there may also be factions of the nationalist coalition that see a risk in completely excluding the Islamists from a post-war Libya or view such actions as indicative of a dictatorship. Haftar’s Libyan National Army and Libya’s actual military forces appear to fall under Haftar’s fiercely nationalist ideology. Armed factions from Zintan are strong opponents of both the General National Congress and Islamists in general (Al Jazeera, June 2, 2014), so they too would probably rank closer to the side that wants to rid Libya of Islamist groups altogether. The other end of the spectrum – which fought in the nationalist coalition during the war but exhibits less willingness to embrace the nationalist ideology – is the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), led by Ibrahim Jadhran. In 2014, the government announced its agreement with the Council of Representatives “to work together and defeat Islamist terror,” (CIPPE, September 4, 2014). Two years later, Jadhran – who considers himself a moderate Muslim – has taken a middle ground. “We stood by the government, but at the time the National Congress started to lean toward the Islamists and the parliament [Council of Representatives] leaned towards the militarization of the state and the return of a dictatorship. So we saw that we were the only ones standing in the middle,” (Nathan, Politico, August 25, 2016). If the nationalist coalition defeats the Islamists, the Petroleum Facilities Guard would still exist. Since the PFG protects most of the country’s oil industry, it would probably be coerced into supporting the new government – even though the PFG provides little to no support for the strong nationalist ideology. The PFG has over 20,000 men in its ranks, which does not compare to the combined strength of the stronger nationalist factions (see Mitchell, Nationalist Forces I and II), but does have the potential to force a strong nationalist government to consider a less-extreme stance on an Islamist crackdown – especially considering that the PFG protects Libya’s most important source of income.
  5. Willingness of the new government to go beyond dissolving Islamist parties and crack down on prominent Islamist political and militia leaders. If leaders of the nationalist government are driven by a strict anti-Islamist agenda, they will be more willing to crack down on Islamists – in the same way that Egypt cracked down on Egyptian members of the Muslim Brotherhood (Al Jazeera, December 29, 2013). A past indication highlighting a means of justification occurred when the nationalist government labeled Libya Dawn (the Islamist-dominated armed coalition supporting the General National Congress) as a terrorist group on the same level as Ansar al-Sharia (Wehrey and Lacher, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 6, 2014; St. John, Libya: Continuity and Change, May 15, 2015); which is identical to incidents when Egyptian authorities claimed that Islamists were arrested on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organization (Al Jazeera, December 29, 2013).
  6. The level of inclusion of former Qaddafi officials. Contrary to an Islamist victory where the government would ban former Qaddafi officials from power, the nationalist government would likely allow Qaddafi officials to participate. During the civil war, the Council of Representatives took legislative action to allow former Qaddafi officials to be involved in politics, and made no effort to purge its military forces of Qaddafi military officers. Past indications occurred when the Council of Representatives revoked the 2013 Political Isolation Law that banned Qaddafi officials from participating in government (BBC News, February 2, 2015); when the nationalist coalition included “elements of the Qaddafi-era armed forces” (Watanabe, Center for Security Studies, June 21, 2016); and when the political advisor of the head of the Council of Representatives, Abdallah Atamna, confirmed that “some officers inside the army led by General Khalifa Haftar are supporters of Qaddafi” and that the Council of Representatives itself included “members and workers who are Qaddafi supporters,” (Libya Prospect, October 26, 2016).
  7. The willingness of pro-Qaddafi tribes to change their allegiance to the nationalist government. If Salafist groups – particularly the Islamic State – are being progressively defeated by the nationalist forces, and if the nationalist government announces its inclusion of former Qaddafi allies, the pro-Qaddafi tribes that had ties to Salafist groups will likely be more willing to shift their allegiance to the government. If the desire to regain political influence in the sole Libyan government (like these tribes had under Qaddafi’s regime) is strong, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  8. The ability of Salafist groups to reinforce their ranks. By denouncing the new nationalist government, the Salafists can launch a new propaganda campaign calling for jihadists to come to Libya and overthrow the kafir government in hopes of establishing a true Islamic state. Especially if the pro-Qaddafi tribes shift their support to the government, Salafist groups will face a shortage in fighters and may be forced to heavily recruit from outside the country. The ability to increase its ranks of fighters will allow Salafist groups to renew the insurgency.
  9. The level of territorial defeat that cause the Salafists to change strategy. Libya’s complex civil war has fostered an environment where Salafist groups can hold territory and govern the inhabitants as Islamic semi-states (notably Derna and Sirte). However, once the nationalist forces defeat the Islamists, the Salafist groups will be the last remaining opponents that hinder the reconstruction of Libya. If nationalist forces – possibly with the military support of external actors – launch military operations to reclaim Salafist-held areas and begin to make significant progress, there is the possibility that these groups could shift to a more decentralized, state-less strategy driven by assassinations and deadly attacks on civilian populations. Ryan and Johnston discuss the Islamic State’s progressive loss of territory and a similar strategic shift beginning to take shape (War on the Rocks, October 18, 2016). In their report on jihadist strategy and centralized vs. decentralized strategies (War on the Rocks, November 10, 2016), Clarke and Gartenstein-Ross discuss the strategy shift faced by ISIS leaders that Libyan Salafist groups would also face in the midst of territorial loss.
  10. Ability of the new government to integrate militias into the new military. If the new government continues to rely on a mix of military units and militias without integrating the latter under the same chain of command (the militias that were loyal to Operation Dignity) to fulfill the role of the military, the government risks losing the cohesion of its coalition, and therefore will not be able to sufficiently address the Salafist insurgency.
  11. Ability of the government to eliminate, or at least contain, the Salafist groups. In order to contain and eliminate this insurgency, the government will need a strong, centralized military and external assistance. A capable fighting force also needs a leader that can successfully destroy Salafist strongholds. A past indication occurred when General Haftar and his coalition successfully defeated and repelled Salafist groups from areas in eastern Libya, although at the alleged expense of excessive collateral damage (Chorin, Forbes, September 16, 2016).
  12. The level of support offered by external actors to help stabilize Libya. The United States and European Union will likely offer various types of support, particularly to address the massive migration problem stemming from Libya’s shores. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates will also likely assist the new nationalist government as part of their regional interest to undermine and ultimately prevent political Islamic movements from coming to power. The likelihood of a successful nationalist Libya increases as the level of support offered to the new government by the international community increases. However, countries like Turkey and Qatar – who are pro-Islamist and backed the Islamist coalition – will likely denounce the new government as illegitimate when it takes action to ban Islamist movements.
  13. The severity of the migration crisis. Europe’s migrant crisis will play a key role in how quickly the European Union recognizes the government’s legitimacy and offers support. If the number of refugees heading towards Europe significantly decreases by the time the nationalist government takes power, the EU may not be as quick to grant recognition without first seeing what type of government lies just across the Mediterranean (especially focused on the incorporation of democratic values). However, if the migrant flow remains steady or increases, Europe may forsake caution in order to gain the nationalist government’s assistance in mitigating the migrant flow from Libya.
  14. The UK’s willingness to act unilaterally to mitigate the migrant crisis. If the European Union is still experiencing a migrant crisis and has no viable solutions, the United Kingdom may act unilaterally to drastically reduce the number of migrants coming from Libya’s shores. A past indication occurred when the UK offered drones and warships to combat the human smuggling networks in Libya that facilitate the migrant flow (RT, May 18, 2015).
  15. The level of Russia’s desire to be involved in a post-war Libya led by a nationalist government. There are several incentives that could convince Moscow to play a large role in Libya after the nationalists achieve military victory. First, the new Libyan military would need to be rebuilt from the ground up, meaning significant arms deals and military training by foreign advisers. Second, Libya will need new technology to boost its oil production. Third, a friendly Libyan government may offer Russia the chance to expand its oil interests in the country. Fourth, Libya will need help rebuilding its entire country, which could offer Russia the chance to gain influence and acquire a key ally in the region. This could also gain Moscow the use of key Libyan ports in the Mediterranean. Past indications that support Russian incentives occurred when Russian companies had significant investments in Libya’s oil and gas sectors just prior to the 2011 revolution (which highlights the fact that Russia indeed has energy interests there) (Deutsche Welle, August 31, 2011); when Libyan oil producers set a meeting in Moscow with Russian companies to discuss Libya’s need for Russian technology in the oil industry (Sputnik, May 19, 2016); when Russia was the only country that was willing to print currency for the central bank branch under the nationalist government – despite the fact that a unity government already existed (Lewis, Reuters, June 3, 2016); when General Haftar made an official request to the Russian government to supply his military forces with weapons and military equipment (which highlights the serious potential for Russia to be the military supplier of a nationalist government) (Libyan Express, September 28, 2016); and when Russian military advisers allegedly arrived in eastern Libya to support Haftar’s nationalist forces – which may indicate Russia’s preference for General Haftar and the nationalist coalition (The Libya Observer, November 8, 2016).


Feature Photo: Posted on the Council of Representatives Facebook page, May 30, 2016

Adam Nathan, “Militiaman who became Libya’s oil kingpin,” Politico, August 25, 2016

Aidan Lewis, “Separate banknotes symbols of Libyan disunity, financial disarray,” Reuters, June 3, 2016

“Amazigh Supreme Council boycotts Libyan Constitutional Assembly election,” Nationalia, February 21, 2014

Andrew McGregor, “Tripoli Battles Shadowy Qaddafists While Tribal Rivals Fight Over Southern Libya,” The Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Monitor, January 23, 2014

Colin Clarke and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “How Will Jihadist Strategy Evolve as the Islamic State Declines?” War on the Rocks, November 10, 2016

“Egypt widens crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood,” Al Jazeera, December 29, 2013

Ethan Chorin, “A ‘Rogue’ General is Breaking Libya’s Stalemate,” Forbes, September 16, 2016

Frederic Wehrey and Wolfram Lacher, “Libya’s Legitimacy Crisis,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 6, 2014

“Gaddafi supporters and Haftar” Libya Prospect, October 26, 2016

“Haftar asks Russia to lift arms embargo and to apply the Syrian scenario in Libya,” Libyan Express, September 28, 2016

Jason Pack and Haley Cook, “Breaking the Libyan Oil Blockade,” Majalla, December 9, 2013

“Libya Needs Russian Technology to Return Country’s Oil Industry to Normal,” Sputnik, May 19, 2016

“Libya revokes bill which banned Gaddafi-era officials from office,” BBC News, February 2, 2015

“Libya’s former rebels to keep oil flowing amid Islamist surge,” CIPPE, September 4, 2014

Lisa Watanabe, “Libya – in the Eye of the Storm,” Center for Security Studies, June 2016

“Mapping Libya’s armed groups,” Al Jazeera, June 2, 2014

“Migrant crisis: UK offers drones, warships to help tackle human traffickers in Libya,” RT, August 26, 2015

Patrick Ryan and Patrick B. Johnston, “After the Battle for Mosul, Get Ready for the Islamic State to go Underground,” War on the Rocks, October 18, 2016

Ronald Bruce St. John, Libya: Continuity and Change, Routledge, May 15, 2015

“Russian experts are supporting Haftar’s forces via Egyptian-Emirati assistance,” The Libya Observer, November 8, 2016

“Russian business interests are casualty of Libyan conflict,” Deutsche Welle, August 31, 2011

Sami Zaptia, “A wider political settlement is a prerequisite to increased Libyan oil production? Analysis,” Libya Herald, July 27, 2016

Wolfram Lacher, “Libya’s Fractious South and Regional Instability,” Security Assessment in North Africa, February 2014

The Libyan War Spills Over to Egypt, Algeria, Niger and Europe – Scenarios for the Future of Libya

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

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

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

Note: Considering the future names of potential factions that would result from a new split between the unity government, we shall use the label nationalist for those that supported the nationalist/liberal-dominated Council of Representatives (COR) and any future anti-Islamist factions; Islamist to note those that supported the General National Congress (GNC) and any future pro-political Islamic movements; and Salafist will remain the label of choice for groups that reject democratic institutions and embrace jihadism.

Click to access larger image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indicators to Monitor

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fighting the Islamic State’s Terrorism at Home – The Third Way

On 12 and 13 June 2016, two terrorist attacks claimed by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) reminded the Western population, with immediate impact on the U.K. “Brexit” polls (see below), that the war waged against them and all non-Salafis had not ended. The first attack took place against a gay nightclub in Orlando, U.S., killing 50 and wounding 48 people (e.g. BBC News, 13 June 2016). The second occurred in Magnanville, France (e.g. BBC News, 14 June 2016). There, a jihadi stabbed to death a police commanding officer, who was coming back from work, then killed the police officer’s partner under the eyes of their three and half boy in their home.

The attacks generated political reactions showing that the debate has polarised but without truly evolving since the first recent attention grabbing jihadi terror attack in the West, i.e the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France in January 2015 (e.g. for a summary, Wikipedia).

In the U.S., President Obama (Remarks, White House, 12 June 2016) denounced the “Orlando shooting”, but refused to attribute it to the Islamic State and to Salafism. He preferred to concentrate on themes such as gun control and civil rights (Ibid.). At the other end of the spectrum, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Trump denounced similarly attacks on the civil rights of the LGBT community but, first and foremost, stressed the attack was part of “radical Islamic terrorism”, allowed by a “dysfunctional immigration system” and an “incompetent administration” (Trump remarks on Orlando, Transcript, Time Magazine, 13 June 2016). This prompted a counter-attack by President Obama, who fundamentally moved to carry out an “extraordinary denunciation” of Trump because of his answer to the Orlando attacks, meanwhile insisting that “calling a threat by different names does not make it go away” (CNN14 June 2016New York Times, Editorial, “Mr. Obama’s Powerful Words About Terrorism“,  14 June 2016). The American people has become prey to the ongoing presidential electoral process and to a polarised ideological approach to a specific threat, which seems actually to be spreading throughout the West.

If, in France, the terrorist character of the attacks was stressed, President Hollande refused, surprisingly, to name the Islamic State using instead a periphrasis about an “organisation”, then stressing the need for cooperation against terrorism in general, as well as linkages to trafficking (video, 14 June 2016 M6 Info). However, here, the potential ideological politicisation of attacks is most probably greatly kept in check by the Republican independence of the judiciary, notably as incarnated by Procureur de Paris François Molins (the highest ranking official in charge of enquiry regarding terrorism in France – press conference, video itélé, 14 June 2016). Molins communicated as usual frankly and honestly about the progress of the enquiry, including all necessary elements to allow for understanding, from the Islamic State’s propaganda calls to the fact that the terrorist was a devout Muslim and that he had pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi, to the number and titles of the religious books the perpetrator held (Ibid.).

In the midst of the confusion and of the caricatural debate according to which we would have the choice only between hiding the Salafi character of these terrorist attacks because they would be understood as “Islamophobia”, on the one hand, or focusing on immigration mainly as a universal panacea, on the other hand, Molins shows us the way forward towards finding a new and third way.  We must assess coldly the threat first with all its components, before to look for solutions second. This article (the assessment) and the next (possible ways forward) are a contribution to this endeavour.

With this article, we shall first stress that, despite an apparent but false lull, the Islamic State is still a threat with ongoing huge impacts, including almost certainly heavily weighing on the result of the British elections regarding the “Brexit”, should polls be trusted. Had all those surprised by the “Brexit” considered the Islamic State threat and done proper foresight as advocated here, rather than relying on betting, then they would not have been surprised by the result of the British referendum. We shall then turn to the identification of the main elements that characterise the possible terrorist attacks the Islamic State may carry outside the main battlefields (i.e. outside Mesopotamia, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, Afghanistan).

The false lull: the Islamic State is still a threat, with huge impacts

The potential shock that the two terrorist attacks in Orlando and in Magnanville generated was most probably all the greater that the Islamic State had all but disappeared from mainstream media. Furthermore, when the Khilafah was mentioned, it was most of the time to stress – correctly – how much it was losing ground. Neither the uncertainty inherent to war, nor the potential consequences of the battles taking place on the ground in Mesopotamia, Libya, Nigeria, Cameroun or Niger were, most of the time, stressed (e.g for recent attacks in Niger, among others see “Niger says Boko Haram growing stronger“, TV360 Nigeria, 19 June 2016).

Google trends, as shown below, gives us an indication of the worldwide loss of interest for the topic, with which may only come a lack of concern.

The various labels used for the Islamic State over time. The three peaks show respectively the first beheading, Charlie Hebdo attacks and the 15 November attacks in Paris.
Google trends comparing the various labels used for the Islamic State over time. The three peaks show respectively the first beheading, Charlie Hebdo attacks and the 13 November attacks in Paris.
The yellow curve, 2016, shows for the first 6 months a interest which is much lower than for 2015 and only slight above 2014 (before the declaration of the Khilafah)
The yellow curve, 2016, shows for the first 6 months an interest that is much lower than for 2015 (red curve) and only slight above 2014 (blue curve), before the declaration of the Khilafah.
The trend shown with ISIS is accentuated when using as keyword "Islamic State", including because there was no such thing as the Islamic State before the declaration of the Khilafah thus for the first semester 2014.
The trend shown with ISIS is accentuated when using as keyword “Islamic State”, including because there was no such thing as “the Islamic State” before the declaration of the Khilafah, thus for the first semester 2014.

If we take as indication search on Google, it would thus appear that populations located outside the direct zones of war – as defined classically – have been held in a lull, willingly or unwillingly.

Yet, even if the Islamic State is fighting on the ground in its main wilayat while losing territory, as shown on the map below, first it is still fighting, and second, it is still carrying out global terror attacks (for an explanation of the Islamic State administrative structure and its efforts at state-building, H. Lavoix, Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Structure and Wilayat, 4 May 2015 and following articles of the series). For example, the New York Times  maintains a quite accurate historical database of all the terror attacks carried out by the Islamic State and of the numbers of people killed (Karen Yourish, Derek Watkins, Tom Giratikanon and Jasmine C. Lee, updated 14 June 2016).

the Philippines, ISIS, IS, Islamic State, ISIL
Advertisement image for the video by The Islamic State: “The Solid Edifice – The Philippines”

Note, however, for example, that attacks in the Philippines,  as well as those in Niger, or the latest terrorist attacks in Libya are missing from the database (see, for a backgrounder, on the Philippines H. Lavoix “At War against a Global Islamic State – from the Philippines and Indonesia to Bangladesh“, RTAS, 11 January 2016; Caleb Weiss, “Abu Sayyaf Group battalion defects to Islamic State“, 22 March 2016, “Islamic State-loyal groups claim attacks on Filipino military“, 28 May 2016; “Islamic State details activity in the Philippines“, 12 June 2016, The Long War Journal); for Niger, see above, for Libya, e.g. “Libyan forces killed in suicide attack outside SirteAl Jazeera, 16 June 2016; Tweet, 20 June 2016 Terrormonitor.org).

Islamic State, ISIS map, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, war, ISIL
The Islamic State held territory in Mesopotamia (Syria, Iraq and Lebanon) – 3 June 2016 – by Wikipedia – Click to access large original image.

Indeed, the Islamic State’s vision and thus strategy are global, as established throughout our detailed series of articles over 2015 (see, notably, Worlds War and Ultimate War; for a list of articles, Portal to the Islamic State War, RTAS – see these articles for references to many other authors). Europol’s assessment following the Paris November attacks, for example, confirmed our estimation and understanding (“Changes in modus operandi of Islamic State terrorist attacks“, 18 January 2016: p.3). Furthermore, as we warned (23 Nov 2015), failure to consider the global character of the Islamic State and the global theatre of war could also lead to more or, to the least, continuing terrorist attacks:

“Failure to do so [considering the global character of the Islamic State], even in the case of a complete success on the Syrian and Iraqi front, assuming this is possible without considering the larger theatre of war, could leave the world either with the same problem as explained above, or, in an apparently better case scenario, with rampaging armed groups or dispersed armed fighters that would have the potential to sow instability in very various areas. It would also leave pockets of discontent, including religiously-based and extremist groups, which would go underground and could then re-emerge later, possibly transformed, maybe in a worse guise.” (H. Lavoix, “At War against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War“, RTAS, 23 November 2015)

Despite politician approaches, many countries state’s administrations seem to be aware of the threat ahead, as again emphasised by CIA director Brennan in his statement delivered to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 16 June 2016 (CIA):

“ISIL, however, is a formidable, resilient, and largely cohesive enemy, and we anticipate that the group will adjust its strategy and tactics in an effort to regain momentum… To compensate for territorial losses, ISIL will probably rely more on guerrilla tactics, including high-profile attacks outside territory it holds.” (CIA Director John O. Brennan, 16 June 2016).

Nonetheless, considering terrorist attacks’ impacts, is such an awareness as well as the classical security approach enough and sufficient? Is it possible to keep citizens outside of the war when they do risk their lives? May the corporate world accept to believe in the false lull when their business and activities will be impacted by any terrorist attack?

At a collective level, a measure of the directness of the impact of terrorist attacks may be given by the surveys on the referendum for or against the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the “Brexit”, as well as on the final vote leading to the historic decision by the British people to leave the European Union, even though, of course, many other elements were at stake. Right after the Orlando’s attacks, the surveys in the U.K. swung in favour of the “Leave”: Yougov (12 to 13 June for Times), ICM Unlimited (10 to 13 June for The Guardian), Orb International (8 to 12 June for The Daily Telegraph – note that this poll, taken over a longer period of time and ending on the day of Orlando shows less swing towards “Leave”). The murder of Member of Parliament Jo Cox and its effect on the campaign, seemed to have the opposite effect, but in a lesser way (e.g. Yougov/Sunday Times 16 June 2016; Simon Kennedy,  “First Brexit Poll Since Jo Cox Killing Has ‘Remain’ in Lead“, Bloomberg, 18 June 2016).

Thus, as pointed out for example by Robert Colvile (Politico, 23 March 2016), or by former European Central Bank chief economist Otmar Issing (Reuters, 10 June 2016), terrorist attacks including outside the U.K. are one of the most likely event to fully change the result of the referendum. Considering the string of consequences that will result from the exit from the European Union, the severity of the impact of terrorist attacks, at all levels, may not be stressed enough.

This swing in the U.K. survey underscores what is at stake here, and that part of Western societies tend to have forgotten. What matters most to people is to stay alive. Besides simple good sense, Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality (1954) showed when establishing his human beings’ hierarchy of psychological needs (physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, self-actualisation), that safety needs were second only to the simplest physiological needs (eating, drinking, breathing). If the lower needs on the hierarchy are not fulfilled, then, psychologically – save for a few enlightened individuals having reached self-actualisation and assuming no psychopathy is at work, either individually or collectively  – human beings’ needs fall down the ladder, back to those unsatisfied needs (ibid.).

For the corporate world, ongoing terrorist attacks by the Islamic State – or others – will thus also have huge specific impacts, as people will change the way they behave, thus consume and conduct business, with ripple effects from one activity to another. In the light of the surprise that obviously gripped so many actors with the result of the U.K. “Brexit” vote, and which led to a staggering “global equity loss of over $2 trillion” because of wrong market positions, according according to Standard & Poor’s Dow Jones Indices, it is obvious that corporate actors must change their approach (Tim McLaughlin, “Brexit baffled punters, pundits and fund managers to the very end“, Reuters, 25 June 2016; Edward Krudy, “Post-Brexit global equity loss of over $2 trillion worst ever – S&P“, Reuters, 27 June 2016. They must fully integrate strategic foresight methodologies that consider geopolitical risks before to take positions and decisions. Had they done that, then the “Brexit” would not have been a surprise, but a highly likely scenario.

For political authorities, as their fundamental mission is to provide security (see, notably, Moore, 1978), being finally unable to do so will also have severe impacts. Fundamentally, the legitimacy of these political authorities will be questioned (Ibid.). It is highly probable that we are here seeing one of the major causes of the polarization currently at work.

Characteristics and what it means for the population to face a global war

Using the work previously done to understand the Islamic State we shall now identify the characteristics of the related terrorist threat for the population at large.

Everyone is in danger

First, the Islamic State blurs, indeed suppresses, the ideal line separating combatants from civilians (“Ultimate War“, Ibid.), and carries out the disappearance of this differentiation to such an extreme that everyone becomes not only an enemy but also an enemy one ought to kill by any means (see H. Lavoix, “The Islamic State and Terrorist Attacks: License to Kill“, 4 April 2016). Only children below 15 years old – and some exceptions may be found – remain relatively safe (Ibid.).

Thus everyone may be a target and attacked. This means that everyone is in danger, and, ideally, everyone should be protected.

The grim specter of civil war: the attacks may come from everyone

Meanwhile, all “citizens” of the Islamic State are de facto fighters, who ought to kill enemies (Ultimate War). The duty to fight and kill increases with the threat to the existence of the Islamic State and its Khilafah. In such instances, women also have a duty to carry out jihad, as pointed out in “Women in the Islamic State: Manifesto and Case Study” (Islamic State Al-Khanssaa Brigade’s media wing, 23 January 2015, translated by Charlie Winter, Quillian Foundation: 22).  As a result, and because we are in the case where the Islamic State existence is indeed threatened in Mesopotamia and Libya, we may expect, renewed commitment to attacks by all Islamic State members (the muwahhidin (Muslims) have even more a duty to be mujahidin), including by women.

ISIS, ISIL, India, Islamic State
Still from – “Selected 10 Videos From the Provinces of The Islamic State – May/June 2016”

Through the global and encompassing character of the Islamic State’s beliefs, indeed the very claim at the root of the Islamic State’s existence, all Muslims ought to pledge allegiance to the Khalifah (currently Abu Bakr al Baghdadi). If they do not do so, then they are considered as even worse than Christians, they are kafir, i.e. “pronounced by the Islamic State as unbelievers (kafir), no longer Muslims” (see detailed explanations in “Ultimate War“, Ibid.) They thus become specific targets for Islamic State’s fighters.

Accordingly, when the Khilafah spokesman al-Adnani calls Muslims to kill non-believers and attack them in their land, as he did again for the 2016 Ramadan, besides galvanising fighters to fight to the end in the name of Allah only, al-Adnani indeed, speaks to all Muslims as the Islamic State’s imagine them, wherever they are (Audio statement by IS-spokesman Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani as-Shami “And Those Who Lived [In Faith] Would Live Upon Evidence“, Al Hayat Translation (pdf), via Pietervanostayen, 21 May 2016):

“Ramadan has come near, and it is the month of raids and jihad, the month of conquest. Prepare yourselves and get ready. Let each of you hope that he passes it fighting for Allah’s cause, seeking and hoping for Allah’s reward. Let all of you make it, by Allah’s permission, a month of suffering for the kuffar everywhere; and we specifically direct this to soldiers and supports of the Khilafah in Europe and America.

O slaves of Allah, O muwahhiddin! If the tawaghit have shut the door of hijrah in your faces, then open the door of jihad in theirs. Truly, the smallest act you do in their lands is more beloved to us than the biggest act done here; it is more effective for us and more harmful to them. If one of you wishes and strives to reach the lands of the Islamic State, then each of us wishes to be in your place to make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorizing them, until every neighbor fears his neighbor. If one of you is unable, then do not make light of throwing a stone at a crusader in his land, and do not underestimate any deed, as its consequences are great for the mujahidin and its effect is noxious to the disbelievers. ” al-‘Adnani as-Shami, “That They Live by Proof”, al-Hayat Media Center, p.12-13.

This does not say anything on the answer Muslims will give, but al-Adnani’s call remains nonetheless, with the implicit – or explicit – specific threat, that if Muslims do not comply they will be declared apostate and killed.

This means that all those who live outside the Islamic State’s ideological boundaries, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, cannot identify easily potential enemy fighters – those fighting for the Islamic State – through external criteria. The logical external criteria that would be allegiance to al-Baghdadi – assuming it is easy to identify – is not sufficient because sometimes, as in Orlando, the explicit allegiance is done almost simultaneously with the attack (e.g. Thomas Jocelyn, The Long War Journal, 20 June 2016).

We are fully into the tragic conditions of civil war, where a nice neighbour may turn out to remain nice (e.g. among many other witness interviews, Reuters, “Brussels Suicide Bomber Najim Laachraoui’s Brother: ‘He Was a Nice Boy’“,  24 March 2016; Tom Burgis, “Paris attacks: Samy Amimour, the ‘nice guy’ who became a jihadi“, Financial Times, 19 Nov 2015), yet wanting to kill us because of his or her specific beliefs, and acting out the threat because he or she ought to.

Permanent and omnipresent danger

Third, one of the crucial specificities of the Islamic State’s threat – and of the Salafi-Jihadi’s one more generally –  is that it carries the war wherever and whenever it thinks its version of Islam is under threat, as again reasserted by al-Adnani in May 2016 (see above and see the idea of ribat, explained in “Ultimate War“). Thus, alertness, must remain constant and global.

These characteristics determine the various types of terrorist attacks we are now used to face. The attacks are best understood as located somewhere on an axis between two extreme ideal-type terrorist attacks (e.g Europol, Ibid). At one extremity, we have what could be termed classical terrorist attacks organised through cells with or without the physical presence of fighters trained and sent from Islamic State’s wilayat, including the famous 1500 foreign fighters who are likely to be back in Europe (Europol, Ibid., U.S. General Breedlove, Commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO, Transcript News Conference, 1 March 2016). Instances of these attacks are the 13 November Paris attacks, or the Brussels attacks (e.g. “November 2015 Paris attacks“, “2016 Brussels bombings“, Wikipedia). These attacks are usually of a larger scope and more deadly.

At the other extremity, we have attacks that a single individual or a few of them can carry out, without needing a complex degree of direct support, typically called “lone actor attacks” (Europol, ibid.) or “lone wolf attacks” (among many others, Bates, “Dancing With Wolves…“, 2012) Instances of such attacks vary widely – indeed the fully solitary character of the attack is often contested – and can go from the Sousse attacks in Tunisia (June 2015) to the Orlando Shooting (June 2016, Ibid.) to ramming people in the street with a car, as in Dijon in France (Dec 2014, Le Parisien), or in Salon de Provence, there targeting militaries (January 2016, Le Monde, even if there the authorities decided it was not a terrorist attack), to stabbing policemen, as in Magnanville (Ibid.), or any individual belonging to target groups as defined by the Islamic State and then re-imagined by the jihadi/perpetrator, as in Bangladesh (NYT Database, Ibid.; “At War against a Global Islamic State – from the Philippines and Indonesia to Bangladesh“, ibid.) , to any idea that can cross the mind of the Islamic State jihadi.

ISIS India, India, Islamic State, ISIL, terrorism
Still from – “Selected 10 Videos From the Provinces of The Islamic State – May/June 2016”

Countries and societies concerned by potential attacks are as much those where Sunni Islam is the most widespread faith, such as Bangladesh, Morocco, Egypt or Tunisia, or the Gulf countries, as countries where there is also a large part of the population following Shi’a Islam such as Lebanon, Pakistan, Iraq, India or Syria, or countries where the religious affiliation is multiple such as many Western countries, Russia, China, India again, Singapore or the Philippines.

The sheer number of possibilities for the terrorist attacks, as well as the immense potential numbers and characteristics of jihadis/perpetrators constitute major challenges for security services in their fight against terrorism. They indeed cannot follow all people who have previously been identified as potentially dangerous, while, as we shall see in the follow-up article, early identification of potential perpetrators is fraught with even more challenges. As a result, if security services cannot succeed alone when people still need to be protected, it seems that the only way forward is to fully involve people in their own defence.

In the next article, we shall examine a few ways forward and options, which will consider the various elements identified above and full involvement of populations.

Featured image: from the Islamic State video “You Are Not Held Responsible Except For Yourself – Wilāyat al-Furāt”, 19 June 2016, published after the Orlando and Magnanville attacks – via Jihadology.net.

About the author: Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues.


Moore, B., Injustice: Social bases of Obedience and Revolt, (London: Macmillan, 1978).

Bates, Rodger A. (2012) “Dancing With Wolves: Today’s Lone Wolf Terrorists,” The Journal of Public and Professional Sociology: Vol. 4:
Iss. 1, Article 1

Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 2 (9) Fragmentation and International Intervention

This article is the ninth of our series focusing on scenarios depicting the range of possible interventions in the Libyan war. In our previous article, we discussed an international intervention that supports a unity government, despite initial fragmentation – a group of scenarios we wrap up here. In this article, we shall focus on scenarios related to the continued fragmentation of the unity government, including interventions that may occur if the unity government fails.

In our scenario, our UN-backed Libyan unity government is unable to mitigate the fragmentation in its political leadership and armed coalition. The scenarios discussed below point out some crucial elements that should be considered: the success or failure of such an intervention will depend heavily on the level of fragmentation, as well as on the international coalition’s willingness to continue its campaign in Libya despite the exacerbation of civil war that could be induced by the intervention itself. The amount of power (across all domains) to apply to the situation and thus the cost incurred to revert fragmentation will be proportional to the intensity and depth of fragmentation. Past a certain threshold, it will be impossible to go back to unity and the international coalition will only be intervening on the side of somehow a new actor in a renewed Libyan 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.

Click to access larger image

Sub-scenario The International Coalition Launches a Full Intervention after Receiving an Invitation from the Unity Government

Facing a stalemate in ground fighting or a potential breakout of renewed tribal/political tensions within its forces, the unity government decides to invite both air and ground international forces to intervene in Libya. The international coalition thus launches a full intervention that leads to the same results as an international airstrike campaign (Sc A full intervention, as long as it is properly planned strategically, then carried out, would likely shorten the timeframe for an outcome, considering the better trained and better-equipped international ground forces would hasten the ground conflict. However, the cost of intervention would be significantly higher for contributing countries. A full intervention would likely have a higher chance of success, depending on the level of opposition by the Libyan people. If Libyan opposition is high, and if the intervention strategy is less than efficient, there is the possibility that the full intervention could reignite the fragmentation.

Sub-scenario The Unity Government Continues to Fragment

Lacking moderate leaders to help mediate the political in-fighting, the unity government continues to fragment. Politicians quickly begin to revert back to their previous political factions that not only create a stalemate for progress, but also bring political factions dangerously close to returning to the remnants of the GNC and COR – which would essentially resurrect the rival powers and destroy the unity government. Seeing the fragmentation of their united leadership, the Libyan people withdraw their support of the government and turn to local political councils or tribes for leadership. This leads then to the pursuit of local and tribal agendas rather than national unification. Furthermore, the political stalemate and return to former alliances persuade many of the groups in the unity government’s armed coalition to withdraw their support and pursue their own objectives.

With the Libyan unity government headed towards collapse, the international community faces two options: intervention in anticipation of government collapse, or no intervention at all (see scenarios below).

Indicators to Monitor

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

  1. The number of moderate leaders available to help mediate political fighting. The majority of politicians will likely have strong tribal or political allegiances, which lessens the likelihood of truly moderate leaders being able and willing to mediate political fighting between factions. If the unity government lacks moderate leaders, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  2. The strength, influence and capability in terms of “tribal politics” of the united government leaders. As discussed in “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (1),” tribalism in Libya grows stronger in the absence of the state. Thus, tribal politics can be very influential when the state is fragmenting, as is the case today. If government leaders are highly influenced by tribal politics, the likelihood of continued fragmentation increases.
  3. The tendency for politicians to revert back to previous political factions. Considering the various post-Qaddafi governments, the existence of strong political factions over the years, and the rivalry between GNC and COR politicians, it will likely not take long for politicians to revert back to their previous political factions from the period before a unity government.
  4. The Libyan peoples’ willingness to turn to local councils or tribes for leadership. Considering the statelessness under Qaddafi and the concept of loyalty to tribe first (see Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (1),” April 13, 2015), local councils and tribal leaders have strong influence in Libya. After a series of unsuccessful post-Qaddafi governments, political in-fighting in the unity government will likely cause Libyans to increasingly turn to local councils or tribal leadership – thus increasing the likelihood of this scenario.
  5. The level of fragmentation that causes armed groups to withdraw support. The more the government fragments, the more likely that armed groups will lose confidence in their support, which will cause them to withdraw and pursue their own agenda.
  6. Indicator 3 of sub-scenario also acts here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario The International Coalition Intervenes in Anticipation of Government Collapse

As the government continues to fragment at a dangerous pace and faces impending collapse, the international coalition intervenes in Libya to prevent further failure of the state. The coalition deploys air and ground forces in an offensive against Salafist strongholds, while additional international forces act as a peacekeeping force around the capital to help preserve what is left of the unity government.

Indicators to Monitor

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

  1. The level of fragmentation of the unity government. The level of fragmentation will play a large role in the international community’s decision on whether to intervene. If the unity government is too far-gone and already collapsing, the likelihood of this scenario decreases. However, if the unity government’s fragmentation is still at a position where it can be reversed over time, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  2. The willingness of external actors to intervene in Libya as a last effort to keep the unity government intact. If external actors consider the unity government’s impending collapse irreversible, they may decide not to commit forces to a Libya intervention. However, if their interests in keeping a central government intact – even if it will require a long-term peacebuilding mission to fix – outweigh the risk of effects from total collapse, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  3. Indicators 3, 6, 7 of sub-scenario also act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario The International Coalition Succeeds Against Salafist Threats, Attempts to Help Rebuild the Government

Considering the impending collapse of the unity government, as well as the added threat of Salafist groups taking advantage of political dysfunction, the international coalition forces work quickly to destroy Salafist capabilities and networks. Massive airpower coupled with strong ground forces soon mitigate or altogether destroy the Salafist threats. With Salafist capabilities degraded, the coalition turns to help rebuild the unity government with a peacebuilding mission (see Mitchell, “A Successful Peacebuilding Mission?” September 28, 2015).

Indicators to Monitor

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

  1. The efficiency of the military strategies to destroy Salafist strongholds. The success against Salafist strongholds relies on the efficiency of the air and ground strategies to work in sync against multiple Salafist groups. If international forces get bogged down against various groups, the likelihood of this scenario decreases.
  2. The level of contributed airpower by international coalition forces. If coalition forces are conducting airstrike campaigns in other operations, they may have difficulty in contributing sufficient airpower to a Libyan intervention that hinges on both air and ground forces. If external actors are unable to shift sufficient aircraft and related resources to a Libyan intervention, the likelihood of this scenario decreases.
  3. Indicator 6 of sub-scenario acts here in a similar way.
  4. Indicator 3 of sub-scenario acts here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario International Intervention Exacerbates Government Fragmentation and Conflict

Due to the international intervention lacking a fully agreed upon invitation, the Libyan people and many government leaders perceive the intervention as illegal and imperialistic. Thus, the intervention exacerbates the political fragmentation, as well as the conflict. Factions begin to actively oppose intervention forces, based on their perception of the intervention. Salafist groups then begin to use the unpopular intervention as propaganda to bolster their forces and support.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 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 post-Gaddafi marginalized Arab tribal groups, as the Islamic State has done notably around the Sirte area and potentially further south towards Sebha, as well as from other sympathizers as around Tripoli, and Sabratah (United Nations letter from Panel of Experts on Libya, March 9, 2016; Lavoix, The Red Team Analysis Society, May 16, 2016). Salafist groups could also use the intervention for propaganda purposes, which could boost its external support as well.
  2. Indicator 2 of sub-scenario also acts here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario International Intervention Destroys Salafist Threats, Attempts to Help Stabilize and Rebuild Libya

Despite Salafist propaganda and opposition by the Libyan people, the coalition pushes forward and eventually destroys Salafist strongholds in Libya. Having accomplished their main objective in Libya – destroying Salafist threats to the West – the international coalition then attempts to help stabilize and rebuild the country in a peacebuilding mission (see Mitchell, “A Successful Peacebuilding Mission?” September 28, 2015). The decision to stay in Libya and ensure its stabilization and rebuilding stems from lessons learned during the post-2011 intervention phase. Is is however a very difficult – and probably long – task considering the opposition of the people and of the factions. From the Libyans’ point of view, the international coalition is an invading force.

Sub-scenario The International Coalition Withdraws its Forces, Back to Civil War

Facing widespread opposition, a dysfunctional government, and protracted conflict, the international coalition decides to withdraw its forces. This scenario thus leads back to civil war.

Sub-scenario The Unity Government Fails – Back to Civil War

Not willing to request international assistance, the unity government continues to fragment as politicians cling to former factions and fail to make any progress. As a result, the unity government loses all public support, and thus loses domestic legitimacy. Not desiring to intervene in the now-collapsing country with no clear exit strategy, no central government in place, and a variety of non-state armed factions, the international community does not intervene in Libya. The government eventually reaches the point of total failure and dissolves. With a power vacuum in place, the country returns to civil war as groups compete for dominance.

Sub-scenario The Unity Government Does Not Fragment, on the Contrary, It Gains Support

This sub-scenario is the international point of view of sub-scenario (Mitchell, “Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Scenarios 1 (3) – A Successful Peacebuilding Mission?” September 28, 2015), where the unity government receives proper international assistance, but the long road towards stabilization is still fraught with difficulty.


Featured Photo: Soldiers with the 12th Mechanized Brigade Reconnaissance Force about to disembark from a helicopter by Defence Images [CC BY-NC 2.0], via Flickr

United Nations letter from Panel of Experts on Libya, March 9, 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, “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 (8) Intervention for a UN-Backed Government,” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 9, 2016

Dr. Helene Lavoix, “The Islamic State in Libya – When Libyan Tribes Pledge Allegiance to the Khalifah,” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 16, 2016

Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 2 (8) Intervention for a UN-backed Government

This article is the eighth of our series focusing on scenarios depicting interventions in the Libyan war. In our previous article, we discussed an international intervention that started to support the nationalist side of the conflict, but encountered difficulties in partnering with Libyan factions on the ground, as well as an air-strike-only campaign by the international coalition that abandoned the strategy of partnering with a spectrum of Libyan groups – a group of scenarios we wrap up here.

In this article, we shall focus on scenarios related to an intervention that supports a UN-backed Libyan unity government, a case very similar to what is currently taking shape with the Government of National Accord.

In our scenario, our UN-backed Libyan unity government experiences some fragmentation and requests international air support. The scenarios discussed below point out some crucial elements that should be considered: the success or failure of such an intervention will depend heavily on Libyans’ perception of international intervention, as well as on the international coalition’s willingness to continue its air campaign despite the exacerbation of civil war that could be induced by the intervention itself. The amount of power (across all domains) to apply to the situation and thus the cost incurred to revert fragmentation will be proportional to the intensity and depth of fragmentation. Past a certain threshold, it will be impossible to go back to unity and the international coalition will only be intervening on the side of somehow a new actor in a renewed Libyan civil war. Continue reading Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 2 (8) Intervention for a UN-backed Government

The Islamic State in Libya – Force, Fighters and Tribes

What is the current state of play for the Islamic State in Libya, and, most importantly, how can it evolve? The question is increasingly relevant considering the rising possibility of an international intervention in Libya against the Islamic State, a complex matter considering notably the questioned domestic legitimacy of the new U.N.-prompted Government of National Authority (GNA) (e.g. APA, “Libya unity gov’t approval postponed indefinitely“, 19 April 2016), despite strong pressure imposed on Libyans to recognise it, such as the U.S. President “Executive Order — Blocking Property And Suspending Entry Into The United States Of Persons Contributing To The Situation In Libya” (White House, 19 April 2016).

cyrenaica, al-Barqah, Islamic State, Liyan war, Islamic State forces in Libya
Advertising image for the Islamic state psyops video “The Raid of Shaykh Abū al-Mughīrah al-Qaḥṭānī – Wilāyat al-Barqah” – 14 Feb 2016

Is the Islamic State’s threat in Libya hyped and “not a realistic fallback” for a Khilafah, furthermore pummelled in Mesopotamia, as argued by Geoff Porter (“How Realistic Is Libya As An Islamic State “Fallback”?”, CTC Sentinel, 17 March 2016)? Or, on the contrary, as stated by the Council of the European Union “Council conclusions on Libya” (18 April 2016), are we faced with the “growing threat of terrorism including by Daesh and affiliates”, which echoes the concern expressed in the U.N. “Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011)” (S/2016/209 9 March 2016), according to which “The political and security vacuum has been further exploited by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has significantly expanded its control over territory”? Should we believe, the deputy Prime Minister designate Musa al-Koni of the GNA when he warned that the Islamic State “could take over two-thirds of the country” (BBC News, 18 April 2016), or is this estimate not only motivated by genuine fear of a worst case scenario but also by a wish to ensure continuous support of the proponents of international intervention?

Depending on the answer to this question the range of impacts, as well as their durations, will vary, as, for example, some of the petroleum companies still operating in Libya had to further evacuate three fields for fear of attacks by the Islamic State, while the problems of migrants, not only to Europe but also within Libya does not relent (Reuters, 10 April 2016, Fezzan Libya, 10 April 2015; Ibrahim Hiba, “The danger coming from the West“, Fezzan Libya, 24 April 2015.

Sirte Drone
Sirte, image taken by a drone, from Islamic State psyops video “Of their Goods, take Alms”, Wilāyat Ṭarābulus”, 27 February 2016

We are dealing here, as so often lately, with the uncertainties of the future, furthermore shrouded by the fog of war. It would thus be unrealistic to expect a clear-cut, black and white, easy answer. Nonetheless, we may aim at improving our estimates, stressing notably dynamics and weak signals. We shall here focus on the Islamic State forces in Libya. After reviewing the existing quantitative assessments of Islamic State fighters in Libya, we shall dive deeper into what could be the overall human strength of the Islamic State in Libya. Considering the Islamic State’s state-building component, we shall thus look at the population under the Khilafah’s rule, at the way inhabitants are coerced and coopted and, as a result, at the tribal links the Islamic State is potentially forging. Finally, using the geographical distribution of tribes, we shall stress potential consequences in terms of use of foreign fighters and trade for the Islamic State in Libya.

A still relatively small yet rising force despite setbacks

In November 2014, when Derna fell, it was estimated that the Islamic State counted 800 fighters, operating “half a dozen camps on the outskirts of the town, as well as larger facilities in the nearby Green Mountains, where fighters from across North Africa  [were] are being trained”, including 300 fighters from the al-Battar Brigade (CNN, 18 Nov 2014). The latter had returned during Spring 2014 from fighting in Syria, called themselves the Islamic Youth Shura Council (IYSC) and had pledged allegiance to the Khalifah in September (Wehrey and Ala’ Alrababa’h, “Rising Out of Chaos: The Islamic State in Libya”Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 5 March 2015).

122 marauding camp sc
From photo report “Sheikh Abu Al-Qahtani training camp – accepted by God” Wilāyat al-Barqah, 13 April 2016

In 2016, the estimates of the Islamic State forces vary between 2000-3000 for “a U.N estimate” (Tribune de Genève, 14 Dec 2015), 3000 for the French Minister of Defence (Atlantico, 8 Feb 2016), 3000-6000 (Stars and Stripes, 19 Feb 2016) or 3250-6500 for U.S. military intelligence sources (CNN, 4 Feb 2016) to 10000 fighters, the latter figure, however, according to unnamed and unspecified French sources quoted by Issandr El Amrani (How Much of Libya Does the Islamic State Control?“, Foreign Policy, 18 Feb 2016 – note that Porter, Ibid, misquote El-Amrani, referring to 12000 fighters).

If we compare briefly these figures with past estimates for other forces existing then on the Libyan ground, focusing on those forces supporting the nationalist or non-Islamist Tobruk based House or Council of Representatives, we have 18000-21000 men for the Petroleum Facilities Guard, out of which 2000 are militarily trained, 20000 fighters for the Cyrenaica Protection Force, 20000 soldiers for the Libyan army, 5000 commandos for Al-Saiqa (Special Forces), 2000 men for the Al-Sawaiq Brigade, up to 18000 well-armed fighters for the Zintani-composed al-Qaqa Brigade (see Mitchell, “Nationalist Forces -1“, RTAS, Oct 2014), and up to 6000 fighters for Haftar’s Libyan National Army, etc. (see Mitchell, “Nationalist Forces -2“, RTAS).

reading an naba2 scThe Islamic State forces are thus still a small faction even though obviously determined. Considering the fractious landscape of the war in Libya, this is, nevertheless, a force that can wreak considerable damage, and use not only hit and run types of operations but also conquering then defensive ones, aiming at state-building. Such conquering and defensive operations are exemplified first in Derna, where the Islamic state lost full control of the city in June  2015, then was most probably fully expelled by the al-Qaeda linked Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC) on 21 April 2016 (BBC News, Islamic State ‘forced out’ of key Libyan city of Derna, 21 April 2016; Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State fighters retreat from bases outside Derna, Libya“, the Long War Journal, 20 April 2016). We then have the example of Sirte and its nearby surrounding territory, including Bin Jawad, which is the only territory currently fully held by the Islamic State (Ibid., Libya Prospects, “IS forces Sirte inhabitants to attend Sharia lessons“, 30 March 2016; U.N. Final report, ibid.; Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State releases photos from captured Libyan town of Bin Jawad“, the Long War Journal, 7 January 2016).

Despite the presence of the Islamic State forces on the Libyan territory, the latest spat of defeats for the Islamic State, in Derna, as seen, or in Ajdabiya then Benghazi, this time against the nationalist forces of the Tobruk government (Thomson Reuters, “Libyan National Army claims ISIS pushed out of Ajdabiya, parts of Benghazi“, 21 Feb 2016; Euronews, “Libya’s eastern army gains ground in Benghazi“, 20 April 2016), could signal the beginning of the end for the Islamic State. The Islamic State forces would thus have reached their apex and, defeats leading to loss of appeal, we would start to see a declining yet dangerous threat.

If this scenario is possible, we are under the fog of war and, however uncertain, the potential exists within the current situation for another less optimistic scenario, as we shall now see.

Beyond fighters’ numbers: population and quality of fighters

Because the Islamic State aims at state-building and not only at attacking and wounding a foe, to fully evaluate the Islamic State’s forces and threat we also need to consider the population that is subjected to its rule. Indeed, it is out of this population that the Islamic State will extract part of the resources needed for its sustenance agric14 sc– besides the current tropism, oil is not the only resource and wealth available to political actors* – potentially recruit new fighters, as well as meet challenges that could lead to defeat or reinforcement, as exemplified in both Derna and Sirte with defeat in the first case and “successful repression”  – i.e. not leading to demise and loss of territory – in the second (see below).

Wielding coercion and cooptation

It is currently considered that the present entrenchment of the Islamic State in Sirte stems from the latter’s capacity to ally with, coopt and coerce the Qadhadhfa tribe, including recruiting young fighters among them (U.N. Final report, ibid: par. 57 to 60).

Both cooptation and coercion are two crucial elements of state-building and governance, and one would be very naive and ignorant of history and political dynamics to ignore these components. However unpalatable, notably to some current strands of ideology in the West, what makes the difference between a successful use of these fundamental instruments of political authorities’ power is the way these tools are exerted i.e. following historically constructed norms and belief-systems or not (Moore, B., Injustice: Social bases of Obedience and Revolt, London: Macmillan, 1978), as well as the efficiency of repression, as explained by Andrew Turton in his work on Thailand and everyday politics (according to Turton, we often tend to underestimate the power of coercion and violence).

Derna presents us with an instance of a use of violence by the Islamic State perceived as illegitimate when the Islamic State did not have the strength to face the consequences of the consequent uprising: following the assassination of the local leader of the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, the “Mujahedeen Shura Council of Derna declared jihad” on the Islamic State, which led to the loss of control of the city by the Islamic State in June 2015 (e.g. “ISIS Loses Libyan Stronghold“, ISW, Jun 24, 2015), and ultimately to the current ousting from the city (see above).

On the contrary, in Sirte, in August 2015, the Islamic State managed to repress a rebellion that followed the killing of an Imam of the Furjan Tribe, killing more than 50 members of the tribe (“IS detains elders from Al-Furjan tribe“, Libyaprospect, 12 April 2016; U.N. Final report). No further uprising followed. As a result, the Islamic State’s control over Sirte was likely strengthened.

However, one may not rule by the sword alone, hence also the need for cooptation, besides other crucial dimensions of governance. We find such an instance with a recent Shari’ah course conducted by the Islamic State in Sirte, and concluded by a large “graduation ceremony” publicised through a photo report (Photo report Wilayat Tarabulus, “Graduation Ceremony in Sirte”, 18 April 2016; see sirte graduation105 scexplanation on the type of propaganda or psyops in An Updated Guide to the Islamic State Psyops, 18 April 2016). The course would have reached out to more than 4000 people and some cash rewards would reportedly have been used as award for the best students (Jason Pack, “Weekly Eye on ISIS in Libya Update – April 20, 2016“, Jihadology.net). This cash reward may be seen as an example of cooptation.

What appears also as most striking during this ceremony, although one should not discount a specific choice of timing and images by the photographer, is that people laugh.** Indeed, in photographs and videos of people subjected to the rule of the Islamic State, notably in Mesopotamia, the emotions shown by the faces and especially the eyes of the people (not the fighters but the “subjects”) photographed are often hidden fear or resignation. If a group, including children, is shown rejoicing, an attentive examination tends to always find a grown-up looking away, showing uncertainty or being plainly afraid. Here, on 2 pictures, people laugh, and most probably not out of convenience or embarrassment. Although one definitely needs to remain cautious here, all the more so that one instance of “negative emotion” at least can be found in a past Islamic State video (“And What Is To Come Will Be More Devastating and Bitter – Wilāyat Ṭarābulus”, 26 March 2016), this may be a weak signal indicating that the Islamic State’s rule in Sirte would be relatively less heavy to bear for citizens, despite the Furjan repression mentioned above and, of course, the usual use of executions (e.g. Islamic State psyops video, “To Establish the Religion – Wilāyat Ṭarābulus”, 30 March 2016, Jihadology.net; Pack, ibid.).

night in sirte, Sirte, islamic State, war, Libya, war in Libya
Islamic State Wilayat Tarabulus, Photo “Night Portrait of a street in the city of Sirte” – 13 April 2016

We may thus estimate that the Islamic State has possibly learned from its mis-governance in Derna and is possibly improving the way it handles coercion and cooptation. Should this hypothesis and evaluation be correct, then the potential to see the Islamic State benefitting from its state-building in Sirte is enhanced. As a result, it would also be more likely to use successfully the tribal connections thus created to move forward, as we shall now see. As a consequence, the potential threat the Islamic State represents in the short to medium or even long-term – should no proper action be taken – would also increase.

Tribal Connections

Although we should not over-simplify tribal connections (families and sub-tribes may feud within one tribe, for example), the importance of tribal relationships in Libya should also not be underestimated (see Jon Mitchell, War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War, 13 April 2015 and Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (3) (Toubou and Arab Tribes), 11 May 2015, RTAS).

tribes, Libya, Islamic State
Distribution of major tribes in Libya by Giacomo Goldkorn, March, 18th, 2015, Geopolitical Atlas (click map to access geopoliticalatlas.org) – Sources: Libyan tribal system, Fergiani, – 09/22/2011.

The Qadhadhfa, an Arab tribe, was the tribe of Muammar Gaddafi and its estrangement from the new post-Gaddafi Libya is most probably instrumental in its attitude to the Islamic State (U.N. Final report, ibid; Mitchell, Ibid.). The Qadhadhfa would count around 100.000 people (Bell and Witter, “Roots of Rebellion: Part I,” Institute for the Study of War, September 2011), even if most probably not all members react similarly to the Islamic State. The Qadhadhfa is present not only in Sirte but also, as shown on the map above, in the region of Sehba, one of the two major southern nodes, with Ghat, for the various smuggling routes in and out of Libya (Norwegian Center for Global Analysis (NGCA) and Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, Libya: Criminal economies and terrorist financing in the trans-Sahara, May 2015).

Thus, short of major mis-governance (see above), the Islamic State may count on economic activity generated by the members of this tribe and related taxes first, and second on a level of support ranging from diplomacy and absence of hostility to more active support, such as facilitation of transactions including movement, logistics and trade, up to the recruitment of fighters and participation in administrative, police and security tasks. The involvement of the Qadhadhfa in the Gaddafi administration may also be an asset in terms of skills for the Islamic State.

Indeed, the U.N. final report underlines that “It [ISIL] has also recruited military officers from the former regime” (par 57). As we also know that fighters were recruited not only from the Qadhadhfa, but also from the Magharba tribe (Ibid.), and that the Magharba was another tribe previously supporting Gaddafi (Cherif Bassiouni, ed. Libya: From Repression to Revolution, 2013, p. xlv), while Qadhadhfa and some members of the Magharba held key positions in the security apparatus of the Gaddafi regime (ibid.), then what we see emerging is a genuinely Libyan component of the Islamic State’s administrative and security apparatus for wilayat Tarabulus, skilled and experienced as far as the Libyan idiosyncrasies are concerned.

Furthermore, we face a phenomenon that is not dissimilar to what happened in Iraq, with the inclusion of former Saddam Hussein security officers within the Islamic State’s security apparatus (e.g.Christoph Reuter, “The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State“, Der Spiegel, 18 April 2015). The ease with which a similar narrative can be created for the two experiences, Libyan and Iraqi, as well as most probably the existence of comparable feelings of injustice for both the Libyan and Iraqi officers, may only favour the inclusion of Libyans within the Islamic State system, as well as create feelings of shared fate and common enemies.

As a result, the likelihood to see a rapid and full decline of the Islamic State in Libya decreases.  On the contrary, the overall threat is likely enhanced, despite defeats.

We should also note that the Magharba’s territory lies from the south of Benghazi to Sirte (Bell and Witter, Ibid; see map above), and also has a share in the oasis town of Jalo (“Libya – The Zawiya Tribe“, Berenice Stories, 14 Feb 2013). Thus, mentions of recruitment of members of the Magharba could potentially prefigure further attempts towards expansion in Magharba territory through alliance and allegiance and needs to be monitored.

Tribal connections, foreign recruitment and trade

The geographical presence of the Qadhadhfa in the region of the smuggling node of Sebha may also be a crucial advantage for the Islamic State. It most likely eases the move of weapons and fighters towards Libya to reinforce the ranks of the Islamic State first, then allow for reverse flow towards the Sahel countries and Sub-Saharan Africa both towards the west and the east.

From photo report : “raiding the Dawn of Libya May 28th battalion in the south”

Indeed, it would seem that fighters from Nigeria’s Boko Haram have contributed, notably over the last months, to beef up the ranks of the Islamic State in Libya. According to Callum Paton, an activist in Sehba estimates, using sources in both Sebha and Sirte, that “the number of Boko Haram fighters in Sirte could be as high as 1,000” (“Isis in Libya: How Boko Haram jihadis are flocking to join Daesh’s holy war in North Africa“, IBTimesUK, 5 March 2016). Always according to this activist, the Islamic State would use its own specific network, and not the usual smugglers for migrants. The Islamic State route and people would nonetheless go through Sebha (Ibid.). Furthermore, according to al-Ghwell of the Rafik Hariri Centre, Islamic State fighters in Sirte also include people from Chad and Niger (Ibid.), most probably coming through the same route. We also find trace of fighters from Somalia (H Lavoix, “At War against a Global Islamic State – Facing a Strategic Trap in Somalia?“, RTAS, 14 December 2015) and from Senegal (e.g. Emma Farge, “From Senegal to Libya – an African student joins Islamic State“, Reuters, 30 March 2016).

As a result, the Qadhadhfa’s connection for the Islamic State also means most probably an eased mobilisation, recruitment and access to radicalised people initially located south beyond the Libyan border.

Similarly, trade between Libya and the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa is favoured, as already exists with Nigeria (Callum Paton, Ibid.), which, again, may enhance the Islamic State resources, in turn increasing its capacity to attract fighters as well as to wield cooptation.

22 car sales sc

Sirte, car sales, Islamic State, Libya
From photo report “car market taking place in Sirte”, 14 April 2016

In this light, the emphasis found in the psyops of wilayat Tarabulus on a car market taking place in Sirte (photo report, 14 April 2016) or on sales of fodder (see photo above) may also be part of a wish to demonstrate the Islamic State’s wealth as well as its trading capabilities. Similarly the video “Of their Goods, Take Alms”, (wilayat Tarabulus, 27 February 2016) even though focused on zakah and thus succour given to the poor (see for a detailed explanation Money, Wealth and Taxes, Ibid), also displays wealth mainly as cattle, crucial in a land of desert, as well as money, and thus could also be seen as broadly favouring trade.

The second better known route and connection towards Tunisia, as well as the Islamic State’s activities in Bani Walid will be examined with a forthcoming post.

In conclusion, the consideration of the forces of the Islamic State in terms of numbers of fighters stresses an important but still relatively small threat. Once one moves beyond the solely quantitative and look at state-building and connections to tribes, the potential threat becomes severe, while the likelihood to see a full and rapid decline of the Islamic State in Libya decreases (which does not mean disappears). At this stage of our analysis, the situation displays dynamics specific to the Libyan terrain which may conjugate not only with the Mesopotamian battlefield but also with a regional African one. It is thus more than “just a fallback” for the Mesopotamian theatre of operation.

Featured image: 14th photograph of the photo report – Wilayat Tarabulus, “Graduation Ceremony in Sirte”, 18 April 2016.

About the author: Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues.


*Indeed, oil and gas only represents for the Islamic State in Mesopotamia around 40% of its income, Jean-Charles Brisard and Damien Martinez, Islamic State: the Economy-Based Terrorist Funding, Thomson Reuters Accelus, Oct 2014; IHS “Islamic State Monthly Revenue Drops to $56 million” 18 April 2016 – note the difference in break-down between the two evaluations. See also H Lavoix, “Understanding the Islamic State’s System – Money, Wealth and Taxes“, RTAS, 13 July 2015.

**Out of concern for the individuals mentioned in this paragraph, be it in Libya or Mesopotamia, and to avoid increasing the chance they could be victims of future reprisals by one faction or another, no image is given here.

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly – 21 April 2016

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… Each section focuses on signals related to a specific theme: world (international politics and geopolitics); economy; science; analysis, strategy and futures; technology and weapons; energy and environment. However, in a complex world, categories are merely a convenient way to present information, when facts and events interact across boundaries.

Read the 21 April 2016 scan 

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.