Rabat - Libya, Morocco’s geographically closest neighbor facing a conventional invasion from the so-called Islamic State (also called ISIS), sees extremist forces pushed back.
Rabat – Libya, Morocco’s geographically closest neighbor facing a conventional invasion from the so-called Islamic State (also called ISIS), sees extremist forces pushed back.
Central Libyan coastal town Sirte has become a stronghold for these radical Islamic fighters, but is now gradually entering the Government of National Accord (GNA)’s control. Forces supporting this UN-backed transitional government are fighting a multi-week offensive to drive ISIS out of the city.
Resistance has been fierce. ISIS uses both conventional tactics and suicide bombings to slow the advance into the city. The GNA cited over 600 casualties, including 137 dead and 500 wounded throughout this operation. They have requested international medical aid for their injured soldiers. But despite the slow advance, ISIS forces are undeniably losing ground. The GNA has captured both the port and the airport.
Middle East/North Africa expert and consultant Professor George Joffé of University of Cambridge told al Jazeera that this Sirte offensive “means that the new government in Tripoli has acquired credibility. We know that two other militias in the east have now decided to join up with [the pro-GNA] militia, and there, we are seeing a nucleus perhaps of a new Libyan army beginning to be formed.”
This is encouraging news for the GNA, but underscores that this government has yet to establish a formal military. It currently relies on allied militia groups. Still, these uniting militias are increasingly formidable, and have acquired several warplanes as part of a rudimentary air force.
Sirte gained local notoriety as the hometown of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The 2011 Arab Spring yielded a rebellion against Gaddafi in Libya, which was supported by NATO airstrikes. The war ended in Sirte, where Gaddafi’s government was decisively overthrown in October as he himself was killed.
Rebel forces’ extrajudicial killings of Gaddafi and his closest advisors portended the chaos to come. Following the regime’s defeat, Libyan militias fractured and began infighting. This instability allowed ISIS to infiltrate the territory and establish its own conventional military in 2014.
It currently consists of 4000-6000 troops, according to US Army General David Rodriguez, and enjoys an influx of foreign fighters from Tunisia and other nations. It has gained a foothold in Libya and has been holding on to Sirte, its largest city outside of Syria and Iraq, ever since.
While many of its territories have been retaken by Libyan militias, often with the aid of American air strikes, ISIS remains a resilient force. Even following the likely loss of Sirte, the terrorist army is unlikely to vanish from the country completely.
On December 17, 2015, two self-declared Libyan governments met in Skhirat, Morocco to sign a treaty forming the GNA. This UN-backed government seeks to unite disparate militias, political parties, and civil society groups to bring stability back to Libya. Its recent progress has been impressive, as has its success against ISIS.
However, the rebellion against Qadaffi was similarly united against a common enemy until his defeat. After the common foe was killed, cooperation collapsed and civil war broke out.
The Arab Spring, the pro-democracy movement of protests throughout the Arab World, revealed the difficulty of successfully establishing stable democratic governments. While protests emerged all across the Middle East and North Africa, only Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria broke their governments’ hold over national territory. Of these, Tunisia and Egypt established democracies.
Today, only Tunisia’s fledgling democracy remains active. Libya faces the daunting task of reclaiming its nation from radical and foreign fighters, uniting disparate local militias, and forging a strong democracy. Despite this uncertain future, the Government of National Accord can celebrate an increasingly successful offensive today.