The growing threat of ISIS in Libya

posted at 9:41 pm on February 22, 2016 by John Sexton

ISIS is growing in Libya and beginning to attract recruits from other African nations. The New York Times reports the number of ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq has declined slightly as a result of the U.S. bombing campaign but that decline is nearly being balanced out by the growth in numbers ISIS is seeing in Libya:

Even as American intelligence agencies say the number of Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria has dropped to about 25,000 from a high of about 31,500, partly because of the United States-led air campaign there, the group’s ranks in Libya have roughly doubled in the same period, to about 6,500 fighters. More than a dozen American and allied officials spoke of their growing concern about the militant organization’s expanding reach from Libya and across Africa on rules of anonymity because the discussions involved intelligence and military planning.

Islamic State leaders in Syria are telling recruits traveling north from West African nations like Senegal and Chad, as well as others streaming up through Sudan in eastern Africa, not to press on to the Middle East. Instead, they are being told to stay put in Libya. American intelligence officials, who described the recent orders from Islamic State leaders, say the organization’s immediate goal is to carve out a new caliphate in Libya, and there are signs the affiliate is trying to establish statelike institutions there.

“Libya has become a magnet for individuals not only inside of Libya, but from the African continent as well as from outside,” John O. Brennan, the director of the C.I.A., told a Senate panel this month.

President Obama is said to be “mulling over” how much of a military response is necessary in Africa. The plan at present appears to involve spending several hundred million dollars training Libyan troops as well as troops in several other African nations in order to fend off ISIS without putting American boots on the ground.

If the plan to train local troops to fight the spread of ISIS sounds familiar that’s because it’s similar to the strategy the administration pursued in Syria last year. The plan in Syria was to pull fighters off the front line, train them in advanced military techniques and send them back to the fight. The program was supposed to train as many as 15,000 fighters over three years but it did not work out that way as ABC News reported last September:

Christine Wormuth, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there are currently between 100 and 120 fighters in a program that was slated to have trained 5,400 fighters in its first 12 months.

[General Lloyd] Austin told the panel that goal was not going to be met and that options are being explored about how to retool the program which was intended to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. So far, $42 million has been spent to develop the $500 million program which began training in April.

According to Gen. Austin, the actual result of all this money spent was “four or five” fighters on the front lines against ISIS. The current plan to train locals to fight ISIS may or may not work out better than last year, but the President is surely aware that by the time the current plan is evaluated he will no longer be in office.

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