The problem is that the new government—the product of a shaky agreement last month between the internationally recognized government based in Tobruk and the Islamist-backed General National Congress, headquartered in Tripoli—remains a mostly notional entity. The competing governments have been at war for years, even as they both fight Islamic State, and elements of both governments have rejected the unity deal, as have some of their respective tribal and militia supporters. Whether those political divisions can be resolved is anyone’s guess, but in the meantime the jihadist threat from Libya is growing larger.
That was underscored in December when Islamic State paraded a police force in the coastal city of Sirte, where it also holds the airport. Islamic State now controls a long strip of the coastline between Tripoli and Benghazi, territory that also serves the group’s propaganda purposes in claiming to be an Islamic caliphate.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to target Islamic State in Libya, while the U.S. last year conducted limited air strikes against jihadists. But Western leaders insist they are waiting for a political solution to the civil war before intervening directly. A negotiated settlement would be welcome but could take months if not years to materialize. That gives Islamic State and other jihadist groups ample time to profit from the chaos.