Opinion: How the West is Failing Libya


Tom Lahey argues that the West should be doing more to protect Libya from the evil forces of ISIL.

In 2011, an opportunity presented itself to the Western powers to intervene in a revolution in Libya and overthrow long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi. NATO- led by Britain and France, with support from other allies including the United States- provided much needed air support to the poorly armed revolutionaries. Gaddafi was executed by the victorious rebels, and the West claimed a democratic success in the liberation of the Libyan people. However, in looking at recent events, is that at all the case?

Just yesterday, 16 February, Islamic State militants systematically beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians and sent the video to the Web. The national government has been forced out of Tripoli and Benghazi and is based out of a hotel in Tobruk which is constantly under siege from Islamist groups attempting to make Libya part of the ISIL Caliphate. Thousands of migrants from Libya take the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Italy and France and end up being detained by Italian coast guard units before they ever land- if they aren’t killed on the way. Embassies are shutting their doors and American contractors are targeted, with one, David Berry, an American security contractor, killed by the Libyan branch of ISIS along with five Libyans in the attack on the Corinthia Hotel. In 2012, an American ambassador and three Navy SEALs were assassinated in Libya, the first time an American Ambassador had been killed since 1979.

With Libya in total chaos, where are the Western powers now? The US, Britain, France and other allies are focused on battling ISIL in Iraq and Syria- both noble causes- but the fact remains that a country less than 1000km from the south of Europe is falling apart and is becoming a safe haven for Islamists to launch attacks on the continent. With the recent terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, can we really afford to sit idly by and allow this to happen?

Obviously, ISIL in Iraq and Syria pose a much more dangerous threat to global stability as a whole with so many factors coming into play as a result, but we cannot ignore reality. ISIL fighters, hardened from combat in the Middle East, are being encouraged to capitalize on the chaos and anarchy that is Libya and fight to establish a stronghold in a nation with the largest oil reserves in Africa- 48 billion barrels available- which could be a source of income for the terrorist group as it has been in Iraq.

Abu Nabil an Anbari, leader if ISIL in Syria & Iraq, came from Syria to Libya with orders to spread the ISIL franchise. Anbari arrived with a troop of ISIL fighters forced out al Qaeda and other radical outfits in Derna, proclaiming the town an Islamic Caliphate. Anbari dispenses justice from the requisitioned courthouse, ordering public floggings on a wooden stage in the street outside, and executions in the city sports stadium.

In December ISIL carried out a night attack on an isolated army base in the Sahara, killing 14 soldiers as they slept and putting a video charting the operation on the internet. At the start of the year they claimed responsibility for the execution of two missing Tunisian journalists, as yet unconfirmed. Soon afterwards, ISIL raided a compound in Sirte housing Egyptian guest workers. Muslims were separated from Christians, and the latter group marched off, never to be seen again. Days later ISIL posted a ghoulish photo montage of their captives faces superimposed on a black background.

If Cameron, Obama, Merkel, Hollande and others are willing to get tough on Putin regarding Ukraine and are willing to launch air strikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq as a matter of “strategic importance”, then surely the same argument could be made for Libya. Libya is in worse shape politically than Iraq with the central government left completely powerless in more than 50% of the country and without proper weapons and supplies to adequately control the areas they claim to have authority over.

The West should use air strikes and a contingency operation to combat ISIL and other radical groups in Libya and do whatever possible to support the national government and restore order. Training and supplying the Libyan security forces and securing the oil fields (as well as all foreign nationals currently in Libya) will help stabilise the fledgling democracy and ensure political continuity and legitimacy.

We are allowing this country to disintegrate and fall into the hands of one of the most brutal militant groups the world has ever seen. We need to get serious about destroying ISIL wherever it is and do so, not just to protect the people of Iraq, Syria and Libya, but also our own people. If the West does not get serious very soon, we will suffer the consequences.

Tom Lahey is a former Washington DC staffer currently living and working in Westminster. He has worked on several campaigns, notably Romney 2012, Christie 2013 and Gillespie 2014. He was born and raised in New Jersey. 


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