In a bit of a surprising move, Secretary of State John Kerry announced Monday the U.S. would be seeking to help arm Libya’s internationally-recognized government to assist in the fight against Daesh (ISIS, the self-described Islamic State) and other extremist groups in the region.
“The international community will support the [Libyan] Presidency Council as it seeks exemption from the U.N. arms embargo to acquire those weapons and bullets needed to fight Daesh and other terrorist groups,” Kerry stated in a press conference Monday. “We’re not talking about troops and boots and that kind of intervention. We continue right now to assess the ISIL activity that’s taking place, and we’re working with our partners to determine the best way forward to help Libya to be able to deal with that threat.”
The move is very similar to the U.S.’ mission in Syria, which is also to stem Daesh’ rise on paper — but also serves as a proxy battle to dispose of Syria’s government — putting the U.S. squarely into the highly complicated Syrian Civil War. The difference in Libya is the U.S. helped overthrow Libya’s Gaddafi regime in 2011, and now is trying to play cleanup because that intervention created a vacuum for Daesh to thrive (see: Iraq War).
According to the Independent, the Associated Press obtained a communique stating the U.S. and four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, as well as 15 other nations, are prepared to assist the Libyan government in its “requests for training and equipping” government forces.
“The Government of National Accord has voiced its intention to submit appropriate arms embargo exemption requests to the UN Libya Sanctions Committee to procure necessary lethal arms and material to counter UN-designated terrorist groups and to combat Da’esh throughout the country,” the communique reportedly stated. “We will fully support these efforts while continuing to support the UN arms embargo.”
Meanwhile, the Presidency Council received the green light for 18 government ministers to begin working — despite the lack of support from the government’s parliament — as world leaders gathered in Vienna to discuss support of Libya’s U.N.-backed Government of National Accord. Though the new government has been in place as part of a U.N.-brokered deal from December, divisions among rival militias, tribes, governments, and parliaments have continued since leader Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and killed five years ago.
Daesh has taken advantage of the chaos in Libya to gain a foothold in the region, and Monday’s developments appear to signal a move to coalesce the varying governmental divisions into a coherent, functional system.
Despite Kerry’s statement that no boots would be deployed to fight ground battles, Monday also revealed reports from Libyan fighters that U.S. special forces had been seen on the frontlines.
“There are some US troops here, near the frontline,” one Misratan soldier told Middle East Eye. “Everyone has seen them, but they are not fighting, they are just doing patrols.”
Though not actively engaged in battle, it appeared to witnesses on the scene those special forces were heavily armed.
These sightings further back a report last week in the Washington Post, which cited unnamed and unverified U.S. officials confirming fewer than 25 troops had been deployed around Misrata and Benghazi to “identify potential allies among local armed factions and gather intelligence on threats.”
Though the situation remains somewhat murky as various groups vie for greater control in Libya, concerns surfaced that the infighting might allow Daesh to garner better positioning and greater control in the region.
Additionally, the vow from the United States that there will be no boots on the ground can only be taken somewhat seriously, after it repeated the same promise for the situation in Syria and other locations in the Middle East — 16 times — only to later deny ever having stated as much. In fact, the U.S. surprised everyone in announcing boots had already hit the ground in Yemen — two weeks after those special forces had been deployed.