• For six months, the U.S.-backed troops of the interim Libyan Government of National Accord has been fighting street by street to retake the ISIS stronghold of Sirte on the Libyan coast.

 

  • ISIS seized control of the city in early 2015 and extended its control along about 155 miles of Libya’s coastline. That means that ISIS wields its influence over a territory roughly the distance from Houston to San Antonio.

 

  • How did the US get here? How did Libya become an incubator for all stripes of terrorists?

 

  • In 2008, U.S. military leaders were calling Libya a top U.S. ally in combating international terrorism. Qaddafi realized that his regime was the target of terrorism, and he changed course from supporting terrorists in the 1980s to siding with the US against the terrorist threat.

 

  • However, in 2011, in the midst of a rebellion against the Qaddafi regime, the US decided to intervene and establish a no-fly zone to aid the Libyan rebels.

 

  • Under the safety of the no-fly zone the US imposed, Islamist terrorist groups long subdued under Qaddafi’s regime sprung up and amassed weapons, training, and military training.

 

  • Qaddafi was ultimately killed in October 2011. Within days, NATO and U.S. forces packed up and left Libya to its own devices.

 

  • America’s only Libya policy at the time was to remove Qaddafi – there was little planning regarding what to do the day after. The US opened the Pandora’s box and looked away.

 

  • Almost immediately after Qaddafi’s ouster, Libya spiraled into chaos. Long simmering political, regional, and ethnic divisions suddenly emerged and set Libya on a path towards disaster. The country has never recovered.

 

  • Even the Administration has admitted its role Libya’s failure. Earlier this year, the President admitted that there was no plan for post-Qaddafi Libya, describing it as his biggest regret as President.

 

  • Libya has become a regional and international security threat due to this Administration’s lack of planning. ISIS and al-Qaeda are the main beneficiaries.

 

  • Al-Qaeda’s Libyan affiliate, Ansar al-Shariah, emerged shortly after Qaddafi’s death and has since become deeply entrenched in the country.

 

 

  • They have successfully filled the void the US helped create by providing social services – building schools and providing medical care.

 

  • But they did not stop there. They recruited, armed, and trained terrorist fighters intent on carrying out the group’s ultimate goal: imposing Islamic law on the country.

 

  • Ansar al-Shariah fighters were among those who ultimately attacked the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues.

 

  • Since then, things have gotten worse. ISIS announced the establishment of a Libyan affiliate at the end of 2014 and soon began consolidating its power around Sirte and expanding east, west, and south.

 

  • America should not fool itself into believing that once Sirte is liberated the ISIS threat is over. For close to a year now, ISIS has been redirecting recruits and even senior leaders to Libya. It has been laying the seeds for what many have called a “fallback Caliphate,” where it could retreat to in case it is pushed out of Syria and Iraq.

 

  • Pentagon estimates from earlier this year suggested that the group’s ranks in Libya have swelled to nearly 7,000 fighters.

 

  • Liberating Sirte will simply transform the ISIS threat in Libya from a concentrated one to a dispersed one. They have fanned out throughout the country and will continue to exploit the political mess in Libya.

 

  • Libya will unfortunately remain a terrorist foothold for years to come. This is the legacy of the current Administration in North Africa.

 

  • The mess the US have left there has spread throughout the region. It endangers Egyptian allies to the east, and the weapons unleashed with Qaddafi’s fall have fueled terrorism in places like Syria, Nigeria, and the Sinai Peninsula bordering Israel.

 

  • The United States’ airstrike campaign in support of the Libyan forces retaking Sirte is only a small step. Until the US can devise a truly comprehensive long-term strategy to stabilize Libya and defeat the terrorist groups hiding there, Libya will continue to threaten regional and international security. Treating the symptoms while ignoring the underlying disease will not solve the problem.

 

  • The US forcibly overthrew a regime in Libya, creating chaos that led to a failed state where terrorists flourished and thousands of Libyans died. The US now has a responsibility to work towards a stabilizing solution in Libya. Going forward, the US should be much more cautious before it helps overthrow another regime.