The afterparty from the 2011 intervention into Libya turns out to be even more crowded than we thought. CNN reports:
There may now be up to 6,500 ISIS fighters in Libya, twice the number previously thought, according to several U.S. intelligence officials.
They attributed the increase to the U.S. analysis that ISIS is diverting more fighters to Libya from Syria — and from Turkey when they cannot get into Syria.
“ISIS is investing heavily in Libya,” one U.S. official said.
While White House spokesman Josh Ernst insisted to CNN that the Administration wasn’t considering adding a Libyan front to the fight against ISIS, indications from elsewhere in the Administration is that it could indeed be Obama’s next war.
When the President looks to Libya, he’s likely to see some of the same bad options he’s familiar with from Syria. His military options will be bad, ranging from ineffective bombing to an unpopular ground invasion. Backing a local strongman (in this case likely Gen. Haftar) to take “necessary measures” would likewise be hard to sell and not guaranteed to succeed. But if he lets the problem fester, it will continue to draw in jihadi radicals and worsen the refugee crisis in Europe. While Libya’s population is not equal to that of Syria, it serves as a gateway for Africa’s poor and oppressed: As long as Libya has no government, “the Backway” stays open. Just as concerning, it could either spread to or draw in neighbors such as Algeria or Egypt, which are already experiencing problems with stability.
As we’ve noted many times here, we should have left Libya alone in 2011 (while taking action in Syria). But there’s no use (just) crying over spilt milk. Unfortunately, mopping it up is going to be a long, messy, and uncertain operation.