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African securityU.S. concerns grow as ISIS establishes a base of operations in Libya
Last week the Pentagon publicly expressed its concerns about the fact the ISIS has established a base of operation in Libya. The commander of the U.S. army’s Africa Command told reporters that ISIL (ISIS) is now running training camps in the town of Derna, 450 miles east of Tripoli, where as many as 200 local fighters are receiving instruction. “ISIL has begun its efforts over in the east out there,” said General David Rodriguez. “It’s mainly about people coming for training and logistics support right now.”
Last week the Pentagon publicly expressed its concerns about the fact the ISIS has established a base of operation in Libya. The commander of the U.S. army’s Africa Command told reporters that ISIL (ISIS) is now running training camps in Libya, where as many as 200 local fighters are receiving instruction.
“ISIL has begun its efforts over in the east out there,” said General David Rodriguez. “It’s mainly about people coming for training and logistics support right now.”
ISIS units recently staged a show of force in Derna, a small town 450 miles east of Tripoli, with sixty jeeps with black-clad militants parading around the town.
The Guardian reports that their leader is Saudi preacher Abu al-Baraa el-Azdi, who arrived in September. He is leading about three hundred fighters, mostly Libyans, many with combat experience in Syria. Since taking over the town, the militants have been busy cleared it of their opponents by killing a large number of judges, government officials, and activists.
El Azdi has set himself up as Derna’s supreme judge, dispensing executions and floggings.
The floggings are conducted on a raised platform outside the courthouse, the executions by balaclava-wearing
Schools have been ordered to separate male and female students and shops forbidden from displaying female mannequins in shop windows.
The United States has stepped up surveillance of the area in recent days, with drones and electronic surveillance planes based in Italy making constant flights. Western officials worry about ISIS making Libya into the organization’s forward base: it is a large country with a small population, rich in oil, and close to Europe’s southern shores.
For a terrorist group such as ISIS, Libya has another advantage: s is the case in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia, Libya has a “government” in name only. Since the fall of Qaddafi in November 2011, different parts of the country have been ruled different armed militias – some of them Islamist, some tribal, and some criminal.
The country now has two governments and two parliaments: An Islamist-controlled government in Tripoli, supported by Turkey and Qatar; and a nominal official government of technocrats which escaped to the east after the Islamist took over Tripoli in August. That government is recognized by the UN, Western countries, and Arab governments (with the exception of Qatar).
The Islamist government in Tripoli exercise some control over a loose coalition of Islamist militias, while the official government does not control anything.
The only organized fighting against the Islamist militias is carried out by the private army of General Khalifa Haftar, a rogue general who broke with Qaddafi a decade ago and later joined the rebellion against his former boss.
The Guardian notes that some U.S. officials caution that Libya’s ISIS may be an improvised local affair rather than being directed by ISIS commanders in Iraq and Syria, but terrorist experts say that this is a false distinction, because ISIS operates as a “franchise,” exporting tested leaders to build new enclaves.
“In places like Yemen, Libya, their intention is to get as many groups around the world to swear allegiance,” said Peter Newman, professor of security studies at King’s College London.
“It’s the ‘oil spill’ strategy. They form enclaves, then they grow and connect together.”
Derna has a long history of jihadist resistance. In the 1990s, inspired by events in Afghanistan, young men from the town joined the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which fought the Gaddafi regime in the nearby Green Mountain. They were easily defeated by the Libya military, and hundreds fled Libya to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Reports from Derna say that ISIS has fought and defeated rival Islamist militias from al-Qaeda and the Islamist Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade.
It remains to be seen whether ISIS can expand beyond Derna.
“It will be a challenge for ISIS to show they can rule. That’s the downside of running a state: with power comes responsibility,” said Newman.