Counter Terrorism Efforts in Libya May Fail to Promote Long-Term Stability
In an effort to expand its military force in North and West Africa, the United States military struck al-Qaeda militants in southern Libya last weekend, killing two militans. Since an attack last fall in Niger that resulted in the death of four American soldiers, the United States has been reconsidering its presence in the North and West African regions.
U.S. and other Western countries’ presence in Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries resulted in instability that enabled the rise of terrorist groups in the region, and the same Western countries’ anti-terrorism initiatives appear ineffective at promoting stability in the long term. In Iraq, although the West declared victory over the Islamic State (IS) in December, IS has been increasing insurgent-style attacks ever since the U.S.-led coalition reduced its presence in the country. This reflects the lack of authority in certain governments in the Middle East and North Africa, which makes it difficult to maintain stability and prevent terrorist groups from regrouping.
As the United States expands its counter-terrorist effort in Libya, it must consider how the country will survive long term. Its presence may create the same relationship of dependency that many MENA countries struggled to escape in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
However, security in North Africa still remains an imperative. As many as 6,000 jihadist fighters defeated in the Middle East are fleeing and returning home to Africa, a fact that will likely increase the group’s presence in Africa. In 2017 alone, Africa was hit with 1,827 terror attacks by Islamist militants. Although Somalia has been hit with the most (half of the total attacks in 2017) terror attacks out of all other African nations, Libya has proven to be the central base for IS and other terrorist groups.
Besides trying to defeat IS, al-Qaeda, and other militant groups, it will be important to promote fair elections and increase the standard of living for Libyans and other Africans, in order to create order and reduce the number of people who are lured into working for militant groups. Ghassan Salame, the United Nations’ top official in Libya, said that “it is vital that before elections take place, we are certain they will be inclusive and their results accepted.”
As Libya presses on towards its 2018 general elections, Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, warns that “Libya today couldn’t be further away from respect for the rule of law and human rights, let alone from acceptable conditions for free elections.” The Human Rights Watch is pressing the United Nations to urge the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord and competing authorities to protect free speech and assembly, implement rules that aren’t discriminatory nor arbitrary in excluding potential voters or candidates, and maintain the rule of law.
Augustin Loada, director of the Center for Democratic Governance, an independent policy research group in Ouagadougou, noted that “Economic conditions, especially poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment compounded by corruption and bad governance are incentives for terrorism…[and] fuel the risk of violent extremism.” Providing non-military aid and promoting political stability and legitimacy will be key for the Libyan government’s ability to successfully protect and run the country.