‘Libyan dilemma: Military intervention may drive locals into ISIS arms’

A view shows damage at the scene after an airstrike by U.S. warplanes against Islamic State in Sabratha, Libya, February 19, 2016. © Sabratha municipality media office
A dilemma with Libyan foreign military intervention is that it may be ineffective and, also, it could drive Libyans opposed to it into the arms of Islamic State, Oliver Miles, former UK ambassador to Libya, told RT.

The Pentagon confirmed that US fighter jets carried out airstrikes on an Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISL) base in Libya targeting the mastermind behind last year's terror attacks on tourist sites in Tunisia. Two Serbian embassy staff, abducted in Libya and held hostage since November, are believed to have been among those killed in the US airstrikes.

READ MORE: 2 Serbian embassy staff kidnapped in Libya believed killed in US ISIS raid – Serbian FM

RT discussed the legality of the move with experts.

RT: How likely is it that the US carried out the airstrikes without authorization from the Libyan authorities?

Oliver Miles: There is really no Libyan authority in existence able to invite them, so I assume that they did that on their own authority.

RT: A recent UN Security Council resolution urged to support Libya's unity government against ISIS. Does that give the right for such attacks like this one? How far can this support go?

OM: No, it doesn’t, unfortunately. We’re nearly there. If the United Nations concentrates on supporting that there may yet be an effective Libyan government. But it is not there now.

RT: Washington did warn it will go after ISIS in Libya. Do you expect more such strikes in future?

OM: There isn’t a government in being which is capable of inviting foreign intervention. I am not comfortable about intervention of this kind. The fact is the world faces a dilemma. It is a very dangerous presence of ISIS in Libya, it is a threat to all of us, it is a threat in particular to Europe and to the world. But the dilemma is that if we intervene militarily, first of all it probably won’t be effective, and secondly, if we are not very careful we are going to drive the Libyans into the arms of ISIS because they will object very strongly to foreign intervention. The intervention that happened seems to have been well judged, the target was not Sirte, which is the main center of ISIS in Libya, but another place called Sabratha  - which is west of Tripoli where there are said to be ISIS training camps. About 40 people were killed, from the Libyan reports I have seen so far, none of them were Libyans, they were all foreign fighters. And that is very good news because killing Libyans is the one thing of course, that would drive the Libyans into the arms of ISIS.   

RT: You don’t believe that there is an established government in Libya. Does it make Libya effectively free for all at the moment until there is a recognized government?

OM: That’s the dilemma. There is something of a vacuum. That is why ISIS have established themselves there. Foreign fighters, mainly, Tunisians, but also including fighters from Syria and from ISIS in the Syria – Iraq area have been gathering there precisely because there is no effective authority. The world is trying to build an effective authority. The UN has been negotiating for months to put together a new Libyan government and I hope they’ll succeed. They haven’t quite succeeded yet.

© Str.

There is a problem when you decapitate nations like Iraq, Syria or Libya: you risk chaos. And once you have that, the UN is powerless to stop it with military force, said John Graham, former US diplomat in Libya.

RT: So the Pentagon is using what it calls Authorization of Use of Force against Al-Qaeda to fight ISIS in Libya. But does that provide sufficient legal grounds for airstrikes?

John Graham: I think it is irrelevant… These things are great power moves. What is the justification for Russian jets bombing in Aleppo or American jets and French and whatever jets bombing other parts of Syria. There are resolutions taken… We are looking very hard for ways to keep ISIS from getting a serious stronghold in Libya. ISIS has basically established safe havens in Libya just as the Taliban did in Afghanistan a decade ago. And so we are trying to wipe them out. It is confusing and chaotic enough in Libya. But if Libya also becomes a safe haven for ISIS, then it becomes even worse for us, for Russia and everyone else who is trying to eliminate this scourge.

RT: Why did the Pentagon spokesperson decline to specify precisely what Libyan authorities were notified of before the strikes?

JG: The matter of fact is that there are dozens of authorities in Libya; I have no idea who they talk to. There is an internationally recognized government in Tobruk in the east, which is basically anti-Islamic. I suspect that is who the US “talks” to. But there is also another so-called government based in Tripoli, which is more Islamist in nature. I doubt that US talk to them. There are 68 militias operating in Libya. Does the US talk to any of them? Some of them are pro-Islamist, some are anti-Islamist and most of them are fighting within themselves. Then, of course, there is a tribal system in Libya, which was very apparent when I worked there as a diplomat a long time ago. It is complete chaos and a lot of it is tribally based. On top of all this politics, on top of Sunni-Shia, on top of Islamist-non Islamist, you have an enormously complicated tribal network. So, who are the authorities anybody talks to to get permission, to get anything done in Libya. The whole question is…I was about to say a little bit silly, but I don’t want to be disrespectful to colleagues in the Pentagon…but it is strange. 

RT: If Libya's UN backed government is approved by parliament, do you think its leaders will last and be effective?

JG: Let’s not forget the UN doesn’t exactly do what people thought it would do in 1945. The UN at best can provide effective peace monitoring, but it is not a peace building organization. You may get permission from the parliament but the only recognized parliament is that from the government in Tobruk in eastern Libya. There is another parliament in Tripoli. Then there are all these other players. The idea of the UN being able to cobble together all of this and make it all work in some kind of agreed fashion is way beyond the UN’s capacities. You need some stronger force, much stronger incentive than the UN can supply to take these different players and cobble them together to create a working nation. What does that mean? Do you bring back a strong man? But look what happened to Gaddafi? This is the problem when you decapitate nations like Iraq, Syria or Libya. You risk chaos. And once you have that kind of chaos, the UN is pretty powerless to stop it with military force.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.