‘Total confusion’: US govt unsure of ‘attacking’ ISIS in Libya; defiant over role in 2011 invasion

President Barack Obama has told military advisers to stop Islamic State from expanding into Libya as the US looks “at ways to attack it there.” RT asked the US State Department if a terrorist takeover had been foreseen while bombing Libya five years ago.

The Pentagon appeared to be unsure on Thursday if the US was ready to invade the northern African country again five years after it helped topple Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, leaving Libya with a power vacuum that led to civil war and terror groups gaining a foothold in the region.

READ MORE: Libya’s parliament votes to reject UN-backed unity govt

However, both Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter indicated that deliberations were ongoing as to which military options could potentially be used against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) there.

“The President directed his national security team to continue efforts to strengthen governance and support ongoing counterterrorism efforts in Libya and other countries where ISIL has sought to establish a presence,” the White House statement said.

Earlier on Thursday, Carter told reporters that the US was watching the situation in Libya closely, while also developing “options for what we might do in the future.” He has not divulged any specific details on what military options might be employed.

“You see the same kind of ambitions on their [IS] part that you see realized in full flower in Syria and Iraq,” Carter said. “We don’t want to be on a glideslope to a situation like Syria and Iraq. That’s the reason we’re watching it that closely. That’s the reason why we develop options for what we might do in the future.”

Carter’s remarks echoed the Pentagon’s Wednesday statement, in which spokesman Peter Cook told reporters that the US would “respond accordingly” to IS extremists in Libya.

“We’re going to consider all of our options going forward,” Cook said, when asked about the possibility of US boots on the ground there. “Right now, that’s not something… that’s under consideration.” 

RT’s correspondent Gayane Chichikyan tried to find out on Thursday whether the US had foreseen a return to Libya “as it helped bomb Gaddafi out of power” in 2011. However, the State Department seemed to dodge the question, arguing the terrorist group had not existed five years ago and that terrorism was not Libya’s main concern at the time.

“As for foreseeing what the threats were on the horizon back in 2011, let’s remember in 2011 we had Gaddafi on the ground threatening to massacre huge amounts of the Libyan population at the time,” Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said. “And we stepped in with our NATO partners to prevent that threat and massacre of the people.”

Toner said that now the US is “concerned” about IS taking over Libya and fomenting jihad in the region.

“We are concerned about ISIL being a threat, establishing – seeking to reach out and establish a presence in Libya, and as such, we’re going to look at ways we can attack it there,” he said.

Saying that it “is nothing new” for IS to seek a foothold in “fluid or ungoverned spaces” like Libya, Toner seemingly tried to shift the blame away from the role the US played in bringing the country to its present state.

Instead, he stressed “the importance of establishing good governance, establishing a government that can create stability through military, though police…”

Speculation on a potential US return to Libya sharply intensified after last week’s statement by General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

READ MORE: ISIS attacks oil infrastructure near Ras Lanuf port in Libya, threatens sequel

Dunfrod said that US was preparing to “take decisive military action” against IS, adding that “the president has made clear that we have the authority to use military force.”

The decision on the plan, which would involve NATO allies such as the UK, France and Italy, will be made in “weeks,” Dunford said, according to the official military newspaper Stars and Stripes.

‘They don’t know what do to’

Former US diplomat Jim Jatras told RT he believes that, for Washington, Libya is “something of a side show.”

“Having made a complete mess out of it, and then leaving it to go to create another mess in Syria and then bringing ISIS into being either intentionally or by accident – they don’t know what do to about that. Now they see it’s spreading, so they feel some kind of pressure to do something,” he said, adding that even within the US government there is “a total confusion” on the strategy.

Jatras says this is the reason why there is “nothing clear” coming out of recent remarks from the Pentagon.

“One of the reasons I think there is nothing definite coming from the Secretary because they don’t know what to say and they don’t know what to do,” the former diplomat said. “There is no credible government in Libya, even though there is the so-called official government in Tobruk. We don’t even know which of these groups we could possibly work with, because all these militias are even more radical then the next one.”

The US “would be foolish enough” to get involved in a large-scale ground operation, he believes, adding that the way to tacking jihadists in the region lies in weakening Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by cooperating with other powers, including Russia.

“I think, first thing we need to do is focus back on Iraq and Syria. We [need to] stop fighting the Russian and the Syrian governments and their efforts in Syria; find the way to choke off Daesh at the Turkish border,” Jatras said, adding that the Saudis and the Turks also need to stop supporting terrorists.