Secretary of Defense Ash Carter confirmed while traveling in Germany Tuesday Italy has volunteered to lead any pending operations against Islamic State in Libya.
Carter’s comments came during a press conference just after attending a change-of-command ceremony for U.S. European Command. Joined by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford and the newly minted Supreme Allied Commander of Europe Curtis Scaparrotti, Carter explained to reporters how the Pentagon intends to address the rise of Islamic State in Libya.
“We want to be clear, the circumstances that exist there now have caused us to act, and we’ve taken some actions in Libya,” said Carter. “But I think the main issue you’re raising is, when can … the effort begin, which the Italians indicated they’d lead, and has been long awaited, to help Libya put itself back together and expel what are basically foreigners from its territory.”
Italy first mulled the idea of leading operations against ISIS in February after the terrorist group engaged in a hotel bombing in Tripoli and beheaded 21 Christians on video.
“We have been discussing this for months but now it has become urgent,” said Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti to Italy’s Il Messaggero newspaper in February. “The risk is imminent, we cannot wait any longer. Italy has national [defense] needs and cannot have a caliphate ruling across the shores from us.”
Since the initial announcement, few measures have been taken by Italy in countering ISIS, although it has been reported the country allowed U.S. drones to operate from bases in Sicily in order to conduct strikes against ISIS.
Aside from the occasional air strike, U.S. and NATO operations in Libya have been limited while the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition concentrates on the ISIS “parent tumor” in Iraq and Syria. While the international community focuses on Iraq and Syria, ISIS has established a bastion in the Libyan coastal town of Sirte amidst the country’s ongoing political chaos.
Libya’s newest political contender, the Government of National Accord (GNA), has attempted to establish its rule from a naval base in Tripoli. Thus far, it has seen little success in gaining a popular following, despite international backing. In an apparent attempt to legitimize the GNA, President Barack Obama sanctioned the leader of the Islamist General National Congress, a rival political faction.
Italy’s modern history of intervention in Libya goes back to the 1910s. Under Mussolini, colonization of Libya was expanded drastically until the country was forced to end colonization after World War II. More recently, Italy was a major proponent of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the 2011 Libyan intervention against former dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
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