The Obama administration is pushing for the United Nations to end a 2011 embargo on arms shipments to Libya in order to save the current regime from falling to the Islamic State, but some experts caution a U.S. arms shipment may end up in the hands of terror groups.
In an effort to prevent the spread of ISIS, which metastasized after the U.S. toppled the Gadhafi regime, the Obama administration is looking to provide weapons and training to the Government of National Accord (GNA), which is a United Nations-endorsed state entity located in western Libya.
The problem, according to U.S. Africa Command chief Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, is it’s unclear which groups the Obama administration should support since assessing their allegiance to the GNA in Libya is incredibly difficult. To make matters worse, U.S. intelligence on the ground is patchy.
For this reason, the Pentagon is hesitant to get involved in launching yet another “train and equip” program until there’s more “political unity” around the GNA. That’s what Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said shortly after Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, remarked that small teams might be sent to Libya very soon, since political unity could happen “any day.”
“There will be a long-term mission in Libya,” Dunford confirmed.
Yet, the priorities of militia groups on the ground in Libya are quite distinct from the priorities of the U.S.
Fighting ISIS is, at best, just one of many aims these militias have, and so it’s likely they’ll take the weapons and training they receive and re-purpose them to other ends.
Experts told The Daily Caller News Foundation that weapons sent to the GNA will likely end up in the hands of groups with ties to al-Qaida. These groups may further pass weapons on to ISIS. For example, there are several militias in western Libya, notably the Misratans, that both recognize the GNA and have shady links to extremist groups — such as the Libya Dawn alliance, which in turn is connected to Ansar al Sharia, a local al-Qaida associate group. Some of these militias in the western part of Libya also have connections to ISIS. And the membership between these groups is astonishingly fluid. These are not entirely distinct groups — membership fluctuates frequently.
The fear among experts is that a sudden flood of arms into the country will motivate cynical and temporary allegiance to the GNA for the purpose of gaining access to training and resources. And once they have what they need, they’ll turn against the GNA and potentially funnel weapons to ISIS. This will likely make the situation far worse than it already is and provide ISIS with a foothold, even as it’s losing territory and spirit in Iraq and Syria.
“As in Syria, none of the Libyan armed factions see fighting ISIS as their top priority,” Emily Estelle, analyst at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, told TheDCNF. “The Libyan National Army (LNA) is using the anti-ISIS fight to expand back into western Libya and to generate additional external support. The Libyan groups will remain focused on securing their own economic and political objectives, though some may be willing to fight ISIS in part if it will advance their objectives overall.”
In Syria, the Pentagon funneled weapons to rebel groups with an unending vendetta against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and expected them to fight ISIS. This program failed abysmally.
“The American Train and Equip Program in Syria failed because the U.S. attempted to recruit Syrian opposition fighters and demand that they focus on the anti-ISIS fight over the fight against the Assad regime,” Jennifer Cafarella, Syria analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told TheDCNF. “Most Syrian opposition fighters oppose ISIS and want American support to defeat it. They do not prioritize fighting ISIS above fighting the Assad regime, however.”
Aside from Pentagon efforts in Syria, the CIA has also been running an underground train and equip program to provide Syrian rebels with TOW anti-tank missiles — which has proven effective, as the CIA is much more focused on directly removing Assad than the Pentagon. Rebels, then, are more receptive to U.S. political objectives, but the program is just too small to fight off the Syrian regime, now that it’s heavily supported by Iranian and Russian forces.
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