AQ’s Future in Libya, Part 3- Operational Constraints

Previous posts discussed Libyan foreign fighters to Iraq and LIFG-AQ linkages in Libya. Part 3 examines the current conditions challenging AQ’s establishment of a durable stronghold in Eastern Libya.

  1. Resource constraints- Popular support for LIFG-AQ affiliated personnel is centered in Darnah.  Despite residing on the Mediterranean Sea, this region remains difficult to support logistically and repressed economically from Gaddafi’s reign.  Although recent stories suggest some LIFG-AQ affiliated personnel may be raiding Gaddafi military caches, weapons, supplies and money must come in either from the sea, overland across the desert, or through the Egyptian border. Each of these can be interdicted or monitored much more effectively than in other AQ hideouts in the Sahel, Yemen, or Pakistan.  Additionally, North African AQ elements have never garnered the donor support committed to AQ Central or AQAP.  AQIM reverts to kidnapping and illicit smuggling to maintain operational capability in the absence of sufficient donor support.  These two factors, location and insufficient donor pull, will likely limit AQ’s ability to expand significantly in Libya.
  2. Western No Fly Zone (NFZ)- The U.S. sought soft power intervention in Darnah during Gaddafi’s reign but was rebuffed by the Libyan regime.  The U.S. recognized the Darnah problem years ago. For the first time in decades, the U.S. can leverage all its tools to engage those terrorist enclaves previously sealed off by Gaddafi.  The NFZ allows for aerial surveillance and interdiction.  A good NFZ is a terrible thing to waste!
  3. Failed State vs. Weak State- Weak states remain more useful for AQ than failed states.  Withdrawal of the Gaddafi regime and NFZ institution suggests Eastern Libya will represent more of a ‘failed’ state than a ‘weak’ state.  Under Gaddafi’s reign, Darnah (center of gravity for jihadi activity) and the surrounding area operated as a ‘weak’ state.  Gaddafi’s regime snuffed out most resistance but generally could not rid the region entirely of Islamist opposition strictly through brute force.  Additionally, Libyan sovereignty protected terrorist elements in Libya from Western counterterrorism intervention.  Eastern Libya now lacks weak oversight from Tripoli.  While there is likely a temporary gap in coverage, the West now retains the ability to saturate Darnah jihadi’s with observation assets.  Kinetic and non-kinetic options for dealing with AQ in Eastern Libya are now on the table.
  4. Europeans will care more about AQ in Libya than other locales- Eastern Libya lies particularly close to Europe.  Libyan terrorists attacked European targets in the past.  All countries involved in executing the NFZ will/must take more aggressive action against AQ elements in Libya.  European CT assets can access Libya far easier than Pakistani or Yemeni safe havens.

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