European Council on Foreign Relations

Why fighting the “war on terror” in Libya is a mistake

Since the end of the Cold War, it has become common (and convenient) for Middle Eastern leaders to depict their opponents as “terrorists” as a way to gain support, military or otherwise, from powerful Western governments to act against them. American and European involvement in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) has only increased such practices.

Libya’s ruling elite is unfortunately no different. In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last week, acting Libyan head of state Ageela Saleh said that the international community had to provide arms and training to the Libyan army “in its war against terrorism”, noting that the Dawn coalition, which also happen to be the adversaries of the Tobruk government, included “Al-Qaeda ideologists”.

This “war on terror” narrative plays into the concern of most European governments that Libya’s large ungoverned

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Libyan state disintegration

Plumes of black smoke is seen after clashes between the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council and fighters of renegade general Khalifa Haftar, as they attempt to seize control of the airport from the council in Benghazi August 23, 2014. © REUTERS / Esam Omran Al-Fetori

Libya, just a few hundred kilometres from Europe, is now the site of the most violent crisis in North Africa. Like the conflicts in Syria or Iraq, the human suffering and displacement, the destruction and state failure involved are of great concern to Europe. The Libyan crisis, though, has an added immediacy for European states because it is from Libya’s shores that many of the migrants and refugees, but also human traffickers and foreign jihadists, set off. Like its southern border security, Europe’s energy security is also tied to Libya.

The security situation in Libya has been steadily deteriorating in the past

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Who will stop Libya’s implosion?

Libya has two governments and two parliaments, one in Tobruk and the other in Tripoli, the capital. But both are governments in name only, and the resulting power vacuum both reflects, and deepens, Libya’s status as another battlefield for regional powers. Despite Libya’s neighbors declaring in Cairo on Monday, that they refuse to intervene in the troubled country, hours later The New York Times reported that U.S. officials revealed that the mysterious air force that last week bombed militias from Misrata in the remains of Tripoli’s international airport was from the United Arab Emirates, flying from bases in Egypt.

If confirmed, the Times report would underscore the connection between Libya’s increasingly deadly internal unraveling — Libya Body Count reports there were more violent deaths in July than in the previous six months combined — and the regional power struggle that pits

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With crises in Ukraine, Iraq and Gaza still raging, why should Europeans care about Libya?

For several reasons. First of all the countries that supported the 2011 intervention (among them the UK, France and Italy) have an obligation to Libyans because theirs is the only country of the so-called Arab Spring in which we intervened militarily. It's not just immoral to abandon the Libyans now, it also fundamentally undermines our credibility in a region where credibility is currently scarce. Secondly, there’s the issue of security in the Mediterranean. We can’t afford to have Libya become another Somalia because geographically it’s so close to Europe - just 350 km south of Italy and Malta. If government authority collapses completely, Libya could become a safe-haven for smuggling and human trafficking. Some countries are also concerned that it may become a base for extremist groups such as Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Thirdly there’s the energy dimension. If we want to

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Libya: the dangers of inconclusive elections

A woman votes at a polling station inside a school in Tripoli, June 25, 2014 © Reuters / Steve Crisp

This article was published on ISPI Online.

Today, Wednesday 25 June, Libyans go to the polls for the second time since Gaddafi’s fall in 2011. The atmosphere surrounding the polls is not one of enthusiasm and participation. Libya is slowly but steadily slipping into a period of protracted violence, if not a full blown civil war. Elections were seen by many as a panacea but they may turn out to be a missed opportunity if no meaningful reconciliation is started and if a low turnout affects legitimacy.

Since May 16, two armed coalitions have been fighting each other: on one side an alliance between retired General Khalifa Haftar, former members and units of the army who defected from the Gaddafi regime during the revolution in 2011, and the Zintan militias which control crucial

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