The Libyan unity government and the USA are fighting hand-in-hand in the battle over the coastal city and IS stronghold Sirte. Greater US involvement in Libya also has domestic policy reasons, says Martin Ganslmeier.
US President Barak Obama has opened a new front in the fight against the so-called "Islamic State": Libya. More air assaults will follow the first two conducted Monday against the "IS" stronghold Sirte before the strategically important city is in the hands of the United Nations-backed Libyan unity government. And it is about time.
For weeks, the US government has looked on with growing concern as the Libyan unity government has failed to recapture the "IS" stronghold. Obama was loathe to intervene without the consent of the Libyan government. Subsequently, he has had to suffer a great deal of criticism from Donald Trump and the Republicans: Both claim that Obama has been halfhearted and weak in the fight against "IS." Why in the world would one leave the terror organization to act with impunity for so long? Together with Vladimir Putin, claims Trump, "IS" could be defeated within a matter of weeks.
US in the air, locals on the ground
Yet Obama remains true to the strategy that he has been following in Iraq and Syria: America offers air support, but local troops themselves must win decisive battles on the ground. The Libyan government, however, has long hesitated to ask America for air support in hopes of avoiding the impression that they are somehow a puppet regime of the West.
Obama's decision to increase airstrikes in Libya is also motivated by the domestic political situation in the US: Libya has become a symbol of Hillary Clinton's failings as secretary of state in the ongoing US presidential campaign. Obama himself has said that the toppling of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi five years ago was the biggest mistake of his presidency. And the death of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other US citizens in Benghazi in 2012 is viewed as the low point of Hillary Clinton's tenure in office. Therefore Obama and Clinton have great interest in finally stabilizing Libya after all of the mistakes that were made there.
Also in Europe's interest
More stability and a strengthening of the United Nations-supported unity government in Libya must also be in Europe's best interest. A permanent "IS" stronghold at Europe's doorstep would be a nightmare. Especially since "IS" would have direct access to important Libyan oilfields in Sirte, and could thus continue to fund its terror activities. If "IS" were to thrust Libya into chaos once again it would also dramatically escalate the European refugee crisis.
"Islamic State" has now lost half its territory in Iraq, and a quarter thereof in Syria. That is why "IS" seeks to expand in Libya. And that is why it is important that the terror organization now be fought more decisively than ever there.
Martin Ganslmeier heads Germany's public service broadcaster ARD's radio studio in Washington, D.C.
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