Next exit: Libya
First, the good news: Some 10,000 airstrikes are having an effect. The coalition against "Islamic State" (IS), has been able to recapture large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria - and more importantly - the cities of Tikrit and Ramadi in Iraq, and Kobani on the Turkish-Syrian border. The coalition is attempting to repair infrastructure, clear mines, secure land, rebuild schools and reinstate a semblance of everyday life with all its might.
Now, the bad news: If the coalition is to truly eradicate the terror organization, it will have to do all that and more once again - this time in Libya.
Waiting for a unity government
The coalition's strategy certainly isn't perfect: For instance, it lacks ground troops. And the situation, especially in Syria, is so complex that the countries participating are far from having accomplished their mission. Nevertheless, the combination of international airstrikes and local ground forces - trained by countries from the alliance - is functioning well enough to drive many "IS" fighters into Libya. There, the terrorists have found a country in chaos, and thus, perhaps fertile terrain. Furthermore, Libya offers many sources of finance for "IS," above all, human trafficking. And if things go their way, also control of Libya's enormous oil fields.
The coalition's official plan is to establish a unity government as quickly as possible, in order to stop the deadly fragmentation that is destroying the country. In Rome, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was optimistic that such a government would soon exist. Behind the scenes, however, the British, Italians and others continued to discuss military options. They have no other choice.
Whether in support of a unity government, or under the banner of the United Nations: Successfully fighting "IS" in Libya will only work if a plan similar to that in Iraq and Syria is executed. Still, the complexity of the situation in Libya could present altogether new challenges: There is no unified army to train, it is full of rival factions that are becoming ever more entrenched, and there is no national infrastructure for the coalition to rebuild.
Big gamble for Europe
Looking the other way is not an option. Because what is on the line in Libya could be far more dangerous than what Europe faced in Syria. What are 17 million potential war refugees in Syria when compared to the African continent, home to more than one billion people? Libya is already a gateway for all those who long to escape destitution, war or dictators. When springtime comes, the inflatable boats, overloaded with migrants, will once again be launched from Libya's shores.
That means: regardless of whether the unity government in Libya comes or not - the coalition will have to open a second front against "IS." One could most easily read this between the lines of comments made by Italian representatives at this week's meeting of foreign ministers in Rome. That will not please the citizens of many coalition countries, especially those in Germany. But the deployments in Iraq and Syria have made one thing clear: Unfortunately, diplomatic efforts must be flanked by a military component. Otherwise, there is no defeating "IS."
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