Libya enters 2016 fray

Libya enters 2016 fray
© Getty Images

Republicans are pushing the Obama administration to expand the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to Libya, where the number of jihadists has doubled in the last year.

Estimates place the number of ISIS fighters in Libya between 5,000 and 6,500, up from 2,000 to 3,000 last year.

ADVERTISEMENT
It threatens to turn Libya into another troubled spot from which terror attacks could be launched on the West.

Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, said fighters are going to Libya as it gets harder to get into Syria.

“We know from their own publications they’re now telling their fighters, ‘Don’t go into Syria. Go elsewhere. Go to Libya,’” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week.

The unfolding situation poses difficult questions for President Obama, who is approaching the end of a second term that was meant to conclude with an end to U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instead, Obama and those fighting to succeed him are confronted with a rising threat in ISIS, which has offshoots in Afghanistan as well.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Clip shows Larry David and Bernie Sanders reacting after discovering they're related For now, Trump dossier creates more questions than answers MORE sparred over the issue during Thursday’s debate, highlighting how the problems in Libya are getting more attention from the political world.

It’s a potential problem for Clinton, the secretary of State when an Obama-led coalition in 2011 toppled Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Thursday’s debate focused on whether that fight allowed ISIS to sprout in Libya.

Sanders argued that it created a “political vacuum.”

“ISIS came in, and now occupies significant territory in Libya, and is now prepared, unless we stop them, to have a terrorist foothold,” he said.

Clinton responded by saying Sanders had been in favor of the regime change.

“He voted in favor of regime change with Libya, voted in favor of the Security Council being an active participate in setting the parameters for what we would do, which of course we followed through on,” Clinton said.

Last month, the president’s National Security Council met to discuss Libya. The conversation focused on supporting the Libyans’ efforts to form a unity government and counterterrorism efforts.

But there are signs the Pentagon wants to expand the campaign against ISIS to Libya.

Late last month, the Pentagon acknowledged that a “small group” of military personnel has been to Libya to make contact with local forces and get a clearer picture of what’s happening on the ground.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Libya was one of the topics of discussion at this week's anti-ISIS coalition meeting in Brussels.

"Nobody wants to see Libya on a glide slope to the kind of situation that already engulfed Syria and Iraq," Carter told reporters in Brussels after the meeting Thursday.

The caveat, Carter added, is the Libyans don’t want foreign forces in their country.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerDeficit hawks voice worry over direction of tax plan The Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot MORE (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said this week he’s encouraged by the administration’s recent comments on Libya.

“They understand the situation that is developing there is not unlike exactly what occurred in Syria, exactly what occurred in Iraq,” he said after a closed briefing with McGurk. “I think everyone is fully aware it cannot continue.”

Rep. Randy ForbesRandy ForbesTrump makes little headway filling out Pentagon jobs Why there's only one choice for Trump's Navy secretary Trump likely to tap business executive to head Navy: report MORE (R-Va.), a senior member of House Armed Service Committee, said he’s not convinced the talk will lead to action.

“We have had an uptick in rhetoric,” he said last week. “That doesn’t mean we’ve had an uptick in strategy.”

Forbes echoed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, who said last month that “decisive military action” in Libya is needed.

“We do need some decisive actions for a lot of reasons,” Forbes said. “One, I think the American people need that. But secondly, I think the more these guys are seen as winners, they more they’re recruiting. If they see them as starting to take some big hits, it really impacts their recruitment.”

Other lawmakers worry that the fight against ISIS will expand unchecked.

“Some want to open yet another costly front in this war without a debate, authorization or opportunity for the American people to have a voice on matters of war and peace,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a vice chair of the Progressive Caucus, said in a statement to The Hill.

She said the prospect of expanding the war to Libya is yet another reason for Congress to debate an authorization for the use of military force.

“This is simply unacceptable. Congress must have a debate before this war escalates any further.”