Spy leaders: Libyan politics complicating anti-ISIS fight

Spy leaders: Libyan politics complicating anti-ISIS fight
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Efforts to establish a capable central government in Libya have complicated the Obama administration's efforts to root out the growing base used by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), top intelligence said Thursday.

There are “a spectrum of political views” within the two competing factions trying to control Libya, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a House Intelligence Committee hearing.

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“There is, to the extent there can be in Libya, a fair amount of agreement that ISIL poses a threat to Libya as a nation state,” he added, using an alternate acronym for ISIS. “And I think there is sentiment among most parties — but not all — that this represents a threat to the country.”

“That’s the difficulty here. There is a wide range of views among the political spectrum in Libya.”

The U.S. has struggled with how to confront ISIS’s rise in Libya, which has been unable to erect an effective central government since the 2011 overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi. 

Last week, the Pentagon launched airstrikes targeting a top extremist leader and a training camp. Tunisian militant Noureddine Chouchane, who allegedly organized last year's massacre of 38 people at a Tunisian beach popular with tourists, is believed to have been among the dozens killed. 

The Obama administration has debated whether to launch a more vigorous campaign in Libya. Any concerted military campaign could further entrench the U.S. in a heated foreign conflict with bleak prospects for stability, but refusing to act could allow ISIS to metastasize.

The House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam SchiffWhite House: Schiff has done 123 national TV interviews since Trump took office The Hill's 12:30 Report Scarborough: Trump sounds 'beleaguered and frightened' MORE (Calif.), said Thursday he is worried “that as the size of the tumor in Syria and Iraq decreases, that we’re seeing a new malignancy in Libya.”

“I’m concerned that … we may get to the point where ISIS is so firmly entrenched in Libya that we have to embark in the same multi-year process that we are undertaking in Iraq and Syria,” he added.

The Obama administration’s goal, intelligence leaders responded, was to attack ISIS while also empowering political leaders.

“We’d like nothing better than to have a government in place in Libya whom we could work with and from whom we would gain consent for engaging militarily in Libya,” Clapper said. “That is a subject of active discussion as I speak.”

The twin avenues are being pursued “with vigor, simultaneously,” added CIA Director John Brennan.

“You cannot put off the counterterror operations as this long process of government-building takes place.”