(Updated; see below)
Proving that recent history and the interwoven cycle of violence, western intervention and instability in the greater Middle East knows fewer and fewer borders, the regional war against the Islamic State (or ISIS) that has largely been confined to battlefields within Iraq and Syria appears to be rapidly spreading.
Following the public release of a video over the weekend which appeared to show the beheading of 21 captured Egyptians by a militant group that is reportedly aligned with an ISIS affiliate operating inside Libya, Egypt launched airstrikes aimed at the group early on Monday and vowed more would follow.
According to Reuters:
It was the first time Egypt confirmed launching air strikes against the group in neighboring Libya, showing President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is ready to expand his fight against Islamist militancy beyond Egypt's borders.
Egypt said the dawn strike, in which Libya's air force also participated, hit Islamic State camps, training sites and weapons storage areas in Libya, where civil conflict has plunged the country into near anarchy and created havens for militia.
A Libyan air force commander said between 40 to 50 militants were killed in the attack. "There are casualties among individuals, ammunition and the (Islamic State) communication centers," Saqer al-Joroushi told Egyptian state television.
"More air strikes will be carried out today and tomorrow in coordination with Egypt," he said.
The pattern between Egypt and Libya is similar to that which took place recently when a Jordanian pilot was executed by ISIS after being captured. Citing vengeance for the pilot, Jordan responded with an elevated series of airstrikes against targets inside Syria and Iraq.
According to reporting by Middle East Eye on Monday, many in the region viewed the "Egyptian airstrikes as playing right into [ISIS'] plans of eliciting a retaliatory response instead of a measured strategic one. The readiness that Egypt took to launch airstrikes also fuelled the belief that Libya, with all of its domestic tribulations and chaos, has fallen victim to the larger geopolitical gameplay of sowing more strife, as foreign airstrikes threaten the sovereignty of Libya."
Meanwhile, critical observers who have followed the history and developments in Libya over recent years note that it was the U.S./NATO bombing of Libya in 2011, which allowed for the overthrow of Muhammar Ghaddafi, that led to the nation's current state of instability and allowed ISIS militants to gain their current foothold in the failed state.
Making the connection between the creation of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the branch now operating in Libya, Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, stated in a tweet on Sunday: "ISIS, created in an Iraq destabilized by US-led regime change, now entrenched in Libya, destabilized by US-led regime change."
Jesse Franzblau, a policy analyst working with the National Security Archive and another critic of the short-sightedness of western intervention in Libya, described last year why the 2011 bombing of Libya by the U.S. and its European allies was not, as many pundits argued, a model for western military intervention, but rather "a cautionary tale" about the destruction unleashed by arrogant militarism. According to Franzblau:
The lack of consideration for the possible consequences of the Libyan intervention can only be regarded as a dramatic strategic failure on the part of the United States and its NATO allies. The failure to make the connection between conflicts that spread across borders is demonstrative of a myopic approach to policymaking, where officials base decisions on immediate concerns without sufficiently taking into account longer-term ramifications. This approach to conflict situations only examines isolated contexts, without considering corresponding transnational threats and global concerns.
As the Independent's foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn wrote at roughly the same time, the initial "jubilation at Gaddafi's demise" by the west was soon beset by violence and a violent civil war. "The aftermath of foreign intervention is calamitous and bloody," Cockburn wrote. "Foreign governments and media alike have good reason to forget what they said and did in Libya in 2011, because the aftermath of the overthrow of Gaddafi has been so appalling."
*Updated (12:13 PM EST):
In a column posted to The Intercept late Monday morning—titled 'Hailed as a Model for Successful Intervention, Libya Proves to be the Exact Opposite'—journalist Glenn Greenwald lays out the argument in clear terms. He writes:
What we see [in Libya] is what we’ve seen over and over: the west’s wars creating and empowering an endless supply of enemies, which in turn justify endless war by the west. It was the invasion of Iraq that ushered in “Al Qaeda in Iraq” and ultimately ISIS. It has been the brutal, civilian-slaughtering drone bombing of Yemen which spawned Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in that country. As Hillary Clinton herself acknowledged, the U.S. helped create Al Qaeda itself by arming, recruiting and funding foreign “Mujahideen” to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (“the people we are fighting today, we funded 20 years ago”). And now it is the NATO intervention in Libya which has laid the groundwork for further intervention. [...]
One can debate whether all of this is done by design or by “accident”: if you realize that U.S. actions create further pretexts for war, then those who do this for a living must realize it, too (their own studies say this); and how many times does something have to happen before “accident” is no longer a viable explanation (as in: oops, our bombing policies keep killing large numbers of civilians, but we keep doing it anyway, and keep claiming it’s all just a terrible “accident”)? But whatever else is true about motive, there is no question that U.S. militarism constantly strengthens exactly that which it is pitched as trying to prevent, and ensures that the U.S. government never loses its supply of reasons to continue its endless war.
Far from serving as a model, this Libya intervention should severely discredit the core selling point of so-called “humanitarian wars.” Some non-governmental advocates of “humanitarian war” may be motivated by the noble aims they invoke, but humanitarianism is simply not why governments fight wars; that is just the pretty wrapping used to sell them.
Finally, Democrats (with validity) love to demand that Iraq War advocates acknowledge their errors and be discredited for their position (unless those advocates happen to be Obama’s Vice President, his two Secretaries of State, his Pentagon chiefs, etc.). We are rapidly approaching the point, if we are not there already, where advocates of “intervention” in Libya should do the same.