The United States on Friday conducted air strikes in Libya, a country described as having "all but collapsed" since the NATO military intervention there five years ago.
Local officials say that at least 40 people were killed from the strikes in the early morning, with others critically wounded, news agencies report. The location of the strike was a reported Islamic State training camp in the northern Libyan city of Sabratha.
The Pentagon said that it was not clear yet whether the target of the attack, Noureddine Chouchane, was among those killed.
Chouchane, a Tunisian national, has been linked to attacks in 2015 on a Tunis museum and a beach in the resort town of Sousse.
"He facilitated the movement of potential ISIL-affiliated foreign fighters from Tunisia to Libya and onward to other countries," the Associated Press reports Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook as saying.
The Guardian reports that the new
airstrike, the third by the US in Libya since June, raised questions about the US opening another front against an enemy whose strength in Libya has grown in the chaos resulting from Nato’s 2011 war aiding the revolutionaries that killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi. But some officials suggested that the strike on Chouchane was a target of opportunity, rather than the inaugural shots of a long-telegraphed initiative. The two previous strikes hit an Isis base in Derna in November and an al-Qaida gathering at Ajdabiya in eastern Libya in June.
As journalist Glenn Greenwald and professor of international relations Vijay Prishad both indicated in early-morning tweets, Friday's bombing should be read as an indication of the Obama administration's failed strategy in Libya:
The military intervention in Libya was such a fantastic success so it's time to do it again https://t.co/IT95JiBnVl
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) February 19, 2016
US Airstrikes in Libya. Strategy anyone?
— Vijay Prashad (@vijayprashad) February 19, 2016
Last month, after speaking with his French counterpart, Gen. Pierre de Villiers, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, "It's fair to say we're looking to take decisive military action against ISIL [in Libya] in conjunction with a legitimate political process."
The strikes come just days after President Obama said, "With respect to Libya, I have been clear from the outset that we will go after ISIS wherever it appears, the same way that we went after al Qaeda wherever they appeared."
"We will continue to take actions where we've got a clear operation and a clear target in mind. And we are working with our other coalition partners to make sure that as we see opportunities to prevent ISIS from digging in, in Libya, we take them."
But this reflects an approach akin to "a game of whack-a-mole spanning multiple unstable foreign countries," argues Paul Pillar, professor at Georgetown University for security studies.
Opening up a real military front against [ISIS in Libya] with Western armed forces might seem to be an appropriate going to where the action is, but it also would perpetuate a fundamentally flawed conception of counterterrorism as revolving around military offensives against whatever presence on the ground has been established by whatever radical group currently worries us the most.
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The underlying problem in a place such as post-Gaddafi Libya is a lack of good governance or of any governance. Inadequate governance has multiple bad effects, including the sort of chaos that violent extremists exploit. Libya does not have a governance problem because ISIS is there; ISIS is there because Libya has a severe governance problem.
Yet another fallacy in common thinking about counterterrorism is that whacking the offending group is progress. It is not, if what is left after the whacking is just more of the inadequate governance that led to the group establishing its presence there in the first place.
Others similarly described the governance problem. From the Guardian earlier this week:
"Libya is becoming a scenario whereby you will have three governments," says Ludovico Carlino of IHS Jane’s, a London defense analyst. "An intervention [without a unity government] will probably cause more anarchy and chaos."
The reporting adds this comment from Guma El-Gamaty, the rebel government’s London envoy during the revolution: "We are now suffering the legacy of Gaddafi, the lack of institutions, no democracy, the lack of knowing how to come together."
Reuters reports: "A U.N.-backed government of national accord is trying to win support, but is still awaiting parliamentary approval. It is opposed by factional hardliners and has yet to establish itself in the capital Tripoli."
Last month, in an article entitled "The U.S. Intervention in Libya Was Such a Smashing Success That a Sequel Is Coming," Greenwald wrote that since the 2011 NATO bombing of Libya, the country
so predictably — has all but completely collapsed, spending years now drowning in instability, anarchy, fractured militia rule, sectarian conflict, and violent extremism. The execution of Saddam Hussein was no vindication of that war nor a sign of improved lives for Iraqis, and the same was true for the mob killing of Qaddafi.
the much bigger question was when (not if, but when) the instability and extremism that predictably followed the NATO bombing would be used to justify a new U.S.-led war — also exactly as happened in Iraq.
Just as there was no al Qaeda or ISIS to attack in Iraq until the U.S. bombed its government, there was no ISIS in Libya until NATO bombed it. Now the U.S. is about to seize on the effects of its own bombing campaign in Libya to justify an entirely new bombing campaign in that same country.
And in a statement Friday, Prashad said, "The U.S. Air Force should have named this current bombing run in Libya 'Operation Deja Vu.' It is the third such strike at ISIS. What is not clear is the strategy being followed by the U.S. Occasional bombing runs have not stopped ISIS from fully taking Sirte and now expanding along the edge of the Gulf of Sidra."