Schiff Calls for Strong Steps to Curb ISIS in Libya (Congressional Quarterly)

A leading Democratic congressman called Tuesday for more aggressive steps to counter the Islamic State’s growing presence in Libya, including targeting the group’s leadership, to prevent the militants from establishing an even greater foothold in the oil-rich North African nation.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said the Islamic State’s inroads in Libya are the most troubling aspect of the group’s rapid expansion outside its heartland in Syria and Iraq.

“If we’re not careful and proactive, you could see an Islamic State in Libya,” the California Democrat told journalists at a roundtable event. “You could see a very large holding, an area that is effectively governed by ISIS in Libya, and Libya’s proximity to serve as a gateway into southern Europe. This is a top concern for the United States as well as our European allies.”


The Islamic State’s foothold in Libya, centered around the coastal city of Sirte, has moved up the list of priorities for the Obama administration, and was a major aspect of a National Security Council meeting last week, according to a White House statement.


The president’s special envoy on the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, told reporters during a trip to Rome this week that the extremist group is “now trying to make Libya their hub,” the Washington Post reported.


Since the eight-month civil war that toppled longtime dictator Muammar Gadhafi in 2011, Libya has slid into ever-deepening chaos. Two rival governments, an Islamist-backed one based in Tripoli and an internationally recognized administration in the east, have been wrestling for control. That conflict has helped create a security vacuum in the center of the country that has been filled by the Islamic State.


Schiff said that sputtering U.N.-led efforts to broker a political compromise and form a national unity government are “the most important step” to rolling back the Islamic State in Libya.


“We just need to continue to keep the pressure on. If there are any avenues we can employ, frankly, to make life difficult for those who aren’t willing to get to yes, we ought to do it because they need to get their act together,” Schiff said. “They’re fiddling while Rome is burning, so solving that fundamental political divide I think is imperative.”


While that process plays out, he said, the U.S. should empower those who are willing to fight the Islamic State in Libya to prevent it from capturing new towns and territory. The U.S. should also work with its allies to eliminate the group’s leaders in Libya who Schiff said have been sent from Syria and Iraq to organize the militants’ presence.


“That is not a permanent solution but it does have an impact on their operational capability, and much as we are doing that in Syria and Iraq, I think we need to be doing that in Libya as well,” he said.


Turning to Afghanistan, Schiff said the situation there has “sadly deteriorated” and the prospect of decreasing the number of U.S. troops in the country—as the president originally planned—is “looking increasingly unlikely.”


He said that with the Taliban resurgent, as well as the growing presence of the Islamic State, which has managed to peel off members of the Taliban and the Haqqani Group, “it would be hard to justify a recommendation about a troop reduction in Afghanistan.”


In October, Obama said he was scrapping plans to withdraw almost all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, and will instead keep some 9,800 troops there through most of 2016 and at least 5,500 after he leaves office in January 2017.

Source: Congressional Quarterly