Islamic State Could Rise Again in Libya, Interior Minister Says

(Bloomberg) -- Libya needs more help from the United States to overcome its political divisions, the country’s interior minister said, warning that Islamic State was taking advantage of the chaos to regroup.

While the Washington-backed fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has reduced the territory the self-styled “caliphate” holds, its militants are using the Libyan desert to regroup despite a 2016 U.S.-backed anti-terror campaign that pushed them from the coastal city of Sirte.

The United States should now throw its weight behind a push to end Libya’s political divisions, said Fathi Bashagha, the top security official in the internationally recognized government in Tripoli.

"The danger is grave, because we’re not capable of fighting them in an ideal way so long as the divisions remain," Bashagha said in an interview in the Tunisian capital, Tunis.

While the Sirte campaign damaged Islamic State’s infrastructure there, “the truth is many Daesh members sneaked into the desert before the battle for Sirte was over,” he said, using the movement’s Arabic acronym. "Members from Iraq and Syria have joined them and they began to move around in the desert and organize themselves.”

Islamic State first emerged in Libya’s east, an area that was rife with extremist movements after the 2011 ouster of Moammar Al Qaddafi. It spread westward, leaving in its wake a trail of destruction and decapitations. Over the past year, it has claimed several attacks, including at the elections headquarter, the Foreign Ministry and the National Oil Corporation’s headquarters in Tripoli.

Analysts say Washington is increasingly disengaged from the broader efforts to stabilize the country, leaving the task instead to European nations and Libya’s Arab neighbors. In addition, the United Nations is providing support and has called for elections.

No one has yet been able to make significant or lasting advances in reconciling the Tripoli-based government and its chief rival, eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar.

That disengagement deepens the problems confronting Libya.

"It will be expensive for us as Libyans and expensive for the United States, which by its own laws is obliged to fight al-Qaeda and Daesh,” he said. “The United States must pay more attention to the Libyan political file to make sure there is a political deal."

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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