Africom perspective on Libya sheds light on US policy
By Libya Herald reporter.
London, 19 September 2017:
Last week, in Washington DC, General Thomas Waldhauser, Commander of U.S. Africa Command, made a presentation at the United States Institute for Peace Program on ‘’U.S.-African Partnerships’’. During this presentation, he made extended remarks on Libya. The remarks help shed some light on the rational and key elements of US foreign policy under president Trump in Libya.
The comments also clearly acknowledge the ongoing role of Libyan militias outside the control of the GNA. General Waldhauser also poses some interesting questions on the future and how Libya will progress in the next few months.
The contents of his presentation concerning Libya re reproduced below.
‘‘In 2016, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj publicly and privately requested assistance from the US and our European allies to rid the country of ISIS-Libya, which had seized territory and established a foothold in the western coastal city of Surt.
ISIS had, for several years, imposed their oppressive will on the citizens and destabilized an already fragile economy.
Over the course of about 5 months in 2016, AFRICOM assisted Libyan forces aligned to the Government of National Accord. US forces provided expertise and niche capability assistance, such as advanced technology for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance.
Moreover, our accurate and consistent Close Air Support augmented ground forces with a much-needed capability.
In all, we conducted over 500 precision strikes around the city of Surt. In doing so, we supported the United Nations-brokered Government of National Accord and the militias who did the very heavy lifting in the restricted terrain and urban confines during the battle over Surt.
Between AFRICOM, our US Ambassador and Country Team, and the fledgling Government, we established a strategic and trusting relationship based on the shared vison of a peaceful political resolution — led and implemented by the Libyans themselves.
Our assistance had two important effects.
First of all, it caused our Libyan military partners to redouble their efforts and sustain the fight, in spite of heavy casualties. All of the partners focused their efforts around the common goal to expel ISIS from Surt.
Second, by putting the remaining elements of ISIS on the run in the remote deserts, we bought time for the Sarraj Government to take on a stronger leadership role, as the United Nations had intended.
Now, we are focused on continuing to support the GNA; to keep the pressure on the counter-terrorism fight primarily against ISIS; to work to open a line of communication with General Khalifa Haftar, the leading figure with the rival Libyan National Army, and last but not least, to work to prevent an all-out civil war in the country.
Again, all of these efforts are geared toward a political solution in Libya. Our work there illustrates how the military instrument of power can be engaged as an element of statecraft, and in support of a strategic framework, to make positive contributions.
Let me illustrate another example.
This past June, in support of our Ambassador’s efforts to reaffirm US commitment to a political solution in Libya, we provided the necessary security for him to fly into Tripoli, where we visibly demonstrated US presence and continued the dialogue.
This was the first time in nearly five years that senior US officials were on the ground in Libya. Without overstating the case, this was a significant event, especially in the eyes of the Libyan people and the GNA.
As the Libyans turn their attention to ongoing concerns, such as bringing oil production back on line, we will continue working with the international community and other US agencies such as USAID to foster their stability.
We will also continue to monitor transnational trends.
As ISIS comes under increasing pressure in Iraq and Syria, some fighters continue to attempt to establish a foothold in Libya. And while each day without civil war is a day of peace, a number of questions remain about how Libya will sustain this peace and move forward.
- How will Prime Minister Sarraj gain and maintain his support throughout the country?
- Will General Haftar attempt to move to Tripoli and take it by force?
- How will the efforts of the Egyptians, Europeans, and Russians influence the future?
- Will they hold democratic elections in 2018, as both Sarraj and Haftar have stated they support?
- How will recently assigned UN Secretary General Ghassan Salamé make a difference?
- How should AFRICOM best support Libya’s neighbors and the multinational coalition known as the Sahel G5 as they work to protect their borders from terrorism and trafficking emanating from Libya?
I could go on. But, as this story unfolds in the days and months ahead, the message from AFRICOM is that we are working hard to ensure the military tool is in step with, and supporting the political process. And while the US can help, the resolution must come from the Libyans themselve”s.