Guest Opinion: US attacks on Libya won't help

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Aug. 4
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American forces are in the process of carrying out a new series of attacks in the North African area that used to be Libya, focusing bombing raids and drone attacks on Sirte, allegedly the center of Islamic State forces’ activity there.

In principle, the U.S. air activity is supposed to soften up the Islamic State concentration in that port city, in preparation for a theoretical attack by forces of one of Libya’s three governments on it, to be carried out with the again-theoretical goal of stamping out Islamic State activity in Libya.

The problem is that the U.S. military activity — primarily by air but supported on the ground in Libya by hundreds of U.S. Special Operations forces — is that it does not make any sense in terms of U.S. objectives in Libya.

They are, first, to establish a system of stable government on the ground, the first that would have been there since the United States, working with France, Italy, the United Kingdom and a few Arab states, overthrew the government of long-term Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

The second objective, of more concern to the Europeans but to the U.S. interest as well in humanitarian terms, is to establish some sort of order on the ground. The goal is to put an end to illegal migration by boat to Southern Europe, which has resulted in hundreds or perhaps thousands of drownings, including of many children.

U.S. attacks on Sirte by bombing and by drones are resulting only in the dispersion of Islamic State forces from Sirte, not in the actual elimination of Islamic State as a force and a presence in Libya. The working part of Libya is only the coastline; the desert interior is an area where no army has ever been able to eliminate any other army, including classic battles between German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and British forces in World War II. The Islamic State forces may leave Sirte if U.S. planes and drones hit it hard enough, but will by no means put them out of business with the forces involved or available.

The second major problem with the new initiative in Libya by President Barack Obama is that it does not deal with Libya’s current fundamental problem — the fact that it has three contending governments, as well as many more independent armed contending militias. There is one government in Tobruk in the east, another in Tripoli, the former capital, and a third, backed by the United Nations, holed up also in Tripoli. Even if the Islamic State in Sirte were to be dispersed, there would be no party in place to pick up governance of the country, in abeyance for almost five years now.

So why is Obama’s government involving the United States more deeply in Libya’s chaotic war? Prospects of taking out Islamic State centers in Iraq or Syria before the November elections in the United States are becoming less hopeful by the day. So, perhaps Sirte could be reduced, and that action be portrayed as a major U.S. victory against the Islamic State. The hefty U.S. Defense Department budget is still pending and, thus, a claimed U.S. military victory against IS wouldn’t hurt. For U.S. defense industries, bombing and drone attacks in Libya run up the tab and enhance profits.

This escalation of U.S. military involvement in the conflict in Libya simply does not make sense, and should be ended quickly before it proceeds further. Meaningless Middle East wars for no clear purpose, risking American lives and wasting taxpayer money, are simply bad policy.