The Libyan arm of the Islamic State is offering $1,000 to any African in Chan, Sudan and Mali who wants to become a “soldier of the Caliph,” as the terror group tries to strengthen its presence in the country. Libyan intelligence revealed the new ISIS strategy — targeting poor countries with cash incentives — and suggested it’s probably going to work.
Already, about 70 percent of “caliphate” fighters in Sirte, Libya, are Tunisian, Sudanese, Egyptian, Nigerian and Chadian, according to Col. Ismail Shukri, chief of intelligence in Misrata. Government spokesman Jamal Zubia said these fighters aren’t motivated by ideology, either: “A thousand dollars is a lot of money for many Africans.”
Thus, ISIS advances while a unified national government in Libya remains a distant fantasy. Well aware of these facts, representatives of 23 countries met in Rome this week for a third anti-ISIS summit. The host, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, trumpeted progress in the fight against the Islamic State (“In 2015, 40 percent of the territory controlled by Daesh was liberated, 20 percent of it in Syria”) then cut straight to Libya: “The activity of Daesh is likely to multiply. We expect the presidential council to formulate a new proposal for the government, which will be presented next Monday or Tuesday, a turning point for an international community that wants to respond to the demands of Libyan government units for safety. We are ready to respond.”
How? Probably with a military intervention. It’s no secret that London and Paris are revving the engines of war, and Rome, which tried negotiation, is ready to give up in exchange for a campaign under U.N. auspices. With Gaddafi’s ouster, Italy lost a rich economic partner and now wants its share.
Laying the groundwork is U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who on Tuesday in Rome warned of the growing threat ISIS poses in Libya. “The last thing in the world you’d want is a false caliphate with access to billions of dollars in oil revenue.” According to the international community, the only barrier to a growing Islamist threat is the formation of a national unity government, promised for over a month and still on standby. Aside from internal boycotts (on Jan. 25, the parliament rejected a proposal from the prime minister-designate and called for a reformulation within 10 days), the political difficulties are a consequence of the fragmentation of rival powers in Libya: tribes, militias and Islamist groups.
For that reason, armed intervention seems counterproductive. It could double the effectiveness of Islamist propaganda, especially since it could key in on the “security” of the oil fields. Indeed, could war for oil be disguised as a war on the Islamic State? Certainly, there are already French, British and American boots on the ground. The war machine seems to have left already, although on Tuesday the U.K. and France said they don’t want to send troops for combat, only for intelligence and air support to the future unity government.
Meanwhile, the Syrian dialogue has all but folded entirely. Almost as soon as the announcement Tuesday from the U.N. envoy that peace talks had officially begun, they immediately deflated — mostly on account of Russian and Syrian government offenses. On Monday, opposition groups, bartering as the High Negotiations Committee, said they were satisfied by reassurances about the end of Russian raids. But by Tuesday, the HNC canceled an afternoon meeting and threatened to go home as Russia intensified air strikes.
The failure of negotiations has devastating consequences. On Monday, Damascus had said it would discuss aid delivery to starving cities under siege. Russia has also made a small concession, agreeing to deal with Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam because of the dynamics on the ground, while still considering them terror groups. For its part, Jaysh al-Islam, in Geneva, has accused the Syrian government of being “not interested in reaching a solution.” One step forward and two steps back.
In Rome, Kerry asked the anti-ISIS coalition for major economic contributions. They need to pony up money, he said, to rebuild liberated Iraqi cities and address the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Without failing to attack President Bashar al-Assad (he’s “a magnet for terrorism” and uses “starvation as an instrument of war”), Kerry said in a press conference, “The crisis in Syria is simply getting worse by the day, not better. And it will help enormously if those who said they are there to fight Daesh, fight Daesh. And we will watch in the next days whether or not they join in unison in an effort to achieve a ceasefire.”
The remark was a jab at the blind support of the opposition for years, which is now a source of disagreement and, to Washington, counterproductive. While the anti-Assad groups argue among themselves, Russia is guiding an effective air campaign in support of the government. With troops from Damascus, they’ve launched a new counter-offensive on Aleppo and taken a number of villages north of the city.