Libya: France led covert action against Islamic State

February 24, 2016

There are estimated to be between 3,000 and 5,000 Islamic State militants in Libya. According to military sources France has launched covert operations against them. While the United States announced the death of Tunisian Noureddine Chouchane and five others by US Air Force raids on a training camp, France was nearby. The killing of the highest leader of the Islamic State in Libya, the Iraqi Abou Nabil, was the result of French air strikes. France has also reportedly intervened with its special forces.

A defense leader told Le Monde that “the last thing we want to do is intervene in Libya. We must avoid all public military action, we must act discretely.” In a country that France surveyed for months, the objective isn’t to win a war but to target the leaders of the terrorist group, with the objective of slowing its rise to power. Actions were reportedly jointly directed by Washington, London, and Paris.

The precedent set by president Hollande rests for the moment on unofficial military involvement. These special forces–whose presence Le Monde became privy to, have been spotted in the east of Libya since mid-February. And that’s not all. Several sources told Le Monde that the fight against the terrorist group may also include covert operations, led by the Directorate-General for External Security. The former was spotted because although they acted discretely they were wearing French uniforms. The latter have also provided military support but thus far remain unseen.

Libya’s officials have rejected international intervention, an idea that has been discussed for months. Officials said they would tolerate targeted action but will not allow a foreign coalition on their soil. The principal Western actors that would be a part of the force–France, the United States, or Italy–appear generally unwilling after Muammar Gaddafi’s death in 2011 sent the region into chaos, especially without UN forces present. By applying new pressure to the Islamic State there is a risk that the problem will be transferred to fragile Tunisia or southern Europe. With a presence in Libya, “the Islamic State controls a coast for the first time,” said the General Staff of the French Navy, who revealed: “We are preparing scenarios on the hard sea.”

In a video released Monday by the press office of the Libyan Armed Forces, Haftar told soldiers in Benghazi: “Victory is valuable, there is nothing more valuable. So we need to protect this victory.”

On Wednesday, the Associated Press cited two Libyan military officials who reiterated the claims of French special forces’ involvement in the country. According to the Associated Press, the two sources “said that French forces work with Libyan troops to pinpoint [Islamic State] militant locations, plan operations and carry them out. They had also been training Libyan forces.”

The recent rise in Western operations against ISIS in Libya comes as officials increasingly fear that terrorists will use the chaos there as a staging ground for terror attacks against Europe, as well as entrench themselves amid another conflict.