(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
ISIS has survived in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq even though a range of anti-ISIS forces have been fighting them for over two years to no end. Such forces include the Iraqi army, Kurdish and sectarian militias and Western armies such as the US, France, Germany, Britain and others. The offensive effort of all these forces has been unable to liberate the city from ISIS let alone enter it.
Likewise, in the Syrian city of Al-Raqqa the presence of foreign powers, including Russia, France, the US, and Britain, along with many other regional militia groups, has brought about no victories or liberations against ISIS.
However, the fight against ISIS in the coastal city of Sirte in northern Libya has taken a different military strategy and a far different, more encouraging outcome. The events in Sirte suggest that local and grassroots efforts of resistance, similar to the spirit of the Arab Spring, is the easiest and fastest way to eliminate ISIS politically, militarily and intellectually. The spread of ISIS has seen other countries and regimes in the Middle East choose to re-establish emergency laws and regulations creating the illusion within their nations that authoritarian regimes are the only way to protect their countries. However, the Libyan forces fighting in Sirte have proven that such approaches.
As a result of the UN Security Council’s arms embargo, Libya has not received even one percent of the military support that has been given to Kurdish militias in northern Syria or even the ruling sectarian army in Iraq. However, the same international community has witnessed Libyan forces corner the terrorist group in the city’s centre by securing each neighborhood they liberated, clearing it street by street of ISIS fighters, landmines and booby-traps. It took Libyan forces loyal to the UN-backed unity government (GNA) three months to defeat ISIS in Sirte, which is the extremist group’s only stronghold outside of Syria and Iraq. The exception of the last two weeks that included a US launched airstrike campaign targeting ISIS in Sirte should not prevail over the fact that GNA loyal forces fought most of the fight against ISIS in Sirte without the assistance of foreign troops on the ground and paid a heavy price with the loss of over 200 soldiers.
These brigades that were successful in freeing Sirte from ISIS are the same brigades who fought in the February 17 Libya uprising which saw the downfall of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Just like these fighters were victorious against Gaddafi, they were also victorious against ISIS.
On the other hand, Libya has also seen another approach to the war on ISIS that has not been so successful. General Khalifa Haftar has received military support in the form of weapons, ammunition and training by western countries including the US, France and Britain. He has been funded by countries in the region such as the UAE and Egypt. Similar to Gaddafi, Haftar presents himself as a leader opposing terrorists in eastern Libya meanwhile he is destroying Benghazi, turning it into ruins, and forcing its residents to flee. In spite of all the support Haftar receives, he still has not gained complete control over Benghazi. Some have even compared Haftar’s forces to mercenaries because of their merciless crimes against the people of Benghazi and those in other towns and cities in eastern Libya.
The GNA loyal forces continue to sacrifice their lives for their country, whereas Haftar’s forces fight for their own self-interests and the interests of those outside Libya. What is most surprising is that Haftar is waging war against the same brigades that fought Gaddafi’s forces in the February 17 uprising. Remarkably, it is these same brigades who successfully pushed ISIS out from the city of Derna in battles that did not last more than three months without any foreign military intervention or support.
The success of Libyan forces in Sirte and in Derna begs for a review of current strategies used to fight ISIS in other areas in the Arab world, such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Particularly in Egypt, people have been suffering a great deal from the threat posed by the self-declared “State of Sinai” that says it is following ISIS. Clashes between the Egyptian army and security forces against the “State of Sinai” have been ongoing for three years without any end in sight and the death toll continues to rise.
The victories that Libyan forces have been able to achieve against ISIS reveal eye-opening revelations that should raise the attention of many Arab and Western countries when it comes to eliminating terrorist organizations, specifically ISIS. At a bare minimum Libya’s success on the war on ISIS suggests that Western intervention only makes things worse and prolongs the existence of extremist groups.