While the glee that Hillary Clinton shows over a human being's death, even if it was Muammar Qaddafi, is rather disarming, what is even more concerning is what has happened to Libya since the Obama Administration's ill-advised moves to unseat Libya's leadership back in 2011.
A recent briefing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook gives us a sense of what could come to pass in Libya as the Pentagon attempts to cram the "ISIS genie" that it created in Iraq back into the bottle:
Q: I wanted to ask you about the possibility of the U.S. expanding its counter ISIL efforts into Libya. The chairman traveling in Europe this week said that it was fair to say that the U.S. needed to take decisive military action -- he said, in conjunction with the political events in Libya. Can you help us understand what he's talking about and what's under consideration in terms of expanding efforts against ISIL into Libya?
MR. COOK: Well, as the chairman has discussed, as the Secretary has spoken on numerous occasions, including just last week in our visit to Paris and our meetings with other members of the ISIL coalition, we are extremely worried about the metastasis of ISIL to other locations, Libya being just one of those locations. We continue to monitor the situation there. Continue to work very closely with our coalition partners, with others in the region who have similar concerns about the situation in Libya. And I think it's fair to say that we are closely monitoring the situation. As Chairman Dunford has indicated, working with those partners and also continuing to have conversations with people on the ground as to exactly what is happening there and the threat that ISIL poses to the United States and others.
Q: Could we see an expansion into Libya that looks something like what's going on in Iraq and Syria? That is to say, more consistent air strikes and even possibly some limited ground actions?
MR. COOK: We've shown in the past a willingness to strike in Libya. We've taken out a key ISIL leader in Libya in the past. But I think Jamie, it's too soon to say at this point exactly where things will evolve. We're taking a very close look at this situation. Again, it's not just the United States that's involved here, that has a stake in what happens in Libya. We're continuing, of course, through the State Department, to support the effort to -- to forge a government in -- in Libya, and we think that's a critical step in terms of the governance of the country to trying to address the -- the ISIL threat as well. It's not just a military solution here. But we're going to continue to monitor it, and -- and as Chairman Dunford indicated, we see this threat in ISIL as a serious threat, and we're going to continue to -- to monitor the situation and consider what options we have moving forward.
Q: Chairman Dunford seemed to indicate that those options might be presented to the president in -- I think he said in -- in a matter of weeks. Are -- so we -- are we talking about seeing some significant stepping-up of the operations against Libya in a matter of weeks?
MR. COOK: I think we're going to continue to assess the -- the threat in Libya and respond accordingly, and the chairman and the secretary will continue to have those conversations with the president's national security team and with our partners as well, as we assess the threat in Libya.
Q: Can you -- can you rule out U.S. boots on the ground going to Libya? Is that (inaudible) discussion?
MR. COOK: You -- you know the situation right now. We've had -- acknowledged that there have been some U.S. forces in Libya trying to establish contact with forces on the ground so that we get a clear picture of what's happening there. But beyond that, it's -- again, we're going to consider all of our options going forward. Right now, that's not something that's -- that's under consideration....
...Q: Going back to Libya for a second, are there currently U.S. forces on the ground there?
MR. COOK: I'm not going to tell you exactly what the disposition of our forces are there. I can acknowledge that we've had forces on the ground previously as we've indicated, to engage in conversations with local forces to get a clearer picture of exactly what's happening there.
Q: And can you give us a better sense of what that discussion with local forces is? Is that is preparing to organize the kinds of militias we can work with? Is it meeting with political leaders to get a sense of whom supports whom? I mean, it sounds as though it's a very complicated picture with dozens if not hundreds of different kinds of militias. What exactly is the U.S. stance?
MR. COOK: It is a complicated picture and I think you've characterized pretty well what the goal would be and that is to simply get a better sense of who the players are, who might be worthy of U.S. support and support from some of our partners going forward in the fight against ISIL.
It is a complicated picture. And that's why the formation of a government is so central to the future for Libya and to also addressing the issue of ISIL in Libya. And so part of the presence -- the reason for the presence of those troops is to, again, get a sense of the forces on the ground, the players on the ground and exactly what's happening, because it is a muddled picture right now. And we -- that is one of the best ways we can get a better sense of what's happening." (my bold)
Let's look at how long the Pentagon has been sitting on the Libya-ISIS connection. Here are some quotes from a Pentagon press conference on December 3, 2014 with U.S. Africa Command Commander General David Rodriguez:
"Q: General, if you'll forgive me, I'd like to take this opportunity to ask you about a different topic, which -- in your AOR -- which is Libya. I was wondering if you could give us an assessment on what's happening in the battle between General Khalifa's forces and Ansar al-Sharia. Can you give us a sense of how you see the area of particularly eastern Libya, who controls what, and what kind of grip ISIS and other extremist groups have in that part of the country.
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. The challenge in Libya, of course, is the multiple militias, the multiple governments, between the national convention, as well as the House of Representatives and -- quite frankly, a lot of confusion on the ground about who's in charge and not. The effort over there by the former General Haftar, who has been fighting in the east, as well as Ansar al-Sharia, as you said, you know, continues to go back and forth. It's about who controls the airport, who controls some of the checkpoints. That continues to go back and forth. He continued to control the airport out there. And ISIL has begun its efforts over in the east out there to introduce some people over there. But we'll have to just continue to monitor and watch that carefully in the future to see what happens or whether it grows on unabated.
Q: Can I just follow up quickly? Control the airport, you're talking to Benghazi airport?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Yes. Yes.
Q: And one of the things that we've heard is that ISIS has started to move into western Libya around Tripoli. Is that something that you're seeing, as well?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: We're continuing to watch that. The intelligence community has mixed reports no that right now. But we're continuing to watch that. But most of it is over in the east right now.
Q: Can I follow up on all of that, please, sir?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Uh-huh.
Q: A couple of -- Libya, in the east. What's your assessment of how many, what kind of ISIL fighters you're seeing in the east? Do they have a network, like are you seeing command-and-control? Or are these stray people wandering in?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: It's mainly about people coming for training and logistics support right now. It's for training sites, and that's what we see right now. As far as a huge command-and-control network, I've not seen that yet.
Q: So you're seeing ISIS training sites in eastern Libya?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: Uh-huh, yes.
Q: A -- a ballpark figure?
GEN. RODRIGUEZ: No, the numbers are somewhere around a couple hundred is the estimate. But, again, we don't have a specific, precise assessment of that right now." (my bold)
Let me repeat that. Fourteen months ago, the Pentagon was aware that ISIS was moving into Libya and that it was training "a couple hundred" jihadists in eastern Libya. Now, according to the Department of Defense (via the New York Times), there are between 5000 and 6500 ISIS fighters in Libya and we all know what a few thousand ISIS fighters can accomplish! Not only is ISIS a problem in Libya but, according to this report, Nigeria-based terrorist group Boko Haram has sent hundreds of fighters to help ISIS capture civil war-torn Libya and it appears that the Muslim Brotherhood (Libyan branch) may be looking to join with al-Qaeda and ISIS to form a united Islamic front. As well, al-Qaeda affiliates are active in Libya as shown on this map:
This map shows the regions in Libya that were controlled by ISIS back in June 2015:
While the ISIS-controlled region may appear to be relatively small, here is a map showing that the vast majority of Libyans live along the nation's north coast, close to or in the regions that are at least partially controlled by ISIS:
Let's close this posting with this exchange with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter from January 28, 2016 on the subject of Libya:
"Q: Can I follow up on that for a minute? When you look at Libya and -- and you talked about, you know, the need to protect -- protect ourselves, what's your sense of the real threat that ISIS in Libya does pose at the moment?
What's their capability? What threat do they pose to the United States? Can you talk a little bit about how big this effort is that the --
SEC. CARTER: I'm going to be careful, because I don't want to go into intelligence matters. But as general characterization, they are trying to consolidate their own footprint there, and they're very focused on that.
We're monitoring that. That's a concern to us, because ISIL obviously tries to destabilize places where -- where they are. And ISIL around the world has indicated that part of its ideology is to attack Westerners, including Americans.
So we have to look at this with great concern, and that is why we've taken some action already in Libya against ISIL members, because of the threat they pose to the United States.
Q: When you say consolidate their footprint in Libya, can we make sure we understand what you mean there?
SEC. CARTER: It means -- it means -- it means --
Q: Do you think they're trying to develop a capability, command, control -- be able to launch attacks from Libya? What do -- what do you mean?
SEC. CARTER: Well, they're establishing the -- installations where they train people. They're welcoming foreign fighters to flock there, the way, in years past, they did in Syria and Iraq. And they're trying to take over the reins of -- of the economy and tax it the way you see ISIL doing in -- so you see the same kind of ambitions -- ambitions on their part that you see realized in full flower in Syria and Iraq.
And we don't want to be on a glide slope to a situation like Syria and Iraq. That's the reason why we're watching it that closely. That's the reason why we develop options for what we might do in the future." (my bold)
While the Pentagon bragged about killing ISIS' senior leader in Libya, Abu Nabil, back in December 2015, Libya still lacks a central government that would have the potential to control the spread of ISIS. In addition, the rest of the current administration's policies toward Libya have been shocking given their haste to rid Libya of its dictator. Once again, the creation of a geopolitical vacuum in the Middle East has created central government instability which has led to the laying out of the proverbial welcome mat for ISIS.
I wonder if potential President Hillary Clinton thinks that the situation in Libya is as funny now as it was back in 2011! In any case, it would appear that it is far, far too late to close the "barn door".