US Admits Boots on the Ground in Libya, But Will This Be Gaddafi 2.0?

On Wednesday, it was reported that Libyan militia groups supportive of the GNA, the Government of National Accord – the interim government installed by the United Nations – had, with the help of the United States via airstrikes that began August 1, retaken the northern city of Sirte.

“Pro-government Libyan militias backed by American airpower,”wrote the New York Times, “said Wednesday that they had seized the Islamic State’s last stronghold in the country, in the seaside city of Surt.”

The Times went on to say that “If confirmed, the capture would be a severe blow to the militant organization’s expansion into North Africa, and extend the string of territorial retreats it has suffered this year in Syria and Iraq.”

Last Monday, the Pentagon announced that the U.S., at the request of the GNA, had begun a campaign of precision airstrikes targeting ISIS fighters in Libya. The strikes, according to Press Secretary Peter Cook, were approved by President Obama in order “to enable the GNA to make a decisive, strategic advance” in the chaos that is Libya since the US intervention in 2011.

Last week, Underground Reporter proposed an alternative theory, that the new campaign – which, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford’s own assessment, comes at a time when ISIS has been weakened in North Africa – is far less about combating terrorism and far more about preventing the rise of another Gaddafi-led regime in Libya.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was Muammar Gaddafi’s favored son and likely heir, was quietly released – without explanation – from his southern Libyan prison in April. Saif had been captured following the death of his father in 2011, as the Gaddafi family attempted to flee the country.

Saif, who has a doctorate in global governance, was a high society player in England, where he lived before the US intervention. He acted as the facilitator between those who wished to deal with oil-rich Libya but didn’t want to be associated with the pariah that his father had become.

It appears that Saif is now living under the protection of one of the two major militia groups, the Zintanis, jockeying to fill the power vacuum inside Libya. His sudden release prompted some, such as professor Yehudit Ronen of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, to ask the question:

“Does the Zintan armed militia that released him envision his return to the center of the Libyan political stage?” she told the Jerusalem Post, asking further if the Zintanis “wish to seize his political charisma, experience and diplomatic talents and connections to gain the upper hand in Libya’s chaotic and violent struggle, which has reached in fact a tragic stalemate?”

Given the evidence, and the fact that the US is suddenly choosing to fight terror groups within Libya at a time when – according to the New York Times’ recent estimate – terrorists in that country have been severely weakened, this view of the situation is still much more logical.

But there’s another aspect to consider.

The war in Syria is coming to a close. Government forces, with the support of the Russian military, have encircled the last remaining enemy stronghold in Aleppo. Earlier this week, Syrian and Russian forces pounded rebels with airstrikes after the rebels managed to temporarily break through the blockade. The siege has since begun to be reestablished, however, and the Syrian government and its allies are seeking the surrender of the rebels.

Writes the Gulf News:

“Regime sources in Damascus, speaking to Gulf News, confirmed that if the Syrian army succeeds in taking Aleppo, it would change the dynamics of the entire northern front and ‘bring the Syria war to a close.’”

A daily ceasefire has been granted by the Syrian government to allow for residents of Aleppo, via previously instituted humanitarian corridors, to escape the fighting. The length of that ceasefire may even be increased in the coming days.

All evidence points to the fact that the Syrian government is attempting to give the rebels within Aleppo a chance to surrender without further bloodshed. The rebels, however, appear steadfast. It was recently reported that 7,000 fighters are headed toward Aleppo from the southwest.

Indeed, it seems the last stand of the Syrian rebels may be imminent.

The US, in the meantime, is left to target fledgling pockets of ISIS fighters within the country. Make no mistake, a victory in the Syrian war by the Bashar al-Assad-led government – particularly with the aid of Russia – would be a black eye in the face of the United States. Remember, the US tried and failed to get a military campaign going against Assad back in 2013.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, things aren’t going much better for the United States.

In Afghanistan, already the longest war in US history, the fighting drags on with no end in sight. In early July, in fact, President Obama admitted that more troops than originally planned will be left in Afghanistan by the end of his presidency.

And in Iraq, the US has committed to a sustained presence. In early July, the Pentagon announced that additional troops will be sent to the fight. Days after that, it was reported that even more military assets would be pledged to the war.

So as much as the United States’ new campaign in Libya might be about preventing the rise of another Gaddafi-led power in Libya, it may also be about a projection of strength. The US, after all, can’t stand idly by as the world sees a leader it tried to oust – backed by a country it wants to go to war with – achieve victory.

Actions by the US in the coming days will be telling. ISIS has just received a “severe blow” in North Africa. And since combating terrorism is the reason cited by the Pentagon for the campaign in Libya – and since Sirte was the terror group’s “last stronghold in the country” – it would seem, logically, that the US involvement in Libya should immediately come to an end.

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