Number of IS Fighters in Libya Doubles Over the Past Year

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U.S. Gen. David Rodriguez, head of Africa Command, has noted intelligence suggests the number of Islamic State (IS) fighters in Libya has doubled within the last year. It is estimated that the number of IS fighters in Libya could be anywhere from 4,000-6,000, and it may continue to grow in the near future.

Coinciding with this report is news that IS is sending a large number of fighters to Northern Libya, which some worry is the beginning of the group’s attempt to take hold of key oil fields. Daily Mail reports that three oil fields have evacuated their personnel in fear of an attack.

IS has launched several assaults on government and private oil facilities in the past. With the U.S. striking IS oil facilities in Iraq and Syria, the group may be looking for a way to reestablish its production in Libya.

The large move to Libya may benefit IS in the short run. The U.S. and other Western nations have been hesitant to engage the terrorist organization until a Libyan unity government, backed by the United Nations, establishes itself. This will take time to implement, as Libyan factions in both Tripoli and Tobruk have registered their opposition. IS has long shown an ability to take advantage of factional in-fighting to establish a territorial foothold, as shown in Iraq and Syria.

Even though the West has conditioned its fight against IS on the unity government’s implementation, they  have struck IS positions in Libya several times. Earlier this year the U.S. struck an IS training facility in Sirte that killed over 40 IS fighters. There were also rumors that French Special Forces operators had been involved in covert operations against IS.

With Iraqi and U.S. troops pushing against IS in northern Iraq and Syria, the terrorist organization may be seeking a new stronghold. The Free Fire Blog has previously noted the possibility of IS to move forces to its outlaying territories, and that move may already be underway.

The increase in the number of fighters in Libya may also be attributed simply to the growing number of jihadists in North, West, and East Africa wanting to fight for IS. IS has seen recruits come from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Tunisia, Somalia, and Algeria.

IS in Libya poses a threat to North African and European security. The close proximity to Europe allows fighters to reach Western nations with relative ease, particularly by blending into the waves of refugees attempting to gain entry. Jihadists and refugees have already been caught trying to enter Europe through Spain, where they may be able to link up with pre-existing terror and criminal networks.

The U.S. and other Western countries should continue to pursue their security interests and target jihadist forces regardless of the progress of the unity government, and should be supporting the factions in Libya most motivated to crackdown on jihadist activity and to reestablish stability.

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