Obama looks to expand fight against militants in Libya

WASHINGTON • United States President Barack Obama has asked key advisers to draw up options for ratcheting up the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group, including opening a new front in Libya.

Eighteen months after a US-led coalition began air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, administration sources said that the White House wants to speed up and broaden the effort.

Efforts will deepen to retake Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, and to check the militants' growth in Afghanistan.

But there is an increasing focus on Libya. Potential options are said to range from intensified air strikes to participation in a United Nations-backed ground force that would help take on Libya's estimated 3,000 ISIS fighters.

The US Defence Department "stands ready to perform the full spectrum of military operations as required", spokesman Michelle Baldanza said.

"We also continue to work with the international community to mitigate conflict in Libya, promote stability, and strengthen governance."

Said another US defence official: "Action in Libya is needed before Libya becomes a sanctuary for ISIL (another name for ISIS), before they become extremely hard to dislodge."

Since rebels and Western air power toppled Muammar Gaddafi's regime in 2011, the country has effectively lacked a government.

In the chaos, a disparate group of foreign fighters, home-grown militiamen, tribes and remnants of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group have coalesced around the ISIS banner and gained a foothold.

Militants have recently taken control of Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, a strategic port near oil fields that could provide a lucrative source of income.

Until now, US involvement in Libya has been limited to isolated air strikes and the deployment of US special forces, who are building ties with local armed groups and providing intelligence.

In November, a US F-16 fighter jet struck the eastern town of Derna, killing Abu Nabil, also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi, the local ISIS leader.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 31, 2016, with the headline 'Obama looks to expand fight against militants in Libya'. Print Edition | Subscribe