Another fine mess
The country has been mired in crisis ever since the toppling of the former Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Beyond the humanitarian costs of the ongoing turmoil, the boost in available weapons has fuelled conflicts across the continent. Libya′s proximity to Europe has also raised fears about rising immigrant flows; while, the Libyan links to the Manchester bomber highlighted the dangers of leaving extremism to blossom in the country. As AFRICOM commander Thomas Waldhauser recently stated: ″instability in Libya and North Africa may be the most significant near-term threat to US and allies′ interests on the continent.″
It is, perhaps, unsurprising then that many western countries discreetly continued military operations in the country after the official end of the NATO mission in October 2011. However, their interests and motives – particularly their perceived focus on countering terrorism over the broader stability of the country – have been a cause of contention.
Alongside diplomatic efforts to build support for the Government of National Accord (GNA) (created with the intention of forging a consensus ruling body in Libya – an aspiration that has failed), there are reports that the U.S., France, Italy and the UK have or have had Special Forces on the ground in the country. This engagement peaked after 2015 when Islamic State (IS) declared the coastal town of Sirte as its Libyan headquarters – just 396 miles off the coast of Italy.
Mad to intervene
While there was an uneasy local acceptance of the 2011 intervention to bring down Gaddafi, subsequent foreign interventions have prompted shrill reactions inside Libya. For example, in July 2016, after it was revealed that French Special Forces were operating in the east of the country, hundreds of Libyans took to the streets of Tripoli, as well as other western towns to condemn foreign involvement, holding up placards that proclaimed, "Get your hands off Libya" and "No French intervention."
In my own research, many respondents remained concerned about intervention in the country and many believed international actors had ulterior motives. One person summed this up when they stated: ″Everyone knows that the international community didn′t intervene for good reasons. They are trying to prolong the conflict in order to benefit from it.″
Nor has the covert nature of these operations saved international actors from local scrutiny. In fact, while the UK – who has been one of the most secretive actors in the region – has avoided mass protests like those against France, their operations have been steeped in a quieter controversy. While some respondents welcomed the assistance provided by the UK against IS, especially in light of Libya′s inability to deal with the problem alone, others were sceptical, of their presence – with many doubting the UK′s intentions. For example, one interviewee asserted, ″The UK is driven by its own interests and usually in such situations there is no space for values and human charity.″