US special forces operating in Libya near Misrata and Benghazi

There have been a number of reports that there are special forces from the United States and several other countries already in Libya. Details about some of the U.S. forces and their mission are now surfacing.

The U.S. Special Operations troops are stationed near the city of Misurata in the west and near Benghazi in the east. The U.S. may be hedging its bets by maintaining relations with militia loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) in the west and with the Al-Thinni Tobruk-based government in the east, with its forces of General Khalifa Haftar, commander-in-chief of the Libyan National Army. The two outposts in total are said to have less than 25 troops. The two groups are lining up partners in advance of a possible offensive against the Islamic State, according to anonymous US officials.
According to the Washington Post, sending the personnel to Libya reflects the Obama administration concern about the power of the Islamic State in Libya. The US is already expanding its operations against the Islamic State both in Syria and Iraq. The Pentagon has been developing plans for potential action against IS in Libya. The Islamic State has thousands of fighters in Sirte and the surrounding areas they control. The Post sees the deployment as a sign of another military campaign in LIbya and as a good example of Obama's reliance on elite units to advance counter-terrorism goals using operations that have low visibility to the public.
The work of these small groups known as "contact teams" often takes place parallel to those of allied forces. The French are known to have had advisers in Benghazi helping Haftar's forces. UK and Jordanian forces are known to be working together.
U.S. officials hope that the special forces groups will help make local forces more effective. Williiam Wechsler, a former Pentagon officials who oversaw special operations claims: “These types of activities can be the difference between success and failure in what the administration refers to as areas outside of active hostilities. You’re mapping local networks, both friendly and unfriendly.”
The two US groups have been cultivating relationships with the forces that are mobilizing for an assault against the IS Sirte stronghold. Peter Cook, spokesperson for the Pentagon declined to give any specific information. He did say that the troops met with a variety of Libyans "in an effort to help them reestablish a safe and secure environment". Instead of information one gets nice-sounding rhetoric.
One task of the group is to identify which factions align themselves with the GNA. However, the group in Benghazi is obviously working within a force it must know is not allied with the GNA and is hostile to it. Paul Scharre, a former Defense Department official said: “How do you avoid Libya becoming like Syria. This is one of the tools in your toolbox to stave that off.”
Any broader U.S. campaign in Libya is likely to be on a smaller scale than in Iraq or Syria and will be a cooperative effort involving a number of European countries. Since 2015 the U.S. has launched two air strikes on Islamic State targets in Libya. However, dozens of other targets have been identified.
The situation is complicated for the U.S. in that Haftar's troops of the Libyan National Army (LNA) over two weeks ago started out towards Sirte from the east and south. Haftar does not recognize the GNA nor its new unified command and he regards militia from Misrata as his enemy. While the Misrata militia do recognize the GNA and its now unified command it has had to counter the effects of a strong Islamic State advance that took place during the time that the PC asked them to not attack until the united command was formed. The western forces centered in Misrata are already starting an offensive against the Islamic State but so far they seem to be receiving no help from any foreign sources in terms of troops or air support.
Meanwhile, Haftar and the LNA have not engaged with the Islamic State. IS has been able to concentrate upon fighting against Misrata. This should be a perfect time for Haftar to launch an attack from the east. The Islamic State would find it difficult to muster the resources to fight back effectively on the two fronts. Instead, Haftar has launched an new military operation, Volcano, directed against those Islamists who were mostly responsible for driving the Islamic State out of Derna.
Some U.S. officials are beginning to complain that support for Haftar's forces from countries such France and Egypt as well as the UAE and even Russia is making it more difficult to centralize power in the GNA. The head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Martin Kobler, has been unable to get a formal vote of confidence in the GNA through the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). This is required under the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed in Skhirat on December 17 last year. One section of the LPA makes the GNA Presidential Council the commander in chief of the army. This section was referenced when the PC formed a unified command. The HoR and Haftar supporters demand that Haftar remain as commander in chief of the Libyan Army under the GNA. This would be anathema to many Islamists within the GNA. No solution to this problem is in sight. What appears to be developing is a situation where Libya can become a locale where there are proxy battles between countries such as the US, UK and Italy supporting the GNA, and Egypt, UAE, the Arab League and perhaps Russia supporting Haftar and the HoR. The end result could be the breakup of Libya.


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