As officials in the once-economically thriving nation of Libya struggle to revive oil production and establish peace, two major obstacles threaten the country's recovery: The influx of ISIS terrorists and the rise of a network of transnational organized crime syndicates.
Capitalizing on the chaos and conflict of the post-Muammar Qaddafi era, thousands of ISIS fighters tore through the country to take control of the strategic city of Sirte in early 2015. Although they were routed from Sirte last year, they now operate “mostly in small cells” scattered in around the country, Mahmoud Jibril, Libya’s former prime minister during the 2011 civil war and now head of the country's largest political party, the liberal-leaning National Forces Alliance (NFA), told Fox News this week, following the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
"We started to feel some relief after the first time ISIS was gone, unfortunately now they are resurfacing. Numbers of them have come from Syria and Iraq, after the air raids on them by the Russians and the Americans,” he said. "They are pouring into Libyan soil and we don't know why [the international community] is keeping silent."
Of most concern, the said, is the fact that the terrorist outfit is particularly active on the western perimeter of the main oil producing region. The security challenge comes at a time when Libya – which boasts of Africa’s largest crude reserves – has revived its production levels to a point not seen in four years, and is expected to soon exceed 950,000 barrels per day.
Jibril, who served in the Qaddafi regime as head of the National Planning Council and National Economic Development Board, also called on the Trump administration to grab the opportunity for economic gains by pursuing joint ventures with Libyan companies. Such joint ventures also would give the U.S. an advantage as it confronts China’s growing initiatives to pull Africa into its sphere of influence, he said.
"From an economic point of view, Libya could be the real gateway to Africa for the U.S. if they want to pursue a competitive strategy with China," he said. "If we can strike some sort of marriage of convenience between Libyan money and American technology on Libyan soil, employing cheap labor from Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Africa then you have a winning card."
Libya’s recovery is also threatened by the rise of a network of transnational organized crime syndicates.
Prior to July, the seas of Libya were overrun with smugglers’ boats, stuffed with mostly sub-Saharan African migrants bound for Europe. Mass drownings had become an almost daily occurrence. However, with the political blessing of the European Union, Rome recently turned to the controversial practice of paying the organized crime syndicates, also known as militias, to hold African migrants in detention centers in Libya.
But while the seas have since calmed and Europe is no longer having to tend to an onslaught of new arrivals, Libya's four main migrant detention camps are fast overfilling with abhorrent living conditions but are reported to be ripe with criminal activity, abuse, rape and torture toward detainees at the hands of these armed militias, guards and coast guard forces.
"What is taking place is not illegal immigration, but transnational organized crime. Those European countries are forcing African immigrants to stay in Libya against their own will," Jibril said. "When you pay those militia leaders, you are only incentivizing them."
Stressing that the migrants were "victims" of starvation and poverty in their own countries, Jibril is urging the U.N.'s Office on Drugs and Crime to take over the matter, and indicated that the migrants be trained for skilled labor jobs to take over from Europe's aging population.
In his view, the European Union's current approach is only fueling the human traffickers and further hurting Libya's long-term quest for stability.
But as something of a silver lining to the tenuous security situation, there is a sense that the tide may be turning. The United Nations in neighboring Tunis this week launched an effort to revive a peace plan and bring rival governing factions to the negotiating table.
The one-year "action plan" would focus on establishing presidential and Parliamentary elections and draw on a much broader number of representatives from across the country to approve members of a transitional government that would take the helm until those elections.
"We are very much optimistic,” Jibril added. “The road map is inclusive and there is a balance of power in the ground.”