Since 2011, and further to the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, the country has been plunged into chaos. Indeed, the country has been torn apart by competing political factions and powerful militias, now mostly coalesced around the internationally supported Government of National Accord (GNA) established in Tripoli, and the leadership of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), the House of Representatives (HoR) and the rival government based in Al-Bayda, in the east of the country.
Worse, jihadi organizations, taking advantage of this chaos, especially Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Islamic State (IS), have established themselves in Libya, which they are using as a rear base and from which they have been launching attacks in neighboring countries, including Algeria in 2013 and Tunisia in 2015-16. The strategic importance of Libya to these groups is clear from an interview with IS leader in Libya Abu Nabil Al Anbari (aka Abul-Mughirah al-Qahtani) in September 2015 in IS’s online magazine Dabiq, in which he explained that Libya “is in Africa and south of Europe. […] It is also a gate to the African desert stretching to a number of African countries.”
Furthermore, the IS leader also explained that given the important oil and natural gas resources of Libya and European countries’ reliance on them, “the control of the Islamic State over this region will lead to economic breakdowns especially for Italy and the rest of the European states.” When asked where his recruits came from, he explained that these were essentially from “Africa, the Islamic Maghreb, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula”, underlining the centrality of Libya and its strategic importance in the jihadi organization’s perspective.
Libya thus remains one of the most significant concerns for the countries of the North African/Sahelian regional system. Due to its geographic centrality in the region, the enduring instability in Libya directly affects the security of its neighbors. To date, Algeria and Tunisia have been able to withstand and deflect the dangers from their eastern neighbor, but not without a heavy cost. Both remain concerned about the situation there and consider it the most dangerous threat to their national security.
The same assessment is made in the Sahel, but with much greater concern given the enduring weakness of the region’s states and their inability to control their borders in the context of an ever increasing and resilient jihadist threat. The states in the Sahel consider the situation in the Fezzan region in southern Libya problematic, while there has been a major upsurge in jihad activities in the Sahel itself since 2017. This makes them, in turn, heavily reliant on foreign support and intervention, especially from France, to ensure their security.
However, here again, after five years of direct military involvement, Paris and its allies seem tempted to disengage from the Sahel by following a strategy which one might call “the Sahelization of the conflict” by developing and promoting a new security initiative: the G5 Sahel. The goal of this initiative is to create a common force composed of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso with French support, designed to confront jihad organizations in the Sahel.
So far, however, the implementation of this initiative has proved very difficult, and while the first operations by the G5 forces have only recently started with some successes, they still seem far from regaining control of the situation. In the meantime, new trends have emerged in Libya, such as changes in the nature of illegal cross-border economic activities, particularly the growth of human trafficking and alleged illegal inward migration into southern Libya. Yet, overall divergent interests and regional competition between different actors in North Africa and the Sahel have so far limited the impact of G5 Sahel forces and other related initiatives.
‚The Libyan Security Continuum: The Impact of the Libyan Crisis on the North African/Sahelian Regional System‘ – Working Paper by Djallil Lounnas – Barcelona Centre for International Affairs / CIDOB.