How Libya Has Turned into a Multifront Humanitarian Disaster

In early January, a truck bomb went off in the Libyan town of Zliten. The violence in Libya is at such a pitch that few would have noticed this story. “Libya” comes too often with words such as “violence”, “chaos”, “attack”, and “bombing”. The bombing took place at the old military base of al-Jahfal, now a police-training centre. At least 50 people were killed. The Islamic State (I.S.) did not directly claim responsibility, but its related media outlet, Aamaq, did so on its behalf. The I.S. claims a large tract of Libya, centred around its capital of Sirte, the home town of Muammar Qaddafi. That attack probably originated there.


In Iraq and Syria, the I.S. has been hit hard by air strikes and—at least in Iraq—by the weight of the Iraqi army and its allied militias. But in Libya, the I.S. feels relatively unthreatened. The various political factions are so divided, despite a United Nations push for unity, that they are most often at each other’s throats instead of being bothered about the I.S. Jets from the United States have bombed Libya periodically to attempt to kill Al Qaeda and I.S. leaders. These strikes are illegal—they have not come with permission from any standing government. They have also been ineffective. The Italians and the British are eager to send in troops to Libya to battle the I.S. For that they require the creation of a government. That has been the U.N.’s task. It is unfinished.

Since 2011, good news out of Libya has been rare. Chaos has been the order of the day. Right after the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) bombing ended, the various militias on the ground that fought against the government of Qaddafi began to battle each other. Tensions remained high. Sections of those rebels who had Islamist backgrounds—many with roots in Al Qaeda —seized parts of the east to their advantage. Assassinations of human rights activists, journalists and liberal politicians became common. Fear stalked the country as gunfire became a familiar sound across the landscape. Oil production dropped and refugees rushed off towards the Italian island of Lampedusa for shelter.

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