The Aftermath of NATO's Libya War: ISIS Reportedly Seizes Mediterranean City

Tell us again how that war went well.


Almost exactly three years after NATO's intervention in Libya ended with what we were told was a great victory, ISIS has reportedly taken control of the Libyan city of Derna:

Hushion House

The black flag of ISIS flies over government buildings. Police cars carry the group's insignia. The local football stadium is used for public executions. A town in Syria or Iraq? No. A city on the coast of the Mediterranean, in Libya.

Fighters loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are now in complete control of the city of Derna, population of about 100,000, not far from the Egyptian border and just about 200 miles from the southern shores of the European Union….

The Libyan branch of ISIS now has a tight grip on the city, controlling the courts, all aspects of administration, education, and the local radio. "Derna today looks identical to Raqqa, the ISIS headquarters town in Syria," [counterterrorist Noman] Benotman told CNN.

Meanwhile, Marc Lynch, who supported the Libya war, has posted some reflections this week on how he got that call wrong. One interesting point he makes is that NATO helped pave the way for not just the present chaos in Libya but the present chaos in Syria:

I had placed a great deal of emphasis on the demonstration effects of an intervention. My hope had been that the intervention would act to restrain other autocrats from unleashing deadly force against protesters and encourage wavering activists to push forward in their demands for change. Unfortunately, this only partially panned out and had unintended negative effects. U.S. cooperation with the Gulf Cooperation Council states in Libya compelled it to turn a blind eye to the simultaneous crushing of Bahrain's uprising.

The worst effects were on Syria. The Libya intervention may have imposed a certain level of caution on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, leading him to search for just the right level of repression to stay beneath the threshold for international action. But that didn't last for long and his violence quickly escalated. Meanwhile, the Libya intervention almost certainly encouraged Syrian activists and rebels—and their backers in the Gulf and Turkey—in their hopes for a similar international campaign on their own behalf. That unintended moral hazard probably contributed to the escalation of Syria's civil war.