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CD131: Bombing Libya

Congressional Dish

Release Date: 08/15/2016

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Congress goes on vacation; the Executive Branch escalates a war. In this episode, we look back at the 2011 Libya regime change to understand why we are bombing again in 2016.


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Sound Clip Sources: Hearings

Department of Defense Libya Briefing: Defense Department Briefing, Peter Cook, Department of Defense Press Secretary, August 1, 2016. Timestamps and Transcripts

  • {00:31} Peter Cook: I want to begin today with an update on the campaign to defeat ISIL wherever it tries to spread. Today at the request of Libya’s Government of National Accord, the United States conducted precision air strikes against ISIL targets in Sirte, Libya to support GNA-affiliated forces seeking to defeat ISIL and its primary stronghold in Libya. These strikes were authorized by the president, following a recommendation from Secretary Carter and Chairman Dunford. They are consistent with our approach of combating ISIL by working with capable and motivated local partners. GNA-aligned forces have had success in recapturing territory from ISIL, and additional U.S. strikes will continue to target ISIL in Sirte and enable the GNA to make a decisive, strategic advance. As you may have seen earlier today, Prime Minister al-Sarraj, the head of the GNA, announced that he had specifically requested these strikes as part of the GNA’s campaign to defeat ISIL in Libya. As we’ve said for some time, the United States supports the GNA. We would be prepared to carefully consider any requests for military assistance. We have now responded to that request, and we’ll continue to work closely with the GNA to help the government restore stability and security in Libya.
  • {05:37} Reporter: And then how long the campaign will last? Cook: Again, we’ll be in—this will depend on the requests of support from the GNA, and we’re proceeding along that line. We don’t have an endpoint at this particular moment in time, but we’ll be working closely with the GNA.
  • {13:35} Reporter: Previous intelligence estimates had ISIS at a fighting force of around—up to 6,000, I believe. Is that the current assessment that you guys have? Cook: The assessment numbers that I’ve seen, and, again, I would—it’s hard to gauge ISIL numbers anywhere, but I’ve seen that number, at least our assessment is that it’s been reduced, and the number may be closer to 1,000 now. Reporter: That was in Libya, all together? Cook: In Libya, all together. Reporter: Okay. And lastly— Cook: I’m sorry. That’s specific to Sirte, but that’s the predominant area where ISIL has, in terms of geography, has occupied. So… Reporter: Got it.
  • {15:50} Reporter: So there was a strike today, one in February that you confirmed previously. Is this the third strike now? Was there one before the one in February? Cook: Yes, there was an earlier strike. I believe it was November was the first strike against ISIL by U.S. military.
  • {16:50} Reporter: In answer to a previous question, you said initially there were no U.S. forces on the ground, and then you seemed to clarify later you meant specifically to this operation. Are you saying that right now there are—are you making it clear there are no U.S. teams of any kind on the ground, or are you just specifically saying there are no U.S. on the ground related to this particular operation? Cook: I’m—this is specific to this operation. I’m not going to get into what we’ve talked about previously, the small number of U.S. forces that will be on the ground in Libya. They’ve been in and out, and I’m not going to get into that any further.
  • {24:50} Reporter: You keep comparing this to the strikes at the—strikes in November and February, which were going after a high-value individuals. They were after specific individuals versus my understanding of this—correct me if I’m wrong—is this is the beginning of a campaign, an air campaign in Libya, in which the U.S. military is supporting GNA militias who have pledged their loyalty to the GNA. Is that fair? Is this the beginning of—president has approved these strikes and they will continue until Sirte is liberated. Cook: They will continue as long as the GNA is requesting—Reporter: But they don’t have to put in the request every single time. There is now this blanket authority that exists for the U.S. military to strike when the GNA puts in their requests, right? Cook: These requests—these requests will be carefully coordinated with the GNA. This all originates from GNA requests for assistance, and the president has given the authority for us to have—to carefully consider those requests. Reporter: Okay. But just to be clear, because I think comparing this to these two previous strikes that were going after individuals, each one, it sounds as if this is—these were strikes that were carried out today and that’s to be the end of it. But this is the beginning of an air campaign over Libya, correct? Cook: We are prepared to carry out more strikes in coordination with the GNA if those requests are forthcoming, and so— Reporter: Again, the request has been granted, right? There was—with the GNA— Cook: The authorization has been granted.
  • {28:30} Reporter: Under what legal authority are these strikes being conducted? Cook: The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, similar to our previous air strikes in Libya.
  • {33:17} Reporter And one last thing. You’ve made many references to civilians in Sirte. What is the U.S. estimate of how many civilians remain in Sirte? Cook: I’ll try to get that number for you; I don’t know that offhand.
  • {35:00} Reporter: Peter, were leaflets dropped on that tank and those vehicles before the air strikes? Cook: I’m not aware that they were.

Hearing: U.S. Africa Command and National Guard Bureau Nominations, Senate Armed Services Committee, June 21, 2016. Witnesses:

  • Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser, Director for Joint Force Development for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, nominee for AFRICOM director
  • Joseph Lengyel, Chief of National Guard Bureau

Timestamps and Transcripts

  • {20:35} Lt. General Waldhauser: We have two significant objectives for the United States: one is to get the Government of National Accord up and running, and the second is to disrupt Libya—disrupt ISIL inside Libya.
  • {22:40} Senator John McCain: So, right now you don’t think we need additional U.S. military presence. Waldhauser: At the moment, no.McCain: “At the moment” means to me, we don’t have a strategy. I don’t know what “at the moment”—unfortunately, this administration has reacted “at the moment” with incrementalism, mission creep, a gradual escalation in Iraq and Syria, and I don’t want to see the same thing in Libya, but I’m beginning to see the same thing. Do we have a strategy for Libya, or are we just acting in an ad hoc fashion, which was—it’s been the case, as we’ve watched ISIS establish, metastasize, and grow in Libya. Waldhauser: Well, as indicated, the two strategic objectives that we do have for Libya is to assist the— McCain: I know the objectives; do we have a strategy? Waldhauser: To continue to support that right at this point in time, I am not aware of any overall grand strategy at this point.
  • {1:03:55} Senator Angus King: Does the GNA control the military and the police forces? Waldhauser: Senator, and to my knowledge I would not use the word “control;” I think at the moment these militias, it seems to me, appear to be working in a direction that Sarraj would like to go, but I would, at this point and if confirmed I’ll look into this, but I would not use the word “control” for the GNA over the militias. King: But ultimately that’s going to have to happen if they’re going to control the territory. Waldhauser: Ultimately it will have to happen because you won’t have a secure and working government unless they have control of a military, and in this case numerous militias across that country.

Hearing: U.S. Policy Toward Libya, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, June 15, 2016. Witness

  • Jonathan Winer, State Department Special Envoy for Libya

Timestamps and Transcripts

  • {20:50} Senator Ben Cardin: Could you tell us whether the administration is anticipating sending up an authorization to Congress for its military campaign in Libya? Winer: I don’t know of a military campaign in Libya being contemplated, Senator.
  • {28:15} Winer: I think that the problem is not so much pumping it out and losing it—there’s still room for further exploration, further development—as it is the problem of too much money going out and not enough coming in, where the IMF has said to us, for example, there is no solution, no reforms, they can take if they’re not producing their oil. Senator David Perdue: Their debt situation’s already in a crisis level. Winer: Their very difficult economic situation right now is a result of not pumping their oil. They should be pumping 1.5 million a day; they’ve been pumping less than 400,000 a day. Last week I talked with the head of the petroleum forces and said, you’ve got to turn the oil back on. Now he now supports the Government of National Accord, his forces have been fighting to get rid of Daesh, and I think that oil is going to be turned on. It’s absolutely critical. There are forces in the West—there’s Zintan, they’ve shutdown formed in 40,000 barrels a day because some of their concerns have not met.Perdue: And does ISIS, since that’s such an important economic issue—I’m sorry to interrupt— Winer: Yes, sir. Perdue: But, does ISIS pose a threat to that oil production, even if they could turn it up? Winer: To the production, yes. To exploitation, probably not. The pipelines run north-south, south-north, and they are not really exploitable in Libya in the way they’ve been exploitable in Iraq. Daesh did attack the oil crescent area and destroyed some terminals, some areas where oil was being stored at the terminals, and that’s probably reduced their capacity some, but it’s quite limited damage at this point. One of the things that’s really impressive about the efforts against Daesh in the Sirte region and the oil crescent region is it’s begun to push them away from their ability to threaten Libya’s future oil production. So that’s a significant development. But the Libyans need to draw together and address one another’s grievances so that everybody agrees to allow the oil to be pumped again.

Hearing: The Path Forward in Libya, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, March 3. 2016. Witnesses

  • Fred Wehrey - Senior Associate, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Claudia Gazzini - Senior Analyst, Libya, International Crisis Group

Timestamps and Transcripts

  • {23:10} Fred Wehrey: I just returned last night from Libya, where I saw first hand the country’s humanitarian plight, political divisions, and the struggle against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. I spoke to the young militia fighters who are on the front lines against the Islamic State. I heard stories from the victims of its atrocities. What struck me most is that Libya’s fragmentation into armed militias, tribes, and towns has created a vacuum that the Islamic State is exploiting, and this dissolution also presents a number of risks for U.S. and Western strategy against the Islamic State. First, there is no national military command through which the U.S. and its allies can channel counterterrorism aid; the country is split between two loose constellations of armed actors, so-called Dignity camp in the East and the Dawn camp in the West. Now, over the last year, these two factions have fragmented, splintered, to the point that they exist in name only, and although the factions signed an agreement in December for a new Government of National Accord, that government remains stillborn and unable to exert its authority. A key stumbling block is the question of who and what faction will control the country’s armed forces, but perhaps most worrisome is that these two camps are still, in my view, more focused on viewing each other as a threat rather than the Islamic State. Many are, in fact, using the danger posed by the Islamic State as a pretext to wage war against local rivals over political supremacy, turf, and economic spoils. Both sides accuse the other of with the Islamic State.
  • {30:24} Claudia Gazzini: The country’s economic situation is also dire. Libya, as you know, is an oil-rich country, but over the past two years, production of crude oil has plummeted because of attacks on oil fields and oil terminals. The drop in oil prices has forced the country to run a deficit of up to two, three billion dollars a month, and this has rapidly drained the country’s reserves of foreign currency, which are now between 50 and 60 billion dollars, less than half of what they were just two years ago.
  • {36:31} Senator Bob Corker Speaking of special operators, right now it appears there’s a wide variety of foreign special operations forces on the ground in Libya. Both U.S. and Europe have bold plans for supporting the GNA. If the GNA is supported under heavy Western hand does that cause—does that not cause them to lack legitimacy in the eyes of Libyans?
  • {38:15} Wehrey: There is the sense that this is the third government, that it’s been imposed, and so, yeah, if there is military support flowing to that government, it could create some dissonance.
  • {58:25} Senator Ed Markey: Dr. Wehrey, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that the United States military and some allies, including France and the UK, have for months been preparing plans for a second intervention into Libya to support a potential Government of National Accord. The report also said that we and our partners have already established a coalition coordinating center in Rome.

Sound Clip Sources: News & Documentaries


Additional Hearings, Documentaries, and News Segments


Current News

Libya 2016


Additional Reading

Libya 2011 to 2015

Libya Prior to 2011


Additional Information


Reports


Music Presented in This Episode


Cover Art

Design by Only Child Imaginations OCI