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A “Colombian Triangle” for Daesh in Libya?

MADRID, Mar 16 2016 (IPS) - Besieged by US, UK, French, Russian and Syrian war crafts and ground intelligence, both in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (Daesh from its original acronym in Arabic) has reportedly been searching for a new base in the North of Africa, specifically in Libya, in what has been called the “Colombian Triangle.”

A map of Libya with major cities and settlements.  Credit: United Nations

A map of Libya with major cities and settlements. Credit: United Nations

Located in the South-Western region, the new base would be installed on the borders of Algeria, Niger and Libya itself.

The area is currently controlled by extremist groups, drug dealers and weapons traffickers. This kind of operations represents a strong source of funding for Daesh, but not the only one — oil would be another huge source.

According to Libyan sources, the “Colombian Triangle” was not, however, Daesh’ first choice. In fact, the story began last year, with Daesh expanding its influence in the Northern Libyan region of Sirte, which hosts the largest oil reserves in the country.

There, Daesh carried out several military attacks and even occupied and controlled refineries and huge oil deposits, there and in other producing areas.

Daesh had, nevertheless, to re-think its initial plans which aimed at installing its new base in the Northern oil rich regions in Libya, due to a series of rapid developments, such as the efforts carried out by the UN former Special Envoy, Bernardino Leon, and continued later on by the new one, Martin Kobler, to form a new, national unity government headed by Libyan businessman Fayyez al Sarraj.

This new unity government has been in fact formed as a result of a UN sponsored agreement in Skhirat (Morocco) on mid December 2015.

Daesh’s fears that the new national unity government would be strongly supported, intelligence and militarily wise, by foreign powers, mainly the US-led NATO, especially in Derna, Sirte, Tripoli and Sabratha areas, forced the terrorist group to change plans.

The skies in these regions have been monitored by drones. Local sources could not confirm whether these surveillance operations are controlled the Libyan Armed Forces led by General Khalifa Haftar, or by other states monitoring the activity of extremists in the country.

Some voices spoke also of subsidiary control operations by the United Nations.

Libyan oil fields, pipelines, refineries and storage. Credit: NordNordWest, Yug | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Libyan oil fields, pipelines, refineries and storage. Credit: NordNordWest, Yug | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Anyway, since the end of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the successive new rulers failed to form a strong, stable central authority. Consequently the country was split between the army and several militias.

Sources of the first Libyan government installed in Tripoli after the 2011 military intervention led by NATO forces, estimated that there would be up to 25 million weapons out of state control in the country.

The increasing fragility of Libyan central authorities allowed extremist organizations, including Daesh, to seize control in several cities.

According to a Libyan retired military commander, the Southern town of Traghan already serves as the centre for the «Colombian Triangle”, being surrounded by mountains and sand dunes from almost all sides.

The area has been chosen by the smugglers because of the ease drug shipments across the border, according to this source, away from the eyes of neighbouring countries’ authorities, whether these are Algeria or Niger, with Mali as a first destination.

Mali itself became in recent years a safe haven for extremist groups, including the reportedly pro- Daesh Boko Haram in Nigeria. That area became an arsenal of military equipment, weapons and missiles that had been looted from Gaddafi’s regime military stores.

The retired military commander explained that this mountainous and rugged region, and is now the new headquarters for the pool of extremist groups from Libya and Africa.

Meanwhile, different well-informed sources have been speculating with the expected developments that should come from now on.

Some talk insistingly about an US-NATO-led military coalition’s intervention in Libya against Daesh. Others speak instead of “surgical” military operations against specific targets.

In the last days, a new version has circulated, citing “reports of Libyan intelligence services confirm the presence of intelligence officers from some countries supporting militias and liaising with terrorism in Libya.” In this sense, Dominique Sinclair on March 15, 2016 wrote the French paper Le Monde, a post in which the author asks: “What hides the UN proposal for the establishment of safe corridors to Benghazi?”

According to Sinclair’s post, the UN envoy to Libya [Martin Kobler] had called several times to take into account the need to put an end to military operations in Benghazi with the aim to create safe corridors to allow the exit of the families [trapped] in the fighting zones.

The UN has also spoken in the same direction since combat zones and military operations have been abandoned by all their inhabitants and their families from the beginning of military operations in May 2014, Sinclair adds.

And asks why then Kobler and the Nations United were interested in this question recently by multiplying calls to open safe corridors for the departure of family [trapped] in conflict zones?

According to these versions, other objectives motivate such requirements “such as the existence of reports by Libyan intelligence indicating the presence of intelligence officers from some countries supporting the militias and are in liaison with terrorism in Libya. There would probably be other Western states involved in this case.”

Anyway, should Daesh manage to install its base in the “Colombian Triangle” in Libya, who could ever prevent it from further liaising with Boko Haram in Nigeria and other terrorist groups?


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