A Government of National Accord (GNA) delegation — including Foreign Minister Mohamed Siala and Interior Minister Fathi Bashaaga — recently visited Washington D.C. to participate in a meeting of the global coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) group. Siala used the opportunity to demand greater assistance in rebuilding Libya by the coalition which is developing a programme — focused on Syria and Iraq — designed to rebuild areas affected by IS and the fight to dislodge the group from its territorial holdings. Siala asked the coalition to consider infrastructure, development, education, border security, counter-terrorism, and media projects in Libya.
The request for more assistance to confront persistent IS cells in Libya goes against the narrative of the US administration that IS no longer poses a serious global threat. President Donald Trump has insisted that his government has enacted policies that led to IS’ defeat but, in Trump’s presence at the conference, Siala refuted this and argued that IS still poses a threat to Libya more than two years after it was defeated in its last territorial stronghold of Sirte. IS’ modus operandi in Libya and elsewhere is shifting so defeating it territorially does not mean that it no longer poses serious global threats.
This reality did not appear to affect US policy. On the same day that Siala asked for more support in fighting IS, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) head, General Thomas Waldhauser, appeared before the US Congress and outlined AFRICOM’s strategy for 2019. Last year Waldhauser emphasised AFRICOM’s recognition of the GNA and its commitment to maintaining pressure on IS and Al-Qa’ida networks. Waldhauser repeated this commitment to the GNA this year but discussion about the threat from IS in Libya was notably absent. Instead the focus was on its Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) franchise which is an increasing concern for Washington. In a hint about current US concerns in Libya, Waldhauser spoke with some anxiety about Russia’s growing political influence in Libya including Moscow’s efforts to rehabilitate the images of Muammar Qadhafi’s sons.
Another meeting that Siala held with US officials further hinted at Washington’s priorities in Libya. While the Trump Administration is eager to scale back its involvement in the anti-IS campaign there, there is continued interest in ensuring that Libya’s oil production recovers. Siala was able to meet the Assistant US Secretary of State for Energy Resources, Francis R. Fannon. The fact that the latter met Siala — rather than delegating the meeting to a lower level State Department official — indicates Washington’s interest in bolstering US ties with Libya’s oil and gas sector.