As Libya’s official government asks for military help to tackle rival militias, analysts warn the country is on the verge of breaking apart. There are also fears over Libya’s role as an exporter of terror, amid reports of growing links between Islamist militants in the country and the Islamic State group.
Jason Pack, president of consultancy Libya-Analysis.Com, said Libya has become the major source of destabilization in the region.
“Libya is a huge exporter of terror, arms and illegal migrants to Europe," Pack said. "It is a force for destabilization in the Sahel region in north Africa, in the southern Mediterranean and the Middle East.”
To counter the threat, France has employed U.S.-made Reaper drones at its newly built military base in Madama, Niger, which lies 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Libya, and it has ordered three more.
Libya’s internationally recognized government is based in the eastern city of Tobruk, after it was forced out of the capital in August. A rival administration supported by Islamist fighters now controls Tripoli and the port city of Misrata.
Monday, at an emergency meeting of the Arab League, the Tobruk government appealed for military help. Aguila Saleh Issa, president of the Libyan Council of Deputies, told league members that Libya wanted them "to intervene to protect the vital institutions in the whole [of] Libya and to prevent those terrorist groups from using violence in Libya.”
Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are supporting the Tobruk government militarily and have carried out airstrikes on Islamist militant positions, Pack said.
“This is an unwinnable conflict between the Tobruk government and the Tripoli government," he said. "Fueling in more arms on one side or another is going to drive to the country more towards chaos.”
The rival governments and their allied militias are battling for the biggest oil reserves in Africa, and that could split Libya, said analyst John Hamilton of the group Cross Border Information.
“The threat of an actual partition of Libya is greater than it has ever been," he said. "The split of Libya will not necessarily come from a battle on some dividing line in the middle of the desert. It is going to come through a conflict over control of these incredibly valuable resources.”
The United Nations has been trying to mediate talks, but they were postponed again this week. Pack said there are no bargaining chips to bring the rivals to the negotiating table.
“It is difficult to mediate a solution when both sides think that they can win the conflict militarily," he said. "And that is why we have seen an escalation.”
Security services are concerned about the growing influence in Libya of the terror group Islamic State. The group has sent a senior commander to Libya to forge alliances with Islamist militias.
“I am not sure how much purchase he has outside of the tiny, tiny group of maybe 500 to 600 people who have signed up to work with him," Pack said. "That said, it is still a dangerous situation, even if there is not a command-and-control structure.”
Three and a half years after the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi as Libya's leader, analysts said, the loose coalition of rebels that spearheaded the revolution has completely splintered — and the rival militias are threatening the very future of the country.