Time running out to stabilise Libya, says Italy

Warning comes as diplomats from 23 nations meet in Rome to plan steps to stop group from seizing North African country.

US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome
Washington says it has built a 66-nation coalition to fight ISIL [Angelo Carconi/EPA]

Italy’s foreign minister says time is running out to stabilise war-torn Libya as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group is expanding its reach in the North African country.

The warning came as the European nation on Tuesday hosted in Rome representatives from 23 countries who are part of the US-led coalition seeking to prevent ISIL from seizing Libya and targeting the West from across the Mediterranean Sea.

In an interview to the Messagero newspaper, Paolo Gentiloni, Italy’s foreign minister, said there was no enthusiasm in Rome, or within the coalition, for “hasty military intervention”.

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“If anything, we need to be ever more wary and more watchful because we know that the more Daesh [ISIL] is squeezed in its core territories, the more tempted it is to pursue its terrorist activities elsewhere,” he said.

“We are witnessing renewed activity in Libya and in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Rome, said the coalition was working on a plan for potential air strikes on ISIL positions in the coastal area that stretches from Bin Jawa to the west of Sirte, which lies about 370km east of the capital Tripoli.

“The biggest problem that the international coalition faces is that it doesn’t have reliable allies on the ground,” he said.

“The international coalition is hoping to have a strong government operating in Libya that can establish a well-trained national army that can take on ISIL.”

Our correspondent said the coalition was likely to rely on gathering more intelligence about the presence of ISIL in Libya for the time being and then launching air strikes “as a first phase”.


“The second phase would be to encourage the warring factions in Libya to set their differences aside and form a national unity government,” he said, describing it “as the only efficient way to maintain stability and to continue to fight to prevent ISIL from establishing a platform in the coastal area where they can easily launch attacks against Europe”.

After the talks in Rome, Gentiloni said Italy was ready for requests from a new Libyan government “on several fields, including security”.

“But we have to have a political process going on and a government of national accord having the endorsement of a parliament in the next few weeks,” he said.

Kerry’s appeal

According to the US, a 66-nation coalition to fight ISIL, which has seized territory in Iraq and Syria, has now been established, with Afghanistan becoming the latest country to join.

But only a small group of 23 nations has taken the lead in carrying out air strikes in Iraq and Syria to train and arm local forces to fight ISIL.

Speaking in Rome on Tuesday, John Kerry, US secretary of state, said the effort now needs to be stepped up, citing the example of US deployment of small numbers of special forces troops inside Syria.

According to Kerry, the allies needed to “push ahead with a strategy we have learned will work and to do so relentlessly, giving Daesh no time to regroup, no place to run, no safe havens in which to hide”.

Kerry said 10,000 air strikes in the year since the coalition was launched had yielded “undeniable progress” with ISIL forced to give up 40 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and more than 30 percent in Syria.

Source: AFP, Al Jazeera