The latest bout of Libya’s multi-year civil war is creating conditions that will allow Islamic State and al Qaeda-linked militants to regain strength in the country.
Civil war in Libya is a key driver of the Salafi-jihadi presence there. Conflict in Benghazi after 2011 allowed the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al Sharia to infiltrate fighting and forge partnerships against common enemies. Strife in 2013 and 2014 allowed the Islamic State to exploit seams between warring factions and seize the coastal city of Sirte. Libya’s civil war largely froze—with some notable exceptions—between 2015 and 2017. This pause in hostilities paired with internationally-backed counterterrorism efforts weakened, but did not defeat, Salafi-jihadi groups like the Islamic State and Ansar al Sharia.
Salafi-jihadi groups are seizing the opportunity to recoup their losses. The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), a coalition that included Ansar al Sharia, may be reactivating after a period of dormancy since late 2017. A BRSC supporter posted that the BRSC will fight against Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) in Tripoli. A member of the Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shura Council, which is connected to both Ansar al Sharia and the BRSC, is already fighting in Tripoli. The Ansar al Sharia networks could reconstitute in Benghazi, Ajdabiya, and elsewhere in eastern Libya, particularly if LNA forces are overstretched by a protracted Tripoli campaign.