The US government is ready to loosen a ban on arms exports to Libya, in a bid to help the country’s fledgling unity government fight the Islamic State group, officials and diplomats have said.
Under White House-backed plans, the United Nations would carve out exemptions to an embargo introduced by the Security Council in 2011, during Muammar Gaddafi’s failed attempt to suppress a popular uprising.
“If the Libyan government prepares a detailed and coherent list of things that it wants to use to fight ISIL and responds to all the requirements of the exemption, I think that Council members are going to look very seriously at that request,” a senior administration official told AFP.
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“There is a very healthy desire inside of Libya to rid themselves of ISIL, and I think that is something we should be supporting and responding to,” the official said, using an acronym for the group.
Gaddafi’s regime was deposed with the help of NATO airpower and he was ultimately killed in October 2011, but the country has been in turmoil since. Dozens of militia groups have carved up the country into
virtual fiefdoms and two rival governments have been formed.
Western nations and many Libyans have watched in horror as the jihadist Islamic State group has emerged from the chaos to control a swathe of central Libya around Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte.
With its port and airport, there are fears the jihadists could use the Mediterranean city as a staging post for attacks on Europe.
They have already hit nearby oil installations, choking much-needed oil revenues.
The Pentagon earlier this year estimated that as many as 6,000 Islamic State fighters were in the country, with a standing call for foreign fighters to come.
US President Barack Obama’s administration and its European allies have been eager to help the government establish itself and take on the jihadists.
When asked earlier this year about his greatest mistake in office, Obama cited Libya: “Probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya.”
But the West has had to avoid the risk of appearing to interfere and so undermining the fragile government.