The first to suffer was Syria and since then the gruesome effects have been spreading in the region and beyond, to Africans and Europeans, writes Mark Curtis.
Eight years on from NATO’s war in Libya in 2011, as the country enters a new phase in its conflict, I have taken stock of the number of countries to which terrorism has spread as a direct product of that war. The number is at least 14. The legacy of the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi — pursued by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. President Barack Obama — has been gruesomely felt by Europeans and Africans. Yet holding these leaders accountable for their decision to go to war is as distant as ever.
The 2011 conflict, in which NATO worked alongside Islamist forces on the ground to remove Gaddafi, produced an ungoverned space in Libya and a country awash with weapons, ideal for terrorist groups to thrive. But it was Syria that suffered first.
After civil war broke out there in early 2011, at the same time as in Libya, the latter became a facilitation and training hub for around 3,000 fighters on their way to Syria, many of whom joined Al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State-affiliated Katibat al-Battar al-Libi (KBL), which was founded by militants from Libya.
In Libya itself, a rebranding of existing Al-Qaeda-linked groups in the north-eastern area of Derna produced Islamic State’s first official branch in the country in mid-2014, incorporating members of the KBL. During 2015, IS Libya conducted car bombings and beheadings and established territorial control and governance over parts of Derna and Benghazi in the east and Sabratha in the west. It also became the sole governing body in the north-central city of Sirte, with as many as 5,000 fighters occupying the city.
By late 2016, IS in Libya was forced out of these areas,