A U.S. government spy chief says the intelligence community now sees “troublesome” Libya as a country of prime concern in the war on terrorism and may have to work with Europeans to track jihadi and Islamist groups who are strengthening their grip in the nation.
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday on worldwide threats that Libya is the most worrisome of all the countries in the greater Middle East region due to an ongoing rivalry between the country’s parliament and the Islamist-dominated General National Congress.
Libya plunged into chaos after rebels and militias overthrew longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 and dismantled the elected government in Tripoli in 2014. Now the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS, is capitalizing on that chaos and attracting new supporters in the region.
“There are, in addition to ISIL, probably six or eight other terrorist groups that have gathered in Libya,” he said. “So it’s a magnet because, essentially, it’s ungoverned.”
Mr. Clapper suggested the intelligence community either send spy planes to Libya or partner up with France, which already has spy planes in the area, to keep better track of the turmoil in the country.
“From an intelligence perspective, I think clearly we need to step up our game,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of merit to partnering with the French, who have sort of staked out their claim in the Sahel region of North Africa.”
France has been present in the region for years and remains committed to deploying ground troops in the area, Mr. Clapper said. He suggested that it could be prudent for the United States to supplement those ground troops with U.S. security forces to “get a better handle on what’s going on in that part of the world.”
The Islamic State has recently begun eyeing Libya as a fertile environment for building support and recruiting new members. In February the terror group made public a video of its terrorists beheading 21 Egyptian Christians who had been kidnapped after they migrated to the country to find work.