Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s critics are homing in on apparent gaping contradictions in the foreign policy speech he gave Wednesday, including his assertion that the U.S. needs a more “consistent” foreign policy while also being “more unpredictable.”
But one specific claim the billionaire businessman made about the Islamic State’s activities in Libya prompted strong objections from the U.S. intelligence community Thursday.
Mr. Trump’s claim that the Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS, is “making millions of dollars a week selling Libyan oil” simply does not match U.S. intelligence assessments of the group’s activities in the North African nation, intelligence sources said.
U.S. officials have for months assessed that Islamic State affiliates in Libya have taken over the central city of Sirte, have carried out deadly attacks in various corners of the country and are making dangerous territorial gains near the nation’s “oil crescent,” a stretch of Mediterranean coastline from Benghazi to Sirte.
But officials say the Islamic State affiliate groups have not seized any major oil ports.
Concerns about the oil crescent did spike in January when the Islamic State’s Libyan “province” launched a wave of strikes near the coastline. There were also reports that the Salafist group’s Syria- and Iraq-based leaders were sending a growing number of foreign fighters to Libya to fortify operations there.
At the time, one U.S. intelligence official told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity that “oil revenue has been a key component of ISIL’s economic viability, so it wouldn’t be surprising if ISIL tried to gain control of the oil crescent to augment its revenue streams.”
But the official rejected the idea that the Islamic State was already drawing such revenue from Libyan oil sales, and national security sources said Thursday that assessment has not changed.
However, concerns about the situation remain high. The U.N. envoy to Libya said in a statement Wednesday that he is deeply concerned about incursions into the oil crescent region and militant attacks on oil fields.
Martin Kobler called the incursions a “grave assault” on the economy and “the livelihoods of millions of ordinary Libyans,” according to The Associated Press.
Libya slid into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled Moammar Gadhafi and has been split between rival governments since 2014. Islamic State allied militants have gained a foothold amid an ongoing power struggle and security vacuum in the nation.