Kevin CaseyStacey Pollard| The Daily Star
Early media coverage of the actions of ISIS in Libya has centered on the group’s swift seizure of territory and the expansion of the caliphate’s authority into an increasingly lawless Libya.
This does not mean that ISIS is failing in Libya – indeed its trajectory inside Libya is mirroring its Iraq strategy, which sought to maximize its local competitive advantages.
Thus, the ISIS strategy in Libya seems to be directed instead at hastening state failure and fracturing the population’s sense of common nationhood.
Similarly, ISIS has sought to mobilize Sirte’s potentially sympathetic population.
While it is impossible to verify social media claims – many of which appear to be Libyan Dawn propaganda – that former regime members are fighting on the side of ISIS in and around Sirte, the group is clearly attempting to manipulate such grievances and perceptions of marginalization.
These dynamics appear to have again worked in its favor: Misratan forces have been forced to stop fighting ISIS in Sirte in order to confront Libyan Dignity forces, which renewed their assault on Tripoli in late March.
Its ambitions extend far beyond Sirte – and even Libya – and Sirte may prove to be a convenient base for expansion in southern Libya, as well as the greater Sahara-Sahel region.
Many in Libya and abroad believe a decisive battle that will settle the fate of ISIS in western Libya is looming in and around Sirte, but past behavior suggests the group is too strategic to pursue such a confrontation right now.