NOC welcomes UN Security Council Resolution 2278 regarding illicit oil shipments

The National Oil Corporation of Libya welcomed the decision yesterday of the United Nations Security Council to extend its ban on exports of oil from Libya by the NOC .

Resolution 2278, passed by the council on March 31, “condemns attempts to illicitly export crude oil from Libya, including by parallel institutions which are not acting in reality.
It also expresses concern that “the illicit export of crude oil from Libya undermines the Government of National Accord and poses a threat to the peace, security and stability of Libya.”

“We have been working with Prime Minister Serraj and the Presidency Council to put this period of divisions and rivalry behind us,” said NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla. “We have been looking to the future, and now we have a clear international legal framework in place.”

“Combined with the recent announcement by the Petroleum Facilities Guard that it intends to reopen export ports it has been blockading, I hope NOC and the country’s oil resources can provide a solid platform on which the country’s recovery can be built for the benefit of all Libyans,” said Mr Sanalla.

Finally The National Oil Corporation has continued to perform its duties and responsibilities across the entire Libyan territory in accordance with its mandate as an institution respecting all applicable laws. This would not have been possible without those employed by NOC and its companies’, as well as a special mention of our gratitude to the international community and those countries whom we count on as being as Friends of Libya.

These countries have helped to protect Libya’s sovereignty by preventing division within one the country’s pillar institutions during a two-year period of political conflict. Libya’s NOC must also pay tribute to its international partners as well as IOCs, including the major oil companies, and NOCs who have supported and respected the independence of this institution, allowing it to maintain a neutral position while operating during this challenging period.

As we look ahead, the NOC reminds its partners subsidiaries and affiliates to remain committed to their professional duties, responsibilities, and values. This commitment serves as a precedent to all Libyans that the NOC will ensure that we will spare no effort in preserving the capabilities of the country’s oil sector.

said NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla


April 2, 2016

Libya’s U.N.-Backed Government Ventures Farther into Tripoli

The New York Times, Friday, April 1, 2016 by Declan Walsh – The leaders of Libya’s fragile new unity government cautiously expanded their authority in Tripoli on Friday, venturing from their fortified base in the city port to make public appearances in a downtown mosque and square, while political factions from nearby towns pledged their allegiance.

Prime Minister Fayez Serraj arrives in Tripoli

The unity government, which landed in Tripoli by boat on Wednesday in defiance of warnings and an air blockade imposed by hostile armed groups, is seeking to establish its own authority. Although formed under United Nations auspices in December, and enjoying strong backing from the United States and its European allies, it has faced bitter oppositions from rival Libyan factions that, until this week, left it languishing in five-star hotels in neighboring Tunisia.

Worries that the sudden arrival of Prime Minister Fayez Serraj and six others from the unity government’s nine-member Presidency Council would plunge the capital into violence dissipated somewhat on Friday, amid signs that the unity government was signing momentum.

Key militias in Tripoli sided with the new administration and 10 coastal towns near Tripoli, including Sabratha, where American warplanes in February bombed an Islamic State training camp, pledged their fealty to the new administration.

At lunchtime on Friday, Mr. Serraj, a businessman previously little-known in Libyan politics, ventured a few miles from his base at Tripoli’s naval base to attend prayers at a downtown mosque, and to shake hands with security officials and well-wishers in Martyr’s Square, a central landmark where Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi gave defiant speeches before his ouster in 2011.

Mr. Serraj’s confident thrust appeared to soften the bellicosity of Tripoli’s self-declared government. In a statement on Thursday, the Tripoli leader, Khalifa al-Ghwail, who had elarier issued warnings against Mr. Serraj, pledged to offer “peaceful resistance.”

Still, the situation remained deeply uncertain in a city awash with competing militias, and where alliances can shift easily. “This are going better than expected,” said Mattia Toaldo, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “But the unity government still has to achieve a long checklist of thing if it wants to survive, let alone thrive.”

Away from the cameras, negotiations continued to avert confrontation among rival militias. Ibrahim Ben Rijab, a mediator who is leading the talks, said he was cautiously optimistic.

“Steps are being taken,” he said in a phone interview. “But it is still too early to tell. The next two days will be decisive.”

Western countries see the unity government as their best bet for stabilizing Libya and mounting a concerted military drive against Islamic State, which has expanded far beyond its base in Colonel Qaddafi’s hometown, Surt. In recent days they have stepped up efforts to force rival groups to accept the new administration.

On Friday, the European Union imposed sanctions on three leaders from the country’s two other parliaments, one in Tripoli and the other in the eastern city of Tobruk. Mr. Ghwail, the prime minister of the unrecognized Tripoli government, was among those named.

The United Nations Security Council, meanwhile, focused on the oil sector in a resolution on Thursday that called the unity government Libya’s sole legitimate authority and condemned efforts by “parallel institutions” to export the country’s oil.

That resolution appeared to have an effect on Friday, when the militia that guards many of the country’s oil terminals pledged loyalty to Mr. Serraj’s government.

Analysts and diplomats say the real test is likely to come in the days ahead, when Mr. Serraj’s ministers are expected to try and establish control of key ministries across Tripoli. Mr. Serraj has already started talks with the Central Bank, which controls foreign reserves estimated at up to $85 billion, and the national oil company, which is the source of the country’s dwindling wealth.

Officials at several ministries, contacted by phone, said there has been deep uncertainty in recent days, with little sense of who is in charge.

Libya’s complex civil conflict, which involves an array of militias organized by town, tribe or ideology, burns with less ferocity than others in the Middle East, such as Yemen or Syria. The United Nations documented 32 civilian casualties across the country during the month of March, mostly in the east. Yet the power vacuum greatly worries the West because it has emboldened the Islamic State in its expansion in Libya and helped increase the flow of migrant boats to Europe.

For Mr. Serraj, much may depend in the days ahead on the stance taken by militias from nearby Misurata, which have controlled much of Tripoli in recent years. But even if his unity government can persuade, or at least neutralize, its opponents, it faces an even greater challenge in eastern Libya.

Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a prominent military leader who controls most of the eastern city of Benghazi, has thus far been ambiguous about the United Nations-led political process. He has not publicly commented on this week’s events.

“Hifter is sitting on the fence, waiting to see if Serraj can control Tripoli,” said Mr. Toaldo, the analyst. “But he will want to show that he’s still a man to be dealt with.”

Opinion: Britain hasn’t got a clue about the Middle East

Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt . . . our litany of policy failures tell us that we should really leave well alone

The Times, Saturday, April 2, 2016, Opinion by Matthew Parris – Here we go again. According to Friday’s Times, “Britain will not rule out bombing Isis in Lebanon, says Hammond”. As if that’s something to shout about, just when a British foreign secretary should be keeping his head down.

Twenty five years since the first war on Iraq it is time to admit we’ve lost our way in the region. Right at the heart of British foreign and military policy lies a pulsing untruth. The untruth is that we British know what to do.

We don’t. Nor do the Americans. We haven’t a clue. In almost every other field of human endeavour, to acknowledge the limits of our competence is the beginning of wisdom. If you haven’t cracked it, you say so. You start from there.

Yet in Middle Eastern policy both hawks and doves appear to agree that there exists a “right thing to do”, that we can know it, and that we can do it. What if there isn’t? What if nothing works? Just look at the record.

ITEM: the Gulf War. We (the “allies”) invaded Iraq in February 1991 to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. The first George Bush then decided not to occupy Iraq. He was much criticised, but here’s his defence secretary, Dick Cheney, the following year: “[If] we had gone in there, I would still have forces in Baghdad today. We’d be running the country . . . So, I think we got it right . . . [that] we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.” Unfortunately, Iraq failed to remove its dictator, so Bush’s son (and Tony Blair) decided on regime change for our next intervention, after . . .

ITEM: the Iraq war. Following invasion in 2003 the western allies did govern Iraq. In a classic case of mission-creep the Coalition Provisional Authority ruled the country before handing over to an Iraqi “transitional” government, then an elected government in 2006. Yet continued bloodshed made any allied exit impossible. In Baghdad the Americans had sacked tens of thousands of perfectly competent civil servants. We British, given charge of southern Iraq and determined not to make that mistake, stood back.

From Basra in 2004 (under the headline “What the f*** are we doing here”) I wrote: “Forget all that smug stuff in the British media about the way our troops . . . know how to get on with the natives . . . The place is a stinking mess [and] Shia leaders have yet to stir the mob against us. Bigger forces are at work than can be tamed with a handshake, and all that goodwill could disappear in a puff of smoke.”

It did. Then came the US “surge” of 2007 — 20,000 more troops, and $1.2 billion more aid. Two years later Barack Obama finally gave up. American troops were withdrawn. The whole thing remains a precarious, US-dependent failed state. When people tell you that
the mistake we made in Libya was not to stay, remember Iraq. Or remember . . .

ITEM: Afghanistan. The US and Britain launched Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, drove out the Taliban but stayed to prop up Hamid Karzai. This proved an open-ended task, horribly expensive both financially and in British lives, as I saw on two visits there. We ended up openly despising our protégé, Karzai, and the Americans ended up despising us. WikiLeaks showed the Nato commander Dan McNeill as being “particularly dismayed by the British effort. They had made a mess of things in Helmand, their tactics were wrong, and the deal that London cut . . . had failed”. At the end of 2014 the allies formally handed over security to a new Afghan president. The country remains a fragile basket-case, utterly dependent on expensive western support. As for us, we now understood the dangers of getting sucked in; so we were determined not to repeat that mistake for our next intervention . . .

ITEM: Libya. “Our task now,” said David Cameron in 2011, after the invasion, “is to do all we can to support the will of the Libyan people . . . No transition is ever smooth or easy, but today the Arab spring is . . . a step closer to freedom and democracy. And the Libyan people are closer to their dream of a better future.” However, alive now to the unwisdom of staying, we scarpered. Five years later our PM regretted that “Libyan people were given the opportunity” to build a stable democracy, so it was a matter for “huge regret” they had not taken it. He added: “We tried to do it in a way that was more remote than what had happened in Iraq. On this occasion, clearly it didn’t work.”

So (1) supervision, and (2) no supervision, had both failed. Yet now we had a new plan. Questioned later, Mr Cameron announced a “third way”. This (he said) was achievable for the future of . . .

ITEM: Syria.

Enough. You may have noticed the change in tone this week. It seems we’re now relieved that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have retaken Palmyra from Islamic State. On Thursday the Daily Mail got its headline precisely wrong when it announced “Britain rejects Assad’s Syria unity government plan”. True, Mr Hammond had said that Syria must have “a government that is not — or at least in the future will not — be led by Bashar al-Assad”. But the interesting bit lies between the two dashes.

And I omitted to mention . . .

ITEM: Egypt. In February 2011 our PM was burbling “I’ve just been meeting really brave people who did extraordinary things in Tahrir Square . . . democracy, freedom, openness, the things we take for granted — we want [the Egyptian people] to have those things.”
Four years later he was welcoming President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to Downing Street, after the latter had ousted the democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in a coup.

Why is it that we British, thrilling to the legend of Lawrence of Arabia, think we can offer our allies a special wisdom and expertise on the region? What evidence does history provide? Palestine, Mesopotamia, Suez, Persia, Iraq, Libya, Syria . . . Anthony Eden, David Owen and his friend the Shah, Blair, Cameron . . . we just keep messing up.

So, sod hope. It’s time for a bit of despair. Thank you for going to Beirut, Mr Foreign Secretary. I’m sure it was helpful. Now why don’t we all just shut up?

Tourists told to STAY AWAY from Tunisia hotspots and expect KIDNAPPINGS by ISIS jihadis

OFFICIALS have warned tourists against travelling to Tunisia’s southeast because groups of Islamic State militants have been targeting travellers there.

ISIS fighters British passport

The Express, Saturday, April 2, 2016 by Jake Burman – The chilling warning came after fearless fanatics affiliated with the depraved terror group, also known as Daesh, have even attacked security forces in the region, which borders Libya.

US authorities issued the warning, which is more serious than the travel alert issued a month ago, to American citizens in a desperate bid to deter them from travelling near the Libyan border and the mountainous regions of western Tunisia.

They encouraged travellers to exercise caution in all places in the country popular with tourists.

Tunisia’s tourism revenue has plummeted in recent months following sickening terror atrocities in the country last year.

Tourists have been urged to avoid Tunisian political gatherings, large crowds and demonstrations.

They have also been told to remain alert to the possibility of kidnapping.

Dozens of foreigners were killed in two major attacks by Islamist fanatics in Tunisia last year.

President Beji Caid Essebsi renewed Tunisia’s state of emergency on March 22 – which was put into effect after last year’s attacks.

The move extended the state of emergency by three months until June 22.

The US State Department warned: ”Travelers contemplating trips to the interior of Tunisia should assess local conditions and routes when making travel plans.

“In particular, all travel south of the designated military zone in the south must be coordinated in advance with Tunisian authorities.”

Libya’s government warned of ‘bloodshed’ over unity cabinet

The Times, Wednesday, March 30, 2016 by Bel Frew – Libya’s Tripoli-based rival government has warned there will be “bloodshed” if a UN-backed unity cabinet, created in an attempt to end the two-year-civil war, tries to operate in the capital.

Explosions and gunfire rang out through the centre of the city today, amid an rise in violence after Faiez Serraj, the prime minister, announced he would enter Tripoli “in days”.

The Tripoli administration, set up by the armed coalition, Libya Dawn in 2014, declared a state of alertness and briefly grounded all flights. Armed groups opposed to the joint cabinet took to the streets, sporadically shelling and firing anti-aircraft ammunition near the airport in a powerful show of force.

Calling it an “invasion” and a “coup état” Tripoli’s deputy prime minister, Ahmed El-Hafir told The Times the forces under his control would prevent the UN’s chosen government from operating.

“We have our ministries of defence, interior and the security forces protecting our government. They will not allow them to enter,” he said.

“Mr Serraj’s coming to Tripoli will cause more havoc and chaos … he is risking the security of the country and the city.”

Tripoli’s foreign minister Aly Abuzaakouk echoed his warning, speaking of “bloodshed” if the joint cabinet attempts to start its work.

“We hope that UN authorities will be rational enough not to pull the trigger. We hope Serraj doesn’t force it. We don’t want to have bloodshed in our capital,” he said.

Libya has been gripped by civil war since Libya Dawn took control of the capital, resurrecting the former parliament — the General National Congress — and forming a new “Salvation Government”.

The internationally-recognised parliament — the House of Representatives — was forced to operate over 1,500km away in the eastern city of Tobruk.

Since then the country has been roughly divided in two, between east and west.

Amid the descent into lawlessness, the so-called Islamic State has flourished, seizing 130 miles of territory just across the Mediterranean from Europe and setting up international training camps.

Watching Isis’s rapid expansion with alarm, the West had hoped the formation of a unity government would bring the warring factions together in one body, which would give the green light to the deployment of foreign troops to Libya to help local forces extinguish the terror group.

The UK is hoping to send 1,000 soldiers — part of a 6,000-strong European force — to train Libyan soldiers, provided the unity government begins operations.

A UN-authored peace deal signed in December by representatives from both factions outlined the creation of a joint cabinet headed by Mr Serraj.

However the body, based in Tunisia, has failed to secure the endorsement of the official parliament in the east and the full support of the Tripoli authorities.

Last Wednesday, UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler attempted to land in the capital to start work installing the power-sharing administration but said he was barred from landing.

Alarmed by the escalating violence in Tripoli, on Tuesday UN Chief Ban Ki Moon tried to intervene, pleading for the unity cabinet to be allowed to start quickly.

“Those obstructing the political process should be held accountable. The Libyan people deserve peace, security and prosperity under a strong, united government,” he said.

But officials in Tripoli called it a “mockery of democracy”, saying the cabinet was based on a peace deal they did not recognise, as it gave too much power to their rivals.

“It’s not a government it’s a project, from a document we did not sign. It is the theatre of the absurd when all the governments of the world take Serraj to be the defacto ruler of libya,” said Minister Abuzaakouk. “The UN is dictating the dialogue not facilitating it.”

He instead pointed to an alternative peace deal — nicknamed the Libya-Libya dialogue — instigated by the heads of the rival parliaments, who both reject the UN’s negotiations.

Under the Libya-Libya deal, country could be divided between four governments.

“If Serraj does come there will be bloodshed, there will not be peace,” said Abdullah Dennali, spokesman for the Libya-Libya dialogue.

US to fund multi-million-dollar Tunisia border surveillance

The project along border with Libya to prevent infiltration by militants

Tunisian security forces check vehicles near the customs post at the Ras Jedir border crossing with Libya, south of the town of Ben Guerdane, on March 22, 2016 after it was reopened after a two-week closure (AFP)

Gulf News, Saturday, March 26, 2016 – The United States has agreed to fund a multimillion-dollar project to install an electronic security surveillance system on Tunisia’s border with strife-torn Libya, the US embassy said on Friday.

In a statement, the diplomatic mission said that the US was disbursing the first instalment of the $24.9-million project to strengthen security along the frontier.

The US Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) awarded the contract to American construction group BTP and consulting and engineering firm AECOM, a diplomatic source told AFP.

According to the embassy, the project involves the installation of an integrated surveillance system using sensors and regular security equipment.

The project includes training Tunisian forces to use the system, the statement added, without giving a start or completion date.

Tunisia has built a 200-kilometre barrier that stretches about half the length of its border with Libya in an attempt to prevent militants from infiltrating.

A series of deadly attacks by Daesh on foreign holidaymakers last year, which have dealt a devastating blow to the country’s tourism industry, are believed to have been planned from Libya.

Libya threatens to open migrant floodgates into Europe

The Times, Monday, March 29, 2016 by Bel Trew in Garaboli – Libya will “open the floodgates” and let thousands pour into Europe if the West does not help combat illegal immigration, officials have warned.

As Europe fears a bumper year for Mediterranean crossings, detention centres and coastguards say they are chronically underfunded and lack the basic tools they need to stem the flow.

Last year, 154,000 people crossed the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy, according to Frontex, the EU’s border agency. This year the number could more than double as migrants are redirected via war-torn Libya following the closure of the Balkans route.

Lacking funds, supplies, tools and training, Libyan authorities say they have been abandoned by the West and have not benefited from £3.6 million supposedly committed to combat illegal immigration. EU support programs are on hold as the civil war escalates.

“The state is very weak and there is no money,” Colonel Mohamed Bourgiba, head of the Gweea detention centre, said. “Most of us here aren’t even getting paid.” Gweea, 30 miles (50km) east of Tripoli, holds hundreds of migrants. If things do not change, he said, “We will just stop working and open the floodgates. Because at the moment we are doing all of this for nothing.”

The agreement struck in March between the EU and Turkey to send migrants that cross illegally to Greece back across the Aegean puts more pressure on Libya when it is buckling under an 18-month conflict, AbdelRahim Rajahi, a colleague of the general, added. “We are operating 50 per cent underfunded but have we seen a single Euro from Europe? No.”

More than 14,000 migrants have arrived in Italy this year, according to the interior ministry, an increase of over 4,000 on the same period last year. Some 20,000 migrants are being held in Libya’s squalid detention centres, the majority awaiting deportation.

Mohamed Sweyib, spokesman for the Libyan department of illegal immigration, said: “You won’t find a single Libyan on these boats; we are a transit country, a victim of circumstances.

“Libya has become a dumping ground for illegal migrants and we are paying millions of dollars to try to fix this. The world needs to wake up.”

In the Gweea camp, home to 380 migrants from across sub-Saharan Africa, the stench of vomit and faeces clings to the air. More than 35 people are packed into each cell, where they sleep on the floor. Scabies and hepatitis are rampant. Behind the sun-baked mud walls a scream cuts through the air. Guards are flogging a prisoner who was trying to escape. The emaciated Gambian managed to scale the wall, but local youths stabbed him on the other side.

“I’m terrified they will deport me home, where I’m wanted by the regime,” the former policemen said. He paid smugglers $1,000 (£700) to cross to Tripoli before he was picked up with no papers at a militia checkpoint.

Behind him, a 17-year-old boy who was arrested trying to make it to Europe described living on biscuits when his boat ran into trouble. The dinghy circled Libyan waters for two days because the appointed captain — a migrant from Senegal — didn’t know how to use a compass. The teenager had paid $800 for his seat. “There are people here who have been stuck for a year, you have to help us get out,” he said.

As desperation has risen so have the prices, from $400 in 2014 to $1,300 this year. “The authorities talk about the numbers doubling, but we could see them tripling,” said a Nigerian “pusher” who, for a 10 per cent commission, connects migrants with the Libyan kingpins. “The Libyans are ready to give up. So is Europe ready to take these people? While there is poverty and war in Africa, there are going to be people who want to get on those boats.”

No kit, no funds, no food: the Libyans fighting terror

The Times, Monday, March 28, 2016 by Bel Trew – Mohamed, a pharmacy student before he joined the Libyan army, tightened his grip on a battered Kalashnikov and anxiously peered out across no man’s land towards the Islamic State fighters.

He nearly died last year when suicide bombers targeted this Abu Grain checkpoint, 90 miles west of Sirte; the last one held by west Libyan forces in the area. Allied to the rival administration that controls Tripoli, they are sitting ducks, with no bulletproof vests or night-vision goggles and wielding mostly ancient weaponry.

Isis fighters patrol freely all around in civilian cars. From time to time they attack the isolated checkpoint. Three soldiers died recently when militants posing as civilians detonated a car bomb.

Every vehicle that pulls up under the corrugated iron roof could be a threat, and the soldiers hold their breath as they approach. “We are only posted here for 24 hours at a time because it is so stressful,” Mohamed said.

In the past year Isis has doubled its numbers in Sirte to 3,000, local commanders told The Times. As airstrikes in Syria and Iraq intensify, the jihadists are increasingly eyeing Libya as their new headquarters.

The soldiers who run the Abu Grain checkpoint are from 166 Brigade, which tried but failed to hold Sirte, once Colonel Gaddafi’s home town, against the well-equipped Isis forces. “They have metal-piercing ammunition, and sniper rifles, silencers — equipment we just don’t have,” Captain Omar Ismail said.

His commanding officer, Mohamed Bayyoud, 35, a former law consultant who built a reputation as a fierce warrior in the 2011 revolution, said they needed the five-year UN arms embargo to be lifted urgently. “We need the international community to equip us. The range of our rifles is just 500 metres, which is useless,” said the young commander, dressed in a camouflage cowboy hat and civilian shoes.

Terrified residents are increasingly fleeing the group’s reign of terror in Sirte. Many of them take the main road through the checkpoint, leaving everything behind them.

“Life is very difficult. We are in constant fear of being killed,” Om Ahmed, a mother of four, said. “There is no money in the banks, there is a shortage of food, there is no life. But anyone who leaves their homes risks losing everything to militants who loot everything.”

She said that all women were forced by the jihadists to remain indoors and children as young as ten, including her daughter, were made to wear a burka. The men were told to grow long beards. All lived in fear of breaking Isis’s bizarre rules, she said.

Public floggings were carried out daily and executions of those accused of spying or sorcery, among other things, as often as twice a week.

“My biggest fear was my son. I fear he will be taken. When they tried to forcibly recruit him we smuggled him out, which is why I’m here,” she said.

US and UK special forces visited the Abu Grain checkpoint six months ago, Captain Ismail said, to gather information on how the militants could be stopped. They promised to supply at least bulletproof vests, but they have yet to arrive. When they do, the soldiers would attack, he said. “We have the intel, we have the men, we are ready to fight. Isis is an international problem. As soon as the West realise that and help us we will conquer them,” Captain Ismail said.

British join soldiers in Libya to spy on Isis

A Libyan man looks at the aftermath of an airstrike

Islamic State has been strengthening in Libya as airstrikes in Iraq and Syria take their toll. Mohamed Ben Khalifa/AP

The Times, Monday, March 28, 2016 by Bel Trew, Misrata – British and American soldiers have visited Libya to scope out Islamic State positions and assess logistic needs, Libyan officials have told The Times.

Small assessment teams of three or four soldiers went to areas west of Sirte, a central coastal city and Isis stronghold. “They came about six months ago, as a communications and assessment team, they came close to Sirte,” said Brigadier-General Mahmoud Zaghil, who runs military operations in the central region.

He said that his forces, which are loyal to the rival government that controls Tripoli, are facing the terrorist group with ancient weaponry gathered from the era of Colonel Gaddafi, who was toppled in 2011. Under a five-year arms embargo enforced by the UN shortly after the 2011 Nato-backed revolt, they are woefully unequipped to meet Isis’s superior manpower.

“They have promised to supply night vision and bulletproof vests but they haven’t sent anything yet,” he added.

“I asked them for two things: logistical and medical support. We have manpower, we have soldiers, but we need logistics and a way to properly treat our wounded men. We also need helmets, some ammunitions, some rifles, air reconnaissance and imagery, we need them to share their intelligence.”

His remarks came amid reports that the SAS had already launched military operations against Isis fighters in Libya, according to King Abdullah of Jordan, who told US politicians that the Third World War had begun.

A report of the king’s discussions in January with figures including John McCain, chairman of the senate’s armed services committee, and Bob Corker, who chairs the foreign affairs committee, has been leaked to the Middle East Eye, a news website.

There have been reports that Britain was about to deploy the SAS in Libya since December, but nothing official has been announced.

Last week David Cameron was challenged over reports that Britain was about to send 1,000 troops to train Libyan forces but said nothing about unconventional forces such as the SAS.

The prime minister said: “If we have any plans for troop training or troop deployment in a conventional sense, we will of course come to the House.”

The presence of special forces has been noted in the east of the country near Benghazi, where forces loyal to the official government are also fighting Isis. Witnesses at the Benina base in Benghazi told The Times that there were about a dozen soldiers carrying out reconnaissance and covert operations in the city.

The West has been increasingly concerned by the rapid expansion of Isis in Libya — which the terrorist group regards as its back-up stronghold after Syria and a strategic launchpad for attacks on Europe.

Some 5,000 fighters are believed to be stationed in the country, which is in the grip of an 18-month civil war. The jihadists hold a 200km stretch of territory around Sirte.

Isis seize migrant trail as a recruitment ground

Islamic State militants in Libya have seized control of lucrative people-smuggling routes and are paying some desperate migrants to join their ranks, Libyan officials have said.


The number of people making the perilous Mediterrean crossing from Libya to Europe could more than double this year. Antonio Parrinello/Reuters

The Times, Monday, March 28, 2016 by Bel Trew – The number of people making the perilous Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Europe could more than double this year as a result of the closure of the Balkans route. Under a new deal between the EU and Turkey, all migrants and refugees landing in Greece will be sent back across the Aegean Sea, forcing those determined to continue their journey to attempt to cross via north Africa. There, Isis is operating desert and sea trafficking routes to generate a substantial portion of its income, officials said.

The jihadists command a 130-mile stretch of coastal territory around the central city of Sirte and operate a training hub in the western city of Sabratha. They are recruiting many young men from the seemingly endless stream of migrants passing through the land that they now control.

A US airstrike in February on the Sabratha training camps, which lie barely 60 miles from the Tunisian border, and subsequent raids by local fighters have meant a drop in the usual numbers joining the group from Tunisia. People smugglers in the area told The Times that, to make up the shortfall, Isis recruitment agents have begun luring penniless migrants with the promise of cash, paying them to man checkpoints and outposts — effectively as cannon fodder.

“Isis pay them as much as €1,000 a month, to encourage them to join,” said a Ghanian man whose job is to funnel migrants to the many Libyan traffickers who were already cashing in on the refugee crisis.

Many of the travellers arrive in Libya in the southern region of Qatrun, after crossing the Sahara desert from Niger or Chad, and pay traffickers as much as £300 for their help in slipping over the border, he said.

Before scraping together the money to travel farther north, the majority pause in cities such as Sabha, where, exhausted and penniless, they often fall prey to gangs hoping to kidnap them for ransoms. Some are tempted to join Isis’s ranks, knowing it means a free ride to the coast, the promise of good pay and protection and a roof over their heads.

Adam, a migrant from Nigeria who is being held in a detention centre in Garaboli, 35 miles east of Tripoli, said he knew of many individuals who had taken up the jihadists’ offer. “People have risked their lives crossing the desert, they are desperate. Someone comes along and offers them lots of money — and the stupid ones take it,” he said.

Libyans forced to flee their homes in Sirte when it was seized by Islamic State told similar tales of the recruitment process. They said that many checkpoints in and around Isis territory were manned by poorly equipped fighters from Nigeria, Somalia and Chad, as well as Egypt.

“The majority desperately need the money. We know they get paid 2,000 Libyan dinars [£400] a month,” said a livestock owner originally from Sirte. He said he fled to Misrata after his son was killed fighting Isis.

“Isis also go to the local farms in Sirte and tell migrant workers: ‘We will pay three times what these guys are paying you’. That is how they recruit,” he added.

Military intelligence officers in western Libya who claimed to have contact with fighters who had successfully infiltrated the Isis ranks said that the choice of Sirte, a coastal city in the centre of the country, was a deliberate one by the jihadist recruiters.

“It’s on the sea, but has straight roads down to the southern border entry area. Strategically, they made the right choice to cater for their operations,“ said Colonel Ismail Shoukry, head of military intelligence in Libya. “SubSaharan Africans come here to work to seek a better life. Isis are paying them as much as 2,000 dinars — more than they could get anywhere else.”

Brigadier-General Mahmoud Zaghil, who manages the central Libya operations room against Isis, agreed. “Their main human fighter supply is from Tunisia, but that was targeted by local forces and the US raid,” he said. “Now they are looking to operate elsewhere in the southern region.”

The strategic positioning of Sirte also allows Isis to earn a small fortune by smuggling guns and drugs — and exploiting the waves of migrants desperate to make the crossing to Europe. “Just last week we stopped a boat, and 100 of the migrants admitted to have been transferred from Sirte to take the crossing,” Colonel Shoukry said.

The people smugglers — whether independent operators or from Isis — charge migrants as much as £1,200 for a seat in a rickety wooden boat or a battered inflatable dinghy to make the perilous crossing to Lampedusa, Italy. With minimal overheads — the cost of the vessels and safe houses along the coast — the smugglers can earn as much as £300,000 for every boatload of people they send across.

The multimillion-pound business is enormously lucrative for Isis. Last year an estimated 153,000 people, mostly Eritreans, Nigerians and Somalis, crossed from Libya to Italy, according to Frontex, the EU’s border agency. That was a tenth less than the year before, because of the shift of Syrians to the eastern Mediterranean route.

However, with the closure of the Balkans route and the continued lawlessness in Libya, officials both in Libya and in Europe say the number will rise, ploughing yet more cash into Isis’s coffers. Smugglers are also beginning large-scale operations earlier than expected this year because of unseasonably good weather.

The Italian interior ministry has registered 13,829 arrivals so far this year, compared with 10,075 in the same period in 2015. “We could see double the numbers of last year. There are 6,000km of coastline and southern borders, and it’s all open,” said Mohamed Sweyib, a Libyan immigration official.

Smugglers in Libya, for their part, have told The Times that they are preparing for a bumper year, with “thousands” ready to make the crossing regardless of the risks.

This echoes warnings by European officials: Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, has said 450,000 people in Libya might cross the waters this year; Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defence minister, said on Thursday that the number was more likely to be 800,000 — a fivefold increase on last year’s figure.

There are fears too that Isis will smuggle fighters across the Mediterranean to wreak havoc in Europe. “On the main port in Sirte they have written a slogan, ‘From here we march on to Europe’. Sirte is the gateway — the West must understand that,” said a Libyan volunteer soldier.