Monday, March 7, 2016

Libyan war spilling over the border to Tunisia. 50 dead in a border town shootout with ISIS.

A police officer picks up an RPG round in the aftermath of the fight. Reuters. 

A major raid targeting police and civilians in Tunisia has killed at least 50 people and was carried out by ISIS fighters based in Libya. Reuters. The ISIS fighters hit the border town of Ben Guerdan and were repelled by Tunisian police and soldiers. The town is on lock down and the nearby town of Djerba, a resort area popular with Europeans, was sealed off. 33 ISIS militants were killed in the attack, while 10 Tunisian soldiers were killed, along with 7 civilians. Tunisia has had problems with Islamic extremism ever since the Arab Spring, and the problem has grown worse since the rise of ISIS in Libya. In addition to this border raid, ISIS has conducted several major terrorist attacks in Tunisia, including the Bardo Museum attack and the Sousse attack. Tunisia has taken strong measures to shore up their defenses on the border with Libya, including building a wall. 

My Comment:
This is a very disturbing development. The situation in Libya is now threatening its neighbors. The spillover is starting to threaten Tunisia as well. It seems as though they handled this attack relatively well. At the very least, they killed more ISIS fighters then the casualties they suffered. And they prevented ISIS from driving security forces out of the town. That's a small comfort to the people killed in this attack though, and the threat of ISIS sending in a follow up attack is high. 

What is worse is that ISIS is continuing to expand in Libya. Most of their strongholds are in the center of the country and in the east, far away from the Tunisian border. But it's clear that they are getting quite a bit of operational capabilities in the western part of the country as well. The Bardo Museum and Sousse terrorist attacks were launched from this region, and now the fighters stationed there are confident enough to launch attacks across the border. 

One wonders what local Libyan forces are doing. Both governments of Libya, and yes, Libya still has two competing governments, hold territory along the border. What are they doing to stop these attacks? Very little it seems. My guess is that they are too busy fighting each other and other militant groups to care if ISIS wants to attack their Tunisian neighbors. Indeed, it may help the Libyans if more fighters go fight in Tunisia and die because it will mean less troops for them to fight. 

There was a major US airstrike in the western border area of Libya then ended up killing quite a few ISIS troops and commanders, as well as two Serbian hostages. Apparently that attack did not do much to stop cross border attacks into Tunisia. When the airstrike happened I suspected that the people at the base were planning attacks, either on Europe or in Tunisia. I also thought that destroying them would have lessened the chances of a cross border raid/terror attack. 

That may still be true, as this attack may have been worse without that airstrike, but it's clear that the threat posed by ISIS in Libya is larger then we thought. If ISIS is able to mount a major raid into Tunisia so soon after a major US airstrike that killed a bunch of their fighters, then they are much more powerful in the Western part of Libya then we suspected. Indeed, the attack may have been in response to the airstrike. ISIS is showing that a single airstrike won't derail their plans, and they can strike outside of Libya. 

I am wondering if Tunisia will take military action in response to this raid. They can't really cross the border with Libya unless both governments there are cool with it, but they can beef up their border defenses. They may station more troops to the border and will have to train them in defensive warfare. I have mentioned before that Tunisia is building a border wall which could at least slow down ISIS fighters, either by forcing them to breech the wall, which would draw attention to the raid, or attack border posts which would be well defended. 

As an aside, I find it hilarious that Reuters referred to the wall as a "barrier and trench". It's like they can't admit that building a border wall has national defense implications. The Tunisians can't be building a border wall since only "racists", like Donald J. Trump, want to do that. If they admit that Tunisia has good reasons to build a wall they might have to admit that Trump has a point about border security. Hence the misleading terminology....

Finally, I am going to again repeat my call for someone to do something about ISIS in Libya. Yes the French have some secret warfare going on against ISIS, but it doesn't seem to be enough. The major ISIS strongholds are going unmolested and ISIS is gaining strength in the country and taking more territory. With this territory under their control, they can launch more attacks like this and may even threaten Europe itself. 

Remember, the massive migration of economic migrants from Africa has tapered off due to it being winter. As temperatures increase, tens of thousands of migrants will try to cross the Mediterranean. It would be trivial to for ISIS to smuggle people into Europe this way and launch attacks. This border raid in Tunisia may be the shape of things to come, but next time it might be Europe.  

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