ISIS forces in Libya have doubled over the past year, now reaching up to 6,000 fighters, Gen. David M. Rodriguez, head of US Africa Command, told a news briefing in Washington April 7. But he emphasized that local militias "are contesting the growth of ISIS in several areas across Libya." (Reuters, April 7) He did not mention that many of those militias fighting ISIS are themselves jihadist, and loyal to rival Qaeda-linked factions. Additionally, the rate of growth may be significantly low-balled, if we go by Gen. Rodriguez's own prior statements. Just over a year ago, he characterized the ISIS presence in Libya as "very small and nascent," with "around a couple hundred" militants.
The new estimate comes as the international community is desperately trying to impose some order on Libya. This week, the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) moved from Tunis to Tripoli, which basicallt means that Libya has gone from having two rival governments to three. The Islamist-led National Salvation Government (NSG) that controls Tripoli initially appeared to issue a declaration saying it it would step down in favor of the GNA; but within 24 hours, the NSG revoked its announcement, with Prime Minister Khalifa al-Ghawiel saying that the resignation statement was forged.
Last month, the GNA was declared the sole legitimate government of Libya by Western powers, but it is uncertain if it has much support on the ground. Tellingly, it is the most technocratoc institutions of the Libyan state (such as it exists) that have recognized the GNA: the Libyan Investment Authority, the National Oil Corporation, and the Central Bank. (AFP, The Economist, April 9; MEM, April 8; Libya Observer, April 7)