Post-Conference Interview with Emily Estelle on Counterterrorism in Libya

During our annual NCUSLR conference held on November 13th, 2018 in Washington DC, many participants raised questions to the speakers that we could not respond to due to time limits.

As such, we have initiated a series of follow up interviews with our conference speakers to answer these lingering questions.

As you go through these questions and answers please keep in mind that neither the questions nor answers reflect the opinions of NCUSLR.

  • Dr. Hani Shennib

Presenter featured in the following interview:

Emily Estelle, Senior Analyst and Africa Team Lead, Critical Threats Project

Emily Estelle is a senior analyst for the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute and the Africa Team Lead. She studies the Salafi-jihadi movement in Africa, including al Qaeda, ISIS, and associated groups. She specializes in the Libya conflict. Emily also coordinates CTP’s training and tradecraft and manages the integration of technology into the research process. Emily graduated Summa Cum Laude from Dartmouth College with a BA in Anthropology modified with Arabic Language.

Emily was invited to speak at NCUSLR’s 2nd Annual Conference ‘Libya at the Crossroads’ on Panel II, Security in Libya: From Selective Engagement to Containment to address the topic: ‘Terrorism in Libya: Is it a threat to US National Interest.’ Emily delivered verbal remarks only at the conference.

Post-Conference Interview with Emily Estelle

  • Is the ISIS problem in Libya exaggerated?

No, the ISIS problem in Libya is not exaggerated—in fact, it is more likely to be undervalued because the nature of the threat has evolved. ISIS in Libya is currently weaker as a military force than in 2015-2016. But, the conditions of conflict and poor governance that allowed ISIS to grow in Libya still exist. ISIS has been reconstituting since its defeat in Sirte in 2016 and may now be shifting toward renewed offensive operations in eastern Libya, with more attacks targeting oil infrastructure and security positions. ISIS is not likely to recapture a city at this point, but it can conduct terrorist attacks intended to derail Libya’s political and economic recovery.

  • How will the US/NATO prevent cross-border criminal trafficking? Is there a plan?

There is not a plan on the scale required to address cross-border criminal tracking, which is an incredibly complex multi-state issue in which trafficking is a key part of the livelihood of local communities with few alternatives. Recent UN sanctions on human traffickers are an effort to disrupt transnational trafficking networks.

  • Why should the US be involved at all in Libya?

The US should be involved in Libya because the current crisis in Libya is a threat to US interests, and because the US has the capacity to play a productive role in resolving the crisis. The failure of the Libyan state threatens the security of the US and its allies. Libya has become a base for Salafi-jihadi groups that seek to plan attacks on the West. Libya’s crisis has also destabilized northern Africa, exacerbating mass migration, and creating opportunities for US adversaries, particularly Russia. International competition to shape Libya has hindered any resolution to the political crisis, and US diplomatic leadership is necessary to resolve it. I recently wrote about why the migration issue itself should also be a concern for the US (Read the article here).

The views shared in this published interview reflect those of the guest contributor and not necessarily the views of the National Council on U.S.-Libya Relations.

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