Military experts estimate that ISIS has thousands of fighters in Libya and has been expanding its territory over the past year. The country's UN-sponsored unity government is still working to consolidate its authority, but has announced plans to establish a military command to combat these and other terrorist forces. U.S. military advisers are reported to be in-country tasked with lining up local partners in advance of a possible offensive against ISIS.
The Middle East Institute (MEI) was pleased to host Wafa Bugaighis (Embassy of Libya), Charles Lister (MEI), Frederic Wehrey (Carnegie Endowment), and Jonathan Winer (Department of State) for a discussion about the growing role of Libya in ISIS's strategy, its impact on Libya's civil war, the Libyan and international responses to date, the U.S. military role in Libya, and how it fits in the United States' regional confrontation with the terrorist group. David Mack (MEI) moderated the discussion.
Wafa Bugaighis is the senior representative of the government of Libya to the United States, holding the rank of chargé d'affaires at the Embassy of Libya in Washington, D.C. Prior to her appointment to the embassy, Bughaighis was the deputy minister for political affairs in the Libyan ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; she also served as the acting foreign minister. Before her foreign affairs posts, Bughaighis had a distinguished career in education as the director of the International Bureau of the Ministry of Education for Eastern Libya. The bureau worked closely with the United Nations and civil society to ensure that Libya’s youth had access to quality education after the overthrow of Qaddafi. During the revolution, Bugaighis co-founded and chaired the nonprofit organization Commission in Benghazi to Support Women Participation in Decision Making, then opened branches in other cities, including Tripoli. The organization was recognized by the UN, the Libyan National Election Commission, and the U.S. National Democratic Institute for contributing to the success of Libya’s democratic elections.
Charles Lister is a resident fellow at the Middle East Institute. He was formerly a visiting fellow at the Brookings Center in Qatar and before that, the head of the Middle East and North Africa division at the London-based IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre. Lister focuses on terrorism, insurgency, and sub-state security threats across the Middle East. He is also a senior consultant to The Shaikh Group’s Track II Syria Initiative, within which he has helped coordinate a two-year process of engagement with the leaderships of over 100 Syrian armed opposition groups. He is the author of The Islamic State: A Brief Introduction (Brookings Institution Press, 2015) and the recently released book, The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency (Oxford University Press, 2016).
Frederic Wehrey is a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He focuses on security affairs, civil-military relations, and identity politics in North Africa and the Gulf. His most recent Carnegie publications include U.S.-Arab Counterterrorism Cooperation in a Region Ripe for Extremism with Michele Dunne (2014) and Ending Libya’s Civil War: Reconciling Politics, Rebuilding Security (2014). His commentary and articles appear in the New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic, among others and he routinely briefs U.S. and European government officials and testifies before the Senate and the House of Representatives. Prior to joining Carnegie, he was a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation. Wehrey is also a twenty-year veteran of the active and reserve components of the U.S. Air Force, with tours across North Africa and the Middle East, including Iraq, where he earned the Bronze Star in 2003.
Jonathan Winer is the State Department’s Special Envoy for Libya and Senior Advisor for MEK Resettlement. Mr. Winer is responsible for developing, coordinating, and implementing U.S. policy on Libya, as well as resettling Iranian persons found to be in need of international protection out of Iraq. He was previously deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement, where he was one of the architects of U.S. international policies and strategies on promoting and harmonizing financial transparency as well as on cross-border law enforcement issues such as cybercrime, small arms trafficking, illegal immigration, and money laundering. Mr. Winer previously served for 10 years as counsel and principal legislative assistant to then-U.S. Senator John F. Kerry.
David Mack (Moderator) is a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs (1990-1993) and U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (1986-1989). Ambassador Mack directed the conduct of relations between the United States and 12 other governments, including Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria. He provided political support for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and was the principal, U.S. contact for the Iraqi opposition from 1991-1993. In the course of over 30 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, he has served in Jerusalem, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At the request of the State Department, David Mack developed the concept of, and managed the Future of Iraq Program in the spring of 2002. He also served as an advisor to the congressionally mandated bipartisan Iraq Study Group. He is an advisor of the U.S.–Libya Business Association and a scholar at MEI.