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Whether Extremism in E. Libya Will End After Derna Capture Or Not?

Haftar's army could wrench Derna from a coalition of local and Islamist fighters

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A view of destroyed buildings and cars after the street was controlled by forces loyal to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in Derna, Libya, June 13, 2018.
A view of destroyed buildings and cars after the street was controlled by forces loyal to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in Derna, Libya, June 13, 2018. VOA
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Forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) are poised to capture the last remaining city outside of their control in eastern Libya, after weeks of heavy fighting, bombardment and airstrikes, and after years of siege.

Haftar’s army could wrench Derna from a coalition of local and Islamist fighters known as the Derna Protection Force, formerly known as the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council.

“What remains outside the control of our forces is considered a small combat zone, less than just 10 kilometers squared,” LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari told Reuters earlier this week. “The operations are in their final stages and the fighting is very heavy.”

Last month, Haftar’s forces renewed their offensive “to liberate Derna from terrorists.” Few experts, however, believe the city’s capture will be the end for jihadists in Libya.

Libya, Map
Libya, Map, Pixabay

“The fight against extremism is only going to be symbolically won by any LNA [Libyan national Army] takeover of Derna, or any other city for that matter,” said Darine El Hage, regional program officer at U.S. Institute of Peace’s Center for Middle East and Africa.

“Indeed, evidence has shown that grievances stemming from heavy-handed military and security measures might make people more susceptible to joining extremist groups,” she told VOA.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies based in Washington, said “if the LNA captures Derna and expels jihadists from the city, they will not be finished in Libya.”

“Jihadists already have a presence in the south of the country, among other areas,” he added.

 An armed motorcade belonging to members of Derna's Islamic Youth Council, consisting of former members of militias from the town of Derna, drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya Oct. 3, 2014.
An armed motorcade belonging to members of Derna’s Islamic Youth Council, consisting of former members of militias from the town of Derna, drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya Oct. 3, 2014. VOA

‘Escalating humanitarian crisis’

This week, both the United Nations and the human rights group Amnesty International sounded the alarm over the escalating humanitarian crisis in Derna.

“From the people we have spoken to inside Derna, they have explained that the situation is quite dire,” said Marwa Mohammed, Libya researcher with Amnesty International, in an interview with VOA.

“They’ve had very, very limited supplies that had gotten in, and that includes foodstuffs, medical supplies, fuel, cooking gas,” she said.

Amnesty International had earlier in the week issued a statement on the fighting in Derna, in which the human rights watchdog said unnecessary hardships are being inflicted on ordinary men, women and children by the use of “blockade tactics.”

According to Mohammed, people are afraid to flee Derna “because we do know there are people who are being arbitrarily detained, based on their profile” of being male and from Derna. After that, she said they disappear.

“What we are calling for is the protection of civilians, giving them free access to flee without been profiled,” said Mohammed.

‘Permissive environment’

With the Libyan National Army getting set to declare victory in Derna, many observers are pondering whether Haftar is considering something other than his stated goal of freeing Derna from the clutches of terrorists.

Khalifa Haftar (C), the military commander who dominates eastern Libya, leaves after an international conference on Libya in Paris, France, May 29, 2018.
Khalifa Haftar (C), the military commander who dominates eastern Libya, leaves after an international conference on Libya in Paris, France, May 29, 2018. VOA

“It is difficult to identify one single reason behind the timing of the battle,” said El Hage of USIP’s Center for Middle East and Africa.

“The underlying root causes that allow for radicalization in or outside of Derna, are not won by military victories, at least not for the long term,” she said.

Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says the best-case scenario, from a humanitarian and strategic point of view, is for the fighting in Derna to end quickly. If it gets drawn out, he said jihadists will be able to regroup and build their networks.

Also read: Sudanese Children of Islamic State (ISIS) Militants Released in Libya

“Libya will remain a permissive environment until a political entity emerges with the will and capability to deny jihadists the ability to operate,” he said.

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White House: Judge’s Decision Halting Travel Ban ‘Dangerously Flawed’

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Travel Ban
A sign for International Arrivals is shown at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.VOA

The White House is reacting furiously to a federal judge blocking President Donald Trump’s latest executive Travel Ban order that would have banned entry to travelers from several countries beginning Wednesday.

“Today’s dangerously flawed district court order undercuts the president’s efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States,” said a White House statement issued Tuesday shortly after Judge Derrick Watson ruled against restrictions on travelers from six countries the Trump administration said could not provide enough information to meet U.S. security standards.

The travel ban order would have barred to various degrees travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

Watson’s temporary restraining order does not interfere with restrictions on North Korea and Venezuela.

Justice Department defends White House

The Justice Department “will vigorously defend the president’s lawful action,” the White House said, contending its proclamation restricting travel was issued after an extensive worldwide security review.

The Justice Department called the ruling incorrect and said it will appeal the decision “in an expeditious manner.”

Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke said: “While we will comply with any lawful judicial order, we look forward to prevailing in this matter upon appeal.”

Acting Director of Homeland Security Elaine Duke
Acting Director of Homeland Security Elaine Duke testifies before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

No change for North Korea, Venezuela

The new travel order “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: it lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be ‘detrimental to the United States,'” Judge Watson wrote in his opinion.

The White House argues that its restrictions “are vital to ensuring that foreign nations comply with the minimum security standards required for the integrity of our immigration system and the security of our nation.”

Officials in the White House are expressing confidence that further judicial review will uphold the president’s action.

Hawaii involved for third time

Consular officials have been told to resume “regular processing of visas” for people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, according to a State Department official.

The suit on which Judge Watson ruled on Tuesday was filed by the state of Hawaii, the Muslim Association of Hawaii and various individuals.

“This is the third time Hawaii has gone to court to stop President Trump from issuing a travel ban that discriminates against people based on their nation of origin or religion,” said Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin. “Today is another victory for the rule of law.”(VOA)