Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy Page: 2 of 39
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Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy
Libya's political transition has been disrupted by armed non-state groups and threatened by the
indecision and infighting of interim leaders. After an armed uprising ended the 40-plus-year rule
of Muammar al Qadhafi in late 2011, interim authorities proved unable to form a stable
government, address pressing security issues, reshape the country's public finances, or create a
viable framework for post-conflict justice and reconciliation.
Elections for legislative bodies and a constitutional drafting assembly were held and transparently
administered in 2012 and 2014, but were marred by declining rates of participation, threats to
candidates and voters, and zero-sum political competition. Insecurity remained prevalent in Libya
following the 2011 conflict and deepened in 2014, driven by overlapping ideological, personal,
financial, and transnational rivalries. Issues of dispute have included governance, military
command, national finances, and control of oil infrastructure. Resulting conflicts involving
Libyans in different parts of the country drove the political transition off course.
At present, armed militia groups and locally organized political leaders remain the most powerful
arbiters of public affairs. Criminals and violent Islamist extremists have exploited these
conditions, and the latter remain active inside Libya and threaten Libya's neighbors. The 2017
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) Posture Statement stated that "the instability in Libya and
North Africa may be the most significant, near-term threat to U.S. and allies' interests" in Africa.
U.S. officials and other international actors have worked since August 2014 to convince Libyan
factions and their regional supporters that inclusive, representative government and negotiation
are preferable to competing attempts to achieve dominance through force of arms. The United
Nations (U.N.) Security Council has authorized the placement of financial and travel sanctions on
individuals and entities found to be "engaging in or providing support for other acts that threaten
the peace, stability or security of Libya, or obstruct or undermine the successful completion of its
In December 2015, some Libyan leaders endorsed a U.N.-brokered political agreement to create a
Government of National Accord (GNA) to oversee the completion of the transition. GNA Prime
Minister-designate Fayez al Sarraj and members of a GNA Presidency Council attempted to
implement the agreement and have competed for influence with political figures and armed forces
based in eastern Libya, including Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar's "Libyan National Army"
movement. In September 2017, the U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) launched an
Action Plan to amend the 2015 agreement, convene a reconciliation conference, support adoption
of a new constitution, and prepare for national elections in 2018.
The State Department describes Libya as a permissive environment for terrorists and suspended
operations at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli in July 2014. U.S. diplomats engage with Libyans and
monitor U.S. programs in Libya via the Libya External Office at the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia.
The U.S. military supported some Libyan forces in a 2016 campaign to expel Islamic State (IS)
supporters from the central coastal city of Sirte, and periodic U.S. strikes against IS fighters
continue. Concerns persist regarding remaining extremists, the weakness of state institutions, and
flows of migrants, refugees, and contraband across Libya's unpoliced borders.
Congress has conditionally appropriated funding for limited U.S. transition support and security
assistance programs for Libya since 2011 and is considering legislation that would appropriate
further assistance funds for FY2018. The Trump Administration has imposed conditional
restrictions on the entry of Libyan nationals to the United States, with some exceptions. Political
consensus among Libyans remains elusive, and security conditions may create lasting challenges
for the return to Libya of U.S. diplomats and the full development of bilateral relations.
Congressional Research Service
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Blanchard, Christopher M. Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy, report, January 8, 2018; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1094477/m1/2/: accessed June 18, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.