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The “Powder Keg” You Don’t Know About in the Middle East

U.S. attention in the Middle East is focused on Iraq and Syria now, and rightly so — but instability in another country may be creating a vacuum for ISIS.

Sirte, Libya

Most U.S. attention on the Middle East right now — on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Capitol Hill, and in media — is focused on Iraq and Syria.

This makes sense: the U.S. is ramping up for an extended fight to retake Raqqa, Syria, from ISIS, the terrorist group’s last stronghold in the war-torn nation. President Trump just met with Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi this week to discuss the final stages — and aftermath — of the U.S.-backed effort to drive ISIS out of its stronghold in Mosul, Iraq.

But instability in another nation in the region of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) — one familiar to voters, but for reasons other than the fight against ISIS — may be creating a vacuum that ISIS can fill next.

The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt explains:

But Western and African counterterrorism officials now say that while the twin blows dealt a setback to the terrorist group in Libya — once feared as the Islamic State’s most lethal branch outside Iraq and Syria — its leaders are already regrouping, exploiting the chaos and political vacuum gripping the country.

…Libya remains a violent and divided nation rife with independent militias, flooded with arms and lacking legitimate governance and political unity. Tripoli, the capital, is controlled by a patchwork of armed groups that have built local fiefs and vied for power since Libya’s 2011 uprising. Running gun battles have seized Tripoli in recent days.

One city in Libya is well-known to the American people: Benghazi. The attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, led to criticism of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and years of investigations in Congress.

The Times article, though, suggests there’s an entirely different — and new — threat to worry about in Libya: war and instability that have created what one Chadian officer calls “a powder keg.”

Will Libya be the next front in the war against ISIS, after U.S.-backed forces retake Mosul and Raqqa? Recent activity suggests it may.