The U.S. is inching closer to a deal that would see a long-term commitment of troops to Libya to fight the Islamic State.
“There’s a lot of activity going on underneath the surface,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters traveling with him back from NATO headquarters in Brussels.
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“There will be a long-term mission in Libya,” the nation’s top general said, according to The Washington Post. “We’re just not ready to deploy capabilities yet because there hasn’t been an agreement. And frankly, any day that could happen.”
Such an agreement would be the culmination of what has been a months-long march toward deeper Western involvement in Libya, beginning last year when U.S. Special Forces operators were deployed to the North African country.
Earlier this week the Associated Press reported that the U.S. and other countries said they would lift an arms bans and supply weapons to the nation’s fragile government so it can fight ISIS forces, which are estimated to be in the thousands.
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In addition to marking a new level on involvement in the fight against ISIS, the deployment of U.S. troops could be bad news for Hillary Clinton. As Secretary of State during President Obama’s first term, Clinton was instrumental in the administration’s decision to remove Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi from power – a choice that set off a series of events that have turned the nation into a terrorist safe haven.
More so than the ongoing House investigation into the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi – which has become a political football for both parties and is at this point unlikely to sway voters who don’t already have an opinion about Clinton -- a long-term U.S. military commitment in the war-ravaged country could remind voters of Clinton’s much-criticized involvement in Libya.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Clinton’s rival for the Democratic nomination, has often questioned if she has the right judgement to sit in the Oval Office.
“She may have the experience to be president of the United States. No one can argue that,” Sanders said during a TV interview last month. “But in terms of her judgment, something is clearly lacking.”
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It’s easy to imagine presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who recently released an incendiary video on social media that skewered Clinton’s involvement in the deadly Benghazi assault, picking up on Sanders’ line of attack to knock her foreign policy judgment.
Beyond the near-term political consequences, opening up a third ISIS front could have a detrimental effect on the nation’s finances and the agenda of Obama’s successor.
As of April 15, the U.S.-led war against ISIS has cost $7.2 billion, with the average daily cost coming to $11.7 million, according to Pentagon estimates released this week.
While NATO would be involved in the Libya commitment, it’s not hard to imagine the U.S. eventually picking up the lion’s share of the tab for the new, possibly years-long effort.
That could mean billions more going toward anti-ISIS military operations, with no end in sight.
It’s also important to note that Dunford didn’t provide a figure for how many advisers might go to Libya. The U.S. had a small troop footprint in Iraq two years ago, but there are more than 3,500 soldiers in Iraq today.