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To weaken ISIS, U.S. deploys small number of special ops in Libya

As part of a strategy to weaken the Islamic State and support a unity government, the U.S. is deploying a small number of special operations troops on the ground in Libya. Washington Post reporter Missy Ryan who has written about the operation joins Alison Stewart to discuss how the Obama administration came to this decision.

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  • ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    Turning to the Middle East and the war on ISIS, the United States is now deploying a small number of special operations troops on the ground in Libya. It's part of a strategy to weaken ISIS and support a unity government in Libya, which has been torn apart by civil unrest since a European-led mission backed by the U.S. toppled Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi five years ago.

    "Washington Post" reporter Missy Ryan has written about the new Libya mission, and she joins me now from Washington.

    So, Missy, we know ISIS is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. When and where did it begin to settle in Libya?

  • MISSY RYAN, WASHINGTON POST:

    The Islamic State in Libya really became a powerful force in 2015 and it was established with a combination of individuals sent by the Islamic State parent group in Iraq and Syria, and then pulling from the sort of hodgepodge of militant groups, disenfranchised people who haven't fared well in the post-revolution era in Libya itself. So, it's a mix of foreigners and Libyans and really established a stronghold in the coastal city of Sirte.

    And while the Islamic State is much smaller in Libya than it is in Iraq and Syria, it's seen as the most powerful affiliate by the United States and its allies.

  • ALISON STEWART:

    You reported the U.S. Special Operations has been in Libya in two different locations, two different outposts this past year. And they are the small contact teams, I believe is how you wrote about it. Can you explain what that means and what their mission is?

  • MISSY RYAN:

    Sure. It's really an assessment mission. It isn't so unusual. The United States has small special operations presences in various places. But the goal here in Libya is really to help enhance U.S. awareness of the situation on the ground. The idea is that the small members of Americans special operation forces will sort through the factions and identify potential recipients of American support in the future.

    So, the idea is that the United States, the Obama administration wants to make sure that there is ready — if they do decide to launch an expanded operation in Libya, that they have partner forces on the ground who they can vet and then support as they go in and do the fighting.

  • ALISON STEWART:

    From this strategy, what lessons have the U.S. learned from fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria?

  • MISSY RYAN:

    I think one of the lessons that they've learned is that it really will take an effective partner on the ground. Not just a capable military partner but also a partner that can bring the right sort of political and governance tools to actually bring about a lasting defeat of the Islamic State. So, maybe they can be defeated militarily. We're talking about some number in the thousands in Libya. But really, the key will be finding partners who could be supported by the United States and Europe, who could bring governance, who can bring law and order and make sure that the conditions for the Islamic State don't return.

  • ALISON STEWART:

    Missy Ryan from "The Washington Post" — thank you so much.

  • MISSY RYAN:

    Thank you.

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