By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. spy agencies expect continuing upheaval in Libya and Ukraine, top intelligence officials told Congress on Thursday.
James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, told a House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing that the United States had “great hope” that a new government of national accord will soon be formed in Libya.
But at the same hearing, CIA chief John Brennan acknowledged that the United States in practice was pursuing a two-track policy in Libya, in which it was engaged both in a diplomatic effort to knit together two competing, regionally based self-proclaimed Libyan governments while also conducting “counter terrorism” operations against a growing contingent of Islamic State militants.
U.S. officials now estimate that up to 4,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Libya to base themselves in Islamic State training camps that have sprouted up around the country, where they have joined up with hundreds if not thousands of local Libyans who have joined the movement.
U.S. officials privately acknowledge that efforts to bring together rival government factions are moving slowly at best. Clapper told the hearing that the rival factions themselves are far from “monolithic,” although even competing leaders agree that the Islamic State poses a major threat.
While diplomatic efforts continue, officials privately say, the United States is likely to continue periodic air strikes against suspected Islamic State leaders like one that earlier this month targeted a militant named Noureddine Chouchane.
At the hearing, Clapper and Brennan also discussed Russia’s continuing involvement in Ukraine. Clapper said Russia still considers Ukraine to be “Little Russia.” He said Russia “will continue I think to be a proxy for separatists to sustain their interests in Ukraine.”
However, Brennan added that there is “still uncertainty about how the Russians themselves are going to extricate themselves” from Ukraine conflict.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)