The Egyptian response to the brutal murder of 21 Egyptians in Libya, believed to be Coptic Christian migrant laborers, was swift. Mere hours after the gruesome video of the assassinations was released, Egypt began an immediate retaliation campaign in Libya, with F-16 jets bombing ISIS positions in the country. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called on the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution allowing for an international intervention in Libya, saying that the intervention which led to the death of Muammar Gaddafi was “an unfinished mission,” adding that “what is happening in Libya is a threat to international peace and security.”
As ISIS continues to draw the ire of an increasing number of regional power players – last week, Jordan, and now Egypt – the global resolve to eradicate the group will only be strengthened. As countries continue to target ISIS through air campaigns, there is, however, an increased risk that innocent civilians will end up paying with their lives for having ISIS operatives in or around their communities. Indeed, Human Rights Watch says in a recent press release that residents in Derna, Libya, where the retaliatory strikes occurred, reported that there were at least six civilian fatalities as a result of the airstrikes. “Any military engagement with ISIS should take all possible steps to spare civilian lives,” said HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. As national and international actors continue to grapple with the threat of ISIS, the protection of civilian lives must also remain a priority concern – the UN Security-Council’s focus on non-military means of intervention is one way in which to decrease that risk.