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France: Islamic State Will Need to Be Fought in Libya

Libyan soldiers loyal to Libya's internationally recognized government work next to bombs at the Benina air base on Dec. 10, 2015, south of the eastern coastal city of Benghazi.

Countries targeted by Islamic State will probably soon have to crush the group in Libya, France's prime minister said on Friday, as rival Libyan factions neared signing a United Nations-backed unity agreement.

French officials have been warning for more than a year that the political void in the North African state, which faces European Union members Malta and Italy across the Mediterranean Sea, is creating favorable conditions for Islamist groups.

The longer a national unity government is not in place, the easier it will be for Islamic State to take root in the country, they say.

"We are living with the terrorist threat. We have a common enemy, Daesh, which we must defeat and destroy in Iraq and Syria and probably tomorrow in Libya," Valls told Europe 1 radio, referring to the Arabic acronym for the group.

An aide in the prime minister's office said Valls meant that all those targeted by Islamic State, including France, would need to fight the group.

IS in Libya has between 2,000-3,000 fighters and is the only affiliate known to have received support and guidance from the extremist group's stronghold in Syria and Iraq, U.N. experts have said.

The North African oil producer is in chaos, with two rival governments, each backed by armed factions, hesitating over signing a previously negotiated agreement for a unity government. The two sides said on Friday they had set a date of December 16 to finalize the UN-brokered deal.

Paris has already redeployed some 3,500 troops, previously used to intervene in its former colony Mali in 2013, across West Africa, and has established a base about 75 kilometers from Libya's southern border, to form a counter-terrorism force.

French military aircraft flew reconnaissance and intelligence missions over Libya in November, including areas controlled by Islamic State.

"There is no time to waste now," said a senior Western diplomat. "If we can't have a government quickly, then we will start looking at measures that we can put in place to ensure Libya does not go further down the road of chaos and become a sanctuary for jihadists. If a deal is not sealed we will have to ensure our own security."

The diplomat said a meeting in Rome on Sunday aimed to make that clear to all sides and warn them of possible consequences if they continue to stall political progress.