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Islamic State group doubles Libya fighting force: US

Despite major increase, US general said the group will find it more difficult to grab territory in Libya as it has in Syria and Iraq
The Islamic State (IS) group has doubled in size in Libya over the past year (AFP)

The Islamic State (IS) group has doubled its fighting force in Libya to about 6,000 in as little as a year, the head of US forces in Africa said on Thursday.

Despite the increase, IS is not likely to seize swathes of territory inside Libya as it has done in Syria and Iraq, said Gen. David Rodriguez, head of the US Africa Command.

IS has exploited the turmoil in Libya since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi five years ago, raising fears that it is establishing a new stronghold on Europe's doorstep.

But Rodriguez said it is significantly harder for IS to grab large areas of Libya and then consolidate.

"It's possible, but right now I am not concerned about it," he said, citing "significantly different conditions" in Libya.

Among them is the fact that the IS group does not "have the homegrown people that know as much about Libya, like they did in Iraq and Syria," Rodriguez said.

Libyans, he added, "don't like external influences".

Last year, IS seized control of Gaddafi's coastal hometown of Sirte and has been fighting to expand to other areas.

Rodriguez said that Libyan militias "are contesting the growth of ISIS in several areas across Libya".

"In the east, in Benghazi and Derna, they have fought back against the Islamic State and made it much tougher for them to operate."

Libya has a new UN-backed unity government, which is being led by Fayez al-Sarraj, who arrived in the capital only a week ago.

Libya has had two rival administrations in place since mid-2014, when a militia alliance overran Tripoli, setting up its own authority and forcing the internationally recognised parliament to flee to the country's east.

Any possible international intervention against the IS group in Libya, Rodriguez said, "is going to be driven by their leadership and what they want us to do".

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