The rapid growth of the Islamic State extremist movement's chapter in Libya is complicating efforts to stabilize the country. German diplomatic Martin Kobler, who was appointed in November as the United Nations' special representative to Libya, is warning that the time may not be right for possible international airstrikes against Islamic State targets.

Martin Kobler, United Nations special representative in Libya, is warning that looming international airstrikes against the Islamic State organization in Libya could be disruptive to efforts to establish a functioning unity government.

In December, members of Libya's two rival assemblies signed a UN-brokered peace agreement after months of negotiations. A 13-member cabinet has been named for the planned government of national accord but has yet to receive final approval.

Kobler, a German diplomat appointed in November to head the UN's assistance mission in Libya, told dpa it was "important not to put the cart before the horse" with airstrikes at a delicate time.

In the long run, combating Islamic State jihadists will require not just bombs from the air but boots on the ground to recapture the towns and villages already under the group's control around Sirte along part of Libya's Mediterranean coast, he said.

"There needs to be troops available on the ground," Kobler said. "Airstrikes alone are no panacea."

The United States and other international powers have emphasized efforts to help the prospective Libyan unity government send troops of its own to prosecute the looming battle.

"The fight against the Islamic State group must be a Libyan fight," Kobler said.

Libya has been gripped by widening chaos and violence since the 2011 uprising that eventually deposed long-time dictator Moamer Gaddafi. Multiple local militias formed during that civil war remain armed and active in the country's current conflict.

The major division has been between Libya's internationally recognized parliament and a second, Islamist-oriented assembly. The rival governments have been slow to take the steps to implement their unity agreement.

The Islamic State organization has rushed to fill the power vacuum, and the group's widening territory has fueled speculation about international airstrikes to slow the advance. US President Barack Obama said Tuesday: "We are working with our other coalition partners to make sure that as we see opportunities to prevent [Islamic State forces] from digging in in Libya, we take them."

Kobler said that growing international military pressure on the Islamic State movement's heartland in Syria and Iraq was likely "leading to more foreign fighters coming to Libya." He estimated that 70 to 80 per cent of Islamic State fighters in Libya were foreign, and the percentage was growing.

Kobler said he was convinced that 95 per cent of the population want the unity agreement to be implemented: "It's the functionaries and the political decision makers who are making the power plays."

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