Libya: The One Ring Of Power


March 14, 2019: Total deaths for 2018 were about 1,600 with 80 percent of them suffered by the several hundred thousand armed men in the country. These men belong to the LNA (Libyan National Army), militias or Islamic terror groups. Libya remains a fairly low-level conflict. While there are many factions the largest one is the LNA, which comprises about a third of the organized armed personnel in the country. The LNA also includes some allied militias but the most reliable units are those organized along military lines (brigades, battalions and so on). Most of these armed men are operating as a local defense unit and supporting themselves via extortion or voluntary support from a clan or tribal organization. Casualties come from feuds between militias (usually over territory and/or access to resources) and fighting against Islamic terrorists or militias that are interfering with national resources (mainly oil). The area with the most casualties (30 percent) was the coastal city of Derna where local militias inside the city (and more mercenary or Islamic terrorist groups south of the city) have been fighting each other and the LNA all year. About half the casualties were from half a dozen hot spots in the desert south where groups fought (and ultimately lose to the LNA) for control of oil or border control (smuggling routes). One reason for the success of the LNA is that it has become widely known that when the LNA moves in there is a lot less violence and general chaos. The LNA is the only armed group in the country that can do this on a large scale.

All this violence is largely the result of there being no national government since the 2011 revolution. For the last three years there have been two rival governments. The GNA (Government of National Accord) has since late 2018 become more amenable to working with the LNA and its commander Khalifa Hiftar. The GNA leader and Hiftar last met in late February. These talks were apparently successful as the two agreed to work together to hold national elections and plan to meet again in late March. Currently, Hiftar forces control two-thirds of the country including most of the coastal areas (except Tripoli and the coastline west of the city to the Tunisian border). The GNA has occupied and pacified most of the oil production, refining and export facilities. The most recent achievement was to pacify the Fezzan region in southwest Libya. Now it has been noticed that many prominent militia leaders in Tripoli are leaving the country with their families. The LNA is expected to move into Tripoli at the request of the GNA government there. The UN, which played a major role in creating the GNA (and deciding that LNA was a threat to Libya despite most Libyans believing otherwise) is also making peace with the LNA.

This willingness to cooperate with a longtime rival became visible when GNA leader Fayez al Sarraj spoke with Hiftar in November 2018 when both were at the Libya conference in Italy. While many GNA backers want nothing to do with Hiftar (seeing him as another potential dictator) a growing number of Libyans and regional leaders recognize that Hiftar and his LNA are the only force in Libya that has consistently (for over five years) worked to unify the country rather than plunder it. Hiftar has been the most important element of the other Libya government, the HoR (House of Representatives). The LNA is useful to the GNA in Tripoli because the city is controlled by numerous militias, some of them led by Islamic radicals, who see the LNA as the end of their independence and barely acknowledge the GNA. Most Libyans, and especially most residents of Tripoli would like the LNA to come in and pacify the place and Sarraj seems to now accept this as a possibility he could possibly live with. Hiftar has delayed doing that until he could get Sarraj and the GNA on his side. Hiftar also left the November Italian conference because he refused to negotiate with Islamic radical leaders who still control some major private armies in Libya. Hiftar's refusal to negotiate with Islamic terrorist or Islamic radical groups is seen by many as the key to his success. But the UN and many European countries still back negotiating with the Islamic radicals. Sarraj has come around to Hiftar's approach but, unlike Hiftar, Sarraj does not have much military clout to deal with the Islamic militias in Tripoli and other towns and cities in western Libya.

The LNA has controlled most of the Libyan coast since mid-2018 but has found that maintaining security in the coastal towns and cities is time consuming and requires a lot of manpower. In the east Derna was the last major coastal city to have a major Islamic terrorist and rogue militia problem and while the LNA has eliminated major opposition there are still less visible outlaws in Derna who continue to shoot back when cornered. ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is now reduced to a few hundred members and survives as bandits away from the coast and continue to carry out the occasional suicide attack in the cities. Most of the violence (and casualties) in the coastal cities is the result of occasional armed clashes between rival militias. Normally the militias are not looking for a fight, just ways to make money and survive. But these militias are heavily armed and that keeps the atmosphere tense, and occasionally very dangerous, wherever they operate. This continued violence in many population centers has delayed elections to form a national government and those elections that were supposed to take place this year are more likely to occur in 2020.

March 13, 2019: In the southwest, the Sharara oil fields are back in production and by the end of the month will be at their normal peak production of 300,000 BPD (barrels per day). For three months (since early December 2018) the Sharara oil fields had been shut down most of the time by local tribal militia and oilfield guards who have been demanding higher pay and a share of the income earned by oil produced at Sharara. This is the largest source of oil and gas field in Libya and the frequent target of attacks for no other reason because it has always been a place where there was stuff to steal. Sharara is located about 700 kilometers south of Tripoli in the Murzuq Desert. Total Libya oil production is 1.25 million BPD and Sharara accounts for a quarter of that. Another major oilfield in that area, el Feel, produces 90,000 BPD and together with Sharara accounts for a third of national production. LNA forces finally took control of Sharara by the first week of March. At the same time, other LNA units are moving towards the Niger border, long an area controlled by rival tribal militias and beset by tribal feuds.

March 12, 2019: In the east (Benghazi) someone fired six small rockets into a residential neighborhood. Six people were wounded and no one took credit for the attack.

March 11, 2019: In the south, across the border in Chad, local officials reported that 400 UFDD Chad rebels, who had been serving as mercenaries in Libya, had surrendered. The LNA, with the help of French airstrikes, had been chasing these mercenaries back into Chad for a month. Chad reported that the original UFDD force had at least a thousand men but most had been killed or captured in Libya.

Benghazi and Misrata are having their wireless service upgraded to LTE speed. This was already done in Tripoli by late 2018. This is another example of how life goes on in most of Libya despite the lack of a national government.

March 10, 2019: In Sirte (a coastal city 500 kilometers east of Tripoli and 560 kilometers west of Benghazi), LNA forces continue to battle militias and Islamic terror groups south of the city.

March 9, 2019: In Tripoli, the airport was closed for a few hours because a quadcopter had been seen in the air near the runway. Meanwhile, an American State Department approved airport security firm, Culmen International, has been hired by Libya to upgrade the gate security at its three main airports so international flights may go to more foreign cities.

March 7, 2019: The UN has been trying to keep track of civilian losses to the continued fighting in Libya. They found that eight civilians had been killed and 13 wounded during January. The previous two months (November and December) saw 13 dead and 21 wounded.

March 6, 2019: The HoR government in the east has, since 2014, sold $23 billion in bonds to the eastern branch of the Central Bank to obtain enough cash to pay all of its government employees. That cash was in the form of local currency (dinars) printed in Russia. This unofficial financing will cause problems for a united Libya which will be held responsible for this debt and others (as yet unpublicized) like it.

March 5, 2019: Foreign ministers from Algeria and Tunisia met with their Egyptian counterpart in Egypt to discuss what is going on in Libya. All three agreed that they, and the UN, should support the LNA effort to unify the country. This comes after it became obvious that the GNA leader was backing the LNA as well. Less visibly this show of unity was also meant to ensure that Qatar and Turkey, who had been providing support for some Islamic terror groups in Libya, would halt such support.

March 4, 2019: In the southwest, the Sharara oil fields were declared free of unauthorized armed groups and the foreign firms that manage operations were able to resume work. During the three months of violence, there was little damage done to oil facilities or the workforce. But because of the threats, the foreign firms shut down operations and forced the National Oil Company to invoke the “force majeure” clause in their contracts. Force majeure is a legal step indicating that circumstances beyond its control cancel existing agreements until the crisis passes. This was previously used to protect Libya from being sued for damages by companies that had bought oil that was now not going to be delivered because outlaw militias had taken control of oil facilities. This means the buyers will end up spending more to buy the oil they need on the open oil market, rather than pay a lower negotiated price. There’s a price for using force majeure, and that is lower prices for your oil in the future until you restore faith in your ability to fulfill your contracts. With the end of force majeure, oil exports from Sharara are expected within a week. The three months of intermittent shutdowns in were worst in January, which saw overall oil and gas revenues fall 30 percent (from the previous month) to $1.6 billion.

February 26, 2019: In Abu Dhabi GNA leader Fayez al Sarraj and LNA commander Khalifa Hiftar met to discuss a future together.




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