Libya: Follow The Money, Militias and Mercs

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January 6, 2021: The October ceasefire calls for all foreign troops to leave and there is little chance of that happening. It’s estimated that there are over 20,000 armed foreigners in Libya. Over a third are Islamic terrorists. About half the others are Syrian Arab mercenaries working for Turkey and the rest are Syrian Arab mercenaries hired by Russia to assist the LNA (Libyan National Army). There are also several hundred Russian special operations troops, technicians, pilots and advisors. Matching that are nearly as many troops from Arab allies of the LNA. Lastly there are another hundred or so special operations troops from various nations who mainly act as observers for their governments.

The GNA (Government of National Accord) is pushing two myths. One is that the GNA is the legitimate government of Libya and the second is that because they are the legitimate government the Turkish forces are foreign troops legally present in Libya because the GNA asked them in. A majority of Libyans, including most of the people ruled by the UN-backed GNA in Tripoli, want the Turks and their Syrian mercenaries out of the country. The Turks refuse, insisting that they signed a binding agreement with the GNA leader. That leader, GNA prime minister Faiez Serraj was appointed by the UN in 2016 to lead an unelected government that never controlled much besides the cities of Tripoli and Misrata to the east. Technically Serraj was supposed to be replaced, or reappointed, by the end of 2020 because his four-year term was up. The GNA was created by the UN to unite the entire country while getting a nationwide agreement for elections and a return to stable government. That has not happened, in large part because the Islamic militias that dominate Tripoli and Misrata can’t agree with each other and are opposed to any national government that seeks to curb their power and privileges.

Tripoli is the traditional capital and together with nearby Misrata, dominates western Libya. Tripoli is the largest city in the country of six million, containing 20 percent of all Libyans. Misrata has about six percent. Since the UN created the GNA in 2016 there have not been elections, although the HoR (Horse of Representatives) government in Tobruk was created by the last national elections in 2014 and refused to cede power to the GNA because most Libyans considered the GNA something foreigners were trying to impose on Libya. Although the HoR was created by an election the elected representatives could not agree on much and were not truly representative of the entire population. The GNA was supposed to solve that problem but couldn’t and to this day the HoR is seen as a more legitimate government by most Libyans. Many senior GNA officials are fed up with four years of frustration and apparently regret supporting the deal with the Turks.

A major problem is that Libya has never been a democracy, but rather a collection of powerful tribes and clans presided over by a king (until the 1960s) and then a military dictator until 2011. Since then, no one has been in charge. There have been some national agreements to keep the oil facilities operating and oil exported. Libya cannot feed or sustain its six million population without the oil income. Take away the oil and Libya reverts to being a relatively poor North African country that can only support a few million people at most. Until the 20th century the population of Libya never exceeded a million people and until the 19th century had never exceeded half a million.

After 2017 GNA was preoccupied with dealing with Islamic militias from Tripoli and Misrata, which were the real power in those two cities and never really comfortable about taking orders from the GNA or anyone else. Meanwhile the HoR connected with the tribes in eastern Libya. These tribes had rallied around former exile Khalifa Hiftar, who had fled Libya in the 1980s after incurring the wrath of dictator Kaddafi. Now an American citizen, Hiftar, a former Libyan Army colonel, managed to revive some of the units of the Kaddafi era military and began taking control of military bases from militias or Islamic terrorists who had occupied them. The eastern tribes demonstrated that most Libyan tribes wanted the Islamic terror groups gone. Hiftar agreed and starting in 2014 began to do just that, as well as expanding the network of tribes that supported him. Hiftar acknowledged the HoR government and remained loyal to it even after it was forced to move to Tobruk by the new GNA. Hiftar was hostile to GNA from the start because of the Islamic militias dominating areas where GNA was supposed to be in charge.

Hiftar sees the recent Turkish intervention as yet another obstacle to national unity. Turkey supports Islamic government which most Libyans oppose. People in Tripoli and Misrata have come to loathe Islamic government because the Islamic militias have not brought peace and prosperity, but instead perpetual violence and poverty. The Turks intervened because GNA prime minister Serraj signed an agreement with Turkey in November 2019 that gives to Turkey rights over large offshore areas that overlap with Greek claims. In return Turkey agreed to provide military assistance to prevent the LNA from seizing control of Tripoli and eliminating the GNA as a government that controlled any Libyan territory. This Turkey deal was declared illegal by most other Mediterranean nations and technically GNA did not have the authority to make such a deal. GNA is not a government but a UN created entity that was supposed to unite the country and hold elections. The only entity in Libya close to doing that is the HoR government and its LNA armed forces. So far, the UN refuses to abandon its failed GNA experiment and has so far done nothing to discourage Turkey from its expansion into Libya and central Mediterranean waters that other nations have existing rights to. The UN is backing yet another peace conference in an effort to get the HoR and GNA to agree to form a united government. The biggest obstacle to that is Turkey, which the UN refuses to take on.

While Turkey is seen as an invader, Russian forces, which have been supporting the LNA for over three years, are seen as an ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism. Russia and Turkey are allies in Syria but are actually fighting each other in Libya. Well, not exactly fighting anymore but maintaining armed forces and confronting each other in anticipation of a peaceful settlement. In addition to Russia the LNA was backed by Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In Syria Russian airstrikes have killed Turkish troops while the Turks have killed Syrian troops. That has also stopped, for the moment. The Libya fighting resulted in NATO countries openly backing Greece in the maritime dispute with Turkey that led to the Libya invasion.

Merc Muddle

Turkey is having corruption problems with some of its Syrian mercenaries. The immediate problem is that many of the mercs are not receiving their monthly pay on time or in full. That’s because in many cases the Turks pay the leader of a group of mercs and that leader is supposed pass on the money. The problem is that some of these leaders are corrupt and keep the payroll for a few months so they can use the cash for currency speculation or to finance various business schemes, some of them illegal. Sometimes the “borrowed” payroll cash was lost in those speculative ventures and the Turks had to deal with a messy problem. Another problem is that some merc leaders deducted “handling fees” from their subordinates' pay. Some of these “fees” were quite high and seen as theft, not pay for any service. The leaders were paid more per month that the average merc and the corrupt leaders were seen as, well, corrupt. The Turks are having a hard time dealing with this problem.

In the last year the demand for Syrian Arab mercenaries has been enormous and the Turks soon ran out of reliable sources. In response the Turks approached less-secular or reliable Syrian militias and hired them, usually as a group. The militia leaders insisted that the Turks deal with the leaders most of the time and have minimal contact with the militiamen. These militia leaders did not trust the Turks and the Turks had to accept that if they wanted to make their recruiting goals. The Turks have hired over 30,000 Syrian Arabs as mercenaries so far, most of them for operations in Syria as well as Libya and, in late 2020, Azerbaijan. The mercs demanded short-term contracts, especially for work outside of Syria. That meant the Turks needed a lot more mercs on the payroll than the number actually at the front lines. That’s because some were being processed into Turkish service, a process that verified the combat skills of each merch and provided additional training if needed.

To make the merc shortage worse, the Russians began hiring them as well, most for service in Syria but at least 2,000 for use in Libya. The Russians had an edge in recruiting the best and most reliable Syrian Arabs because the Turks were detested as an old nemesis once more invading Arab territory. The Russians were seen as true allies because the Russians did not want to control any territory, just rent a few bases and sell military equipment to Arabs. The Russians had been doing this in Syria for over half a century. In contrast the Turks had occupied and ruled most Arab territory for centuries, and were often quite brutal about it. That imperial rule only a century ago and is still remembered. The Russian offer the same pay as the Turks, but not the incentive of a residency permit in Turkey. The Iranians are also hiring again, but they, like the Turks, are seen as foreign invaders and don’t get the most reliable recruits.

January 1, 2021: The UN announced that it was hiring ceasefire monitors to record violations of the October 23 ceasefire agreement. The main items in that agreement were;

The withdrawal of all forces from fighting fronts

The withdrawal of all foreign mercenaries and forces from Libya within 90 days from 23 October

The suspension of all training of troops domestically and abroad

The suspension of all international defense agreements

The formation of a Joint Operations Room for a joint police and military force

The identification and categorization of all militias and a mechanism for their reintegration (DDR).

Confidence-building measures by resuming travel between west and east Libya

Ending hate speech

Exchanging prisoners

Reorganizing the Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG)

Monitoring of the ceasefire

Referring the agreement to the UN Security Council to adopt in a Resolution.

A crucial provision of the ceasefire was that foreign troops would leave. The Turks refuse to do so and the LNAs Russian and Arab troops won’t leave until the Turks do. To date none of the ceasefire terms have been fully met although some progress has been made on a few of the less important items. The biggest problem is that none of the ceasefire participants is willing to meet the January 23rd deadline for foreign troops leaving the country.

Even progress on something as basic as removing mines from the vital coast road has been impossible to achieve. Neighboring Arab nations are using what influence they have with the LNA and GNA to try and work out a useful peace deal. So far, the main obstacle is the Turks.

December 30, 2020: The Finance Ministry announced that they had obtained the cash needed to pay over 62,000 civil servants. This money covered what was owed for December. Cash has been hard to come by because the LNA still controls most of the oil production and shipping facilities only recently allowed oil exports to resume. There are also disputes between the GNA and HoR governments over who gets what from the oil income.

December 26, 2020: The Turkish Defense Minister flew into Tripoli for an official visit. The Turkish official called the LNA commander a criminal and a thug and threatened to go after LNA forces throughout Libya if the LNA attacked Turkish forces. To most Libyans they were the same old Turkish imperialism and disdain for Libyan patriots.

December 24, 2020: Khalifa Hiftar, the commander of the LNA said force would be used, if necessary, to remove the Turkish invaders and colonists. The Turks later responded that they would defeat any efforts to force them out of Libya.

December 22, 2020: In Turkey the parliament approved an 18-month extension of Turkish military forces in Libya. In response Egypt said it will continue its policy of not intervening militarily.

December 20, 2020: The GNA and Turkey announced a six-week program in which Turkish trainers would turn GNA loyalists into sailors able to handle coastal patrol ships the Turks were providing. This would give the GNA a navy to challenge the one already in use by the HoR. The Turks are also training a police force for Tripoli, a move that is not popular with many of the Tripoli militias because many of those militias survive or thrive via illegal activities and some of the pro-GNA Tripoli militias are led by men who are accurately described as warlords. There is a similar situation in the other GNA controlled city, Misrata, to the east.

December 18, 2020: Russia is returning to its oil and gas production and exploration projects after a decade-long suspension of operations because of the fighting. The return was negotiated with the Libyan NOC (National Oil Corporation0, which cooperates with the GNA and HoR governments so NOC can produce and sell oil, which is the mainstay of the national budget and economy.

December 2, 2020: In Morocco the GNA and HoR are holding another round of UN-sponsored negotiations. This follows November 1 talks in Ghadames (465 kilometers south of Tripoli, where the Tunisian, Algerian and Libyan borders meet), October 23 talks in Switzerland and October 11 in Egypt. The October 23 discussions produced a permanent ceasefire and agreement to continue negotiations on a regular basis. The November meeting was the first time these talks were held in Libya. That previous two rounds of negotiations were outside of Libya. At the Morocco meeting it was agreed that the new parliament would be based in Benghazi, rather that Tripoli, the traditional capital. The problem with Tripoli is that it is still dominated, and often threatened by the many independent militias that often do what they want, not what any government wants them to do.

The Morocco conference still has several unresolved issues to deal with, including the continued presence of Turkish troops. The UN-backed GNA (in Tripoli), is unwilling or unable to get the Turkish force to leave.

November 30, 2020: The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency criticized the UAE (United Arab Emirates) for providing air and logistics support for Russian military contractors in Libya. The UAE and Russia have been supporting the LNA for years and have long cooperated in that effort. It is unclear why the U.S. government would now make an issue of that support.

November 29, 2020: There are still problems with the NOC (National Oil Company), Central Bank and the UN over how to operate all these facilities and spend the oil income. Currently the NOC is refusing to turn over any oil revenue to the Central Bank until the bank installs an accounting system that is transparent and clearly specifies who gets the money and how the money is spent. There have been a growing number of complaints about corruption in the Central Bank, often in cooperation with GNA officials. In 2019 the HoR government complained that the GNA had sought, with some success, to deprive the LNA of much oil income it was entitled to. This was taking place at the time when the LNA that had upgraded oil facility security to the point where full production could be achieved. The GNA had never been able to do that. Even with full and sustained oil production there were also continuing problems with corruption in how oil income was spent. One thing the NOC and LNA can agree on is that the longer the fighting goes on the more risk is of oil production being disrupted once more. That could easily happen because NOC points out that at least $100 million must be spent, as soon as possible, to deal with long-delayed maintenance and repairs. Paying for that is easy but maintaining sufficient security for the equipment and additional tech personnel to get to the oil facilities is another matter.

While the Central Bank has a history of corruption and mismanagement, the same cannot be said about NOC. Because the Libyan oil facilities are managed by foreign contractors and regularly deal with foreign banks and financial regulators, NOC is probably the most competent and corruption-free government agency in Libya. The foreign oil companies and suppliers will not do business with Libya unless there is sufficient financial and physical security for their operations.

After 2012 oil facilities throughout Libya attracted local militias who demanded jobs as guards or simply cash to keep the facilities unharmed. In many cases there were two or more rival militias in play. The LNA sorted a lot of these situations out but the tensions between rival militias remain and occasionally get violent. The LNA has non-militia forces available as well as officers who can negotiate settlements. By 2019 the LNA had established reliable security for all oil facilities. In the last month o il production has risen from 800,000 to 1.2 million BPD (barrels per day). In August the LNA ordered preparations for oil exports to resume and that happened more rapidly than expected. At that time the NOC planned to have that up to a million BPD by the end of 2020 and 1.3 million BPD in early 2021 and 1.6 million by the end of 2021. Now the 2021 forecast is for two million BPD. The production level before the 2011 civil war began was 1.6 million BPD. Oil exports began in late October, despite threats from some militias near ports who threatened to shut that down if the militias did not receive more money for protecting the ports from other militias. The LNA was able to quickly deal with these threats.

The key oil ports include Ras Lanuf (620 kilometers east of Tripoli) and Es Sider/Sidra (20-30 kilometers further east). In normal times Es Sider and Ras Lanuf can ship 600,000 barrels a day. Nearby is the oil port of Zueitina (220 kilometers west of Ras Lanuf and 180 kilometers southwest of Benghazi). In between Ras Lanuf and Zueitina is the oil port at Brega. Ras Lanuf , Zueitina and Brega can export 800,000 BPD. Max Libyan production is believed to be about two million BPD and NOC sees achieving that as possible if the ceasefire holds and the remaining unruly militias are brought under control. Another obstacle to two million BPD is OPEC quotas. These will apply to Libya once production hits 1.7 million BPD. Libya may be able to get a temporary exemption because of the need to make much-delayed (since 2011) maintenance, repairs and upgrades.

The ceasefire agreement specified that the LNA controlled oil facilities would resume operation and oil revenue sent to bank accounts outside Libya that are monitored by foreign auditing firms. This auditing arrangement is part of anti-corruption effort to ensure that most of the oil revenue goes to purchase essential items for all Libyans. Most Libyans are dependent on oil income to avoid abject poverty. Currently the Libyan economy is not developed sufficiently to provide a comfortable standard-of-living for all six million Libyans, especially the five million still living in Libya. World oil prices are very low now ($40-$50 per barrel) because of the covid19 recession and a worldwide oversupply of oil and natural gas. Back in 2011 oil went for over a hundred dollars a barrel.

November 27, 2020: Itamilradar, an Italy based website that uses data on the movement on military air craft in Italy and the Mediterranean, shows regular military cargo military aircraft flights between Turkey and Misrata airport, east of Tripoli. Turkey says this in support of a new military training center Turkey has set up in Misrata to train GNA forces. These cargo flights increased after an EU naval blockade of Libya turned back a Turkish cargo ship and searched it for any military equipment. Turkey complained and made threats and that prevented the EU boarding party from doing a thorough search of the cargo ship. The EU warships remained on duty to block any arms shipments by sea but the EU has to decide how much Turkish bullying they will put up with. It was later revealed that the Turkish cargo ship had been seen (via satellite photos) unloading armored vehicles in a Libyan port during an earlier visit. This particular ship has been making regular trips to Libya since the Turkish invasion of early 2020. It was later confirmed that Turkish air transports made at least 170 visits to Libya during 2020.

November 25, 2020: The U.S. imposed sanctions on the leaders of the Kaniyat militia for recent atrocities committed i n Tarhuna (60 kilometers southeast of the capital Tripoli). Currently the Kaniyat militia is working for the LNA. In early 2019 the Kaniyat leaders agreed to join the LNA as the 9th infantry brigade. Before that the Kaniyat militia pledged allegiance to the GNA. The Kaniyat were from the town of Tarhuna and were the major anti-Kaddafi group during the 2011 uprising that overthrew and killed Kaddafi. Bu 2018 Kaniyat was angry at the GNA for the corruption and bad behavior in general. At that point Kaniyat allied with like-minded militias in Misrata and other pro-GNA towns and cities and demanded reforms. Those demands were still unmet and under negotiation when the LNA showed up near Tarhuna and offered an alliance with Kaniyat, which was a common and successful tactic of the LNA. At that point LNA controlled most of Libya and was on its way to take Tripoli and depose the GNA once and for all. Kaniyat agreed with that but by mid-2020 the Turks had entered the war as supporters of the GNA and were attacking Tarhuna. The Kaniyat deny the atrocity charges and insist that the hundreds of dead bodies unearthed after the Turks retook Tarhuna had died either when Kaniyat was still working for the GNA or during the fighting with the Turks in 2020.

November 23, 2020: In Tripoli a local militia attacked and sought to seize control of the NOC (National Oil Company) headquarters. The NOC security force repulsed this attempt. Militias blame NOC for delaying promised payments. NOC is withholding oil revenue because the Central Bank will not reveal where all the money goes to and for what. Despite the presence of over 10,000 Syrian mercenaries brought in by the Turks, the militias that dominate GNA territory (mainly the cities of Tripoli and Misrata) are still a menace to public safety and the only solution the Turks can come up with is to begin training a force of professional troops that the GNA can depend on for providing security in general and protection from militia demands. Creating the new security force will take six months or more and the training process only began in November. It is unclear how large this “reliable” force will be and when it will be ready for action.

The Turk mercenaries are preparing to resume fighting the LNA and the LNA is also making preparations, while also maintaining security in most of the country. The fighting between the Turks and LNA earlier in the year was a lot more costly for the Turks than expected. While he fighting was going on the Turks had to pay the Syrian (and some Tunisian) mercenaries $2,000 a month. Hundreds of these men were killed or badly wounded. As the fighting intensified many mercenaries found that they could desert and pay the local smugglers to get them into Europe. The Turks welcomed the August ceasefire because of these problems with their mercenaries. Since August the monthly pay for the mercenaries had been lowered to $600 and measures taken to reduce the desertion.

The Turks are professionals and are not looking forward to a resumption of the fighting. The LNA knows what they are up against and their main foreign allies (Russia, UAE and Egypt) have been helping with preparations to deal with the Turks if there is more fighting.

November 2, 2020: In neighboring Algeria a new constitution was approved. The new rules allow the president to order troops to serve in operations outside Algeria. Many Algerians want troops sent into Libya, at least to provide better border security along the thousand-kilometer-long Libyan border. Other Algerians fear that sending any troops across the border might lead to an escalation that would draw Algeria into the Libyan civil war. The new rules will most likely allow the army to participate in peacekeeping missions. Army leaders opposed that, especially since that could mean getting involved in the Libyan Civil War. Since independence from France in 1962, Algerian law has banned use of the army outside Algeria. Since 1962 every new long-term (more than a year or two) president, and there have only been five, changes to the constitution were attempted, usually to make the presidency more powerful. This time around the president got more power and the ability to order Algerian troops to operate outside Algeria.

 

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