The three week offensive by rebel leader Khalifa Hiftar continues. In the capital pro and anti Hiftar mobs clashed while armed Hiftar supporters in Benghazi continued fighting Islamic terrorists groups that support the existing government. Hiftar is trying to get organized all the militias and armed forces units that have joined his cause. Unified command is one big advantage he has over the many Islamic and tribal militias that oppose unity and peace. Hiftar is representing the majority of Libyans who want peace and prosperity, not endless bickering and lack of national unity.
In Benghazi the Islamic terrorist militias have lost control of the streets and are on the defensive. Much of the city is again a war zone because for all their faults the Islamic terrorist groups imposed a form of law (Islamic law) and order (the Islamic terrorist gunmen were less likely to rob, rape and generally misbehave) in the neighborhoods they controlled. A major challenge for the pro-Hiftar groups is to restore order, which is one thing all Libyans can agree on.
The most important goal is control of the oil facilities, the central bank and the network of government offices that pay government employees and import goods for distribution to most Libyans. While not all Libyans support Hiftar, most do support restoration of the Kaddafi era welfare system and the oil revenues that pay for it. This was an efficient way to distribute most of the oil income so that most Libyans benefitted from it. Most Libyans became dependent on these benefits and are angry at anyone who is harming this system. The Islamic terrorist militias sense they are facing a real threat because of the widespread hostility they now face. The Islamic terrorists are quickly making alliances with each other. Before this most Islamic terrorist groups were feuding with one other. One of the things that annoys most Libyans is the lack of unity among the Islamic terrorist groups, each of whom considers themselves the anointed (by God) leader of an Islamic renaissance. This is a common pattern and the resulting feuds and outright wars between Islamic terrorist factions is a major reason why these groups rarely achieve much success.
One motivation for Hiftar was the growing strength of Islamic terrorist groups in politics. For three years the Islamic conservatives, radicals and terrorists were well enough organized to prevent the parliament (the GNC or General National Congress) from creating a new government that controlled the entire country. Increasingly Islamic radicals were intimidating secular or moderate Islamic politicians into either being silent to supporting the establishment of an Islamic state (in effect, a religious dictatorship). The big problem with that is that Kaddafi always pretended that his decades’ long dictatorship was an Islamic state. Libyans don’t want another Kaddafi. The Islamic politicians were a minority in the GNC but very active and disruptive. The Islamic politicians persuaded the parliament to hold new elections on June 25th. Hiftar wants to eliminate the power of Islamic terrorist groups to rig elections before another national election is held. Thus the June 25th elections will probably not take place. Meanwhile since May 18th Islamic terrorist militiamen have prevented parliament from meeting.
The GNC was originally formed in mid-2012 to create a new constitution for the country to vote on and rule until that was done. At the end of 2013 the deadlocked GNC extended its power for another year. This was seen by many Libyans as an illegal act. The GNC pointed out that separatist activity in the east prevented any national vote and that had to be dealt with before a constitution could be completed and approved. This was an impossible situation for the GNC and the Islamic radicals were hoping to take advantage of it. The various factions in the GNC could not agree on much, although there was a consensus that the new constitution would use Islamic (Sharia) law. This was an effort to placate the many Islamic conservative groups. This made local Christians (native Copts, who have been Christian and present for 2,000 years and are five percent of the population) nervous. The GNC, now that it has been persuaded to be more Islamic, is now being defended by Islamic radical and terrorist militias and some tribal and more secular groups. The GNC also has the support of most Islamic radical groups, the largest of which is Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi. This group was responsible for the 2012 attack that killed the American ambassador. Many of the militias in Misrata (east of Tripoli) militias support GNC, but many back Hiftar or are neutral. Because the GNC has been hijacked by the Islamic radicals Hiftar sees it as illegitimate. Even the Islamic terrorists don’t trust the parliament/GNC. In short, there is no government, just chaos.
In the capital the parliament, the politicians sense that Hiftar wants to force new elections that would be free of meddling by Islamic terrorist militias and this would cost most members of parliament their jobs. To get around this parliament is trying to force the acceptance of a new prime minister who would openly back the Islamic terrorist militias. Many members of parliament are “Islamic” to one degree or another and the prospect of losing their jobs has caused many of them to back the minority of pro-Islamic terrorist members offering to back a new prime minister (Ahmed Maiteg) who would be able to mobilize some government forces and most Islamic terrorist groups against the upstart Hiftar rebels. However the April 28 vote to make Maiteg prime minister succeeded in part because of threats against Maiteg opponents. This was accompanied by armed Islamic terrorist militiamen prominently moving around the parliament compound. Many members of parliament insist this vote for Maetig was rigged and invalid.
The basic problem here is that most Libyans are fed up with all the Islamic terrorist and tribal militias who are out for themselves and don’t really care what happens to the country as a whole. General Hiftar promises to change all that and has a growing number of armed supporters to help him impose law and order and unity on the country.
Hiftar called for the formation of a Presidential Council to take over from the pro-Islamic parliament and organize new elections. The current interim prime minister refuses to accept the authority of the new prime minister (Maiteg) parliament has selected and called on the courts to decide which prime minister actually was in control. The court said it would make a ruling by June 9th. Neither side is likely to accept whatever the ruling is and the pro-Islamic groups are growing despondent and desperate. Pro-Hiftar forces continue to gain control of more and more of the country. Many senior government officials are openly backing Hiftar. That can be dangerous. Assassination is a popular weapon for Islamic terrorists and they are using it against pro-Hiftar officials and militia leader with increasing frequency.
Hiftar supporters in Benghazi have discovered a Sudanese operation to supply some Islamic terrorist groups in the city with weapons and ammo. Sudanese transports secretly flew the stuff into Benghazi airport. The staff at the airport were bribed or intimidated into keeping quiet about the operation. Some Sudanese officials also flew in to meet with Islamic terrorist militia leaders.
June 6, 2014: The head of the Central Bank reported that the government had lost $30 billion because of ten months of interference with oil exports. Oil exports are still largely blocked by local militias demanding special favors before they will let the oil flow. Currently only about 200,000 barrels a day are being exported. The government still has about $1oo billion left but there is little credit because foreign suppliers and lenders take a dim view of the ability of the current government to turn things around. Government banking officials insist that the remaining $100 billion can be made to last for at least two years. What the government does not like to dwell on is that to make existing cash reserves last spending will have to be sharply reduced. Already Libyans are seeing more and more cutbacks in government spending. Most Libyans depend on the government for jobs, food and other essentials. Without oil income the government cannot deliver. About two thirds of the $53 billion annual government budget is for salaries and benefits. A growing number of government workers are having their pay or benefits delayed so that more essential issues (like food imports) can be attended to. The government reserves are not all cash and it takes time to convert some of those assets into cash. The government is also warning people that a lot of Kaddafi era subsidies will have to go in order to keep the economy going. Such a move would be very unpopular. Kaddafi provided a lot of stuff at very low prices. Like loaves of bread for a few pennies. Fuel and electricity was also sold far below cost as were airline, bus and train tickets. Another problem is the many people who collect a government paycheck who don’t do any work, or even show up for work. Changing all these bad habits is very difficult. The greed, Islamic terrorism and sense of entitlement that is so widespread in Libya also means that foreign investors are not interested because Libyans make inefficient and troublesome employees. Libya is no place to create wealth but it is an ideal place to squander it. The basic problem is that Libyans have proved unable to agree on how to handle their oil wealth. The tribes living where the oil comes from want a larger share. Actually, everyone wants more, for one reason or another. In the last year various local militias near the oil fields and export terminals have seized these facilities halted most (over 70 percent by the end of 2013 and over 85 percent now) oil exports. All this was largely unexpected because at the start of 2013 oil production was at 1.4 million barrels a day and nearly back to normal. Then greed got the best of many factions who decided their loyalties were more to themselves than to Libya as a whole. It’s been downhill since then. Before the 2011 revolution oil accounted for over 90 percent of government revenue and over 70 percent of GDP. With over $30 billion in oil revenue lost so far, eventually there will be no way to pay for essential imports, like food. These shortages have become more widespread and severe and that is driving many people to either back the government or use more desperate measures to grab whatever they can.
June 5, 2014: The Red Cross is suspending operations in Libya because of the recent killing of a Swiss Red Cross official in the coastal city of Sirte. The victim was in a vehicle clearly marked as Red Cross but the gunmen opened fire anyway.
In the capital the head of intelligence resigned, saying he could not function as long as the Islamic radicals controlling Parliament feuded with the non-Islamic prime minister.
June 4, 2014: Outside Benghazi a suicide car bomb exploded near a placed where rebel leader Khalifa Hiftar was meeting with some commanders. Three of his security guards were killed and he was slightly injured by some flying debris.
Earlier in the day a Red Cross official was shot dead in the coastal city of Sirte.
June 3, 2014: On the Egyptian border the crossing at Saloum was partially reopened. The crossing was closed 13 days ago because of the Hiftar offensive.
In the capital the newly selected (by a pro-Islamic parliament) prime minister (Ahmed Maiteg) seized some government offices with the help of an Islamic terrorist militia.
June 2, 2014: Abdulaslam Jadallah Obeidi, the pro-Hiftar commander of the Libyan Army survived an assassination attempt outside the capital. Obeidi has been head of the army for 11 months and has been frustrated by the bickering and indecisiveness in parliament and growing support for Islamic terrorist militias among the politicians. Obeidi went over to Hiftar soon after the pro-Hiftar forces began fighting on May 16th. The Libyan Army has been rebuilding since the Kaddafi era army was destroyed in 2011. That new army is now split and many units demoralized by the appearance of the Hiftar rebels and the defection to the rebels of many of their leaders and elite units.
June 1, 2014: T
he North African al Qaeda organization (
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM) has come out against the Hiftar rebels and called on all Libyans to oppose Hiftar. This announcement simply confirms the belief most Libyans now hold about Islamic terrorist groups trying to take control of Libya. Most Libyans support Hiftar.
On the Egyptian border six Egyptian border guards were killed when they intercepted some armed and quite aggressive Libyan smugglers. Egyptian police believe this was a deliberate attack by a large smuggling gang upset about several recent border police actions against smuggler convoys trying to get into Egypt. Bribes don’t work as well as they used to because the smugglers are often bringing in weapons which are sold to gangs and Islamic terrorists who are fighting the security forces on a regular basis.
May 30, 2014: Algeria sent more troops to guard the borders with Libya, Mali and Tunisia. These three countries have seen an increase in unrest or Islamic terrorist activity recently and it is feared that this will send more Islamic terrorists fleeing to Algeria for sanctuary. As inhospitable as Algeria is for Islamic terrorists the situations in Libya, Mali and Tunisia are becoming even more unpleasant. Algeria has always had problems with its land borders, which are 6,343 kilometers long and include frontiers with seven countries. Moreover most of these borderlands are in the thinly occupied desert. Before aircraft were invented it was impossible to secure these borders. But even with aircraft a tightly sealed border remains impossible. Libya, Mali and Tunisia comprise 52 percent of Algeria’s borders and the 1.376 kilometer long Mali border is particularly troublesome since it is all desert and very popular with smugglers and other outlaws from the regions to the south. The smugglers, not the Islamic terrorists crossing borders are becoming a major problem. The smugglers tend to move a lot of counterfeit stuff, to the point that nearly a third of the goods offered for sale in Algeria are counterfeits. Most of these come from East Asia (mainly China) as well as a number of Arab countries. These counterfeits are often defective and, in the cases of food, medicine and spare parts for vehicles or machinery, downright dangerous. The governments of all North African countries have been ineffective at dealing with the counterfeits, in part because a lot of officials at the ports and major border crossings take bribes to allow in large shipments of counterfeit goods.
May 29, 2014: The Chad government complained that ten of its citizens, travelling from Tripoli to Chad were shot dead by men in military uniforms near the Chad border.
May 28, 2014: The U.S. has moved an amphibious task force, containing a helicopter carrier and a thousand marines, off the Libyan coast. This is to help in the evacuation of Americans and other foreigners if the situation ashore gets a lot worse.
May 27, 2014: Gunmen fired on the home of the new pro-Islamic terrorist prime minister Maiteg.
May 26, 2014: In Benghazi a prominent anti-Islamic terrorist journalist was shot dead. He had appeared on TV the day before criticizing the misbehavior of Islamic terrorist militias.
May 25, 2014: Militia leaders occupying oil facilities in eastern Libya said they would not recognize the new pro-Islamic terrorist prime minister Maiteg. These militia leaders recently made deals with the previous (or, according to some, the current) prime minister to end their blockade of oil exports and did not trust Maiteg to carry out those agreements.
May 24, 2014: Across the border in Tunisia the government says it detected and foiled a plot by Islamic terrorists from Libya and Algeria to attack tourist and industrial sites in Tunisia.