Libya: Deploying The Poverty Weapon

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October 22, 2014: The Tobruk government announced that its forces had driven Islamic terrorist groups out of Benghazi. While that is true, most of these groups retreated in an orderly fashion taking many weapons and supplies with them. Now the government forces (mainly the army and the Hiftar coalition) must pursue the retreating Islamic terrorists to towns and smaller cities where some of these groups already have some presence. At the same time the government said it was gathering forces to retake Tripoli. That probably means a coalition of pro-government militias in the west. The army and Hiftar forces are all tied up chasing down Islamic terrorists in the east.

While the fighting in Benghazi got most of the headlines over the last month hostilities continued on the outskirts of Tripoli and these militias are apparently the ones the government expects to retake Tripoli. The fighting in Benghazi had died down by the 21st after three weeks of increasingly intense fighting that caused over a thousand casualties (and more than several hundred dead). The government used its artillery and air power to good effect and that made it difficult for the Islamic terrorist militias to mass men to take ground. That’s why several major efforts to take the Benghazi airport failed. This use of firepower drove out the Islamic terrorists but also caused extensive damage to buildings and led to over 100,000 civilians fleeing Benghazi and Tripoli (where there was less artillery and air attacks). In Benghazi it got so bad that senior leaders of the Islamic terrorist militias had to show up at the front lines to rally their gunmen, many of whom were quietly slipping away and going home. This led to several of these senior leaders getting killed.

While Libya has come apart as a nation in the political sense, the Tripoli and Tobruk governments have agreed to not interfere with oil operations. The understanding here is that the oil income, which the Tobruk government largely controls, buys essentials (like food) that will continue to be distributed to all Libyans. So far that seems to be working. This is what always mattered most because the oil money pays for everything. The cash from oil sales is going into the Central Bank, which tends to answer to the Tobruk parliament because that is the one with international recognition and that provides access to the international banking system. The various factions are pressuring the Central Bank and courts to favor them but it is the international community that controls the ability of Libya to buy essential (most of the food and everything else) needed to keep Libyans alive recognizes the Tobruck officials. That internationally recognized government set up shop in the small port city of Tobruk (1,600 kilometers east of Tripoli) after encountering hostility from militias loyal to the pre-June government. Many other government offices moved as well and are finding space where they can. The rebel governments in Tripoli and the Tobruk are fighting over who controls more than $100 billion held by the Central Bank. A lot of that cash is overseas and since Tobruk has international and UN support the Tripoli rebels are having a hard time maintaining control of any oil income. If the Tripoli government tries to sell oil on the black market they will have most of the world going after them with bank account shutdowns and seizure of the tankers they use (either in port or on the high seas). In the end, it’s the oil money that will bring peace, or abject poverty for all. The government is running out of cash and credit. Another year or two of this and life gets very miserable for Libyans.

Egypt is hosting a three day conference of Libyan tribal leaders in Cairo. The meeting includes tribal chiefs from all over Libya. While often at odds with each other, all the tribes suffer if the country descends into anarchy and the oil money stops. If that happens the tribes starve and lose much else besides. It’s not just religious extremism that divides Libyans, it’s also tribalism. The tribe angle is even more important than religion but is often mixed up with religious attitudes and the charisma of a local leader to keep the divisions fresh and violent. Most of the tribes oppose the Islamic terrorist groups but getting them to cooperate in opposing the Islamic terrorists has been difficult. It was a major chore just getting so many tribal chiefs to come to Cairo and discuss the matter. Meanwhile Egypt keeps denying that its warplanes were responsible for another several air strikes in Benghazi. So far there have not been any compelling cell phone photos or videos to back up the eyewitness reports. Egypt is very eager to have peace in Libya, if only to avoid having an Islamic terrorist sanctuary as a neighbor. Most of the armed men guarding the border are on the Egyptian side. The Libyans have thousands of armed men assigned to border security but these personnel are poorly trained, led and equipped. Smugglers have more to worry about once they get on the other side of the Libyan border.

The Mali peacekeeping force, composed of 11,000 French and (mainly) African troops has been suffering more casualties in the last month as Islamic terrorists from Mali settle into bases in southern Libya and are now regularly moving south to carry out operations in northern Mali. All this is possible because of the Libya n civil war . That is mainly up north along the coast and no one bothers with Islamic terrorists who only kill across the border in Mali. There is a similar problem in Afghanistan with Islamic terrorists operations from several sanctuary areas in neighboring Pakistan and Iran.

October 19, 2014:  The internationally recognized government in Tobruk has openly allied itself with general Hiftar, who has always declared his support for a government.

October 12, 2014: Egypt warned its citizens, especially the many truck drivers operating in Libya, to not venture beyond Tobruk because of the risk of being kidnapped or robbed by Islamic terrorist rebels.

October 10, 2014: In an effort to halt the attacks on them, the Ansar al Sharia Islamic terrorist militia (the largest in the city) in Benghazi declared that they had no intention of spreading their rule beyond Benghazi. This pledge did not work and the army, tribal and Hiftar forces kept attacking.

October 9, 2014: In neighboring Niger French troops, in cooperation with local forces, intercepted and destroyed an AQIM ( Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) convoy carrying weapons and ammunition from Libya to Mali. Some of the Islamic terrorists involved were captured.

October 5, 2014: In the eastern city of Derna an Islamic terrorist group (Shura Council of Islamic Youth) declared their support for ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). This is good news for the government because any ISIL affiliated Islamic terrorist militias will now suffer more international pressure as well as the need to attack other Islamic terrorist groups that have not declared for ISIL.

October 4, 2014: A British school teacher who was kidnapped in May was released after payment of a ransom. This is discouraged because it encourages more kidnappings of foreigners. In the last few months most foreigners from Western countries that pay ransoms have fled the country. 

 

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