Libya: Seeking Meaningful Discussion And A Group Hug

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December 22, 2014: Near the coastal city of Sirte (500 kilometers east of Tripoli and midway between Tripoli and Benghazi) militias from Tripoli have been trying to take two oil export ports (Ras Lanuf and Es Sider) since December 13th. Within a few days the invaders were a few kilometers from the oil ports but were stopped by defenders supported by artillery and air strikes. The attackers have refrained from using artillery or rocket launchers to damage these ports. Troops and militias loyal to the Tobruk government have so far kept the ports safe. The two export ports can ship 300,000 barrels a day but have been closed for a week and will remain shut down until the Tripoli force is defeated. The Tripoli government is backed by Islamic terrorist militias and is not recognized by the UN while the Tobruk government is. The Tripoli group apparently wants to take control of oil resources and thus have something to bargain with. Tripoli represents the minority of Libyans who want a religious dictatorship. The opposition, which won the last election (in June) have the backing of the international community but must win a civil war to really run the country. The oil is essential as is control over Libyan financial assets. Thus the rival governments in Tripoli and the Tobruk are also fighting over who controls more than $100 billion held (but rapidly dwindling) 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 gaining 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. In the first eleven months of 2014 the government received only $15 billion (almost all of it from oil sales) versus $45 billion for the same period last year. The major problem here was the sharp drop in the sales price of oil (from $110 a barrel to $55) since 2013. Another year or two of this and life gets very miserable for Libyans. The UN speaks of Libya of sliding into a state of anarchy. No one is willing to intervene militarily. The Tripoli government is controlled by people who will not accept defeat and are willing to destroy the oil facilities to deny the Tobruk government victory. Some Tripoli leaders believe this threat may coerce the Tobruk government and their international supporters to support a compromise that will give the Islamic radicals more power than their numbers justify. That angers most Libyans who do not want to live in a country that, in effect, is forced to pay a portion of their national income to a bunch of terrorists. This could end very badly.

The Tripoli government has support from Turkey, Sudan and Qatar while the Tobruk government has most of the world recognizing it, along with most of the Islamic world. Turkey is under growing international pressure to support the Tobruk government and has so far responded by accusing its foreign critics of conspiring against Turkey. Turkey is also facing pressure from Egypt and most of the Arab oil states. Meanwhile no one is willing to intervene. While Egypt has proclaimed that it will not intervene militarily it is apparently providing substantial, and secret, support to the pro-Tobruk Hiftar coalition. This comes in the form of air support, weapons and other military supplies and even some Egyptian special operations troops. A major concern of the Egyptians is the movement of weapons and Islamic terrorists into Egypt and there are a lot more Egyptian troops and police on the Libyan border since the June elections. What the Egyptians need is pro-Egypt forces controlling the Libyan side of the frontier. Thus the support for the Hiftar forces, which arose in Eastern Libya as a coalition of Libyan Army units, tribal militias and anti-Islamic terrorist groups. General Hiftar and his coalition of tribal militias and army units is now officially part of the Tobruk government armed forces but still operates independently because the Tobruk is short of military experts and specialists capable of managing a military campaign. So is the Tripoli government and resulting lack of coordination among their armed components is another advantage the Tobruk government has.

The United States and the UN are trying to persuade Egypt, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Qatar to drop their support for more secular (and non-terrorist) pro-Tobruk factions fighting in Libya. The UN is sponsoring peace talks in Libya but Egypt sees this as futile and counterproductive because the Islamic terrorist factions really have no interest in compromising. Nevertheless Algeria and most Western nations (especially the EU) see a negotiated settlement as the best way to deal with the Libya civil war. The Tobruk government is going along with this, mainly because they cannot afford to annoy the UN. The Tripoli government is less eager to negotiate, in part because some of their factions are hard core Islamic terrorists and not inclined to compromise.

The countries who are most concerned about the chaos in Libya are the African ones to the south (the semi-desert Sahel region). They are threatened by Islamic terrorists groups who have been free to establish bases and training camps in southern Libya. From there Islamic terrorists move men and material in and out of neighboring countries. While Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt have large and effective security forces to deal with this, the African nations to the south (especially Mali, Niger and Chad) are much less well equipped to handle the Islamic terrorists coming in from Libya. In response France and the U.S. have sent several thousand troops and lots of cash to the endangered African nations, but this does not stop the invasion of Libya based Islamic terrorists, it simply helps to limit the damage they do. Meanwhile Islamic terrorist supported and protected smugglers move cocaine (flown into West Africa from South America) and other drugs into Libya and eventually to Europe while weapons (at least 20,000 assault rifles, machine-guns, RPG launchers, mortars) stolen from Kaddafi era warehouses have gone south so far and more continue doing so.

The international recognition and anti-Islamic terrorist attitude of the Tobruk government appeals to most Libyans. Unfortunately many Libyans, especially the tribes in the south (where the oil is) want autonomy as well as more of the oil money. At the moment the various tribes rule the south and deals have to be made with each of them to keep oil operations going. Along the coast the Islamic terrorist groups have often made deals with local militias that are more interested in local autonomy than religious fanaticism. The problem with Libya is that most residents consider themselves Libyans but too many of them are not willing to cooperate to make the country work. More and more Libyans are realizing and accepting the fact that compromise and cooperation is necessary for all to prosper (or even survive) but widespread acceptance of this reality is happening very slowly. Most Libyans are fed up with the continuing violence. The 2011 rebellion against Kadaffi left over 30,000 dead but the infighting since then has killed nearly as many. Most major factions agree on peace but Islamic terrorist groups in Tripoli and Benghazi, aided by tribal factions that want more power and money, continue to fight.

Fighting continues in Benghazi with Hiftar forces continuing to slowly push Islamic terrorist groups out of the city. Some Islamic terrorist groups are fighting to the death in the few Benghazi neighborhoods they still hold, including areas near the port. This has forced aid shipments to unload at the port of Tobruk until the one in Benghazi is safe again. Over 500 have died and more than 2,000 wounded in three months of fighting.

Tobruk government forces continue to advance to the west along the coast and expand their control in the interior. Many tribal militias and nearly all army units are willing to work with Hiftar, who is a military professional and realizes that by keeping casualties low among his own forces he maintains an edge in morale and overall effectiveness. So during the last week or two casualties in Benghazi have been low (10-20 a day). The opposition continues to suffer heavy desertions and lack of coordination, which the Hiftar forces take advantage of. This reduction in Islamic terrorist presence in Benghazi led to the reopening of police stations and government offices in Benghazi over the last two weeks. As the Hiftar forces clear a neighborhood and people move back in one of the first things done is to establish a self-defense force (if only to call for armed help) and a police presence. The Tobruk forces, in part because of their UN recognition, work more closely and effectively with foreign aid organizations.

While Tripoli forces are attacking oil facilities in the east, Tobruk forces, controlled by general Hiftar, have seized portions of the Tunisian border including the key crossing at Ras Ajdir.

Not only is Libya losing oil income it is losing the people who can use it most efficiently. For example India has gotten some 3,000 of its citizens out of Libya so far. This is important because many of those Indians are highly trained medical and other technical personnel. S o far over 200,000 foreign workers, who do a lot of the technical work and some of the harshest manual jobs have left. After 2011 it was difficult to restore government services and the economy because of corruption and a shortage of skilled foreign workers. Like all oil-rich Arab states, Libya depended on skilled foreigners for key technical jobs  and unskilled foreigners for the dirty jobs no Libyan wanted to do (garbage collection and hard labor in general). Countries are unwilling to allow their citizens to return until the Libyans can assure the safety of the foreign workers. Some foreign workers returned after 2012 relying for safety on the assurances of the company or local government they are working for. That changed this year when the civil war broke out in August.  Plans to change Kaddafi-era banking and business laws to allow foreign companies to invest in and set up operations in Libya are also on hold. At the moment, foreign companies have to make deals with local militias and keep lots of cash handy for bribes and "security" thus there is very little foreign investment, or foreigners themselves.

December 21, 2014: In Tripoli eight gunmen robbed a bank of $5 million in Libyan currency.

December 19, 2014: In Tripoli gunmen broke into the unoccupied residence compound of the Swiss ambassador but fled when police arrived in response to the alarm system. The Swiss closed their embassy in August. Police were aware of the gang that carried out the break in and soon caught up with them killing one of the criminals and wounding two others. The car and electronic devices stolen were recovered.

December 14, 2014:  In the east (Benghazi) fighting against Islamic terrorists in that city led to the death of a well-known AQIM ( Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) leader and several of his followers. The presence of this AQIM leader in Benghazi apparently has to do with the recent split in AQIM as some factions broke away to support the more radical ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant).

December 11, 2014: The EU (European Union) banned the seven Libyan airlines from operating in any of the 28 EU nations. This is in recognition of the chaos in Libya and the ability of Islamic terrorist groups to operate wherever they want in the country. Egypt imposed curbs on men age 18-40 travelling to Libya or Turkey. This is an effort to reduce the number of Egyptians from joining ISIL and other Islamic terrorist groups.

December 3, 2014: Algeria is taking in seriously wounded Libyans. Since November 91 seriously wounded Libyans have been allowed to cross the border and receive medical treatment. Algeria has allowed thousands of Libyan refugees in as well. Taking the wounded is done in cooperation with Libyan medical organizations. Algeria has sealed itself off from the current civil war in Libya.

 

 

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