UN officials now find that a final peace deal between the Tripoli (a more pro-Islamic terrorist group in the west) and Tobruk (elected, recognized by the UN, anti-Islamic terrorist and based in the east) governments is being pushed aside by European alarm at the growing number of African and Middle Eastern illegal migrants being brought from Libya to Italy (and then moving throughout the European Union). The Tobruk government points out that time may solve the problem because the Tripoli government coalition is falling apart and they are losing territory to the better organized and led Tobruk forces. The big problem with the Tripoli government is that many of their factions are Islamic terror groups and some have switched to ISIL, which is at war with all non-ISIL Islamic terror groups (who are not considered Islamic enough). The lack of UN recognition hurts Tripoli quite a bit. For example the fact that the Central Bank and National Oil Company are still based in Tripoli has not helped the Tripoli government as much as expected. These two institutions insist on being neutral and exporting oil and collecting payment to pay salaries for government workers and buy food and other essentials for all Libyans. This arrangement is encouraged (and occasionally enforced) by the UN and the major international banks. Because of all this the Tobruk government has gotten much stronger relative to the Tripoli and is poised to take the Tripoli by force. The UN and Tobruk government would prefer to avoid such a battle, which would be nasty and prolonged, as most urban battles are.
Meanwhile the UN is trying to persuade the Tobruk government to back another round of NATO military intervention in Libya. One thing most Libyans agree on is opposition to foreign troops in Libya, even if only to shut down the smuggling gangs along the coast. There is also opposition to NATO warships operating close to the coast to stop smuggler boats or identify and destroy these boats before they are used for smuggling. Such tactics worked off Somalia but the Libyans don’t like being compared to the Somalis. The Libyans can’t really interfere with naval operations, even close to shore. The Tobruk government does want NATO to resume air support and lift the arms embargo and make it easier to shut down the Tripoli government in the west and all the Islamic terror groups throughout the country. At that point the smuggling gangs would be shut down because there would be no more independent armed groups providing (for cash) protection for the smuggling activities. The UN and Libyans are deadlocked on which way to go. NATO is reluctant to resume air support or lift the blockade. Libya points out that they have about a thousand coast guard personnel and only ten patrol boats covering the 300 kilometer coast where most of the smuggler boats depart from. Some help (like more patrol boats and search gear like radar and thermal sensors) from the UN or NATO would help. This idea, like so many others, is under consideration. Mainly because of Libyan coast guard efforts the Tobruk government is holding over 5,000 in detention camps and trying to deport them but the countries the illegals are from often do not cooperate. The deportation process would work better if Libya were at peace but that is not likely to happen for a while.
A major problem with Libya is that most of the problems there are self-inflicted and NATO and other Moslem states are more concerned with ISIL in Iraq and Syria while NATO is focused on growing Russian aggression in East Europe.
The reason for the sudden European urgency for military action is the growing illegal migration to Europe. This is what prompted NATO to send peacekeepers to the Balkans in the 1990s. Nothing like a sudden and unexpected flood of unwanted and illegal migrants to get your attention. In Libya the situation is worse because there is little, if any, government presence in most of Libya and the migration situation is worse. Since 2012 NATO has urged various Libyan governments to halt the growing number of African and Middle Eastern migrants coming to Libya then paying smugglers to get them to Europe, where they can claim asylum and greatly improve their economic and security situation. By 2013 it was estimated that 500 people a day were illegally crossing the southern border in an effort to make it to Europe. That number appears to have nearly tripled since then. Since 2000 over 250,000 illegal migrants from Africa have reached Europe, mainly through Italy. Most of these illegals have arrived since 2013 and over 80 percent moved via Libya. The recent deaths at sea have always been part of the risk the illegals endure and the rate of deaths has recently risen from about one percent of the migrants to nearly eight percent. That comes to nearly 2,000 dead so far this year. For the smugglers this is bad for business but it won’t stop the flow of illegals, just reduce it a bit.
This is more of a problem for Europeans than for the Libyans, who see the black African illegals (the majority of those headed for Europe) as a nuisance, mainly because the migrants are just passing through. These travelers don’t want to stay in Libya, which is generally very hostile to these unwanted visitors. The illegals are easy to spot and the locals will sometimes murder migrants who cause any problems or just because the illegals are outsiders. Criminal gangs and some Islamic terror groups will kidnap migrants and try to get their families to send ransom money. If that doesn’t work some of the captives are murdered, or simply robbed of what little they have and set loose.
Stopping these migrants from getting into Libya is not easily done because the southern border is largely desert, as is most of the 5,000 kilometers of land borders. The coastline is nearly 1,800 kilometers long and only 300 kilometers from Italy. Smugglers have been taking advantage of these geographical facts for generations. Checkpoints on the few Libyan roads headed north are subject to bribes or simply going around. Without a unified government none of the existing factions (not even the Tripoli or Tobruk governments) can make much of a dent in the number of illegals headed to Europe via Libya.
With more illegals taking crowded boats (often supplied by Italian gangsters) to Italy (the closest European country to Libya) there are more accidents. The massive loss of life in one April incident (over 800 dead when an overloaded ship sunk) appears to have pushed NATO to seriously consider action. In addition to stopping the expensive (to maintain) and troublesome (who cause crime rates to rise) illegals there is also the fact that most of the migrants are Moslem and NATO countries now admit they have a major problem with these migrants as many choose to become Islamic terrorists. While these radical groups mainly kill other Moslems, they will kill non-Moslems and Westerners if they have the opportunity. Thus more NATO intervention in Libyan isn’t just humanitarian, it’s self-defense.
The smuggling gangs will continue because there is no government in Libya and so many people are willing to pay over $1,000 each (and up to five times that) to get taken overland into Libya and then by boat to Europe. Some of these smugglers advertise on the Internet, especially on social media like Facebook. For the smugglers this is a business currently worth over $100 million a year and profit margins are high. This has attracted gangs from all over the Mediterranean, especially those who handle illegal drugs smuggled via Africa. Much of the money goes to bribes and pay for thousands of gunmen, guides and fees for boat owners. There is little opposition to the gangs in Libya, or at least none that shooting back or offering cash won’t deal with.
Egypt is another source of illegal migrants and has increased security on the Libyan border and within Egypt to discourage illegal migrants from passing through Egypt. Meanwhile Egypt has been officially at war with Islamic terrorists in Libya (since February) and Shia rebels in Yemen (since April) but the Egyptian the government is not eager to actually do anything. That’s because the security forces are still needed to deal with Islamic terrorists and political opposition at home that is allied with some of the terror groups. The newly elected Egyptian government is not accepted by all Egyptians and is seen by many as similar to the corrupt and incompetent Mubarak dictatorship overthrown in 2011. On a more basic level the country is broke and dependent on foreign donors to keep functioning. The two major donors are the United States and the Arab Gulf states. The Americans don’t want Egypt invading Libya and the Arabs want assurances that if the situation in Yemen gets really bad they can depend on some Egyptian troops. So far the Egyptian leadership has been able to keep its two major donors happy by saying much (about despicable terrorists in Libya and evil Shia rebels in Yemen) and doing as little as possible. Some Egyptian warships are helping to blockade Yemen (and held safeguard ships headed to and from the very lucrative Suez Canal). More troops have been sent to the Libyan border and some recent army training exercises were done to demonstrate a willingness to send troops to Yemen if needed.
Egypt has no legal economic interests in Libya but some Libyans complain that many of the illegal migrants coming through Libya on their way to Europe are being helped along by corrupt Egyptian border police. It’s not surprising that the border police can be bribed as these are the same border police that worked for Mubarak. Actually, most of the security forces are men who long worked for Mubarak and are as corrupt and undisciplined as ever. The 2011 revolution shocked the police and many found it prudent to behave for a few years. But now the bad habits have returned and the government is not cracking down on pro-government media that report on this bad behavior.
May 7, 2015: In the east, two rockets hit an apartment building and killed two people. That makes 53 people killed by such violence since early April. About a third of the dead have been civilians the rest Tobruk government forces (soldiers and tribal militia) and the few Islamic terrorists left in and around the city and willing to fight to the death.
Ethiopia, the source of many of the illegal travelers to Europe has offered to fly its citizens in Libya illegally back to Ethiopia. This became popular after 30 Ethiopians were murdered by ISIL (for being Christian) in April. Even Moslem Ethiopians fear this sort of thing and hundreds have shown a willing to fly home by registering with their government. Egypt and the Tobruk governments cooperated in freeing Ethiopian migrants held by Islamic terror groups. This effort is not expected to make a major dent in the flow of illegal migrants headed for Libya.
May 6, 2015: In the west (Zintan, near the Tunisian border) Tobruk forces shot down one of the few jets the Tripoli has returned to service. Tobruk forces are surrounding Tripoli, which will help force the Tripoli government to surrender. The Tobruk government controls what is left of the Libyan Air Force and has been using those warplanes to attack enemy forces since 2013.