Libya: Death Watch

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April 25, 2016: The new UN sponsored unity government known as the GNA (Government of National Accord) is now in Tripoli, where there is a lot of popular support it. But not all members of the old Tripoli and Tobruk governments are able to agree on terms so they can cede power (now held by tribes and militias they represent) to GNA. This sort of thing is common in Libya. The first national government was the General National Congress (or GNC), formed after the 2011 revolution to create a new constitution for the voters to decide on. The GNC was to rule until the constitution was approved and government elections held. Progress was slow and in late 2013 the GNC extended its power for another year. Despite that elections were held in 2014 but the GNC did not like the composition of the new House of Representatives (HoR). The UN recognized the HoR but most of the GNC members (who tended to be more tribal and religiously conservative) refused to give up power. The HoR and the government it had formed fled east to Tobruk and rallied most of eastern Libya behind them. The UN recognized the H0R and condemned the GNC. Now the UN only recognizes the GNA, which has taken over most GNC facilities in Tripoli. Ironically it is the Tobruk government that appears to be the biggest obstacle to unity. That is slowly changing and it appears that within days or weeks a majority of the Tobruk House of Representatives will vote to transfer their allegiance (and power) to the GNC. Most of the Tripoli based GNC members are willing to follow suit once the HoR does.

Most members of these two rival legislatures agreed that a unity government was essential but neither was willing to quickly agree on terms. That means neither of the old governments had sufficient internal support to disband and transfer all power to the new GNA. This is mostly about greed, tribal loyalty and corruption. Many members of the GNC and HoR do not want to lose power and income (largely because of the opportunities for corruption). Now someone (mainly the UN) is brokering deals that change enough votes in the GNC and HoR to disband these two governments and unify most of the nations behind the GNA. This nasty business is still underway, as quietly and discreetly as possible but so far has not finished. Failure to bribe (convince) enough holdouts to switch could lead to another civil war because most Libyans have made it pretty clear that they support the GNA. Until the GNA can get this agreement its actual power is quite limited.

The Central Bank and National Oil Company (NOC) both back the GNA but that means little until a majority of factions agree to shift their loyalty the GNA. At that point the NOC managers believe production can be doubled within weeks and tripled within eight months. The NOC also accused the Tobruk government of trying to export 650,000 barrels of oil recently. That was blocked by oil port workers who refused to do the actual loading and warnings from the UN that anyone involved in buying such an illegal cargo was subject to prosecution.

In the west (outside Misrata) ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is carrying out attacks and raids on the militias that have long controlled the city. This is not having the desired effect because the militias have been fighting since 2011, see ISIL as an obstacle to peace and are angered by the ISIL violence.

April 23, 2016: ISIL launched a major attack against Brega, a port for oil shipments in the east (160 kilometers southwest of Benghazi). The attack force was transported in about a hundred vehicles and was repulsed by members of the PFG (Petroleum Facilities Guard) some 50 kilometers from the oil facilities. ISIL lost six vehicles, dozens of fighters and retreated. The PFG backs the new GNA and the ones in Brega have been keeping the oil facilities safe since 2012. The ISIL attackers had come from Derna, where ISIL has suffered several major defeats recently. As a result of that ISIL recently withdrew from suburbs of Derna they had long held. Derna is 200 kilometers southwest of Benghazi. ISIL has been unsuccessfully trying to take Derna since late 2015. Derna is about the same size (100,000 population) as the ISIL “capital” Sirte. But the offensive against Derna has been largely unsuccessful and unlike Sirte Derna still has most of its 2011 population. The ISIL reverses at Derna are the result of stubborn local militias and the recent arrival of Libyan Army forces. General Hiftar, the army commander, is not popular with some of the Derna militias, especially those composed of Islamic conservatives. Hiftar has a reputation for not tolerating unruly militias, especially ones that justify their bad behavior by claiming they are on a Mission From God. In Derna some the more religious militiamen accuse Hiftar of secretly being an ally of ISIL. No wonder Hiftar does not get along with these militias.

April 20, 2016: Britain, France and Russia agree to support for the GNA, new national government in Libya. Italy has offered to send 3,000 military trainers to Libya to operate camps to train members of a new army and national police. Other nations have promised economic aid to a new national government while Western nations (especially the U.S. and France) offer more commandos and air support for a united military in a united Libya. Russia however declared today that it would not back foreign military support of the GNA unless it was approved by the UN Security Council (where Russia has a veto). This may not matter much as many senior GNA officials have made it clear that foreign troops are wanted to help with training but not to do the fighting. This is particularly true with ISIL, which Libyans want put down themselves.

Smuggler ships ship went down in bad weather between Libya and Italy, killing about 500 of the illegal migrants on board. Most of the gangs operating the smuggler boats are based in Libya, where there is not much law and a lot of warlords and militia leaders willing to take bribes and ignore that the gangs are doing. The EU has told the GNA that foreign aid would be dependent on how well the GNA handled the gangs. ISIL is a major backer of the smuggler gangs and the fees received are a major part of ISIL income in Libya.

April 18, 2016: The EU (European Union) reaffirmed publically that the GNA was the only government in Libya that the EU recognized. Previously the EU had followed the UN lead and recognized the Tobruk government.

April 15, 2016: In the east (Sirte) a senior ISIL commander (Abu Hamza) was killed when his convoy was ambushed outside Sirte. Three other Islamic terrorists were wounded. The Libyan army took credit claiming that their special operations forces carried out the attack. That’s a strong possibility since Western commandos have been training army troops in Benghazi since late 2015. While ISIL claims to control Sirte, most of the population has fled and all ISIL controls is most of a nearly empty city.

April 14, 2016: In the east (Benghazi) army forces began another offensive to clear the remaining Islamic terrorist groups out of the city. This has been helped by Western special operations forces now operating in eastern Libya, especially around Benghazi. France and Britain admitted they have some forces in Libya and the U.S. admitted that its special operations forces have been in Libya for specific missions but did not stay like the French and British operators. Apparently the British forces have been there since late 2015 and the French began showing up in January 2016. Benghazi is 610 kilometers west of the Egyptian border and the traditional “capital” of eastern Libya. Islamic terrorist militias have been fighting to establish themselves in the city since 2011. Most of the smaller groups have been forced out but larger ones like al Qaeda and ISIL are still fighting. General Hiftar, the head of the army sees the Islamic terrorists in Benghazi as a permanent threat to peace in the second-largest city in the country and has been determined to deal with this problem. Hiftar became head of the Tobruk military in early 2015 and is expected to continue under the GNA. Before 2015 Hiftar was, technically, just another self-made warlord. Because he was a former Kaddafi general and long-time Kaddafi opponent Hiftar managed to create a coalition of tribal militias and army units in late 2013 and proved to be very effective fighting the Islamic terrorists in eastern Libya. Since early 2014 Hiftar has managed to get most of the post-Kaddafi armed forces under his control and backs Tobruk pleas for foreign assistance in obtaining more weapons and other military supplies. Hiftar has been very effective. He is a career military man and speaks with experience in these matters. One big advantage Hiftar has is that he takes care of his troops and uses tactics that minimize casualties among his troops. This makes Hiftar very popular with forces he controls and makes it easier to attract new factions (usually tribal militias). This new offensive continued for nearly a week and ISIL (along with several smaller Islamic terror groups) were forced to retreat. ISIL used suicide bombers to try and halt the advance, but the army troops in particular were trained to deal with that.

 

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