Libya: Stranger Alliances

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September 16, 2019: The civil war continues between the LNA (anti-Islamic radical Libyan National Army) and the GNA (UN backed but largely powerless Government of National Accord). The LNA controls most of the country and since April has been fighting to take the main GNA stronghold, the national capital Tripoli (in the west, near the Tunisia border). Despite the increasing (since May) Turkish military aid for the GNA forces, the LNA is still believed to have an edge. The LNA forces are larger, better trained, equipped and led than the collection of militias the GNA depends on. The Turks are supplying Bayraktar TB2 armed UAVs but the LNA has a similar force of superior Chinese CH-4 UAVs. The Chinese UAVs are controlled via satellite, giving them longer range than the Bayraktars, which can only use operator control 150 kilometers from their base. Beyond that, they can fly pre-programmed missions via GPS. The Turks have installed some repeater antennas to enable UAV attacks on the LNA airbase at Jufra, 650, kilometers south of Tripoli or Misrata. These antennae are vulnerable to attack but so far have worked. To defend their own UAV airbases the Turks have brought in air defense systems. Both sides are using shoulder-fired anti-aircraft systems that can hit aircraft operating as high as 4,000 meters (12,000 feet) and that has been sufficient to take down warplanes or UAVs coming lower to launch missile or bomb attacks.

So far Turkish military aid has not reversed the course of the GNA/LNA war but has stalled the LNA advance on Tripoli. Turkey says it is in favor of a negotiated peace between the GNA and the HoR (House of Representatives) government in Tobruk. The HoR was the last elected government and helped organize the LNA. The UN organized the GNA by making deals with the militias that dominate Tripoli and Misrata to the east. Many of those militias want or will accept, a religious (Islamic) government for Libya. Currently most of these militias are mainly out for themselves and are basically a network of independent warlords whose only common interest is preventing the LNA from establishing a national government. The LNA has been, since it was founded in 2014, against Islamic terrorists and radicals as well as independent militias.

The UN operations are based in Tripoli and must support the GNA it created or face the anger of the Tripoli and Misrata militias. Turkey openly backs “moderate” Islamic groups like the Moslem Brotherhood, which has tried, in several countries to form Islamic governments. The Brotherhood has never succeeded, mainly because it always runs into problems with its extremist factions that demand a more oppressive Islamic form of government than most Moslems will tolerate. The current Islamic government in Turkey is learning this lesson the hard way and is in danger of losing power in the next elections. Since 2000 the Islamic government in Turkey has carried out several of these increasingly aggressive interventions in Arab nations. The one in Syria has been going on since 2016 and has not worked out the way the Turks wanted. The Libya intervention is the most distant and aggressive so far and is not a sure thing.

The largest LNA force is still in western Libya, slowly reducing the Tripoli defenses. The LNA is a lot more professional about how it fights and that means it is methodical and careful to limit its own casualties. This sort of thing has led many different factions to join the LNA over the years and the capture of Tripoli is seen as the final major battle of the eight years fighting that followed the overthrow of the Kaddafi dictatorship in 2011.

Since late 2018 LNA ally Egypt has been urging LNA leader Khalifa Hiftar to negotiate a settlement with the GNA. In 2018 Egypt was certain that the LNA had pacified eastern Libya up to and including the Egyptian border. That is the main Egyptian concern. Egypt worked with the UAE to support the LNA and while Egypt is less active, the UAE is still a major supporter of the LNA as is Russia.

September 14, 2019: LNA rockets and airstrikes were against Mitiga International Airport outside Tripoli. This was the last functioning airport near Tripoli as the LNA has captured the civilian airport. Mitiga has been closed since September 1st because of repeated attacks but Turkish troops are still using Mitiga to operate their armed UAVs from.

September 13, 2019: The LNA shot down a Turkish Bayraktar TB2 missile-armed UAV that had taken off from the Misrata (east of Tripoli) and was headed for the LNA airbase in south central Libya (Jufra, 650 kilometers southeast of Tripoli). The LNA is using missile-armed Chinese CH-4 UAVs to attack the Misrata airport. Despite that, an attack was carried out at Jufra, which left at least six UAE soldiers dead.

South of Tripoli a Turkish UAV missile attack killed two LNA brigade commanders and several other LNA troops.

September 12, 2019: A leaked Russian document on the Internet detailed the activities of 23 Russian technicians assigned to the LNA, apparently since late 2018. The document included a March 12 report detailing the operational LNA Russian equipment. This was just before the April 4 LNA advance on Tripoli with 145 tanks (100 T-55s, 35 T-62s, and 10 T-72s), 77 BMP-1 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicles), 201 BTR-60 wheeled armored vehicles, 21 BREM armored recovery vehicles, 41 BDRM-2 wheeled recon vehicles, 10 MTLB armored tractors (for pulling artillery or trailers), 20 2S1 self-propelled 122mm howitzers, one 2S3 self-propelled 152mm howitzer and six BM-21 122mm 40 barrel truck-mounted rocket launchers. The Russian techs indicated that their repair and refurbishment activities on these vehicles required $278,000 worth of spare parts, apparently supplied by Russia. The Russian techs were apparently civilian contractors because the report was prepared by someone who identified themselves as working for the Wagner Group, a large Russian military contractor organization that is operating in several other African countries at the behest of the Russian government. Russia was known to be providing this sort of support for the LNA and this is the first detailed report of the extent of that effort. The LNA equipment listed is all of the type that Russia had supplied to the Libyan government before 2011.

September 8, 2019: Libya earned a record $14.3 billion in oil revenues so far in 2019. The high oil revenues are a result of the LNA restoring order to most of the major oil production and export facilities. Until June production was holding steady at 1.2 million BPD (barrels per day) and for once there is some assurance that the oil facilities will remain safe. In July some local group blocked (by turning valves, not bombs) a major pipeline. This was apparently another local dispute over money and it cut exports to about a million BPD, the lowest it’s been in five months. The LNA is still encountering problems with the NOC (National Oil Company), Central Bank and the UN over how to operate all these facilities and spend the oil income. The GNA has sought, with some success, to deprive the LNA of much oil income. There were also continuing problems with corruption in how oil income was spent. One thing the NOC and LNA can agree on is that the longer the fighting goes on the more risk is of oil production being disrupted once more.

September 7, 2019: LNA warplanes against attacked Mitiga International Airport outside Tripoli.

September 1, 2019: LNA rockets hit the Mitiga International Airport outside Tripoli. Four civilians were wounded and the airport closed. This is the last functioning airport near Tripoli and forces the GNA to use the airport in Misrata, 200 kilometers east of Tripoli.

August 28, 2019: Turkey delivered another four (or more) Bayraktar TB2 UAVs to the GNA forces in Tripoli. Twelve of these UAVs had been delivered previously (four in May, eight in July). So far about seven Bayraktar’s have been lost (to accidents or enemy action). Turks are operating and maintaining the UAVs.

August 26, 2019: In the west, 100 kilometers southwest of Tripoli the LNA has forced a pro-GNA militia to flee Gharyan, a key town for the movement of supplies to LNA forces in Tripoli. The GNA militia had, with Turkish help, captured Gharyan in late June. The LNA had to divert forces to Gharyan to regain control of the area. Turkish weapons and advisors had been involved in the attack on Gharyan. The Turkish supported raid on Gharyan captured some American Javelin ATGM (anti-tank guided missiles) which, it turned out, belonged to French special operations forces who have been working with the LNA since 2015 and were there mainly to collect intel and help with counter-terror operations.

 

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