Libya: Turkish Veto Holds

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September 1, 2021: T he GNU (Government of National Unity) has run into problems getting the temporary government to agree on who is in charge of what. There was progress early in the year as the October 2020 ceasefire was extended and made part of the national unification plan. The ceasefire continues to be observed. The two rival factions; GNA (UN created Government of National Accord in Tripoli) and HoR (House of Representatives government in Tobruk) agreed to a unification plan that required the two rival factions to work out the details of a formal merger of both factions and appointment of new ministers for all government departments, especially defense, finance and the NOC (National Oil Corporation). In February 2021 Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh was selected to head (as prime minister) the GNU.

Dbeibeh has been a successful businessman since the 1980s and, during the 2011 revolution favored the Moslem Brotherhood, but was perceived as doing so mainly to protect his family and business interests. He is known to have used corrupt behavior to keep his businesses going during the decade of fighting but is believed trustworthy enough to form the temporary government that has until the end of 2021. By mid-2021 Dbeibeh was facing accusations that he had sold out to the Turks. There were discussions with the UAE and European nations over possible investment opportunities, but no determination to cancel the deals the Turks already had. More corruption accusations followed against the new ministers Dbeibeh appointed.

By mutual agreement the GNU only lasts until the end of 2021. If there is not an elected government by then, the civil war resumes. The primary problem has been the arrival of Turkish forces in mid-2019 and the GNA rewarding the Turks by signing a treaty in late 2019 that granted Turkey access to offshore waters between Libya and Turkey, some of them were already recognized as controlled by Greece. Since then Turkey has refused to withdraw its forces or resolve its legal problems with Greece and the other NATO nations that back Greece.

These problems got worse when a key provision of the October 2020 ceasefire terms, that foreign troops would leave by January 2021, were ignored by the Turks, who refused to leave. The LNA supporters; Russia and the UAE would not withdraw their forces until the Turks did. To date none of the ceasefire terms have been fully met although some progress has been made on a few of the less important items. The most recent disagreements have been over which faction controls which part of the temporary government and these are often linked to the continued Turkish military presence. The HoR government and most European nations agree that the treaties signed by the GNA and Turkey in late 2019 are illegal and the Turks have hinted that it is possible for them to withdraw their troops as long as any departure deal leaves their economic interests in Libya intact. That means international backing for the 2019 treaty between GNA and the Turks that grants Turkey control of offshore waters controlled by Greece. Most of NATO backs Greece on this point and agrees the Turkish presence in Libya is illegal but no one is willing to confront Turkey and force them out. Realizing that, the Turks believe they can just stall efforts to oust them and eventually win.

The Turkish strategy has caused a deadlock in forming a workable GNA. The most damaging aspect of this is the inability of the GNU to agree on a new budget. One cause of the stalled budget is feuds over who should run the NOC and the Central Bank. Disagreements over who the new directors of these two institutions will be has disrupted the use of oil revenue to pay the salaries and other bills to keep the oil fields and oil export ports operational. The NOC has had no budget agreement since 2020 and has had to improvise to find the cash to keep the NOC going. Those efforts can no longer obtain the cash needed and without the 2021 budget approval there is not enough cash to keep oil exports going. One subsidiary of the NOC, AGOCO, ran out of cash earlier in the year and is close to shutting down about a quarter of all Libyan oil production because the government cannot agree on who is in charge.

Oil Production Broken

Oil production growth has stalled at 1.3 million BPD (barrels per day) and will soon start shrinking if the financial deadlock is not resolved. By the end of 2020 o il production had risen from 800,000 to 1.2 million BPD because the HoR’s LNA (Libyan National Army) had resolved most of the problems with the local militias that were blocking access to key oil fields and oil export facilities unless their demands for more money were met. The LNA persuaded or forced these militias to cooperate so that oil exports could continue and increase. In late 2020the NOC expected to have production expanded to nearly two million BPD by the end of 2021. Production was 1.2 million BPD In January 2021 and it was believed that a realistic goal for the end of 2021 was 1.5 million BPD if the ceasefire was maintained and the national elections held. With that production could reach 1.6 million BPD by the end of 2022. The production level before the 2011 civil war began was 1.6 million BPD.

The LNA had ordered oil exports halted in mid-2020 to persuade everyone to cooperate on the ceasefire and formation of the GNU. The LNA ordered oil exports to resume in October 2020, despite threats from some militias near ports to shut that down if the militias did not receive more money for protecting the ports from other militias. The LNA was able to quickly deal with these threats. Production estimates depend on the success of the December 2021 national elections and maintaining the peace nationwide. By mid-2021 there were doubts that the election deadline would be met and by August the paralysis in forming a workable GNU spread to the oil industry and national bank. Production is stalled at 1.3 million BPD and about to start declining.

Corruption

There are mutual accusations of corruption and abuse of power. The key problem is a lack of trust, especially in light of how the GNA got away with its illegal treaty with Turkey and the Turks refuse to withdraw their troops unless they are “compensated”.

If the budget deadlock is resolved there are still disagreements on whether the national leader will be an elected president or a prime minister chosen by parliament. It is understood that the legislative elections will create a legislature/parliament composed of many political factions with different ideas about how Libya should be governed. While a president does not have to worry about losing his majority in parliament and triggering new parliamentary elections, the parliamentary process makes it easier to avoid a resumption of the civil war by giving all factions a role in forming new governments led by a prime minister.

Bad History

Libya is also a prisoner of history and geography. Libya remains a thinly populated and divided (by tribal and local loyalties) place. When a united Libyan kingdom was established in 1951 the population was about a million. The 1960s oil wealth triggered a population explosion, including lots of imported workers. Population had reached six million when the 2011 revolution occurred. Despite many Libyans fleeing the country after 2011, the population is still about six million and a third of that is found in and around Tripoli. That’s why the city is so important to the GNA and why the LNA went after Tripoli only after they had established themselves in the rest of Libya.

By 2019 GNA control was, and largely still is, limited to a portion of western Libya along the coast. This includes the cities of Tripoli, Misrata and (until 2020) Sirte. The other two are much smaller than Tripoli and defended by local militias rather than any elected government. The LNA and HoR (House of Representatives government in Tobruk) advocate elected governments while the GNA is less eager to discuss that lest it offend the many militias it depends on. The GNA faced extinction in 2019 as the LNA offensive to capture the city slowly advanced. The carefully planned attack began in April and it was soon clear that the GNA forces, composed of militias that were more gangster than soldier, were not up to the task. At that point Turkey offered to violate the arms embargo and provide the GNA forces with weapons, armored vehicles and air support in the form of Turkish armed UAVs. By mid-2019 this Turkish aid, including a few hundred Turkish troops and civilians acting as trainers, advisors and UAV operators, had an impact. Turkey offered the GNA even more assistance in return for their signature on an agreement with Turkey. The GNA agreed, even though they had no legal power to sign that document. The Turks, the UN and most everyone else in the world realized this.

This GNA rescue plan required the GNA to welcome Turkish forces into what little portions of western Libya they still controlled. The LNA offensive was halted and the LNA forced to retreat. This prompted the HoR and GNA to negotiate a compromise that would unite the two governments and hold national elections by the end of 2021. That won’t happen if the Turks and other foreign forces remain and the Turks refuse to leave unless their demands are met.

There are few things Libyans agree on and these include dislike of the Turks, Islamic terrorists, militias, especially Islamic ones, and foreign interference in general. UN peacemaking efforts in Libya are none too popular. That’s because the UN backed an unpopular and weak GNA government in Tripoli, a city controlled largely by rival militias. The UN is seen as outsiders more interested in pursuing their own goals rather than what Libyans need; peace and some form of unity. The LNA and its leader Khalifa Haftar acknowledged that and made themselves useful by subduing the militias and Islamic terror groups in eastern Libya and slowly moving south and west to do the same throughout Libya. Alleged GNA promises of billions in new business for Turkish firms and some instant cash that would be illegally transferred to Turkey brought in over a thousand Turkish military personnel and over 12,000 Syrian mercenaries. While better fighters than the Islamic militias occupying Tripoli and Misrata, the Syrians showed no enthusiasm for getting killed fighting the better trained and led LNA forces, at least not on a large scale. With help of Turkish air power and artillery, the mercs will still take part in small scale operations against the LNA and several of these have been successful.

August 31, 2021: In Tripoli fighting broke out between local militias who supported different officials in the ACA (Administrative Control Agency). The ACA is one of several anti-corruption organizations established to ensure that reliable people were appointed to senior positions. To many Libyans, control of the ACA could make you rich because of the bribery potential. Control of the ACA was something worth fighting for and that’s what the two militias fighting each other in Tripoli are all about.

August 30, 2021: Internet chatter by Syrian Arab mercenaries in Libya revealed that many are warning friends to not accept Turkish offers to go work in Libya as a mercenary. The problem is that the 7,000 Syrian mercenaries still in Libya are not being paid on time or at the agreed upon rates. Turkey cut pay about 25 percent, to $74 a month. To make matters worse the Turks and Syrians who handle the payroll have not been delivering all of it to the mercenaries. The problem is that many of the Syrian Arabs are recruited as a group, under their own leaders, from factions in Syria that Turkey seeks to develop better relations with. Those Syrian leaders feel they have a right to take a fraction of the total payroll and many of their subordinates disagree because they were told by the Turks that pay would arrive on time and at agreed on rates.

As low as morale is among the Syrian mercs, they cannot leave. While there has not been much fighting for them this year, they are often called on to confront local Libyan militias that are accustomed to doing whatever they want. While technically working for the GNA, many of these militias also work for themselves and the Turks tried to change that. The Turks provided new weapons and training for the GNA militias but could not install more loyalty to the GNA or any government. Some of these militias are again causing armed confrontations over disputes within the GNA over who controls what in the new GNU government that is trying to control corruption and make national elections possible. Despite the defiance of some of the GNA Tripoli and Misrata militias, the Libyan militia leaders complain that the Turks are in control of western Libya because of their Syrian mercenaries and superior airpower, especially the armed UAVs.

August 29, 2021: The HoR is threatening to withdraw from the GNU agreement if the GNU leaders do not cooperate rather than hinder the operation of the GNU government and legislature.

August 27, 2021: The newly appointed GNU Minister of Oil and Gas suspended the chairman of the NOC. The suspension did not work because the current NOC chairman was outside the country and still in control of the NOC. At issue here is the resolution of a six-year-old incident where a 2015 audit showed $11.5 billion disappearing and who was responsible is still unknown.

August 26, 2021: The LNA and UN peacekeeping leaders met at LNA headquarters and worked out details of how the UN and LNA would cooperate in organizing security for the late 2021 national elections. Only the LNA has effective forces nationwide. The UN will have to deal with the Turkish forces that dominate the cities of Tripoli and Misrata and about a third of the electorate. The UN is sponsoring a peacekeeping force with troops provided by other African nations. These are needed to assist in guarding the oil industry and infrastructure in general.

Since mid-2020 there have been few combat casualties. There are still some violent deaths, most of them the result of Islamic terrorist attacks, assassinations for political or personal reasons as well as tribal/ethnic feuds that will not wait for the promised new legal system to deal with such matters in courts. Most of the deaths from criminal activity take place off the northern coast where smuggling gangs operating in GNA territory make a lot of money from illegal migrants seeking passage to Europe. A functioning national government would shut down most of the people smuggling, as had been the case before 2011. Meanwhile the boats and methods used by the smugglers often result in many of the migrants being lost at sea. The LNA has been arbitrating and resolving as many of the feuds as possible and is the only one doing this the UN sees an opportunity to build on that. The LNA had shut down the people smugglers in areas it controlled and most of the smugglers ended up in areas near Tripoli where local militias were still willing to do business.

August 24, 2021: In the southwest (Fezzan region, 640 kilometers south of Tripoli) the LNA and security forces in neighboring Niger have disrupted a major arms Libyan smuggling operation that was regularly getting thousands of looted (from government warehouses after the 2011 revolution) weapons and ammo into Niger. These smugglers also supplied gangsters and Islamic terrorists in Libya. Since 2015 the LNA has been trying to maintain some degree of law and order in this area where fighting between Tuareg and Tebu tribesmen has been flaring up regularly since the 2011 revolution. Much of the violence is over control of the main road going to the Niger border. The fighting is a continuation of ancient animosities between tribes divided by ethnicity as well as loyalty to the former dictator Kaddafi, who used tribal loyalties to maintain power and favored certain tribes. Some of the pro-Kaddafi Tuareg tribes kept fighting after Kaddafi died in 2011. The violence was not so much about putting Kaddafi followers back into power, but holding on to Kaddafi-era privileges and avoiding punishment for crimes committed to support Kaddafi’s rule. In this case violence continued on the southern border in part because the pro-rebel Tabu (or “Tebu”) tribesmen were put in charge of border (with Sudan, Chad and Niger) security after Kaddafi fell. There they continued skirmishes with the Tuareg tribes over control of the smuggling business. Another element of this rivalry was that the Tabu are black African while the pro-Kaddafi tribes are Arab and Taureg. Kaddafi tended to support Arab domination over black Africans, something many Arabs still approve of. However, in some cases Kaddafi favored black tribes in the north, and used them to keep the population in line. By 2015 the Tabu were still technically in charge of the border but mostly concerned with their control over smuggling (of weapons, fuel, drugs and people). The Tabu and Tuareg leaders worked out agreements on dividing smuggling business but discipline in the tribes is not all that tight and fights keep breaking out. The main cause of renewed fighting in 2019 is the GNA sending militiamen south to aid the Tabu in pushing LNA forces out of the area. The GNA effort in the south is not so much about ancient tribal rivalries but about gaining control of oil fields and pipelines in this part of the country. About a quarter of Libyan oil comes from this area and in 2020 the GNA, with help of Turkish mercenaries, regained some control in the area, long policed by the LNA. The GNA forces were unable to dislodge LNA forces and the October 2020 ceasefire agreement enabled the LNA to return to its anti-smuggling efforts.

August 2, 2021: Russia resumed oil production at facilities it manages with its German partner. This facility had been closed for ten months because of the chaos following Turkish intervention in the Libyan civil war.

 

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