Libya: Stubborn Stalemate


May 3, 2023: Libya remains divided and deadlocked. There are two main factions, one in the east based in Tobruk and another in Tripoli, in the west. The UN backs the Tripoli faction, as do local Islamic militias and Turkish troops and their mercenaries. The eastern faction controls most of the oil and export ports. The Russian Wagner Group mercenaries are based in the east but now see themselves as peacekeepers and work with the Turks to maintain a ceasefire. This allows Russian oil firms to operate in Libya and do work for the Libyan national oil company. Both factions support national elections to unite the country but neither faction trusts the others enough to proceed with elections. Russia and the Turks refuse to withdraw their troops from Libya until they receive guarantees that their interests in Libya are respected. The UN and NATO oppose that because the Tripoli faction wants to legitimize an illegal treaty signed by the Tripoli faction in 2019 granting Turkey some of Greece’s offshore oil and natural gas rights in an area between Libya and Turkey that ignores existing, and internationally recognized, claims on that area. Turkey and Greece are both NATO members and NATO backs Greece in this matter. Turkey won’t withdraw its forces from Libya until a new national Libyan government assures the Turks that the illegal agreement is confirmed by a national Libyan government. Many people in both factions do not want to be stuck with a treaty that the UN and NATO consider illegal. Russia is no friend of NATO and is currently at war with NATO in Ukraine. Turkey is also a NATO member but most other NATO members would like to expel the Turks from NATO and there is no legal mechanism for that. Turks and Russians are troublemakers in Europe and Libya is a foreign branch of that mischief.

Egypt, which long supported the eastern faction, is now willing to work with both factions as well as the Turks and Russians to reach a settlement in Libya. For a long time, the primary Egyptian interest in Libya was the threat of Islamic terrorists getting across the Libyan border into Egypt. In Libya the eastern faction proved very effective at controlling Islamic terrorist activities and gradually eliminating most of them. Currently the only Islamic terrorist activity in Libya comes from Islamic terror groups that raise money by working with people smugglers. That is all about getting paid, not carrying out attacks in the name of defending Islam.

Currently, the only fatalities in Libya are the result of people smuggling operations by criminal gangs. This is big business. In 2022 there were over 600,000 of these refugees from 41 African nations. Some of these countries do not cooperate in taking back their citizens stranded in Libya. Some of these refugees flee the detention centers and find a hostile reception for them in Libya. Some are killed and there are reports that others have been enslaved by local militias. The EU (European Union) provides money and other assistance to house stranded refugees and get them back to their homes. The EU also supplies cash for the Libyan Coast Guard for training, new equipment and cash for operations to block smuggling efforts from Libya to Europe. Some of this aid is used to improve border security to stop the refugees from getting into Libya. The EU support has also reduced the ability of people smuggling gangs to get illegal migrants into Libya and then into Europe by boat. These gangs were part of a coalition including Italian and African gangsters who took in over a billion dollars from this in 2015 and found that kind of income was worth fighting for when European and Libyan authorities began efforts to shut them down. Starting in 2017 the eastern faction and some militias in the west worked with Italy to shut down the smugglers. The Libyans have a plan for shutting down all the smuggling gangs and want more support from the EU to do the same with the European gangs which control more of this smuggling than the EU would like to admit. Italy took the lead implementing an EU program to organize (and subsidize) a revived Libyan coast guard and paying southern tribes to go after people smugglers. This effort continues but the smuggling gangs still operate to get migrants into Libya. The smuggling boats are far fewer in Libya and the Libyan Coast Guard regularly intercepts them. Some migrants still get into Europe, usually via Italy, but successful transportation of migrants to Europe has been much reduced because fewer boats are operating and most migrants are detained in Libya and returned to their home countries. Most of the fatalities among the illegal migrants occur at sea when overloaded smuggler boats sink and most of the people on board drown. Since the ultra-extreme ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) factions were destroyed or driven from Libya, there has been very little violence from armed Islamic extremists.

May 2, 2023: Outside the oil export port of Ras Lanuf (620 kilometers east of Tripoli) police chased down and seized pickup truck without license plates that was carrying twenty illegal migrants and headed for a smaller port where they could board a boat and headed for Italy. While the EU (European Union) contributes equipment, cash and advisors for Libyan Coat Guard and police forces, this only reduces people smuggling in Libya. So far in 2023 at least 661 illegals have drowned when their boats sand or capsized during the crossing to Italy. There have been 20,000 such deaths since 2014.

April 26, 2023: In Tripoli, hundreds of residents protested to the city government over local militias recruiting illegal African migrants to act as translators and enforcers against migrants who seek employment in the city. The town of Zawiya, 45 kilometers west of the city, is where the smuggling gangs bring most illegal migrants to board crowded boats for the one way trip to Italy and asylum in Europe. The smuggler gangs bribe local governments to leave the smuggling operations alone. Several of these smuggler boats have capsized off shore and many bodies washed ashore. The migrants spent what money they had for the smugglers and feared dying at sea or being sent back to their home countries. The Tripoli militias were originally formed in 2011 and 2012 to initially overthrow a decades old dictatorship and then establish control of Tripoli and other coastal towns and cities. That effort was only partially successful and Libya still lacks a national government or police forces in Tripoli and other cities that can maintain order and eliminate the militias. The militias remain and operate as criminal gangs. Recruiting locals is more difficult and recruiting illegal migrants does not make the militias any more tolerable. Most coastal towns and cities have shut down the militias but they survive in Tripoli. The demonstrations by local residents against the militias is having an impact, especially when the locals block transportation and a local oil refinery operations. Today’s demonstrations continued for another day.

April 6, 2023: The National Oil Corporation has, over the last two years, restored normal oil production levels of 1.2 million BPD (barrels per day) and is maintaining that level of production. The eastern faction forces guard the oil production and export facilities and concentrates its efforts on that. The Turkish forces stay in Tripoli and a few other coastal areas and leave the oil production and exporting activities alone. The two rival Libyan governments cooperate when it comes to oil and split the income from exports. There is a military standoff here because while the Tripoli government can threaten the coastal oil export ports they have not got the ability to advance inland and take the oilfields. These are guarded by eastern faction troops.




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