Analysis | Libyan Civil War
- Programme Assistant at The Economist
- MESA Affairs Specialist at The International Scholar
Increased Turmoil in a Fractured Nation
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Syria has emerged as the poster child of the chaotic impact of the movement, with a variety of powers conducting proxy wars in a nation that has seen a degree of brutal conflict and a variety of non-conventional weapons used indiscriminately by multiple sides that rivals the carnage seen in Yemen. However, while nations like Syria and Yemen have been dominating headlines due to external political forces that are involved in these nations and their internal conflicts, the Libyan Civil War has gone largely ignored since the assassination of the American ambassador to the nation in Benghazi. This thread is meant to periodically capture the complexities of this conflict, and to provide up-to-date information about the latest movements on the political front as the nation enters a key year, when it is scheduled to have a series of UN mandated elections to determine the actual government of this war-torn nation that has seen its highs and lows since 2011.
The political landscape of Libya has changed dramatically in the past one month. On March 20th, media reports regarding the possibility of the second son of Muammar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam running for UN mandated presidential elections arose, with it being suggested that the Tobruk led government’s Khalifa Haftar was backing his campaign. Late March also saw an increase in the level of conflict in the city of Sabha, which is the gateway to Southern Libya’s oil rich areas of Al Feel and Sharara. This was a result of the simultaneous campaigns launched by the Tobruk based House of Representatives and the Tripoli based Government of National Accord against each other to assert control over the oil rich south. Such increased violence has not only resulted in ethnic tensions and clashes in the deeply tribal outskirts of the Libyan nation, but also appear to have resulted in high levels of mercenary activity in Southern Libya, with the mayor of Sabha stating that at least 20,000 African mercenaries were prowling the outskirts of his city. However, Libyan politics were thrown into further chaos on the 12th of April, when it became public knowledge that Khalifa Haftar, the head of the Libyan National Army (LNA) supporting the Tobruk government, had been taken ill and was undergoing medical treatment in Paris. The lack of general updates about his health caused a lack of trust in the Tobruk government and its stability, with conflicting reports about his health being all over the spectrum.
As Haftar remains hidden from the public, and as the LNA continues to be tight lipped about his current medical status, the furor created by his disappearance helps to give an idea of the prominence he has acquired in this multi-faceted conflict. In the aftermath of Haftar’s worsening condition, the LNA has seen severe strategic setbacks in its campaign to seize Sabha. In addition to a withdrawal of troops from the outskirts of Sabha, a pipeline to the Es Sider export terminal was also the target of a terrorist attack on the 23rd of April, cutting oil supplies by 80,000 barrels per day. This attack has reduce faith in the ability of the Tobruk government to maintain control over these hard fought oil export terminals, which Haftar had only been able to acquire after extensive fighting on the Libyan coast. As a result, the Tobruk government finds itself facing reduced confidence in its ability to maintain economic order by safeguarding crucial assets, and also finds itself on the backfoot in the crucial Southern Libyan outpost of Sabha.
While such a withdrawal of forces and lack of confidence in internal stability seems to be overstated, one must realize that the Tobruk government finds itself with no clear chain of command or succession. Despite the fact that Haftar has publically backed Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi for the Libyan elections that are mandated to occur this year, Saif continues to be a polarizing figure in a nation that has not yet come to terms with the impact that the Gaddafi family has had on the nation, with pro and anti Gaddafi tribes still sticking to such pre-civil war notions. Additionally, the Tobruk government is a coalition of tribes, militias and political parties that all came together under the harsh leadership of Khalifa Haftar to create a unified front. As a result, the true strength of this coalition cannot be accurately judged, given how just a two week absence of their unofficial head has led to a series of setbacks and a lack of confidence in the faction.
Even with a possible re-emergence of Khalifa Haftar from this medical scare, one must wonder about how exactly the Tobruk government can function in the future. This recent incident, combined with Khalifa’s old age of 75, must make the Tobruk government think of how exactly it can function once Haftar reaches a point where he cannot contribute to the cause. Furthermore, the recent loss in momentum in the Sabha area also must bring to attention the problem that the Tobruk faction has of force projection, and also of the tribal tensions that still exist in various parts of Libya. As per LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari, Khalifa Haftar is expected to return to the nation on the 26th of April. One can only hope that his return at such a crucial juncture will finally motivate the Tobruk faction to attempt to establish a more legitimate and orderly form of government.
All views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of The International Scholar or any other organization.
Banner Photo Credit:
By ليبي صح - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20550012