LIBYA – The leader of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar, has launched a military operation to ‘liberate’ the capital of Tripoli where the UN-backed government is based. He has reportedly ordered strict observance of purity of arms, and that no civilians are to be harmed.
While the UN recognizes a government based in Tripoli, that government has never been able to bring order to post-war Libya, and never controlled whole swaths of the country. In its place, various warlords controlled various regions, and human trafficking and the slave trade returned to the country for the first time in over a century.
The LNA, however, is led by its Field Marshall, Khalifa Haftar, whose goal is to unite Libya within its pre-war borders, and return Libya to stability. Haftar was a commander in Gaddafi’s Green Revolution in 1969, but after being captured in Chad, he switched sides and joined with the U.S, where he lived in Langley through the 90’s. He was then criminally implicated in the plot to overthrow Gaddafi, and took a role leading TNC forces against the Green Jamahiriya in 2011. When power was handed however to the GNC – the General National Congress – Haftar showed signs of dissent. This was due primarily, according to reports, for its ties with Salafist groups which no doubt were critical to the down-fall of Gaddafi. These Salafist groups, primarily Wahhabist and backed by Gulf Monarchies, received air support from NATO countries.
This map is an up-to-the-minute representation of the present situation in Libya. The Red dots represent areas held by Haftar/Benghazi, the Green dots represent either Tripoli’s forces or various warlords.
Since then, Haftar has tried to repatch an external alliance out of Gaddafi’s previous allies and international friends, such as Russia. It has long been evident that neither NATO nor the UN recognized government in Tripoli, really desires a unified and stable Libya. Haftar’s government is based out of Benghazi, where the anti-Gaddafi movement interestingly first found its most pro-western backing. Briefly, Benghazi served as capital of the TNC, while Gaddafi’s legitimate forces held whole swathes of the country and the capital of Tripoli.
Over the course of the last eight years, things have changed. Haftar’s campaign, however, has succeeded in uniting most of the tribes. He understands the tribal framework of Libya, and was an original part of Gaddafi’s 1969 revolution, understood that Libya is composed of thousands of indigenous tribes which any central authority needs to win over, one by one. This involves a careful balance of authority and local control.
Now, Haftar’s forces are only perhaps days away from uniting all of Libya. In terms of resources, his government controls over 90% of the oil assets, and has recently sealed an arms deal with Russia.
“To our army based around Tripoli from all sides, we continue today our struggle,” Haftar said in a statement issued by the army’s information office.
“We respond to the call of our people in our capital after they ran out of patience,” he added.
Notably, the army commander called for “use of force against only those who fight the army.”
A day earlier, the army spokesman announced plans of the army to take over western Libya including Tripoli, hours before the UN-backed government in Tripoli declared a state of public alert against the army’s plans.
Haftar’s army is allied with Libya’s eastern-based government, as the North African country is politically divided between two governments in the east and west. The United Nations called for restraint, and is concerned that the government they recognized lacks both legitimacy and territory.
Haftar’s forces have been routing the Tripoli government’s forces without major problems, followed by today’s call for a march to the capital.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guteres, who arrived in Tripoli on Wednesday,called for restraint from both sides, warning the growing danger of a new major confrontation. However, what this statement appears to conceal is that the rise of Haftar is a stabilizing response to the state of stale chaos that has reigned in the country since 2011.