LIBYA – KARAMA – (SOME NOTES ON KHALIFA HAFTER’S OPERATION DIGNITY)
On 16th May 2014 ‘retired’ Libyan Major General Khalifa Hafter launched his National Libya Army against the Islamist militias which have for some time dominated the citizens of Benghazi. These militias, the Ansar Sharia Brigade, Libya Shield No. 1, Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade and 17th February Brigade, have espoused a doctrinal form of Islam called Salafism. Recently there are signs of a more extreme form of this doctrine surfacing in the city. This is Tafrikism. Takfiris reject any reform or change to their interpretation of religion as it was revealed in the time of the prophet. Those who deny the fundamental foundations of Islam, or follow any other form of Islam, they call apostates and regard them as non Muslims. Hafter has dubbed his ‘Battle for Benghazi’ Operation Dignity. The Libya Herald dated 17th May reported; ‘Hafter launched his assault [on 16th May] on Ansar Sharia as well as on 17 February Brigade and Libya Shield No. 1 Brigade, both widely viewed in the city as Islamist, from his Al-Rajma military compound in the east of the city yesterday morning. The operation which took everyone by surprise has so far left dozens dead and at least 250 wounded. Benghazi Medical Centre told the Libya Herald that it had 35 bodies and dealt with 138 injury cases. Jalaa Hospital said it had two dead and 29 injured and Marj Hospital six dead and 81 injured.’ At the time of writing the forces of Major General Khalifa Hafter are still in armed confrontation with Islamist militias in Benghazi, Libya’s second city and sometime capital of the old province of Cyrenaica. He has declared that his forces will soon be in Tripoli and his intention is to rid Libya of Islamist militias and their supporters, some of whom, he claims, are foreign. In particular he has singled out the Muslim Brotherhood as his main ‘political’ target. It has been reported that sometime before he mounted his first attack in Benghazi Hafter asked a close friend ‘am I committing suicide?’ Is he indeed committing suicide? Libya’s immediate neighbours, Tunisia and Algeria to the west and Egypt to the east must surely be engaged in an assessment of his strengths and weaknesses and will be moving military resources to contain any spill over should Libya disintegrate into total chaos and become a Somalia on the Mediterranean. All these states have their own issues with Islamists. Egypt today (29th May) has elected the former military chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi as President after a turbulent period of Islamist government, albeit democratically elected, and is engaged in an ongoing low grade war with jihadists in Sinai. It is thus somewhat distracted. If Hafter fails and Libya becomes a stronghold for Al-Qaida and Salafist-Jihadists the stability of much of North Africa will be threatened and there will be a knock on effect in the Sahel states and Nigeria. Libya, therefore, matters. The coastal city of Derna is now firmly in Islamist hands and the vast and lawless south of Libya is a haven for Al Qaeda franchises and criminals. The coalition which has attempted to govern post-Gaddafi Libya has disintegrated and there are currently two prime ministers neither of whom can deal with the serious security problems. Hafter is attempting to demonstrate that only he can deal with the growing anarchy. He may also have political ambitions and has stated that he is willing to run the country if that is the popular demand. The battle lines in Libya are now clear. Arrayed against Hafter are forces akin to Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shaabab in Somalia and Kenya, some of the anti Assad rebel militias in Syria. One of the Islamist militias, Ansar Sharia, the Tafriki-Salafist-Jihadist group based mainly on Benghazi and Derna issued this uncompromising statement some weeks ago; “The goal of Ansar al-Sharia brigade is to implement the laws of Allah on the land, and reject the human implemented laws and earthly made constitutions. There will be nothing ruling in this country other than the laws of Allah.” As Hafter’s warplanes bomb his strongholds in Benghazi a defiant Ansar Sharia military commander, Mohammed Al-Zahawi, has accused him of waging a crusade against Islam. He portrayed Hafter’s forces as lackeys of the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt and warned him that he would suffer the same fate as Gaddafi. Zahawi asserted that his forces beat off the attack launched on Benghazi by Hafter on 16th May and claimed it is a victory for Ansar Al-Sharia. Zahawi said: “We thank God that we were able to defeat Hafter and we challenge him to attempt entering Benghazi again. We warn him that if he continues this war against us, Muslims from across the world will come to fight, as is the case in Syria right now.” Hafter has positioned himself as the sole leader capable of dealing with the Salafist-Jihadist threat and taming the numerous and heavily armed militias which dominate the civil powers throughout Libya. His aim is to gather support from the Libyan man in the street and claims that demonstrations in his favour in Benghazi and Tripoli last Friday gave him a popular mandate. The pro-Hafter demonstration outside Benghazi’s Tibesti Hotel was, however, countered by another, albeit much smaller one, in Tahir Square. In an interview published in Ashraq Al- Awsaat on 22nd May 2014, Hafter is quoted as saying; ‘The security problem is a major issue that has shaken our country in a frightening manner after the GNC allowed all the terrorist forces across the world to come to Libya and coexist with the Libyan people. We know that these terrorists can never coexist with the people of Libya. The Muslim Brotherhood is leading this move. They are being granted Libyan passports and are coming to our country from abroad. There is now a large group of Brothers here, and that is why our neighbours are raising questions about this situation—particularly Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia. These groups, unfortunately, represent a great threat.’ If Hafter manages to win the ‘Battle for Benghazi’ and succeeds in taking over Tripoli he has still to deal with the Islamist Militia in Derna and win over the Islamist leaning City of Misrata. Tribal and ethnic discord needs urgent attention. The Cyrenaican Federalists are still in control of the main oil terminals and the unruly South presents a military problem of its own. In the mean time the Russians have made a diplomatic move by favouring one of the two rival Libyan prime ministers. There entry into the fray is interesting at this time. 1st June 2014 This from the Libya Herald today brings us up to date with the level of popular support for Hafter’s Operation Dignity. ‘Friday demonstrations have grown across the country since the beginning of “Operation Dignity” in Benghazi two weeks ago. The arrival of Central Libya Shield forces in the capital a week later, following an attack on the GNC, appears to have galvanised residents in Tripoli against the presence of armed groups there. Hafter claimed after last week’s demonstrations that popular support had provided him a mandate to continue his campaign against militant Islamist groups. On Wednesday, he bombed an Islamist brigade’s camp and a number of known Islamist safehouses and check points in Benghazi.’ Update 13th June 2014 This from Wikipedia gives a balanced and well researched picture of Operation Dignity: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Libyan_Uprising Update 16th June 2014 This, from World News, carries a clear statement of intent from Hafter; http://pressall.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/leave-libya-or-be-buried-here-hafter-warns-ansar-al-sharia/ and in this are more accusations of involvement by Qatar; http://www.aawsat.net/2014/06/article55333306 This puts the UK, at least, in an interesting position with regard to Qatar. It must be hard being a diplomat these days! http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c403bec6-3f63-11e1-ad6a-00144feab49a.html#axzz34ncPXw4n
Update 9th February 2015
In the last few days the forces of General Khalifa Hafter’s Operation Dignity have launched an all out attack on Ansar Sharia and its allies in Benghazi. The fighting is still going on and Ansar Sharia appears to have received around 250 reinforcements from Misrata who infiltrated the city from the sea.
From eye witness accounts the docks and fish market area is still in Ansar Sharia hands as is Freedom Square and a considerable swathe of the suburbs.
This blog site [ http://www.wakeupbenghazi.com/ ] maintained in English by a courageous and thoughtful Benghazi resident, is worth following. I hope the author survives the dreadful conditions in Benghazi. One member of my family was born in the city. It is hard to watch the deadly conflict in areas I know well.
BOOKS BY JOHN OAKES For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1