Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

LIBYA – HAFTER HAS WEAPONISED THE TRIBES (FURTHER NOTES ON FIELD MARSHALL KHALIFA HAFTER’S STRATEGY DATED 19TH FEBURARY 2020)

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It is for others to write about the Tripoli government, the Government of National Accord (GNA) as it is known. For these notes it is sufficient to say that it has resorted to an alliance with Turkey’s President who has commenced the supply of military hardware, advice and numerous Syrian mercenaries which have strengthened the GNA’s militias defending Tripoli and Misurata against Hafter’s Libyan National Army (LNA).  

Negotiations between representatives of the GNA and the LNA are taking place – or were taking place until today – in Geneva to arrange a lasting cease fire. Hafter’s LNA has effective control over most of Libya barring Tripoli and Misurata. He is able to use his high-tech weapons to attack targets in Tripoli and has fired on shipping in Tripoli’s harbour and on its only functioning airport.

The diplomatic efforts to devise a sustainable political solution to Libya’s long and brutal civil war are troubled by the divergences within the EU and the Gulf Sates involved in a proxy war in Libya. The weapons embargo placed long ago on Libya is being systematically violated.

Hafter, when confronted with Turkey’s belligerent intervention, was, in my view forced to play the tribal card. Libya is almost totally dependant on the revenue it earns from its extensive oil fields. These fields and the oil terminals though which the stuff is exported are in remote parts of Libya. Most Libyans live in the coastal cities such as Tripoli, Benghazi, Misurata, Tobruk and Derna for example. It is notoriously difficult to get people to work in the remote oil installations. The quasi military force, the Petroleum Facilities Guard, which guards them draws its recruits largely from tribesmen in whose homeland the installations are situated. I have written at greater length about this here. In effect, Hafter has used the Petroleum Facilities Guard to shut down the majority of Libya’s oil industry at the instigation, it is said, of Libyan tribal leaders. Hafter has a strangle hold on the Government of National Accord in Tripoli. He has weaponised the Libyan tribes.

According to the Libya Herald: –

In its latest information bulletin on the oil blockade of ports and pipelines released yesterday, Libya’s state National Oil Corporation (NOC) confirmed a drop in production to the current level of 191,475 b/d, as of Wednesday February 12, 2020, with losses at US$ 1,380,468,480.’l

The threat of fuel and power shortages in Tripoli, Misurata and other major cities is acute.

As I write, sheiks and notables from Libya tribes are gathering in Tarhuna for a conference. It will be interesting to see which tribes attend and what resolutions emerge from their deliberations.

Written by johnoakes

February 19, 2020 at 2:06 pm

LIBYA – HAFTER PUSHES ELEMENTS OF HIS FORCES FROM SIRTE TO ABU GREIN SOME 120 KM SOUTH EAST OF MISURATA. (DATED 31ST JANUARY 2020 AND UPDATED 8TH FEBRUARY 2020)

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Hafter has pushed forward his Libya National Army defensive line to the westwards of Sirte. It has stopped at the town of Abu Grein and may consolidate there to protect the strategic city of Sirte and to threaten Misurata, Libya’s third largest city.

I do not remember Abu Grein though some years ago I drove from Tripoli to Benghazi along the old coastal road. I assume it offers Hafter a defensible position from whence he can screen Sirte and the Libya Oil Crescent. This map may be useful despite being somewhat over busy. It gives the overall picture of the current war some days ago.

I have been arguing in this blog for some time that Hafter is a canny general. He has experience of urban warfare. His battles for the eastern cities of Benghazi and Derna will have given his fighters plenty of bitter experience of the collateral damage urban warfare causes both to people and military reputations. He will not forget that the Misurata militias are battle hardened and from a substantial part of his enemy’s military assets.

I suspect he will slowly tighten his cordon around the Tripoli oasis and redouble his efforts to influence the proxy war now afoot in Libya.

He will see Turkey’s belligerent intervention as a propaganda windfall as well as a military hazard. The French and the Greeks have been making very strong protests about Ankara’s efforts to send regular Turkish Army personnel and to sponsor the movement of Syrian militias into Misurata and Tripoli. The French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle is on station in the Eastern Mediterranian as a sign of President Macron’s unease.

As far as I can ascertain these are the Syrian militias preparing to go to – or are already in – Misurata. (I would welcome some information about them and their capabilities from anyone with the expertise in the subject of Syrian militias. In the meantime this appears to be the man behind the source. You will make your own assesment of its reliability. ) They are believed to be the al-Mu’tasim Brigade, Sultan Murad. Brigade, Northern Falcons Brigade, Hamzat, Legion of Levant, Suleiman Shah, Samarkand Brigade and the Euphrates Shield. I may have missed some but there are said to be 1,700 militiamen preparing to move or have already been deployed to Libya.

There is a good piece on the mercenary groups operating in Libya here. This piece about the Russian Wagner group fighting with Hafter’s LNA is interesting.

I suggest that Ankara’s belligerence has played into Hafter’s hands. Libya was an Ottoman province of importance. Hafter’s propaganda machine will not hesitate to put much emphasis on what he will suggest is the Turkish president Erdogan’s effort to re-establish Turkish colonial power in Libya.

Both sides in the Libya proxy war and both sides on the ground in Libya are engaged in an intense diplomatic campaign and a fierce propaganda war. Hafter will aim to influence civilians in Misrata and Tripoli to support him or at least oppose his enemies. His intelligence and propaganda assets are likely be in contact with people within Tripoli and Misurata. This paper by Nathaniel Greenburg gives some detailed and interesting background about the role of propaganda in Libya.

I suggest that Hafter will be intensifying his efforts to influence and spread discord amongst his opponents and to gain favour amongst the citizens of Tripoli and Misurata.

LIBYAN OIL PORTS CLOSED BY TRIBES SUPPORTING HAFTER AND THE LNA. (19TH JANUARY 2020)

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Today the international effort to bring peace to Libya is focussed on the conference in Berlin attended by Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Johnson,and President Macron as well as heads of sate, ministers and diplomats from Italy, Turkey, USA and Russia amongst others. Field Marshall Khalifa Hafter who commands the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Head of the Govenment of National Accord (GNA), are, of course, attending.

It is the primary purpose of the conference to establish an agreement between the GNA and Hafter. Other observers – with better insights and sources than I have – will be commenting on the conference and its outcome.

There are corroborated reports from Egytian and Libyan sources that the eastern oil ports have been closed by tribes in support of Hafter. They are said to oppose the arrival of Turkish sponsored mercenaries from Syria to strengthen the GNA which is defending Tripoli and Misurata against Hafter’s LNA which now surrounds them.

It is noted that Hafter’s LNA holds Eastern and Southern Libya and thus the important oil fields and the oil ports around the Gulf of Sirte and the oil port near the Eastern city of Tobruk.

Libya’s oil revenue is paid to the Libyan National Oil Company which is based in Tripoli and which has hitherto remained relatively neutral despite the schisms caused by the long years of armed strife in Libya. Hafter, it should be noted, has de facto control over most of Libya’s oil fields and the means of shipping their output but is unable to sell the oil. He has only once attempted to interfear with this. (There was an attempt to control the oil ports by an adventurer called Jhadran. Hafter effectivel removed Jhadran with the assistance of local tribes which exert some influence over the so callled ‘oil crescent’ of which more annon)

Turkey’s belligerent attempt to send troops – or Turkish sponsored militias – to the assistance of Hafter’s enemies has clearly had the effect of uniting powerful Libyan tribes against what they percieve as an attempt to revive Ottoman rule in Libya. It is noted that the tribes likely to be involved in the closure of the oil ports are the amongst those which cooperated with the Libyan resistance hero Omar Mukhtar in a long rebellion against the Italian occupation of Libya which followed the removal of the Turks in 1911. These tribes will be profoundly opposed to the percieved attempt by Turkey to renew ‘colonial’ ambitions.

These are the tribes in whose homeland the eastern oil ports are found. The al – Magharba tribe in which are the Ras Lanuf, the Marsa Brega and the al-Zuetina terminal and the al-Abaidat in which the Tobruk oil terminal is situated. The Zawia (known locallly as the Sway) tribe holds sway over the oil fields and much of the pipelines. (N.B. Spelling of Libyan tribal names vary – these are mine and follow E.E. Evans-Prtichard)

These tribes are amongst the so called Saadi tribes which are highly respected and influential. However, they would need encouragemet to act togther. The possibility that Hafter has been able to coordinate their actions – or at least encourage them to do so – is strong. It will not have escaped the notice of the more diligent diplomats that Hafter’s highly respected tribe, the Farjan, lives amongst the al-Magharba and the Awaqir tribes in the area stretching from near Sirte in the west to Bengahzi in the east. It makes a powerful statement of intent which those gatherd in Germany today might be wise to note.

It is significant that the Libyan National Oil Company has stated: –

“The blockade instructions were given by Maj Gen Nagi al-Maghrabi, the commander of Petroleum Facilities Group appointed by the Libyan National Army, and Col Ali al-Jilani from the LNA’s Greater Sirte Operations Room,”

Major General Nagi al-Maghrabi is a member of the Maghrabi tribe mentioned above. The Petroleum Facilites Group is a paramilitary force which guards the Libyan oil assets such as the oil ports around the Gulf of Sirte known as the ‘Oil Crescent’. They are in the homeland of the al-Magharba tribe and the guards are recruited locally. The oil ports can only have been taken over with their cooperation, or by the ‘tribesmen’ of the Patroleum Facilities Group.

At 15:45 UK time it was reported that tribes in Libya’s south west have occupied the Murzuk oil fields effectivley closing down the whole of Libya’s oil exports. The tribes are said to be acting against the percieved attempt by Turkey to interfear in Libya.

LIBYA – HAFTAR HAS TAKEN SIRTE AND IS THREATENING MISURATA. (A WORK IN PROGRESS UPDATED 17TH JANUARY 2020)

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Turkey has become belligerent and is attempting to gain a foothold in Libya. The Turkish parliament recently voted to send troops to aid the Libya ‘Government of National Accord’ (GNA) whose militias are under attack on the outskirts of Tripoli by the Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by Field Marshall Khalifa Hafter. Some Turkish units have already been positioned in Tripoli and have, so far, opened an operations room from which they are helping to the GNA’s attempts to defend itself from Haftar’s forces. Turkish drones are being used in the defence of Tripoli and are likely ‘flown’ by Turkish ‘pilots’.

Turkey has been roundly condemned for this aggressive move by Egypt, Algeria and the African Union. Algeria has stated that it will not stand by and allow Turkish interference in Libya and Tunisia has stated that it will not offer Turkey bases from which to launch attacks on Libya. The African Union, which has also condemned the Turks, is anxious about the effect of its interference in Libya on the Sahel states which are not stable. Turkey has already severely antagonised Greece and Cyprus. It is disputing the sovereignty of some of the Greek islands and its invasion of Cyprus in the 1970 has left part of that island under Turkish control.

There are strange but uncorroborated reports such as this. Syrian militias are being offered Turkish citizenship and big money to fight in Libya. This appeared in a Libyan source recently; Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Research Fellow at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, stated that “sources inside the Turkish-backed Syrian factions tell me that in exchange for fighting in Libya, fighters are being promised Turkish citizenship after 6 months of deployment.” (Note dated 15th January 2020; An article dated 15th January 2020 in the British broadsheet, the Guardian, coroborates and expands on this report.)

The GNA was, until Monday 6th January, in effective possession of Tripoli, Libya’s capital, its third largest city, Misurata,which lies 211 Km east of Tripoli and Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace on the Gulf of Sirte some 271 Km south east of Misurata. Much of the armaments, including drones, which Turkey has sent to aid the GNA have been shipped into Libya via Misurata’s port. The Misurata’s ‘Flying School’ has been used as a base for the GNA’s air force.

Haftar, from his headquarters in Benghazi, has reacted decisively to the Turkish threat. His forces hold sway over Eastern Libya, including the so-called oil crescent around the Gulf of Sirte and in Sothern Libya once known as the Fezzan. On Monday 6th January units of his LNA marched into Sirte virtually unopposed. The GNA’s militias hitherto in possession of the city retreated towards Misurata.

I suggest that Hafter’s forces will now move on Misurata as rapidly as possible to at least threaten and at best take possession of the city and its port before the Turks are able to get enough boots on the ground. To this end Haftar’s forces have announced the expansion of the war zone near Misurata and declared a no-fly zone which extends over the Tripoli. The no-fly zone comes into effect at 21:00 local time on 9th January. It includes Tripoli’s Mitiga airport and civil airlines are warned that their aircraft risk destruction if they attempt to ignore the no-fly zone.  

However, the Misurata militias are battle hardened and aggressive and I suspect Hafter may hope that the Turks will be discouraged by international condemnation from committing a large expeditionary force in Libya. Much will depend on the attitude adopted by the Misurata militias in the face of a potential large-scale Turkish intervention. Haftar has called for a ‘jihad’ against the Turks and there will be lingering resentment amongst many in Misurata about Turkey’s history in Libya.

Libya was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1551 to 1911 when Italians invaded and took possession. The main value of Libya to the Ottoman Turks was the slave trade via the slaving routes from sub-Saharan Africa to Tripoli and Benghazi. Also, Ottoman Tripoli was one of the principle ports of the notorious Barbary Corsairs. There was a period of ‘home rule’ in Libya under the Karamanli dynasty between 1711 and 1835. The Karamanlis were a family of Turkish cavalry officers who had married Libyan women and ceased power from the Ottoman Pasha of Tripoli in a brutal coup. It was during the Karamanli regime that Libya and the newly formed United States of America were briefly at war.

We do not have to look far for a principle reason for Turkey’s interest in establishing itself in Libya. The eastern Mediterranean is harbouring substantial natural gas reserves. They will be difficult to exploit for physical reasons. The most pressing difficulty is that to monetarise them a number of national interests have to be bought into agreement. Countries laying claim to a share of the reserves are Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Libya. Turkey has no claim having no continental shelf falling within the undersea gas fields. It is noted that Turkey took a part of eastern Cyprus by forces in the 1970’s but its claim over what is called Turkish Cyprus is recognised only by itself. Some background on this problem can be found here.

Turkey has recently signed a treaty with the GNA in Libya which allows it some leverage in Libya’s claim to part of the eastern Mediterranean gas reserves. This is antagonising the other claimants considerably. Should Turkey consolidate its hold over the Libyan GNA it will, because of Libya’s strategic position in the Mediterranean, gain a whip hand in the exploitation of the eastern Mediterranean gas reserves. It is as well to remember that Turkey is now heavily dependent on Russian natural gas delivered through the TurkStream pipeline laid below the Black Sea and opened for business a few days ago. It should also be noted that TurkStream will be extended to carry Russian natural gas to European countries in the near future.

Turkey’s motivation for sending troops to Libya and the consternation it causes is probably best understood in terms of access to energy supplies.

HAFTER WENT TO MOSCOW TO SIGN A PEACE TREATY WITH THE TRIPOLI GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL ACCORD (UPDATE 14TH JANUARY 2020)

President Putin has perusaded Fied Marshall Khalifa Hafter to sign a cease fire in LIbya and agree to travel to Moscow and possibly sign a peace treaty with the Goverment of National Accoyd, his opponent in Tripoli. I have followed the progress of Hafter for some time and porpose to draw on the insights I have gained tio suggest why he has decided that the time is ripe to bring the fighting to an end and commence negotiations leading to a possible settlement in Libya.

Firstly, he would not have agreed to go to Moscow if he was not in a postions to negotiate from strength. His forces have recently taken the startegically important city of Sirte and he has been strong enough to declare a no-fly zone over Tripoli.

However, he may reason that he has reached a point where the risk inherent in futrher military action may be too great. That is, he may have calculated that taking Misurata and Tripoli would be costly militarly, politically and internationally.

He has been recruiting Sudanese militias from Drafur which may show that he is finding it difficult to recruit and train sufficient troops to keep his widly dispersed territory and its diverse population under his control and, at the same time, fight a costly and prologed urban battle which he would face had he continued his advance on Misurata and Tripoli. His battle to expel radical Islamist militias from Benghazi was prolonged and dirty. He may have calculated that the fanaticism and experience of some of the militias which oppose him would have caused long and politically costly delays.

In political terms he may calculate that the viscious and costly nature of urban warfare would arouse too much anti-war sentiments in the capital city and would alienate too many of the passive population against him.

He may recognise that there are traits in his personality and incedents in his history which do not make him potentially popular. His dual Libyan-US citizenship does not sit well with some factions in Libya. His notable ability to raise an army and to wield it well may not transfer into politcal sucsess.

Internationally he has been successful in gaining support from, amongst others Egypt, France, UAE and Russia and the tacit support of his sothern neighbours such as Chad and Niger. At one time Presidneyt Trump voiced his support but his somewhat bellicose remarks were modified by more balanced and statsmanlike communiques later. The USA is seruously concerend about the presence of IS and al Qaeda in Libya and suspect that they have enthusiastic allies in some of the militias supporting the Government of National Acciord in Tripoli.

Recently and in response to Turkey’s proposed military support for the Tripoli GNS Algeria made it clear that it would not tolerate foriegn intervention in Libya and the Afrcan Union was clearly opposed to Turkey’s beligerent threats. Italy, at one time a potential ally of Turkey against Hafter, is somewhat restrained by indecision right now.

I suggest that Turkey’s belligerence when it proclaimed its intention to send troops to aid Hafter’s enemies has caused consternation. It was clear that Egypt would not tolerate this and it demostrated its oppostion with naval ecercises in or near Libya territorial waters.

Persident Putin, ever the opportunist, was in comunication with the Turkish president Erdogen during the events around the opening of the TurkStream pipeline supplying Russian natural gas to Turkey. The influence he thus secured was sufficient to discourage Turkey’s beligerence and broker a cease fire between Tripoli and Hafter which appears to be holding resonably well so far.

The desperately dangerous sutuation in Iran will have concentrated minds in favour of avoiding all-out urban war in Tripoli and Misurata.

HAFTER REFUSES TO SIGN THE PEACE TREATY (FURTHER UPDATE 14TH JANUARY 2020)

Hafter has declined to sign the peace treaty proposed by presidents Putin and Erdogen and is believed to have left Moscow. It appears that the treaty did not allow for a satisfactory time table for disbanding the Tripoli militias. Hafter is of the opinion that they are dangerous.

He must be suffciently confident that he will be supported by Egypt and the UAE should Erdogen attempt to send troops to aid the Government of National Accord. Erodogen is now making belllicose threats about punishing Hafter.

WHY DID HAFTER REFUSE TO SIGN THE TREATY? (UPDATE 16TH JANUARY 2020)

There is some speculation about why Hafter risked refusing to sign the Putin/Erdogen treaty between him and the Tripoli Government of National Accord. A sometime British ambassador to Libya apparently suggests that Hafter is confident that his allies, Egypt, the UAE and others, will come to his aid should Erdogen commit Turkish or Turkish sponsored troops to join the Tripli militias.

Hafter has long held, and expressed, the view that the Tripoli militias are corrupt and contain too many militant Islamists. It has been one of his principle aims to defeat them and establish an independent police force and judiciary. He would not abandon that view or that plan easily. He can be somewhat volatile but he would not, in my view, abandon one of his principle objectives and Putin and Erdogen must have been ill advised to try to persuade him to do so.

There is another speculative hypothosis doing the rounds. It suggetst that he may have concluded also that Erdogen and Putin had privatley cooked up a plan to remove him from the field in their own interests. There is no eveidence to suport this.

Their is also the view in some quartes that should the Turks send a large body of troops to Libya public opinion would turn in Hafter’s favour. The history of Ottoman rule (see above) is not viewd with favour in modern Libya, a country which has not long, in the scheme of things, been independent.

Hafter can be volatile and he may have been angry enough by the lack of a commitment to stand down the Tripoli militias to put his long planned and carefully exicted plan in peril. I suggest he may believe he has sufficient strength and outside support to win the battle for Tripoli. If not, the outcome is likely to be a catastrophy for Libya.

HAFTER AGREES TO ATTEND A MEETING IN BERLIN ON SUNDAY 19TH JANUARY WITH MACRON, MERKLE AND HIGH STATUS REPRESENTATIVES FROM TURKEY, RUSSIA, US, UK, CHINA ANS ITALY. (UPDATED 17TH JANUARY 2020)

On 16th June Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, arrived in Bengahzi to invite Hafter to a summit meeting in Berlin at which he will make his expectations clear about a possible peace treaty between him and the Tripoli Goverenmant of National Accord.

It is clear that he cannot refuse to attend but he will expect a better informed and more balanced reception of his case than was possible when he met Erdogen and Putin in Moscow. He may well have felt that Erdogen in particular and Putin attempted to railroad him into signing a peace treaty which had been toheavily biased in favoutr of the Tripoil GNA.

Erdogen was said to have displayed anger in no uncertain terms after the Moscow peace intiative failed and has since upset a number of governments by continuing to send Turkish or Turkish sponsered troops to Libya. The US State Department has just expessed its alarm by calling for the removal of all mercenaries from Libya.

In the meantime consultations are taking place with the Algerian government and, no doubt, with Egypt. Both countries have been critical of Turkey’s belligerent intervention in Libya.

TRIPOLI – MY LETTER TO A BRITISH FOREIGN OFFICE MINISTER

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As I write the democratic process in the UK is in some disorder. We ordinary British folk are watching our parliament, which prides itself on being the mother of parliaments, now unable to reach agreement about the UK’s relationship to the rest of Europe. We are also watching the component parts of the UK becoming restive and seeking independence.  Fortunately, the UK police force and judiciary remain relatively independent of political manipulation and retain the trust of most citizens – so far, that is.

I note with some scepticism that the British Foreign Office is attempting to obtain a vote in the UN which calls for a democratic solution to the current armed conflict in Libya. Eventually, of course, that must be the solution. Right now, however, I am surprised at the naivety this embodies. I am even more surprised as one of the current Foreign Office ministers kindly claimed that he was inspired by a speech I made many years ago to become an MP and to use his talents to lead for the human good. I would tell him this, clearly and emphatically. Firstly, deal with the Tripoli militias, IS and Al Qaida. Curb the malign influence of the city state of Misurata and bring the city state of Zintan into the fold.  

I would point out to him now, were he to read this, that there can be no democracy in Tripoli whilst it is dominated by armed militias which live by the sword. There will be no democracy whilst there is no independent functioning police force and no effective judiciary. What is more, there can be no democracy when Islamic extremists are given succour and people traffickers are allowed to operate without let or hindrance.

I am forced to agree with this piece which comes from the propaganda arm of Field Marshall Khalifa Hafter’s Libya National Army which is attacking Tripoli now. I would point out whilst doing so that Tripoli was my wife’s town where she was happiest and where the people she knew and worked with were law abiding and kindly. I was sometimes involved with the police and justice system in Tripoli and found it beginning to work effectively. It was a long time ago in the early days of Libya’s independence and there was a sense of promise and hope in the air. Where has all that hope gone now?

Here are the words of Lt. General Madi of the Libyan National Army as quoted in AdressLibya today:

 ‘Major General Idris Madi, commander of the western region of the Libyan National Army, said that residents of the cities of Libya’s western region support eliminating militias from Tripoli and the western region.

In statements to “Al-Ittihad” newspaper on Saturday, General Madi pointed out that Libyans are fully convinced that the civil state cannot exist in the presence of weapons in the possession of criminal gangs, Muslim Brotherhood, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – al-Qaeda, and extremist groups.

General Madi referred to a plan led by the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in the southern region to stir up public opinion and convince the world that the geographical area controlled by the army is based on criminal and terrorist gangs.

He pointed out that the LNA involvement in the north and the non-unification of the political and military decision allows extremist groups to move and carry out limited operations intended to confuse and obfuscate the issues.

Major General Madi stressed the difficulty of the establishment of a civil state in Libya in the presence of armed militias and the spread of weapons outside the authority of the state and the relevant institutions under the law.

“Can a peaceful transfer of power occur in the presence of weapons directed at the people?” Madi said.’

Indeed so! 

John Oakes

12th May 2019

Written by johnoakes

May 12, 2019 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

LIBYA – CAN FIELD MARSHALL KHALIFA HAFTER TAKE TRIPOLI? (8TH APRIL 2019) (UPDATED 8TH MAY 2019)

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HAFTER SHOWS HIS HAND AND THREATENS TRIPOLI

On 29th November 2017 I wrote this. ‘[Field Marshall Khalifa] Haftar’s communication chief, Colonel Ahmed Mismari, has stated that the Libyan National Army, is now preparing to go to Tripoli where it would be welcome by the people. He told the press that the ‘LNA’s new operational area was West Libya’, that is the old Province of Tripolitania, and preparations were now in hand for the ‘next phase’ of what he called the ‘decisive battle for the Libyan Army’. He implied that Haftar had given the politicians attempting to bring some form of stable and effective government into being six months to do so before the LNA moves to take over. It will be interesting to follow this battle as it develops. 

Haftar has kept his word. It is reported today – 7th April 2019 – that Hafter’s advanced forces are threatening Tripoli. They are said to have taken Gharian in the foothills of the Jebel Nefusa and some further reports today suggest his forward patrols may have been within 27Kms of Tripoli.

The powerful militias from Misurata, his sworn enemies, are reported to be on their way to Tripoli to stop his progress. The Misuratans appear to be aided by the Italians and some reports of transport aircraft operating between Italy and Misurata are coming in. Though confirmation is needed.

Hafet has secured Witya military airfield close to the Libyan border with Tunis.

There appear to have been some firefights in the vicinity of Tripoli’s international airport. 

NOTES ON HAFTER’S ATTACK ON TRIPOLI.

Dated 11th April 2019

Hafter’s forces attacking Tripoli are said to be commanded by Major General Abdul Salam al-Hassi supported by Major General Al Mabrouk al-Ghaziwi. Major General Wanis Bukhamada is leading his Saiqa Special Forces in the font line of the attack. Bukhamada’s Special Forces are a formidable unit having a great deal of experience in urban fighting during the recent battles for Benghazi and Derna. They may have benefited from the advice and training they received from French urban warfare experts.

It seems that Hafter’s mobile forces together with their commanders moved via the old trade route from Sebha in the Fezzan to Gharian in the Jebel Nefusa prior to the advance on Tripoli proper.

Italy, whose support for Hafter’s sworn enemies the Misuratan militias, appears to be opposing Hafter’s attack on Tripoli in diplomatic circles. France, on the other hand, has been supporting Hafter’s takeover of Sebha and much of the south east of Libya has thus been placed in a difficult position and has diplomatically urged both sides to stop fighting. Hafter’s forces are said to have a number of French military advisers. The Misuratans may have received ‘assistance’ from Italy. (Readers may recall that the Misuratans supported Hafter’s opponents in the battles to liberate Benghazi and Derna with supplies and military hardware.) In this context ‘The Libyan Address’ reported this today:-

PARIS – The Spokeswoman for the French Foreign Ministry said in an official statement that some groups and persons, classified on the United Nations sanctions list because of their terrorist acts, are involved in the fight in Tripoli against the Libyan National Army (LNA).

The Spokeswoman comments came in reference to the participation of persons classified internationally on sanctions list such as the smuggler known as Abdul Rahman al-Miladi, the commander of Al-Somoud Brigade from Misurata Salah Badi, Ibrahim Jidran and other extremists linked to Al-Qaeda such as Ziad Balaam who appeared in the battles within the forces of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).’

Anyone with an interest in the conditions prevailing in Tripoli before Haftar’s attack would it find useful to read this well researched paper on the Tripoli militias before reaching a conclusion.

REINFORCEMENTS FOR HAFTAR’S LNA ARRIVE FROM BENI WALID

It is reported today – 12th April 2019 – that a large contingent of troops from Beni Walid has arrived to join Hafter’s forces attacking Tripoli. Beni Walid is the home of the Warfella tribe. The Warfella have long been at odds with the Misuratans. I wrote this on 29th November 2017:

As expected, he [Hafter] has reached an agreement with the Warfella tribe based around Beni Walid. He has raised the new 27th Infantry Brigade for recruits from the Warfella under the command of Colonel Abdulla al- Warfella. It is noted that the Warfella tribe was highly favoured under the Gaddafi regime. The new regiment is scheduled to undergo as period of training but it is clear that Hafter’s sphere of influence has been extended to one of Libya’s respected tribes with wide territorial influence. (This map will serve to show the location of the Warfella tribe’s homeland in Libya).

The leadership of the Warfella tribe under Sheikh Mohamad al-Barghouti has been notably withdrawn from the damaging armed discord which has bedevilled Libya since the downfall of the Gaddafi regime. A good piece about this by a noted Libyan journalist can be found here.

However, the tribe has long been at odds with the Misuratans who conducted a siege of Beni Walid in 2012 on the pretext of flushing out Gaddafists who were said to have been afforded refuge there. The story of the siege and something of the history of the enmity between the Warfella and the Misuratans may be found here.’

LOGISTICS – WILL RESUPPLY BE HAFTER’S ACHILLIES HEEL?  

Dated 13th April 2019

Hafter has attacked Tripoli from the south. This means the supply lines from his base in Eastern Libya are very long. Some observers thought he would run out of fuel and ammunition unless he made a rapid and successful advance to take over his opponent’s logistics bases in Tripoli. His planners must have found a way to deal with the long distances and unfavourable terrain of his attenuated supply line. The coastal road from Benghazi to Tripoli is controlled by his opponents, the Misuratans, from Sirte westwards. This adds distance and rough terrain to his supply line. In order to outflank his opponents in Misurata, Hafter is forced to route his supply line from the east of Libya though the city of Hun. From road maps of Libya Hun can be seen to be a critical hub and his opponents have spotted his vulnerability here and are directing air strikes on and around the city.

I believe his forces are still (13th April 2019) fighting to take over Tripoli’s international airport – my own place of work in the mid-20th Century. Possession of this facility would allow him to build an air bridge and relieve some of his logistical problems. His planners have been notable successful in many ways. It will be interesting to find out how they handled the logistical conundrum that bedevilled the British and German armies in World War II. Or will logistics be his Achilles Heel?

Update 20th April 2019

Haftar’s opponents claimed yesterday (19th April 2019) to have pushed his forces out of the logistical base in Gharian in the Jebel Nefusa. I await confirmation of what would be a catastrophic blow to Hafter’s Libyan National Army and would seriously interrupt its resupply rout.

HAS HAFTER BEEN LET DOWN BY HIS ERSTWHILE ALLIES IN ZINTAN?

Hafter’s sometime allies, the powerful militias from the city of Zintan situated in the Jebel Nefusa, have not appeared amongst his coalition of forces on his drive to take Tripoli. It appears that the Zintani elders were in favour of joining the attack alongside Hafter but the sometime Minister of Defence, Osama Juwaily, opposed them. Juwaily is a Zintani and was a army captain during Gaddafi’s rule. He has considerable influence in Zintan, and appears to have split the city’s militias which have so far kept out of the fray.

Some experts are arguing that Hafter had banked on the Zintani militias joining the battle on his side and suggest that his advance has been fatally flawed as a result. However there had been indications of Juwaily’s alignment for some time and I suggest that Haftar was aware of his loyalties.

Update 23rd April 2019

At least two reliable sources report that Major General Idris Madi (Apparently commander of the Western Region) is leading a large force from Zintan in the Jebel Nefusa to join Hafter”s attack on Tripoli. It seems that the issues which have restrained the formidable Zintanis from joining Hafter have somehow been resolved.

Some deatailed background about the Zintani militas and the connection between Zintan and Italy can be found here:

https://jamestown.org/brief/look-commander-zintan-military-council-osama-al-juwaili/

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TRIPOLI ATTEMPTS TO ATTACK HAFTER’S EXTENDED LINES

I suspect this is the first sign of General Ali Kanna and his Tuareg militias. The pro Tripoli ‘Southern Protection Force’ attacked Tamanhint airbase near Sebha on or about the 17th April and Hafter’s forces retreated, regrouped and returned. They are said to have regained possession of the airbase. It is clear that Tripoli is endeavouring to harass Hafter. Some relevant information about Ali Kanna can be found here.

Reports of further reinforcements arriving at Hafter’s forward base in Gharian make it clear that he is able to attract support.

HAFTER’S POWERFULL INTERNATIONAL ALLIES

THE USA

Hafter has dual US and Libyan citizenship. President Trump and Hafter have recently conferred by phone. Trump expressed his support for Hafter’s drive to take Tripoli undermining at a stroke the efforts of the British and Italians to raise a UN resolution condemning the use of force in Tripoli. This has changed the game radically and tipped it in favour of Hafter.

This cautionary piece in Bloomberg dated 25th April 2019 is worth reading in this context. It suggests that there is some disagreement between President Trump and the US State Department about Hafter

FRANCE

For some time, France has been supporting Hafter. They see the threat of IS and similar Islamic extremists now embedded in Libya’s lawless south as threats to the old French Empire states of Chad, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso thus as dangers to France. They have a considerable armed presence in the Sahel region, and they are aware that Islamist groups operating in Southern Libya draw support from allies in Tripoli. Hafter has moved to dominate Libya’s south west and will attempt to eradicate the Islamist groups. The French propose to support him.

Update 2nd April 2019:

This appeared in ‘Adress Libya’ today:-

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Le Figaro, – France’s Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian said:-

“For a long time, since the French operation Serval 2013 in Mali, we have realized that most weapons came from Libya and that many groups had back bases, starting with AQIM,” said Le Drian, using the acronym of the terror group Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Remember, al-Qaeda became dominant in Benghazi, US Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the same city in 2012, and Daesh [aka ISIS] then infiltrated Libyan territories,” he said.“I had alerted from September 2014, in an interview with Le Figaro, on the terrorist risks and on the possibility of local implementation of Daesh. This is exactly what happened: Daesh occupied several Libyan cities and even threatened, at one time, to get its hands on the oil resources.”

“Since May 2014, LNA, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, conducted one military operation after another and successfully hunted ISIS and other terrorist groups from one city to the next. LNA first defeated the so-called Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, a militia alliance which included the group responsible for the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador, after two-month long battle in Benghazi.In October 2014, the terrorist group ISIS took control of numerous government buildings, security vehicles and local landmarks in Derna. LNA launched a military operation in 2015 which successfully liberated the city from ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.”

“LNA forces and local police began to impose security in previously lawless cities one by one until finally dominating all of Cyrenaica and securing the country’s vital oil resources.Earlier this year, LNA mobilized its forces towards the southern region of Fezzan in response to calls made by residents who suffered from the criminal acts of local militias and Chadian armed rebel groups. The residents of Fezzan quickly embraced LNA, which enabled its forces to take control of the region in less than three months.”

“LNA continues its territorial expansion with its recent operation to liberate Tripoli. In addition to France, other international powers such as the United States, Russia and China have signaled their support for LNA’s operation.”

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES AND SAUDI ARABIA

Both states are supporting Hafter with funds and military hardware. It has been reported that drones have been used at night by Hafter’s forces to bomb his enemies in Tripoli. Hafter’s aged Russian fighter aircraft are incapable of operating at night. Reuters is carrying reports from a number of Tripoli residents who say they heard drones circling the city for 10 minutes before opening fire. These reports, and the unusual accuracy of the attacks, are leading some experts  to believe that UAE drones were used.

Update 8th May 2019

Today there are a some widely circulated reports about the drone attack on targets south of Tripoli on the night of 19/20th April. It appears that there are photographs of parts of a Blue Arrow 7 laser-guided missile amongst the target debris. This has led investigators to attribute the strike to a Chinese manufactured Wing Loong drone operated by the UAE. The UAE is known to have Wing Loong drones armed with BA 7 missiles, as have China and Kazakhstan. Egypt, according to some, also may also have Wing Loong drones armed with BA 7 missiles but corroboration is needed. The UN Security Council will view the usse of the drone and missile as a violation of the arms embargo currently imposed on Libya.   An interesting piece about these weapons can be found here.

EGYPT

The Egyptian President Sisi has been a longstanding and steadfast ally of Hafter. He is aware of the influence exerted in Tripoli by the Muslim Brotherhood and it is clear that he needs a stable and sympathetic neighbour on his western border. He has enough trouble with Islamists in the Saini on his eastern border and the Sudan has not been a sympathetic neighbour in the south. I believe he has communicated his reasons for supporting Hafter to Germany’s Angela Merkel.

RUSSIA

Russia is playing its usual canny game by supporting Hafter in the UN. It is also courting Hafter’s favour with inexpensive but effective gestures and, some say, supplying Russian mercenaries to train Hafter’s military. Hafter himself trained in Russia at an early stage in his career.

HAFTER’S POWERFUL ENEMIES

QATAR

It is clear that the Al Thani family who rule Qatar has purchased considerable support in Libya. Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia are uneasy about the effect Qatar is having in Libya and in the Middle East in general. Some sources suggest that the total value of Qatari arms to militants in Libya is estimated at 750 million euros between 2011 and 2017. This long but interesting report is illuminating in this context:

https://www.refworld.org/docid/596c92b64.html

TURKEY

The Ottoman/Turkish occupation of Libya began in 1551 and ended when the Italians replaced them in 1912. The main value for the Ottomans was in the profits of the trans Saharan slave trade which was not extinguished (in Benghazi at least) until 1911. Ottoman Tripoli was also a base for Barbary Corsairs which harried merchant ships in the Mediterranean. The Turks have, therefore, an historic interest in Libya. The Islamist nature of Turkey’s present government seems to have persuaded it to conspire with Qatar against Hafter. Turkey has recently stationed a warship in close proximity to Tripoli and another close offshore Misurata. This seems like a belligerent act against Hafter.

Update 28th April 2019

A spokesperson for Hafter’ Libyan National Army made this statment on 27th April:


‘During the past week, LNA was able to arrest a number of Turkish armed elements who were fighting alongside the Tripoli militias, in a development that seems to confirm the direct involvement of the Erdoğan government in the Libyan conflict. Many of the passports of the Turkish elements were seized by LNA forces.’

Update 5th May 2019

There are some reports of the presence of a large number of Syrian made M-302 artillery missiles in the hands of militias apposing Hafter’s LNA on the approaches to Tripoli. These missiles (also referred to as the Khaibar-1 rocket about which little is known outside Syria and, some imply, Iran) were said to have been imported in April into Libya on the Iranian cargo ship Shahr E Kord through the port of Misurata. Some experts are connecting this shipment of arms with Turkey. 

BACKING TWO HORSES IN A FATAL RACE ?

ITALY – ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA

Italy has been investing time and resources in courting the two powerful city states of western Libya outside the capital Tripoli. Libya’s third largest city is Misurata. Its militias fought a protracted and bloody battle against Gaddafi in 2011. The city was badly battered, and its people suffered greatly. The Misuratan militias became experienced and formidable fighting units. Since that time, they have been involved in Tripoli and were the winners of a war with the militias of the other powerful city state, Zintan, situated in the Jebel Nefusa. The Zintani militias are also battle hardened and well-armed.

Italy, the sometime colonial power in Libya, has found it expedient to court both the Misuratans and the Zintanis with military and financial support. Hafter has allied himself with the Zintani’s and probably counted on their support when he planned his attack on Tripoli. They appear to have hesitated to join his attack but are now engaged on his side. The Misuratans on the other hand are opposing Hafter.

Italy is thus on the horns of a dilemma. It is also experiencing internal political tensions and suffering from a great influx of migrants who set off to cross the Mediterranean from western Libya.

LIBYA – TRIPOLI AND THE PERILS OF URBAN WARFARE (28TH APRIL 2019)

There is something especially horrible about urban warfare today. There are a few readable papers on the subject which are worth a few moments to those who recognise that urban warfare represents one of the great shifts in how armies fight each other. They are found here and here. Here is a quote from the latter:

‘The nature of the battlefield is as complex as the enemies within it. Urban environments in particular—with dense populations, narrow streets, subterranean passages, and multi-storey buildings that serve as enemy defensive positions—pose significant challenges for mechanised infantry assault forces and have traditionally been avoided when at all possible.’

‘A multi-storied building may take up the same surface area as a small field, but each story or floor contains approximately an equal area as the ground upon which it sits. In effect, a ten-story building can have eleven times more defensible area than “bare” ground—ten floors and the roof. Buildings and other urban structures, damaged but not destroyed, can become (or remain) effective obstacles and possible booby traps.Roofs and other super surface areas may also provide excellent locations for snipers; lightweight, handheld antitank weapons; MANPADS; and communications retransmission sites. They enable top-down attacks against the weakest points of armoured vehicles and unsuspecting aircraft.’

‘Subsurface areas include subterranean areas such as subways, mines, tunnels, sewers, drainage systems, cellars, civil defence shelters, and other various underground utility systems. In older cities, they may include ancient hand-dug tunnels and catacombs. Both attacker and defender can use subsurface areas to gain surprise and manoeuvre against the rear and flanks of a threat and to conduct ambushes. However, these areas are often the most restrictive and easiest to defend or block. Their effectiveness depends on superior knowledge of their existence and overall design Many threats will integrate widely available off-the-shelf technologies into their weapon systems and armed forces. However, sniper rifles and small, man-portable, fire-and-forget weapons and demolitions and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs), to include suicide and car bombs, will likely dominate the urban environment.’

As this piece is being written Hafter’s forces are attempting the fight their way from the southern suburban centers on five fronts into down town Tripoli. Reports indicate that the main battle front stretches across Ain Zara, Khalat Al-Furjan, Aziziya, Wadi Rabea and Gasr Ben Ghashir. The last, Ben Gashir, some twenty miles south of down town Tripoli, is in the vicinity of the cities long disused international airport and most of the battle front is in the Tarhuna tribal area.

The dark side of urban warfare is clearly illustrated by this extract from the report dated 26th April by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

‘About 1,700 Internally Displaced (IDP) children have been reached with psychosocial assistance and more than 37,500 persons have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting around the borders of Tripoli. There are at least 90 civilian casualties, including 21 verified fatalities since the beginning of the conflict. These casualties include medical personnel, women and children, and at least one foreign national.

The conflict has significantly affected the capacity of hospitals and primary health centres with some medical personnel leaving the health facilities, thus hindering the capacity of the health system to respond to increasing needs. Specialized health workers are particularly needed. Armed actors and security institutions have restricted freedom of movement and increased security check toward the civilian population. IDPs who originate from Eastern Libya, the home of Hafter’s LNA, are being targeted as potential combatants or being politically allied to Hafter.’

TARHUNA – A CHANGE OF ALLEGANCE

In an attempt to predict Hafter’s plan for his advance on Tripoli I wrote this about Tarhuna on 29th October 2017. (I declare an interest in the region as one of my duties whilst serving with the British Royal Air Force in the 1960s brought me into occasional contact with a facility called the Tarhuna Range.):-

‘No doubt his intelligence people have made a thorough assessment of the Tarhuna tribal leadership and its likely allegiances. From the observer’s standpoint the outstanding problem is the Kani militia which dominates the tribe and has the Tarhuna town council in its pocket. The Kani militia claims to be Islamist but there are some who observe its operations with scepticism and suggest it has a record of revenge killings and involvement in shady trading. It does seem to be unscrupulous in practice. Haftar’s people will have noted that the Kani militia was allied to the Misuratan militias in Operation Libyan Dawn during which the Haftar’s allies, the Zintani militias, were beaten out of Tripoli and wanton destruction of aircraft and property took place at Tripoli’s international airport. An excellent paper on the battle between Haftar’s forces and those of Libya Dawn may be found here. It is the alliance between the Kani and the Misuratans which must exercise the minds of Haftar’s planners.

It was clear at the time I wrote the above that Hafter had made and alliance with the Warfella tribe based at Beni Walid. Between the Warfella and Tripoli lay the Tarhunans. Hafter would have to approach Tripoli through their tribal lands to outflank his powerful enemies in Misurata. Hafter’s luck was with him. The Kani militia attacked the Tripoli militias recently and underwent a change of heart. See here and here for some background. The Tarhunans were clearly brought into an alliance with Hafter thus opening the southern approaches to Tripoli. That must have been an interesting negotiation and may have involved a number of promises Hafter will have to honour later should he win.


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/JohOakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1B

LIBYA – DANGEROUS STILL (A work in progress commenced 19th September 2018) (Updated 12th April 2019)

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SOME NOTES ON LIBYA’S LAWLESS SOUTH

Units from the Special Forces of the Libyan National Army (LNA) left the city of Benghazi a few nights ago to commence operations in the south of Libya. They are under the command of Major General Wanis Bukhamada who has been tasked by the Libyan National Army Commander to open an ‘Operations Room’ at the Tamanhint Air Force base a short way south east of Sebha in the Fezzan. Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter has instructed him to ‘secure the south of Libya and eliminate terrorist gangs, criminals and mercenaries, and to combat smuggling of arms and drugs and people trafficking’. Bukhamada is a formidable fighting soldier who was prominent in the recapture of Benghazi from Islamist militias and the near complete clearance of Jihadists from Derna. (News about him is occasionally found here.) Formidable as he may be, there is no doubt that he has a very tough job to do. To project military power over long distances is not easy, especially in Libya.

Not the least of his problems is the geography. Libya may be on the coast of North Africa but much of it is in the Sahara. For a country with a landmass of 679,500 or so square miles it has a small population. In 2011 it was estimated to be 6,276,632 most of whom live on the Mediterranean coast. Libya borders Tunis and Algeria to the west, Chad and Niger to the South and Egypt and the Sudan to the East. Clearly it is a big country not much of which is hospitable. Since the fall of Ghaddafi in 2011 the south has been largely out of control.

Field Marshal Haftar has made progress in the south eastern city of  Kufra which is some 1020 kilometres from Benghazi and where units associated with the Libyan National Army have been for some months under the command of the Kufra Military Zone Commander, Brigadier Belgasim Al Abaj. Brigadier Al Abaj took up his post there on 16th April 2018. I believe he is a member of the Zawiya tribe  which has dominated the Kufra oasis complex for a very long time indeed. He was also Gaddafi’s Chief of Intelligence in Kufra which makes him a particularly interesting character.

We know that the factors which attract al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State are a weak or remote central government, a divided national army, a weak and corrupt police force, intertribal strife, a safe haven in remote and rough terrain, access to criminal enterprises such as smuggling and capturing foreigners for ransom, poverty, neglect and native Salafist sympathisers. The fall of Gaddafi’s dictatorship in 2011 followed by political instability offers armed and ruthless groups a perfect place to laager in the ungoverned vastness of Southern Libya. The Tibesti Mountains of northern Chad and Southern Libya may be particularly tempting for hardcore Jihadists and rebel groups with malign intent who seek remote bad lands in which to hide and thrive.

What do we know about Bukhamada’s enemies? Very little but we can make inferences from the scarce evidence available in the public domain. In April 2015 I wrote this. 

‘However, there is another threat which needs attention. It is the purpose of this blog to warn against ‘Islamic State’ exploitation of the lawless southern regions of Libya. These regions, which border on the Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali and Algeria, would offer a haven for IS and allow it to exercise a perceived influence far in excess of its real power. Should they fetch up there they would find a source of revenue in the trafficking of drugs, arms and people. They would also make formidable ally for Nigerian based Boko Haram which is currently attempting to expand into Mali. It could also exploit the unrest amongst the Tuaregs and to this end has begun to post propaganda in Tamahaq

 Once established in southern Libya the ‘Islamic State’ could threaten to mount attacks on the Algerian natural gas complex, Libyan oil installations and the Nigerian yellow cake Uranium mines. Perhaps a lodgement of Islamic State in southern Libya would prompt an intervention by the Sahel states and would, no doubt, disturb the Algerians and could bring the French, who have troops stationed in the region, into play.

It is significant – but somewhat late in the day – that on 5th September 2018 the United Nations representative in Libya, Ghassan Salame, addressed the UN Security Council. He was unhappy about the security situation in Libya. Here is what Mr Salame told the UN Security Council:

‘In recent weeks, Chadian Government and Chadian opposition forces have been fighting, operating from Southern Libya. Over 1,000 fighters have been involved in the hostilities, risking the South becoming a regional battle ground and safe haven for foreign armed groups, including terrorist organizations. The recent agreement signed between Chad, Sudan, Niger and Libya needs to be implemented so Libya does not also become an alternative battleground for others. The signatories have asked for support from the International Community for the implementation of these agreements, and I hope that Council members will positively consider their request.’

On 24th August Reuters was reporting: ‘Rebels in northern Chad attacked government forces this week at the border with Libya, the fighters and two military sources said on Friday, although the government denied an attack had taken place.’ The rebel force appears to be the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic [of Chad] (CCMSR), which seeks to overthrow President Idriss Deby. The CCMSR claims to have 4,500 fighters and was founded in 2014. It is said to include former rebels from the Darfur region of neighbouring Sudan. Some background on this group can be found here.

What can the redoubtable Major General Bukhamada and his special forces do to clear the region of IS, Al Qaeda, CCMSR fighters, people traffickers and other malign groups? I suspect he will commence by recruiting the Tebu militias in the region.

Firstly, therefore, a word about the Tebu. The Tebu people who live in the vicinity of Kufra, Sebha and Muzuq are part of a wider ethnic group called the Teda, desert warriors living in the eastern and central Sahara and, effectively, a black people without nationality. The majority of them can be found in the Tibesti Mountains on the Libyan-Chad border. Their harsh environment, extreme poverty, and remote location make them a very tough people. They have often clashed with the neighbouring tribes and with the Tuareg and, like the gypsies in Great Britain, are despised by the dominant communities who see them as petty thieves and liars. Traditionally, the Teda controlled the caravan trade routes that passed through their territory. They were widely known in the past for plundering and salve trading. Their language is Tebu and their basic social unit is the nuclear family, organized into clans. They live by a combination of pastoralism, farming, substance smuggling and date cultivation. They have formed a number of militias some of which have joined Field Marshall Hafter’s Libyan National Army, but others operate in their own interests in the region. This map will serve as a good guide to the parts of Libya occupied by the Tebu and the Tuareg and a fair idea of the tribal homelands of the Arab and Berber tribes of Libya.

The Tebu know, and have recently been in control of, much of Southern Libya and it is why it might be amongst Bukhamada’s first tasks to recruit the Tebu militias. In this he has a troublesome obstacle to overcome in the shape of mercenaries from neighbouring Chad, Niger and the Sudanese province of Darfur all of whom have their own agendas and are now operating in Libya’s south. They have been taking control of the Tebu clans and the municipal councils of the Tebu towns such as Qaroon, Murzuq, Traagin, and Um Aramyb. They are clearly attracted by the lucrative people trafficking business and the smuggling opportunities presented by the open borders.

Sources amongst Field Marshal Hafter’s enemies are suggesting that irregular units attached to his Libyan National Army contain fighters from the Sudan province of Darfur who may have been part of the ruthless Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). I am unable to corroborate this, but should it be true they might provide Major General Bukhamada with some useful insights. He may have other contacts from Chad and Niger ‘up his sleeve’.  Loyalties amongst entrepreneurial Militias are fluid in Libya today.

(There are other significant groups operating in Libya’s lawless south of which the two most important are the Aulad Sulieman and the Tuaregs of which more later).

John Oakes

28th September 2018

UPDATE 8TH FEBRUARY 2019

HAFTER STIRS UP A HORNET’S NEST IN THE FEZZAN

These three reports (see below) demonstrate how Hafter’s Libyan National Army has pushed its way into a hornet’s nest of tribal and ethnic rivalries and drawn the Tripoli based Government of National Accord into a conflict around the old provence of the Fezzan and the South Western oil fields. Hafter has clearly been unable to reach an accord with the Tuareg military leader Ali Kanna who appears to be opposing him with the support of the Tripoli based government. The Arab tribes are also engaged in the conflict including the Awlad Suleiman and the Zawia. The Tebu are at odds with each other and the remnants of the Islamic State are clearly making mischief. Thrown into the conflict are militias attempting to destabilise Chad and thus the conflict may draw the French into the mix.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/08/conflict-erupts-for-control-of-libyas-largest-oil-field

https://www.libyaherald.com/2019/02/08/tensions-rise-in-south-as-multiplicity-of-forces-enter-the-power-play/

Click to access SANA-Dispatch3-Libyas-Fractious-South.pdf

 

HAFTER’S PROGRESS

Updated 2nd April 2019

An excellent piece of journalism by a trusted Libyan academic which tells us much about Field Marshall Hafter’s relationship with the Aulad Suleiman tribe and his occupation of Sebha, the capital of the Fezzan, can be found here. I will later argue that there are hazards in relying on the Aulad Suleiman tribe not the least of which is its bad relationship with the Tuareg. Hafter appears to have been wrong footed by his rivals in Tripoli and the Tuareg General Ali Kanna and thwarted in his efforts to dominate the oil fields in the Merzuq Basin in South West Libya.

Updated 14th April 2010

There are two major oil fields in the Muzurq basin, El Fil (The elephant) and the Sharara.

According to Bloomberg, Hafter’s forces took over the Sahara oil field peacefully from a group which had closed the field down in a protest about their wages.  Here is part of Bloomberg’s report updated 12th February 2019;

Forces loyal to Libya’s eastern leader Khalifa Haftar have taken control of the country’s biggest oil field and say the deposit is secure and ready to resume production.

Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army fanned out in the southwestern Sharara field, people with knowledge of the matter confirmed. Armed protesters had closed down the 300,000 barrel-per-day deposit in December, demanding more money and investment in the remote region.

“Sharara is completely secure and ready to resume pumping,” LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “The guards at the field handed over the field to our forces peacefully.”

The LNA had pledged earlier to hand the field over to the National Oil Corp. once it was fully secured.

It is said that forces loyal to Hafter are in control of the El Fil field but some reports suggest that their tenure is disputed. He has trusted the Tariq ibn Ziyad Battalion of the Libyan National Army to take El Fil (El Feel) and hold it against determined opposition.  Hafter must hope the battalion is as formidable as its name implies. Tariq ibn Ziyad was a famous military commander who conquered southern Spain from the Visigoths in the 8th Century. Gibraltar is named after him. The name is an Anglicization of Jebel Tariq. 

In this context it would be interesting to know what the Tuareg militias controlled by Ali Kanna are planning to do.  

 

SOME NOTES ON SEBHA

The modern town of Sebha has developed from the three oasis settlements of Jedid, Quatar and Hejer and now houses a population of around 200,000. It is the seat of the Saif al Nasr family, the most prominent and revered leaders of the Awlad Sulieman tribe and its historic allies and clients. The Saif al Nasr family gained heroic status in its wars with their Ottoman Turk overlords in the early 19th century and with the Italian colonists in the early 20th Century.
Gaddafi’s father migrated from Sirte to Sebha to take menial employment with the Saif al Nasr family, something which his son was said to resent. Gaddafi attended secondary school in Sebha and staged his first anti government demonstration as a school boy in the city. He also held a demonstration in the lobby of a hotel owned by the Saif al Nasr family, thus ensuring his expulsion from school. The relationship between Sebha and Gaddafi was ambiguous!
The Saif al Nasr family and the Awlad Suleiman tribe it led were the dominate force in Sebha and in much of the Fezzan throughout the Ottoman Turkish regency (1551 – 1911), the Italian colonial period (1911 – 1943), the short period (1943 – 1951) of French military government after WWII and the Kingdom of Libya (1951 -1969). During the forty or so years of the Gaddafi era the dominance in the Fezzan of the Awlad Suleiman was reversed in favour of his own tribe, the Gaddadfa and that of his closest supporters, the Maqarha tribe. This process has been dubbed ‘tribal inversion’ by Jason Pack and his colleges writing in their book ‘The 2011 Libyan Uprisings and the Struggle for the Post-Qadhafi Future’. This book is essential reading but somewhat expensive.
Apart from a number of so called al Ahali, the name given to long time town dwellers, Sebha offers a home to people from other tribes such as the Gaddadfa, Muammar Gaddafi’s tribe, which is based near Sirte but ranges south towards Sebha. There are also colonies of the Maqarha from the Wadi Shati to the north, the Awlad Abu Seif and the Hasawna tribe who, in the past, were the true nomads of the south and allies of the Awlad Suleiman.
There is one district of Sebha which has been a source of discord for some time. It is the Tauri district which is colonised by some Tuareg and many Tebu. The Tebu people are part of a wider ethnic group called the Teda, desert warriors living in the eastern and central Sahara and, effectively, a black people without nationality. The majority of them can be found in the Tibesti Mountains on the Libyan-Chad border. Their harsh environment, extreme poverty, and remote location make them a very tough people. They have often clashed with the neighbouring tribes and with the Tuareg and, like the gypsies in Great Britain, are despised by the dominant communities who see them as petty thieves and liars.
Traditionally, the Teda controlled the caravan trade routes that passed through their territory. They were widely known in the past for plundering and salve trading. Their language is Tebu and their basic social unit is the nuclear family, organized into clans. They live by a combination of pastoralism, farming, subsistence smuggling and date cultivation.
Since the fall of Gaddafi, Tebu militias have come to dominate the South and Libya’s borders with Chad and Niger. They are perceived by the majority of the inhabitants of Sebha to be non Libyans trying to control the city. In particular they now dominate the majority of the trade (legal and illicit) routes between Sebha and the Chad basin. Thus they have a firm grip on the regional arms and drug trade and on people trafficking. The Awlad Suleiman tribesman may still have their own trade routes in this area but perceive the Tebu to be a foreign and ethnically inferior threat to their historic dominance of the region.

HAFER’S LONG SHOT

Updated 5th Apirl 2019

There are some good people writing about Field Marshall Hafter’s recent move into the old province of the Fezzan. I have linked readers to the best in previous blog pieces. In simple terms Haftar has taken the cities of Sebha and Murzuq around the middle of March and pushed his forces forward to threaten or occupy towns of Quatrun, Umm Al Aranib, Ghat, and Awaynat. I so doing he has placed himself in a dominant position across the main trans Saharan roads leading from western Chad and eastern Niger to the Mediterranean ports. In so doing he is in a dominant position to control or eliminate much of the people trafficking, smuggling and legitimate business traffic from the Sahel countries. He also threatens the oil fields in the Murzuk Basin to his north and should he succeed in dominating them he would gain control nearly 90% of Libya’s oil riches. His advance forces are at least 965Kms from his main stronghold in Benghazi!

 

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