Archive for May 2014
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
20th May 2014
The Forces of Major General Khalifa Hafter appear to be gathering for an armed confrontation with Islamist militias in Benghazi, Libya’s second city and sometime capital of the old province of Cyrenaica. In the mean time the price of Brent crude has shot up at the likelihood of a civil war in Libya and the US has moved six hundred marines from Spain to a forward base in Sicily in order to protect and evacuate US diplomats and other citizens from Tripoli where Islamist militias range freely. They are threatened mainly by powerful forces from Zintan, a city on the edge of the Jebel Nefusa. The Libyan General National Congress, by now probably without legitimate mandate, has been attacked by Zintani militias and has been stood down. The ‘legitimate’ but so far ineffective, Libyan army, seems to be divided and has not shown its hand. The Libyan Air Force units in Tobruk and, I believe, Benina have declared their support for Hafter.
Hafter’s forces, now named the Libyan National Army, are based to the east of Benghazi and were said to number 6,000 on the 17th May, though the Special Service (Lightning) Brigade stationed within the city is reported today to have sided with Hafter who also has tribal support, though the extent of this is unknown to date. It is probable that Hafter has been joined by Ibrahim Jadhran’s Cyrenaica Defence Force which hails from Marsa Brega and controls the main oil terminals on the southern shores of the Gulf of Sirte. The Islamist Omar Mukhtar Brigade is said to have left Kufra to join the confrontation though I do not know where it is heading.
Haftar’s tribal militiamen seem to have set up a ring of road blocks around Benghazi in order to stop Islamist forces, from Derna in particular, from entering the city and coming to the aid of those within. The Islamist forces within Benghazi are made up of the Ansar Sharia Brigade, Libya Shield No. 1, Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade and 17th February Brigade.
At the time of writing the Libya Herald appears to be off line though its server may be unable to cope with the unprecedented number of calls on its service. The last news I have been able to access from that source was on 17th May 2014 and I take the liberty of copying parts of its despatches here.
‘A threat by General Khalifa Hafter made on Libya Awlan TV today to “cleanse and purify” Benghazi of Islamist militants took concrete form this evening when a massive explosion destroyed Ansar Al-Sharia’s radio station in the city’s Leithe district.
Earlier in the day, an imam, said to be a supporter of Ansar, was also reported killed at his home in Hay Salam. He was named as Mohamed Ashur.
Hafter launched his assault on Ansar 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 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.
Figures could not be obtained from Hawari and other hospitals.’
It seems that the action has been in the south west of the city – in Hawari and Sidi Ferej districts, in particular the area controlled by Ansar Al-Sharia between the south-western gate checkpoint and the cement factory – as well as in the port area where clashes were reported between Hafter’s forces and Libya Shield 1.
The Libya Herald continues:
‘……. Hijazi said that he did not recognize the legitimacy of the government or the GNC. He claimed that the GNC had long lost their legitimacy back on 7 February (the date he said they were supposed to end their term).
The government and GNC were out of touch, weak and ineffective, he added, saying that his own forces’ military actions were in response to demands of the people (in the face of terror attacks by extremists, criminals and extremist Islamists). He stressed that the “Dignity” operation would continue, but refused to disclose any further details.
Earlier in the day Hijazi had called on residents of three districts to evacuate, on the assumption of a planned military strike. However, Hijazi refused to elaborate.
This evening, there was an eerie calm in Benghazi as most of the city’s inhabitants waited nervously to see what happened next. There are conflicting reports as to how much support Hafter enjoys in Benghazi. Some inhabitants and commentators have expressed relief and joy on the fact that someone – anyone – was prepared to confront the extremist militias.
Others saw no difference between the illegitimate Hafter, who they saw as pursuing his own personal political agenda, and the extremist militias he was confronting.’
Some notes on Khalifa Hafter follow:-
The Libyan revolution began on 17th February 2011 in Benghazi. On Saturday 5th March 2011, the Libyan opposition movement in Benghazi nominated an Interim National Council to lay the foundations for a government. A Military Council of fifteen including, Omar Hariri, was also set up. The most interesting figure was Staff General Abdul Fatah Yunis, who had resigned as Gaddafi’s Interior Minister on 20th February. Yunis was a long standing colleague of Gaddafi and one of his companions in the 1969 coup. It seemed to some observers that he may have harboured ambitions to replace Gaddafi and some believed that he may have kept ‘back channels’ open to his erstwhile boss. He may even have attempted to negotiate a deal in which Gaddafi would stand down thus bring the rebellion to a relatively peaceful end. This would not have suited some of the hard line Islamist militias.
In protest over the Gaddafi brutality, Khalifa Hafter, a native of Benghazi who was a retired Libyan general made his way from the USA and joined the Military Council. He became the general commanding the rebel forces.
Hafter was one of Gaddafi’s senior officers during his long and abortive war with Chad. I understand he was left in Chad to fend for himself when Gaddafi withdrew his forces after a humiliating defeat. Hafter sought exile in the USA, living near the CIA Head Quarters in Langley and he may have been what is politely known as a CIA asset. It is this apparent connection with the CIA which has made Haftar unpopular in some quarters in Libya and allowed the suspicion to grow that he is still under its influence.
Early disagreements amongst members of the Military Council led to disquiet and Italy, France and Britain later sent teams of military advisers to get the staff work sorted out. After some infighting, Abdul Fatah Younis took overall command of the rebel forces with Hariri as his deputy and Hafter was deposed to third place. Abdul Fatah Younis was murdered on or around 29th July 2011 and his killers have yet to be brought to book. Hariri and Hafter remained in command at least until the attack on Tripoli. Harai’s whereabouts are not known at the moment but he, and Haftar, would have been precluded from military command by the Political Exclusion Law passed in February 2013 by the Libyan General National Council as he had held high office under Gaddafi.
I believe that Hafter has been touring the country and building support for the formation of a Libyan National Army with which he is about to confront the Islamist militias which are holding the reins of power in Benghazi and Tripoli. He appears to have won over the powerful Zintani militias and some Air Force units. It remains to be seen if he can win over the highly organised militias in Misurata which are known to have Islamist leanings and to oppose the Zintanis.
On 20th Febraray 2014 the ‘Middle East Online’ reported in part:
‘On….Feb 14, Maj. Gen. Khalifa Hafter announced a coup in Libya. “The national command of the Libyan Army is declaring a movement for a new road map” (to rescue the country), Hifter (sic) declared through a video post. Oddly enough, little followed by way of a major military deployment in any part of the country. The country’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan described the attempted coup as “ridiculous”.’
Ali Zeidan was deposed as Prime Minster and went into exile. Haftar roamed the country building a military following. He clearly reached the conclusion that the time was ripe to make his move when a number of protesters were killed in Benghazi. This report in the Libya Herald dated 10th May 2014 describes the event.
‘Three protestors were shot dead in Benghazi early this morning outside the headquarters of the 17 February Brigade. Another 20 were injured. Four were taken to the city’s Jalaa hospital, were one is in a critical condition, according to the hospital’s spokesperson. Sixteen were taken to the Benghazi Medical Centre………..The protestors had gone to the brigade’s headquarters after shots were fired yesterday afternoon at them while they were demonstrating outside the Tibesti Hotel over the security situation in the city. They were convinced that the gunmen were members of the brigade.
As with so many other similar incidents in Benghazi the exact circumstances of what happened are confusing and it is impossible to say who killed the demonstrators.
As they headed to the headquarters at the end of Venezia Street at about 7.30pm, ignoring warnings from the Benghazi Joint Security Room not to do so. Shortly afterwards, as dusk fell, the lights in the area were turned off.
For around two and a half hours they chanted slogans outside the gates of the brigade, which is headed by Ismail Salabi, such as “We don’t want you here”, “No to militias” and “All we need are the police and the army”. According to one of the protestors, there was then shooting of automatic rifles in the air from inside the headquarters, in “an attempt to scare us off”. Another report says that the shooting was proceeded by an explosion, possibly from anti aircraft missile fired from inside the base…..’
As I write Haftar may be regrouping to the east of Benghazi and awaiting further recruits to his banner. That the Special Forces ‘Lightening’ Brigade stationed in the city has declared for him he is commencing to look stronger.
22nd May 2014
According to Khalifa Hafter the pause in the progress of his forces in Benghazi is because the Islamist militias have taken refuge amongst the civilian population. This, he points out, requires a change in tactics in order to save innocent lives. He argues that the operation, code name Dignity, continues according to plan.
The commander-in-chief of Libya’s Air Force, Col. Gomaa Al-Abbani, has just backed Haftar’s offensive. Abbani said: “The Air Force’s Chief of Staff announces its full accession to Operation Dignity” and called on the Libyan people to “support the armed forces in their battle against terrorism and to restore security.”
In the meantime political support the operation appears to have grown. There are reports that the largest political bloc in the Libyan General National Congress, The National Forces Alliance, has voiced its support for Hafter.
Significantly, the powerful armed forces of Misurata assembled as though to move to Tripoli to oppose Hafter but stood down and returned to their bases. Their appearance in Tripoli would have caused some unrest in any case but their failure to act may have tipped the balance of power further in favour of Hafter. They are Islamist in outlook and will be a hard nut for Hafter’s forces to crack should it come to a showdown.
There are rumours that demonstrations in favour of Hafter’s Operation Dignity are planned in Tripoli and Benghazi tomorrow. We will see.
22nd May 2014
The Misurata militias did not abort their mission and have arrived, according to this AP report, in Tripoli. This will not help the planned? protests and Hafter will certainly face difficulties. See this:
‘Tripoli, AP—Islamist-led militias on Thursday streamed into the Libyan capital amid a standoff with fighters loyal to a renegade general whose offensive has won support from officials, diplomats and army units, but has also threatened to fragment the country further.
The militias, known as Libya Central Shield, are composed of groups from the western city of Misrata. They are under the command of the army’s chief of staff, who answers to parliament.
Witnesses in Tripoli said they saw Misrata militiamen take positions early on Thursday in army barracks in the city’s south, near the airport highway. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their own safety.’
This from the Libya Herald adds to the picture. The difference between the GNC and the government is becoming notable. ‘The Libyan Government has called on armed groups – namely Libya Central Shield, Qaaqaa and Sawaiq brigades – to leave Tripoli as the brigades squared up in the capital this evening.
Members of the Misratan-based Libya Central Shield arrived on the outskirts of Tripoli today, stationing themselves in the Salaheddin district, where clashes took place in the early hours of yesterday morning. It is not clear how many Shield troops have arrived in Tripoli……….It said it would hold the General National Congress (GNC) responsible for any of Libya Central Shield’s actions, because Congress head Nuri Abu Sahmain had called on them to protect the capital.’
The powerful Qaaqaa and Sawaiq brigades are from Zintan, the city in the Jebel Nefusa in which Saif al Islam Gaddafi is still held pending trial. They have been in Tripoli for some time.
There are useful and well informed sources which offer further information, in particular you will find Jason Pack here:
The best guide to the Libyan Militias is to be found here:
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
Update 20th May 2014
Is this significant? Has the balance of power shifted in favour of Hafter? The Misuratani forces have failed to move to Tripoli.
Update 22nd May 2014
A good piece on Hafter in the Washington Post