Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

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

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