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LIBYA – KARAMA – (SOME NOTES ON KHALIFA HAFTER’S OPERATION DIGNITY)

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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.

UPDATE 19TH NOVEMBER 2017

Further and more up to date notes  on Haftar’s progress can be found here.

 

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LIBYA ON THE BRINK OF CIVIL WAR?

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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:
http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2014/05/libya-power-struggle-brink-civil-war-2014519151514777968.html

The best guide to the Libyan Militias is to be found here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19744533

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

Update 20th May 2014
Hafter speaks:
http://www.aawsat.net/2014/05/article55332450

Is this significant? Has the balance of power shifted in favour of Hafter? The Misuratani forces have failed to move to Tripoli.
http://www.libyaherald.com/2014/05/20/central-libya-shield-forces-scrap-move-on-tripoli/#axzz32LaFWQkw

Update 22nd May 2014

A good piece on Hafter in the Washington Post

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/rival-militias-prepare-for-showdown-in-tripoli-after-takeover-of-parliament/2014/05/19/cb36acc2-df6f-11e3-810f-764fe508b82d_story.html

LIBYA – TRIBES AND TRIBULATIONS

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Jamal Adel, in a report in the Libya Herald dated 7th February 2014 writes; ‘A meeting at a Tripoli hotel of elders and tribal leaders from across the country descended into chaos yesterday when remarks by one of them provoked a backlash forcing the delegates to quit for an early lunch.
While the members had gathered in Tripoli to discuss the possibility of a more prominent national role, the meeting was disrupted by raucous heckling when a delegate from the Al-Awageer tribe, the largest tribe in Benghazi, accused his colleagues of various inadequacies.
The attack elicited a strong sense of dissatisfaction among most members and tempers flared to the point that lunch had to be called early. By the time talks resumed at 4:00 it was too late to make any formal decisions.
Beforehand, the head of Tripoli Local Council, Sadat Elbadri, had made opening statements greeting delegates, followed by an announcement of the meeting’s support for the army and police.
The delegate for the south, Abdisslam Ali Khalifa also expressed, at length and without reserve, his gratitude to Zintani and Misratan revolutionaries for restoring peace to Sebha after recent tribal violence.’

It might be interesting to use this excellent report to look briefly at the influence tribes exert in the struggle for power in post Gaddafi Libya. Before embarking on a discussion of the points raised I offer this as a working hypothesis. ‘Whilst 80% or more Libyans now live in towns and cities the influence of its historic Arab tribes is still significant but tends to be divisive.’ Secondly I suggest that the security of Libya and her near neighbours is threatened by the minority rights issues raised by indigenous Tebu, Tuareg and Berber people. Thirdly I argue that the Eastern (Cyrenaican) cites of Benghazi and Derna are the intellectual centres of militant religiosity supported by forces outside Libya and fourthly I would note that Southern Libya, long known as the Fezzan, is now perilously out of control. The consequence of this is that the trans-Saharan routes through the Libyan oasis staging posts and hubs, such as Sebha and Kufra, attract illegal trade in arms, drugs and people. The battle for control of Sebha and Kufra and the illegal trade they attract is largely between the Tebu people and Arab tribes – the Sway in Kufra and the Awlad Suleiman and its allies in Sebha.
The aristocratic Arab tribes of Libya are perceived to have descended from the Beni Hillal and Beni Sulaim, two tribes from the Nejd, now part of Saudi Arabia, which migrated through Egypt into Libya in the 11th Century. Anyone who can successfully claim descent from them is a nobleman or Hurr by birth. These pure Arab Bedouin tribes displaced the indigenous Berbers and settled mainly, though not solely, in Eastern Libya and founded the nine Saadi tribes one of which is the Awaqir. They pressed onwards and some of their descendants can be found in Sothern Libya. The Awlad Sulieman is one such tribe which has its homeland (wattan) in the Fezzan (Southern Libya) and in neighbouring Chad.
BENGHAZI – TRIBES AND JIHADISTS
The delegate from the Awaqir tribe mentioned in Jamal Adel’s report appears to have torpedoed the conference of tribal leaders and elders by expressing his frustration at considerable length. I and my family owe a great deal to one of the leading families of the Awaqir and I can empathise with the delegate’s anger whilst feeling somewhat embarrassed by his efforts. The Awaqir tribe is one of the nine aristocratic Saadi tribes which were influential during the reign of King Idris but stripped of their power by Gaddafi. It holds extensive lands to the south and west of Benghazi. It is a complex and multiethnic tribe, some braches of which were semi nomadic pastoralists and some more sedentary.
When the oil boom began in the 1950s Awaqir tribe members migrated from their homelands into Benghazi to find employment, living at first in makeshift huts on the outskirts. As employment increased the rough huts were improved with corrugated iron and Benghazi’s ‘Tin Towns’ came onto being. Gradually the tin huts were replaced by permanent buildings but tribal and sub-tribal ties were maintained in the new neighbourhoods of Gaddafi’s Benghazi, a city he disliked intensely.
This movement from the traditionally tribal hinterland into the burgeoning cites accelerated as Libya developed a society which derived most of its wealth from oil. Nowadays at least 80% of the population lives in the coastal cities supplied with abundant water from the fossil aquifers below the Libyan Desert and the Sahara via the Great Man Made River.
Benghazi presents us with an interesting case study. The fall of Gaddafi has been followed by a severe breakdown in security in Benghazi and by the rise therein of Jihadist and Salafist militias. Benghazi and Derna, the coastal city to its north east, are said to be the intellectual centres of the fiercely religious Islamist factions with Al Qaeda contacts and deriving much of their support from external sources. It is said that these two cities draw aspiring jihadists from Libya’s neighbours for indoctrination and motivation. It is this militant religiosity, long suppressed by Gaddafi, which is now one of the major wrecking factors in Libya today. Killings and abductions are now commonplace in the Benghazi. It will be recalled that a US ambassador was killed there and the culprits appear to remain above the law. In the present climate of discord in Benghazi no judge would hazard his life to preside over the trail of the ambassador’s killers
No doubt the raucous Awaqir leader described by Jamal Adel was voicing his frustration with the central government which has, so far, been unable to restore order and the rule of law. He may have also harboured some anger because the Awaqir has not been included in the higher reaches of the post Gaddafi government despite intensive lobbying.
MISRATA AND ZINTAN – TWO POWERFUL TRIBES AND THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER IN LIBYA.
From Jamal Adel’s piece above we read of Abdisslam Ali Khalifa’s profuse thanks to the revolutionaries (Thuwars) of Zintan and Misrata. This highlights the fact that tribal and clan allegiances are very strong in both cities. Firstly the cities and tribes bear the same name and have developed formidable armed forces which are largely independent of the state. In Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, fierce independence, a mercantile and martial spirit and civic cohesion have long been characteristic. The battle between Gaddafi’s forces and the rebels in Misrata was brutal. The battle hardened Misratan revolutionary militias are relatively well organised and disciplined. They have recently been called into Tripoli to forestall a coup and have been involved in the taming the powerful Warfella tribe, their traditional enemy to the south, which was said to harbour Gaddafi loyalists – and may still do so. The Misratan militias are said to favour the Moslem Brotherhood’s somewhat theocratic Justice and Construction Party in the current Libyan General National Congress (GNC).
The city of Zintan has a long tribal tradition. There are, in fact, two tribes in Zintan, one of which is Arab and the other Berber. Long practice of cooperation in the ‘Shura’ (the council of tribal elders) has assured strong local government and strengthened the Zintani’s. They have acquired large quantities of Gaddafi’s abandoned arms and developed considerable military clout. Gaddafi’s second son, Saif al Islam Gaddafi, remains in prison in Zintan awaiting trial, officially until the rule of law and the judiciary are restored in Libya, but more likely as a ‘hostage of influence’. The Zintani’s also maintain a strong military presence in Tripoli in order to safeguard their influence over the shaky coalition currently struggling to govern Libya. Whilst stable local government exists in Zintan there have been armed clashes with the neighbouring Mashasha tribe over a land rights dispute which has its origins in Gaddafi’s arbitrary redistribution of tribal land. The Zintani militias are said to favour Mahmoud Jibril al Warfelli’s more pragmatic National Forces Alliance in the GNC.
SABHA – TRIBAL AND RACIAL DISCORD
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 neighboring 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.
There is a great deal of racism in Libya where the white Arab majority dispise black Africans. This may well stem from the trans-Saharan slave trading era which was still active in Benghazi until 1911. There are now thousands of black Africans incarcerated in Libya’s prisons and brutal reprisals were taken by some rebel militia against black Africans who may or may not have been Gaddafi’s mercenaries during the 2011 rebellion.
The Tebu make common cause with the Tuareg and the Berbers of the Jebel Nefusa in efforts to have their rights enshrined in the new Libya constitution currently under consideration.
The Libya Herald report quoted above tells us that Zintani and Misratan Militias were largely responsible for restoring a fragile peace in the Sothern city of Sebha. This from the Libya Herald datelined Tripoli, 12 January 2014 gives us some insight into events there;
‘Fighting eased today in Sebha, but not sufficiently for a newly-arrived team of mediators to begin the process of defusing the conflict between Tebu tribesmen and members of the Awlad Sulieman clan.
According to Ayoub Alzaroug of Sebha local council, 21 people have now died and 45 have been wounded, some of them seriously, in four days of fighting. Alzaroug told the Libya Herald that today the situation was “relatively calm” compared with the past three days.
According to one local resident, Tebu fighters now control some strategic areas within the city and around the airport, as well as occupying several compounds used by the Awlad Sulieman clan .
Members of the Western region mediation committee, which includes representative from Tripoli, Misrata, Zintan and the Jebel Nafusa reached the city this morning, but could not begin their work because of concerns for their safety.’

This and other reports make it clear that the mediators were called in by Ali Zeidan, the Libyan prime minister, to settle a bitter and lethal series of inter-tribal and inter-racial skirmishes which have left many dead and wounded in Sebha. The armed clashes had become so intense that Gaddafist forces drawn, I believe, from the Gaddadfa and Maqarha tribes, took the opportunity to take control of an important air base close to Sebha and spark off Gaddafist hopes of a restoration of the dread regime under the leadership of Gaddafi’s playboy son Al Saadi Gaddafi who, as I write, has arrived in Tripoli having been extradited from Niger.
GADDAFIST ‘ALGAE’ MAKE A FLEETING APPERNCE
The Gaddafist hopes were raised further by a sympathetic uprising of factions of the Warsifana tribe in the immediate neighbourhood of Tripoli. The uprising was quelled by militias who, with typical Libyan irony, refer to the Warsifana tribe as ‘algae’ because of their long allegiance to Gaddafi and his Green Flag.
The Small Arms Survey ‘Dispatch No 3’ dated February tells us of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s support from the tribes of Sothern Libya. Unless the Libya government is able to project civil and military power into the region very soon it will face losing control completely. A key paragraph is quoted here:
‘The Qaddafi era’s legacies weigh heavily on southern Libya, which had been the regime’s main stronghold along with Sirte, Bani Walid, and Tarhuna. The communities in the region were among the main recruitment bases for the regime’s security battalions and intelligence services. Key units were based on particular tribal constituencies:
• The Maghawir Brigade, based in Ubari, was made up exclusively of recruits from Tuareg tribes of Malian and Nigerien origin.
• The Tariq bin Ziyad Brigade, also based in Ubari, was dominated by Qadhadhfa and Awlad Suleiman.
• The Faris Brigade, based in Sabha, was recruited from Qadhadhfa, Warfalla, Awlad Suleiman, and Tubu.
• The Sahban Brigade, based in Gharyan, was led by Maqarha.’

The many facets of this series of armed disputes are not easy to resolve unless we understand that the tribes which were dominant in Libya during the reign of King Idris (1951 – 1969) were superseded by Gaddafi’s own tribe, the Gaddadfa, which was considered to by many to be Marabtin, that is a client tribe and thus inferior. Some call the Gaddadfa an Arabized Berber tribe but I suspect that it may have originated as a faction which broke off from the greater Warfella tribe at some time in the distant past. In any event it is clear that the Awlad Suleiman are attempting to reassert their historic dominance though the suspicion lingers that they are also vying for control of the lucrative illegal trade routes with the Tebu.
TRIPOLI AND THE FALL OF ALI ZEIDAN
We might legitimately ask why Prime Minister Ali Zeidan called upon Zintani and Misratan forces to intervene in this dispute rather than the National Army. There may be two answers to the question. The first is disconcertingly significant. The army Chief of Staff Jadallah Al-Obaidi refuses to take orders from Ali Zeidan. He may also feel that the still ‘embryonic’ National Army is not yet capable of deploying sufficient force 476 road miles to the south and lacks the training to intervene in civil disputes.There are disturbing signs today (10th March 2014) of a rift between the Chief of Staff and the government. Second, the General National Congress has today sacked Ali Zeidan from his post as Prime Minster and replaced him temporarily with Defence Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni, whose reputation for dealing with the troubles in the South is encouraging. We will see.

Readers looking for an in depth analysis of the role of tribes in Libya might find this helpful:
http://www.ispionline.it/sites/default/files/pubblicazioni/analysis_172_2013.pdf

John Oakes
11th March 2014

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 24th March 2014

There is still unrest in Sebha it seems.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2014/03/24/sebha-airport-still-closed/#axzz2ws5Riwm2

BENGHAZI – THE BATTLEGROUND FOR DEMOCRACY IN LIBYA

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Late in November 2011, just after Gaddafi’s favourite son, Saif al Islam, had been captured trying to escape Libya and imprisoned in Zintan, I was allowed a four minute TV interview with George Alagaih on the BBC GMT program. As the interview was closing I attempted to persuade Mr Alagaih that Benghazi was likely to be a centre of unrest in future. I had, by this time, taken up my allotted four minutes and the producers instructed Mr. Alagaih to move on. He politely terminated the interview and I bolted from the studio. Since that interview a number of events have shown that there was some truth in my assertion.
The main obstacles to the rule of law in the city are the militias which were first raised to dislodge the Gaddafi regime but which have never been disbanded by a government which lacks a proper army and police force.

In December 2012 I attempted to summarise the reasons in this blog for the alarm I felt for the city in which I had lived and worked for so long as follows:
‘In Benghazi, Libya’s second city, senior police and military personnel are being summarily executed by persons unknown. The British Ambassador’s motorcade was attacked in broad daylight and still unresolved is the killing of US Ambassador Stephens, an event which upset the American people and which left a blemish on the career of Secretary Hillary Clinton. The killing was probably indented to provoke an attack on Libya by the US. The US wisely restrained its more hawkish leaders and acted with commendable, though clearly pained restraint. However, someone in Benghazi is seeking to paralyse the rule of law. There is talk of a Benghazi hit list and fear of retribution has silenced the people.

At last the democratically elected government under Prime Minister Dr Ali Zeidan has commenced to get a grip on events and the new interior minister, Ashour Shuwail, has set out his priorities, at the top of which is his intention to stop the Benghazi killings and find and punish the perpetrators.

Benghazi is a fiercely independent city but its people do not deserve the dreadful events which have marred recent months. They have given much for the future of Libya. The city was cordially hated by Gaddafi who neglected it in favour of his home town of Sirte. Despite (or because of) this it was Benghazi people who first had the courage to defy the Gaddafi regime and risk all to fight for a democratic government, a free press and an end to the repression and fear. Unless the security situation is resolved the wealth which is the right of its citizens will be denied them. Diplomats will avoid the city and normal commerce will be curtailed. Eastern Libya needs investment and its infrastructure is in critical need of repair and restoration.’

On 21st December 2012 I wrote this about a heroic attempt by the ordinary people in Benghazi to rid themselves of oppressive militias:
‘Following the ‘Save Benghazi’ rally on Friday 21st September hundreds of demonstrators arrived at the Salafist ‘Ansar Al-Sharia’ Militia headquarters on Nasr Square demanding the brigade leave immediately. Members of Ansar Al-Sharia who were acting as guards at Al-Jalaa hospital were also removed by protesters.

Around 80 or so protesters also took control of the headquarters of the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade, located at a farm in Hawari district, some 15 kilometres from Benghazi’s city centre. The Ukba bin Nafi’a Brigade stronghold was also cleared of militiamen. Reports of injuries and probable fatalities during these clashes are yet to be verified. The Libyan police moved in quickly to occupy the bases.

Later, the Libyan National Army’s First Infantry brigade’s commander, Colonel Hamid Buheir has confirmed in Benghazi that the Ansar al Sharia militia has been disbanded. There are clearly militiamen still at large. The colonel was kidnapped by masked men from outside his house on Saturday morning. The Salafist kidnappers accused him of being a Kuffer and threatened his life. His kidnappers received a phone call from someone instructing them not to kill him. He was released by being thrown from a car on to a roundabout. It would be interesting to find out who made the telephone call. Five soldiers from Colonel Buheir’s First Infantry Brigade were found dead. They had been shot through the head with their arms tied behind their backs in the Hawiya district of Benghazi.

There are other significant questions which remain unanswered. How did the group who killed the US ambassador on 11th September know his travel plans? He was on a brief visit to Benghazi and his travel plans were said to be secret as was the location of the safe house in which he was to stay.

The Benghazi militias which are to be brought under formal military control appear to be the Rafallah Al-Sahati brigade, the Sidi Hussein Martyrs brigade, and the Abu Salim brigade. The Ansar Al-Sharia brigade has apparently agreed to disband. The Rafallah Al-Sahati Brigade is to be merged with the 17 February Brigade which has for some time submitted to government control as has the Libya Shield Brigade.’

A second attempt by citizens to rid Benghazi of overweening militias took place recently with disastrous results.This report dated 9th June 2013 appeared in the Libya Herald:
‘The Chief of Staff, Major-General Yousef Mangoush, has quit. He submitted in his resignation to Congress this afternoon (Sunday 9th June 2013) following yesterday’s bloody incident in Benghazi in which 31 people died in clashes between members of the First Brigade of the Libya Shield Forces (Deraa 1) and protestors who were demonstrating outside the brigade’s headquarters, demanding the force be disbanded……….Before resigning Mangoush put out a statement condemning what had happened and announced that the four Shield brigades in Benghazi would become army units.’

Following the dreadful killings the Libyan army’s Special Forces (the Saiqua Brigade) took control of the head quarters of the
First Battalion of the Libya Shield (Deraa 1). This seems to have been followed by armed attacks on military bases by assailants not yet identified. There are indications that a sabotage unit of Gaddfists may have been involved in the attacks. The situation is still confused.

In mid May 2013 Colonel Wanis Abu-Khamadah’s Thunderbolt Brigade shut down the Benghazi arms bazaar operating in the ‘Jinihin’ second hand market in Sidi Hussain. Not before time. Small arms were readily available and costing less and less as the market glutted.

Gaddafi’s appetite for arms was extraordinary and his arms depots have been systematically looted since his downfall. Libyan has become a major source of illegal arms exported eastwards into Egypt and Syria and south-westwards into the Sahel countries and Nigeria.

On 24th May Libyan Special Forces captured a truck attempting to leave Benghazi carrying of SAM – 7 heat seeking ground to air missiles. Gaddafi purchased some 20,000 SAM-7 of which it is estimated 14,000 were used. This leaves an estimated 6,000 still unaccounted for and causing some consternation as they are capable of bringing down civil airliners. There are plenty of customers for these lethal weapons in the Levant and the Sahel.

Update 18th June 2013
The government has to overcome this dreadful security problem. This may signal a start but time will tell

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/06/17/zeidan-promises-more-military-aid-for-benghazi/

Update 21st June 2013

This balanced and well written piece on Benghazi and Eastern Libya and the discussions which follow it are definitely worth reading.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/02/20132178950966868.html

Update 26th June 2013

Another senior officer killed in Benghazi – and the emergence of a new threat. More later…

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/06/26/another-senior-officer-murdered-in-benghazi/

Update 3rd July 2013

More violence in Benghazi
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/02/benghazi-security-patrol-targeted-by-car-bomb/

Update 5th July 2013

A prominent Federalist military leader shot and wounded in Benghazi:

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/04/hamid-al-hassi-injured-in-benghazi-attack-two-companions-die/

Update 6th July 2013

A bomb blast in a shopping street and an attempt on the French Honorary Consuls life:

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/05/benghazi-shoppers-may-have-had-lucky-escape/

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/05/french-consul-and-wife-survive-benghazi-gun-attack-unharmed/

Update 9th July 2013

Yet another ex Gaddafi colonel killed in Benghazi, this time with a car bomb.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/08/second-benghazi-booby-trap-car-killing-in-12-days/

Update 22nd July 2013

The killings go on. This time there appears to be a link with Derna:

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/22/retired-colonel-assassinated-in-derna/

Update 24th July 2013

A number of police stations in Benghazi have suffered bomb attacks. Some are suggesting the bombings are connected to the difficult question of land ownership. Gaddafi summarily took land from rightful owners and gave it to his supporters. This land ownership problem will bedevil Libya for some time to come.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/24/fourth-bomb-attack-on-benghazi-police-station-three-injured/

Update 27th July 2013

Even more killings. Some are blaming the Moslem Brotherhood and Gaddafi Loyalists.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/27/two-more-assassinations-in-benghazi/

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/26/founder-of-17-february-coalition-assassinated-in-benghazi/

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/27/massive-jailbreak-near-benghazi-1200-convicts-on-the-run/

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/07/2013727185041190637.html

Update 29th July 2013

Two bombs detonated in Benghazi. This is turning very nasty and there does not seem to be a single reason for all the mayhem and carnage.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/28/dual-bombings-in-benghazi-confirmed/

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/07/201372961313382581.html

Update 31st July 2013

Another senior army officer killed in Benghazi

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/31/military-commander-killed-by-car-bomb-sons-survive/

Update 2nd August 2013
This piece in the libya Herald records the serious disagreement which has broken out between the Interior Minister and the security services in Benghazi. The latter have accused the former of being clinically dead or otherwise controlled by some force bent on taking over Libya!

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/08/02/tensions-between-security-forces-difference-of-opinions-on-benghazi-security/

Further to all the above there is stunning news that the CIA may have been smuggling arms from Libya to Syrian rebels before Ambassador Stevens was killed. If this is true it is explosive news and may cause a great deal of discord in the US. See this piece in the British Daily Telegraph for further details:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/10218288/CIA-running-arms-smuggling-team-in-Benghazi-when-consulate-was-attacked.html

Update 3rd August 2013

Yet another senior army officer killed in Benghazi with a car bomb.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/08/03/38686/

……..and 900 Special Forces have been sent to Benghazi to try to restore order:

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/08/03/38686/

Update 4th August 2013

Libya’s Second Deputy Prime Minister Awad Barasi resigns, ostensibly because of the government’s failure to quell the violence i Benghazi. There is some speculation that he is playing the long game and intends to challenge Dr. Zedan for ge post of Prime Minister soon. He has connections with the Muslim Brotherhood.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/08/04/barasi-resigns-as-deputy-pm/

Perhaps the formation of an inner cabinet (see below) will speed up the government response to the awful killings in Benghazi and elsewhere. We will see.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/08/06/streamlined-cabinet-set-up-to-confront-security-crisis/

Update 7th August 2013

A very interesting development. The US has filed a murder charge against Ahmed Abu Khatala the leader of the Ansar Sharia militia – and believed to lead the Abu Obaida Bin Jarrah militia – for the murder of Ambassador Stevens. Mr. Khatala admits that he was in the US Consulate compound on the night Ambassador Stevens was killed but denies murder.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/08/07/americans-file-murder-charges-in-chris-stevens-killing/

Update 10th August 2013

This is the best study (by the Human Rights Watch) of the situation in Benghazi to date

http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/08/08/libya-wave-political-assassinations

Update 13th August 2013

Yet another attempted assassination. This time a special forces colonel survives a car bomb attack.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/08/13/special-forces-colonel-survives-assassination-attempt/

Update 26th August 2013

This suggests that arrests have been made and suspects are being sent to Tripoli:

http://www.libyaherald.com/libya-guide/

Update 27th August 2013

News of more arrests and of hospital A & E departments closing because of violence.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/08/26/three-more-terrorist-suspects-arrested-in-benghazi/

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/08/26/two-out-of-three-benghazi-hospital-ae-departments-shut-to-protest-violence/