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Short Stories by John Oakes

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LIBYA – IS FIELD MARSHAL KHALIFA HAFTAR STRONG ENOUGH TO RULE ?

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There is an intense diplomatic effort underway to settle Libya’s brutal and persistent civil war. The Egyptian President, who has much to lose if it fails, has led the charge. The Gulf States and Tunisia are playing prominent roles in the negotiations. The Gulf States were deeply involved in the hasty intervention which led to Gaddafi’s downfall but which set off a predictable and bloody civil and religious war. For some time now it has been apparent that Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and his Libyan National Army, has been gaining control over much of Eastern Libya and he can no longer be referred to as a renegade general. He is now a major, but strangely divisive, factor to be accounted for if Libya is to have a future. The opposing parties in Libya’s armed chaos are weary as are the ordinary Libyans. It is time to sort things out. There are several biographies of the Field Marshal online. The BBC caries this one on it’s news site. You may wish to read it before proceeding further.

Most of the commentary about Haftar is written from the Tripolitanian, that is Western Libyan, point of view. Tripoli is, and has long been, the major city and political hub of Libya. The UN has focused its attention there as has the EU amongst others. It seems to me that there are few commentators writing today with experience of living in Eastern Libya. Perhaps you will permit me to write a piece about Haftar from a Cyrenaican perspective.

In January 2012, soon after the fall of Gaddafi, I wrote a piece for my publisher’s blog entitled ‘Is a Strongman Necessary in Libya?’ Since then Field Marshall Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, at the head of his Libyan National Army, has dominated the old province of Cyrenaica, now called Eastern Libya.  He now appears to hold sway over Libya’s Oil Crescent around the southern shore of the Gulf of Sirte. In this regard, he has a strangle hold over Libya’s principle, and almost only, source of revenue.

I argue that Hater’s military campaign to drive out militant Islamists needs the support of tribal leaders and elders. Haftar is a member of the Farjan tribe. His fellow tribesmen can be found from Sirte to Benghazi. Haftar’s brother is the leader of the Benghazi Farjani’s. Why should this matter today? It matters because tribal affiliations are still important in Libya, especially so in Cyrenaica.

There is a tribal hierarchy at the top of which sit the nine Sa’adi tribes, so called after Sa’ada of the Beni Sulaim, their ancestress. (Some sources call her Soada Al Hilaliya). The Beni Sulaim and Beni Hilal tribes migrated into Libya from the Najd in the early part of the 11th Century. The nine Sa’adi tribes hold their territory by right of conquest. Other tribes live amongst the Sa’adi tribes as clients. They are known as Marabtin tribes. The Farjan is a client tribe of a special nature, being classed as one of the Marabtin bil baraka, tribes of the blessing. They, like the Aulad al-Sheik and the Masamir, live amongst the Sa’adi tribes as equals because of their supposed descent from saints. The Sa’adi’s, however, do not regard them as ‘quite like themselves’ as they are not of Bedouin descent, their ancestor having supposedly migrated into Libya from the Maghreb.

In a civil war, and the troubles in Libya are partly that, leaders must watch their backs. In Libya losing the loyalty of leading tribes would be a folly. We may note that Gaddafi tried to maintain some semblance of order by giving senior military posts to leading personages of his favoured tribes. Haftar was recently forced to reinstate Colonel Faraj Al-Barasi after he had sacked him twice from operational posts. He was pressured into doing so by the Colonel’s own tribe, the Bara’asa, and by its allies the Darsa, the Hasa and the Obeidat. To have alienated those tribes would have meant Haftar could suffer a notable loss of support in territory stretching from just north east of his headquarters at al-Marj to the Egyptian border.

It is not without significance that much of Libya’s oil crescent is in the homeland of the al-Magharba tribe, one of the nine Sa’adi tribes. Al-Magharba territory reaches as far eastwards as Ajdabia, Haftar’s place of birth. The support of Magharba tribal elders is crucial factor in Hafter’s all important hold on the oil ports and the strategically important city of Ajdabia. He will make sure, therefore, that he maintains close and cordial relations with the leading families of the Magharba such as the Latiawish.

Haftar’s avowed aim is to rid Libya of militant Islamists. Ranged against him is Dar Al-Ifta head Sheikh Sadiq al-Ghariani, Libya’s hard-line Grand Mufti. Sheik Ghariani is based in Tripoli and has his own TV station from whence he preaches recklessly throughout Libya.  He appears to be unassailable and is strongly suspected of supporting Salafist-Jihadist organisation in Eastern Libya. Whilst they vary in influence I find these to be the most interesting at the time of writing.

Derna, the small city and port on the north coast of East Libya, has long been a haven for Salafist-Jihadists. Some three years ago I wrote this in a blog piece about Derna.  ‘Today, barring an unforeseen accident, Derna is the lair an Islamist warlord called Sufian Ben Qumu. Ben Qumu’s ‘private’ militia amalgamated with two other radical Islamist armed groups, the Army of the Islamic State of Libya and the Derna branch of Ansar Sharia, to form the Shura Council of Islamic Youth. There are strong elements within this amalgamated group which have ties to Al Qaida. The Shura Council of Islamic Youth has gained a reputation for violence and militancy. It has carried out at least two public executions in Derna which have been condemned by Amnesty International’

Since I wrote the above Derna has had the doubtful pleasure of a period of Islamic State rule. The IS folk were evicted and the city is now ruled by the Shura Council of Muhajideen in Derna. I suggest it is likely that this organisation has evolved from the Shura Council of Islamic Youth and has strong connections with Ansar Sharia and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Derna is geographically isolated and I suspect the Haftar has it well contained and will try to deal with it later, avoiding collateral damage as far as possible. He cannot leave the problem unresolved much longer.

Haftar’s three year long campaign to remove Islamist-Jihadist forces from Benghazi has been successful. It has been protracted because of the nature of guerrilla warfare in cities.Those interested in what is a relatively modern military problem will find this paper worth reading. It has also been hampered by Haftar’s lack of a navy thus allowing reinforcements and supplies to reach the militants from Misrata, across the Gulf of Sirte. Benghazi now has a relatively stable municipal government led by its mayor, Abdelrahmen el-Abbar. The Abbar family is prominent in the Awaquir tribe. The Awaquir is one of the nine  Sa’adi tribes and its homeland surrounds Benghazi. Hafter must be concerned that pockets of militants remain in Benghazi’s Sabri and Suq al-Hout districts.  His Libyan National Army spearheaded by experienced special force launched an attack on militants in these two districts on 8th May 2017.

Particularly interesting now is the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries. In my view this body has Ansar Sharia as its mainstay and is likely to be allied to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. It is its connection with the Benghazi Defence Brigades which must trouble Haftar. They were formed under the banner of Sheik Sadiq Ghariani and appear to be based in or near Misrata. This unit was strong enough to take Haftar’s forces unawares and evict them briefly from the important Oil Crescent facilities of Ben Jawad and Nuflia. It is also supported by the Muslim Brotherhood and thus by ‘political Islam’.

Is Khalifa Haftar strong enough to rule Libya? He has repeatedly stated that he does not wish to do so. Should he attempt to do so he may not receive sufficient international support. I have drawn attention to only some of those who pose a danger to him in his own back yard.  There are many more obstacles in the way of a settlement in Libya. However, Haftar must be counted amongst those who may achieve a solution. Of note is the spate of ambassadors who have visited him in recent weeks.  They are Ambassadors Peter Millet of the UK, Brigitte Curmi of France, Guiseppe Perrone of Italy and Eric Strating of Holland. The UN Special Envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, also visited recently. It is my view that Haftar will not have compromised on  his clear and determined claim to the command of all Libya’s armed forces. We will see how all this works out soon.

John Oakes

15th May 2017

THE ISLAMIC STATE IN LIBYA – THE CAMEL’S NOSE IS IN THE TENT. (Updated 27th April 2016)

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Since the 11th century the nomadic and semi nomadic Bedouin tribes of Libya lived out their traditional lives on land they owned by right of conquest. They moved their tents, their animals and their goods about their homelands according to the seasons. The Libyan Desert and the Sahara are reluctant to yield food and water to those who choose to live in them. Libyan tribes, therefore, protected their water sources, their plough land, their seasonal grazing lands and their date palms. They won a frugal living from a harsh environment with which they remained in a finely balanced equilibrium. Consequently the appearance of strangers in their homelands was treated with a degree of suspicion which underlay traditional desert hospitality.
The Bedouin humour needs a practiced ear to appreciate it. You can hear it in the phrase they used when strangers overstayed their welcome amongst them. They would say, ‘The camel has got its nose in the tent’.
In the middle of the last century oil was found in abundance in Libya’s tribal lands. Tribesmen found employment in the oil industry and the old pastoral life faded. For more than 40 years Libya was ruled by the eccentric Muammar Gaddafi, a man born in a Bedouin tent near Sirte. His rule was despotic and he was removed from power in 2011. Since his demise Libya has been wracked by strife and armed discord. The seed of religious extremism, ruthlessly suppressed throughout Gaddafi’s rule, has germinated in the Arab Spring and now threatens to overwhelm Libya.
The brutal Caliphate which calls itself ‘The Islamic Sate of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)’ exploded out of Syria and seized territory and minds in Iraq with bewildering speed. It has become a de facto state with much of the apparatus of statehood. It is expanding rapidly and has looked for vulnerable and profitable places into which it might expand. It clearly has a greedy eye on Egypt which it threatens from the Sinai Peninsular.
Egypt’s western neighbour, Libya, became a magnet for ISIL. It harbours rich reserves of oil. It is a very large country and thus hard to police. It has fallen into armed discord since the demise of Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s huge stockpiles of arms have been looted and the country is awash with weapons. The armed militias which fought to topple Gaddafi have remained in being and are vying for power. There are two governments which are unable to reconcile their differences and one of them, that which is based in Tripoli, has Islamist leanings. Neither government has, so far, been able to exercise control over the numerous armed militias many of which are led by militant Islamists. There is no effective national police force or judiciary. The militias have assumed both of these roles from which they enrich themselves.
In the near anarchy of Libya, the ‘Islamic State’ was guaranteed a ready source of recruits and also a sufficiency of fellow travellers in positions of power. Now it has a foothold in Derna and Behghazi and is in complete control of the coastal city of Sirte and its neighbouring town of Al-Nawfaliyah.
Sirte was Gaddafi’s home town and he poured a great deal of money into it. He was killed trying to escape from it in 2011 and the city of Sirte has been a pariah ever since. It was thus virtually outlawed and an easy target for IS. It lies between the de facto government based in Tripoli and the internationally recognised government based in the eastern city of Tobruk. These ‘governments’ as so badly at odds that they are unable to combine to root IS out of Sirte. The Islamic State is thus safe in Sirte until a government of national unity exerts sufficient force to attack and eliminate it.
I vividly recall making the journey from Tripoli to Benghazi by road in the 1960s. The Tripoli oasis ends as the road turns south east at Misrata and dives into the desert through which it continues with little let up but for the towns and oil ports for more than 650Kms until it reaches Ajdabia. It is hard to convey in a few words how daunting that desert journey was in the mid twentieth century. It may have become somewhat easier now but is clear – to me at least – how difficult it would be to mount an attack on IS in its stronghold in Sirte.
So safe does IS feel in Sirte that it is from there that it now operates ISIL’s satellite TV station Al Bayan on which it broadcasts the brutal Islamic State propaganda.
There is one other major factor which has not so far been emphasised. Sirte lies to the west of the major oil ports which are spread along the southern shore of the Gulf of Sirte. This is significant in the light of this report by Maha Sulaiman which appeared in the Libya Herald on 3rd November 2015.
‘There has been another assassination attempt in Ajdabiya. Gunmen last night attempt to kill a local imam, Salem Rahil. Several shots were fired at his car as he was leaving his home. Rahil, who is also a member of staff at the University of Benghazi’s Islamic Studies Department, was unhurt.
Ajdabiya is currently the most dangerous place in Libya in terms of assassinations and attempted assassinations, which are on the rise.
Last week, a Salfist imam was murdered when a car bomb exploded beneath his vehicle. Ten days earlier the local army intelligence chief Colonel Ataya Al-Arabi died in a hail of gunfire as he drove up to his home. The day before that there was an attempt to kill another Salafist imam in the town in a similar car bomb attack. Sheikh Mohammed Bodiam escaped serious injury but his nephew was killed.
At the beginning of October, Hassuna Al-Atawish Al-Magharbi, the commander of the LNA’s Brigade 302, which is currently fighting in Benghazi, was shot dead in the town. In September, local militiaman Nasser Al-Rugaieh and political activist Belgassem Al-Zwai were killed in separate incidents and there was an attempt to kill local journalist Usama Al-Jarred.
Almost all the attacks have been blamed on Islamic State (IS) forces or the Islamist Ajdabiya Revolutionaries’ Shoura Council.’

The Islamic State is bidding to take over Ajdabia. Why is this significant? Ajdabia is a strategic city in Libya. It lies to the east of and very close to the oil ports on the southern shores of the Gulf of Sirte. I have already pointed out in earlier blog posts that Adjdabia lies at the point where the coastal road from Tripoli around the shores of the Gulf of Sirte branches north east for Benghazi, almost due east for Tobruk and south east for Kufra. It is a hub for people trafficking from the Sudan. It is also the base of Ibrahim Jhadran who commands the Central Petroleum Facilities Guard and has the power to shut down the oil ports in the Gulf of Sirte.
It is not difficult to see what would happen if IS controls Ajdabia as well as Sirte. It would lie across the sole road access to Libya’s major oil terminals which lie between Sirte and Ajdabia at Marsa Brega, al-Sidr and Ras Lanuf. It would also command the hub of Libya’s eastern highway system. That would not be desirable. The IS camel would have its nose firmly in the Libya tent.
John Oakes
6th October 2015

Update 2nd December 2015

This, in the British Daily Telegraph today, makes disconcerting reading:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/12028246/Islamic-State-is-building-a-retreat-zone-in-Libya-with-3000-fighters-say-UN-experts.html

Update 5th January 2915

IS has launched an attack on the Libyan oil terminal at Sidra. This from the BBC is worth noting as it has a useful map showing the various ‘power bases’ in Libya.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-35220281

The Libya Herald is today carrying a report listing the names of the IS fighters killed in the attack. They are all Sudanese:

‘As with almost all other IS suicide attacks, there are no Libyans involved. All four were Sudanese. IS names them as Abu Muad Al-Ghurhani, Abu Hamam Al-Ansari, Abu Abdalla Al-Ansari and Abdulrahman Al-Mohajer.’ ……….. ‘At least two members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard were killed this morning during a two-pronged attack by IS on the Sidra and Ras Lanouf oil export terminals.

It appears that IS launched two suicide car bombers at the security gate guarding Sidra in a diversionary strike while another force of up to a dozen vehicles looped south and attacked Ras Lanouf, 32 kilometres further east. In this assault one of the storage tanks in the tank farm was set ablaze.’ From Libya Herald, Tripoli, dated 4t January 2015.

Update 6th January 2015

This by Mustafa Fetouri, a Libyan academic, makes the case for intervention:-

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/12/libya-danger-isis-control-syria-iraq.html#

Update 24th April 2016

This from the Libya Herald.

Tripoli, 23 April 2016:

The head of the central region Petroleum Facilities’ Guards (PFG), Ibrahim Jadhran, was injured this morning in fighting with convoy of vehicles from the so-called Islamic State. According to a PFG source, one guard was killed and, in addition to Jadhran, three others wounded. He claimed that a number of IS fighters had been killed and six of their vehicles captured.

Jadhran was not seriously wounded, the source stated and, after treatment at Ajdabiya’s Imhemed Al-Magarief Hospital, returned to the fighting.

The convoy of around 100 vehicles was spotted around dawn this morning south of Brega. PFG forces from Ajdabiya were called in and engaged them some 50 kilometres from Brega. Fighting continued until around midday.

According to the source, the convoy was not that of the IS fighters who retreated from Derna on Wednesday. With less than 40 vehicles, it was reported to have reached Sirte on Thursday.

The PGF source was unable to say where today’s convoy was heading, although with 100 vehicles it was thought to be taking part in a fresh military operation, possibly an attack on the oil facilities in Brega itself. In January, IS attacked the Sidra and Ras Lanuf export terminals and then attempted an attack on the Zuetina terminal.

Meanwhile there are separate reports of IS fighters pulling out of the village of Ben Jawad, 170 kilometres west of Brega and returning to Sirte, but these have not been confirmed.

Ben Jawad was captured by IS in January.

Update 27th April 2016

It is clear that a concerted attempt to deal with the IS lodgement in Sirte is underway as this in the Libya Herald shows:

Tripoli and Khartoum, 26 April 2016.

There are reports of the movement of two groups of Libyan National Army troops towards Sirte from the south-west and east. Meanwhile at least one Misratan brigade  has announced it is moving eastwards toward the 200 kilometre-long coastal strip controlled by IS terrorists.

An army source told this newspaper that a force of more than a thousand men had left Ghabghab, the main army base at Marj and was heading for Sirte.  It seems likely that the convoy will include some of the armoured personnel carriers and pickups delivered to Tobruk from the UAE on Saturday.

It is also being reported that the LNA commander in the west, Colonel Idris Madi, is pushing towards IS territory from the south-west. He is said to be accompanied by Colonel Mohamed Ben Nail, the commander of 241 Brigade and Colonel Ali Seedi Al-Tabawey, commander of the Tebu 25 Brigade. This unit, which fought against IS and Ansar Al-Sharia forces in Benina in Benghazilast year is based around the Sarir/Messla oil fields, the Sarir power station and the Shula oil compound.

On its social media site today Misrata’s Marsa Brigade has said that forces belonging to the city’s Military Council were concentrating before advance eastwards toward Sirte.

It is unclear if the Misratan move is being made in coordination with the Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Khalifa Hafter.

It is significant that the army has named its part of the move against Sirte  “Qurdabiya 2” after a battle near Sirte at Wadi Al-Hamar (The Red Valley) fought against the Italians in 1915. This was notable for the fact that it was the only major occasion on which Libyans from Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan fought side by side against the Italians,

An elder of the Magharba tribe said today on 218 TV that his people will do whatever they can to help the movement of army units from the east. Meanwhile, Petroleum Facilities  Guard commander Ibrahim Jadhran, a long-standing Hafter opponent, is understood to have agreed not to interfere with the army advance. Jadhran, who is himself from the Magharba, is believed to have sought to extend the PFG’s control over more oil fields to the south.

There has been considerable social media chatter in recent days about an impending operation against IS. A series of pictures has been posted claiming to show various units advancing.

Reports from inside Sirte this evening indicated that the town in unusually quiet and that the local radio station is broadcasting an almost constant diet of IS songs.

(https://www.google.co.uk/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=libya%20herald)

 

 

IS LIBYA ABOUT TO SELF DESTRUCT?

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(A UN sponsored meeting of key political figures from Libya is scheduled for today, Thursday 5th March 2015, at a venue in Morocco. Will it result in a government of national unity with sufficient resolve to save Libya?) ‘The sense of fear and concern within Libya regarding the threat of terrorism is very palpable. In meetings I have had over the past week, Libya’s counterparts have expressed grave concern about the danger that terrorism poses to Libya’s security and stability, and of the very limited capacities of the Libyan State to effectively confront this challenge. It is crucial to create the right conditions to address this threat, while at the same time we should be ready to support Libyan efforts to tackle terrorism and extremism. We should be careful to not underestimate the sense of urgency and alarm underpinning this request for international support on addressing the threat of terrorism.’ From the briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya to the Security Council Mr Bernadino Leon, on 4th March 2015

On the eve of the crucial meeting in Morocco of the opposing factions in Libya’s disintegrating state the UN Support Mission in Libya has stated that -‘’The Libyan people have paid a huge price and have suffered much over the past months. At this critical juncture in Libya’s transition, and in view of rapidly diminishing window of opportunity for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Libya, UNSMIL appeals to all parties to approach the next round of talks with a spirit of constructive engagement and strong sense of national responsibility’’……“As difficult as the past few years may have been for their country, the Libyan people have not given up on their hopes and aspirations for a modern Libyan democratic state based on the rule of law and respect for human rights,”

There must surely be sense of urgency about the proposed talks. In stark and simple terms Libya now has two governments, two legislatures and two armies. The elected government is based in Beida and Tobruk and is headed by Abdullah al-Thinni whose tenure is not all that secure. The unelected Tripoli-based government is led by Omar al-Hassi is backed up by the military might of the Misratan Militias. Both governments are unable to protect their ordinary citizens or maintain the supply of essential services. So busy have they been trying to maintain some semblance of government that they failed to stop the Islamic State (ISIS) establishing foothold in Derna, Sirte and elsewhere. News is leaking out of Libya that the ‘Islamic State’ has attacked the Shara and Bahi oil fields in the Sirte Basin. Whilst the raid was short lived and curtailed on 3rd March for lack of ammunition much damage was caused. The oil terminals at Es Sidra and Ras Lanuf, which contribute half of Libya’s oil output when operating normally, shut down in December due to the conflict. Libya currently produces around 400,000 barrels of oil per day, compared to 1.6 million bpd before Gaddafi was toppled. What is more the desalination plants which supply water to Tobruk are becoming unserviceable for want of maintenance, the fall in oil revenues has led to a run on Libya’s foreign exchange reserves and is threatening to weaken the exchange rate of the Libyan dinar, the Misratan steel works has been forced to cut production for lack of gas and the Misrata Free Port is not attracting business because ships are no longer docking there. From Benghazi we hear that that there is an acute shortage of bottle gas, frequent power cuts, little fuel at the filling stations, the hospitals are running out of supplies and staff, random rocket and artillery fire is making the streets hazardous, many schools are closed and the port is a battleground.

Writing about a recent visit to Libya in the New Yorker Magazine John Lee Anderson states – ‘Many shops are closed during the day, opening for a few hours after evening prayers; there are no women to be seen on the streets. There are sporadic bursts of gunfire and explosions, and it is impossible to tell whether someone is being shot or someone is cleaning a gun on a rooftop. Nobody asks; Libyans have become inured to war, and, in any case, decades of secret-police surveillance (under Gaddafi) have conditioned them not to inquire into the causes of violence.’

More important in my view is this, written by Mustafa Fituri in a piece for Al Monitor dated 14th February 2015 – ‘Libyan society has been more divided than it ever has been. It will take years to get back the social harmony and peaceful way of life Libyans enjoyed before February 2011, as the war has wreaked havoc on daily life of almost every Libyan family. The tribal society used to have a well-entrenched frame of reference, where religious and social norms were observed and respected by all. Disputes and quarrels used to be settled amicably outside the court system thanks to wise elders who were respected and enjoyed high esteem. This unwritten code of conduct has disappeared and is being replaced by another in which groups without social roots and lacking any social cohesion dominate. They are mostly armed gangs and social outcasts who call themselves “thawar” and have arms ready to use whenever they like. Libyan social life itself has been badly hit, as reflected in the increasingly weak family relations, even within the same family.’

There are those who argue that the efforts of the United Nations to bring a government of national unity together in Libya is doomed to failure and we must wait for a military solution. There are two major military forces in Libya. Both appear to have political objectives. In the west, and centred on the two major cities of Tripoli and Misrata, are the forces of Libyan Dawn. These are principally made up of the battle hardened Misratan militias and have the political support of war lords who have seats in the unelected General National Congress in Tripoli. The Libyan Dawn forces are said to have Islamist leanings and are opposed to two tribal armies, the Zintanis and the Warsifana, who are fighting in loose cooperation with the Libyan National Army of Lt. General Khalifa Hafter of whom more later. In the east, the old province of Cyrenaica, Lt General Khalifa Hafter has just been confirmed as Commander General of the Libyan National Army by House of Representatives President Ageela Saleh Gwaider. His forces are in alliance with the Petroleum Facilities Guard led by the young military entrepreneur, Ibrahim Jadhran, and units of the Libyan Air Force recently strengthened by the arrival of an Ilyushin-73 cargo transporter and – some sources are reporting – four Russian made Sukhoi SU-27 fighter jets. It is said that Lt General Hafter is now exercising considerable influence over the internationally recognised government of Abdulla al Thinni. It is not unusual to suggest that no political settlement will survive without the agreement of General Hafter on the one hand and the leadership of the Misratan Militias on the other.

John Oakes 5th March 2015

Update 6th March 2015

This from the Libya Herald today. It is a warning from the Libyan National Oil Corporation following a series of attacks on oil fields –

‘The NOC warned that if the poor security situation continues it will be forced to close all oilfields and oil terminals with all the resulting deficit in state revenues and the direct effects on the lives of Libyans in the form of power cuts as a result of cuts in gas supplies and liquid fuel and shortages in fuel, if the interest of the country are not put first.’

See this from Reuters today for the full story:-

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/03/05/uk-libya-security-oil-idUKKBN0M02MU20150305

Update 6th March 2015

This from the Libya Herald dated 6th March 2015 must surely concentrate the minds of all Libyans and of the international community:-

Islamic State militants this afternoon attacked another oilfield (Ghani) killing eight people and damaging equipment and installations before apparently withdrawing. There are unconfirmed reports that a Filipino and an Austrian worker were abducted by the attackers.

Update 7th March 2015

This series of photographs is of children playing war games in Benghazi. A more chilling set of pictures would be hard to find. It is clear that the effects of the conflict in Libya will have repercussions for many years to come:-

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/8547874/Children-playing-war-games-in-Benghazi-Libya-pictures-by-Cai-Yang.html

Update 9th March 2015

Arms shipments to Libya are embargoed by the UN Security Council. In view of the deteriorating security situation Libya has sought U.N. permission to import 150 tanks, two dozen fighter jets, seven attack helicopters, tens of thousands of assault rifles and grenade launchers and millions of rounds of ammunition from Ukraine, Serbia and Czech Republic. However, the UN Security Council has received a report on the matter part of which states:- “While the threat posed by terrorist groups in Libya is a major challenge for the authorities, the panel is concerned about the possible use of this materiel in attacks on areas and installations under the control of rival militias, which are not terrorist groups.”

It is important to note, however, that the Libyan Sanctions Committee named Libya as the primary source of the illegal weapons trade that is fuelling conflicts in at least 14 countries around the world according to a report to the UN Security Council in March 2014.

The panel noted that ‘the control of non-state armed actors over the majority of stockpiles in Libya as well as ineffective border control systems remained primary obstacles to countering proliferation and that Libya had become a primary source of illicit weapons, including MANPADs [portable air defence systems]. Unable to secure its borders, Libya has let weapons fall into the hands of radical elements on several continents. “Transfers to 14 countries reflected a highly diversified range of trafficking dynamics; and that trafficking from Libya was fuelling conflict and insecurity – including terrorism – on several continents.’

As though to prove the point the Libya Herald reported today that an arms cache had been found in near Moussarref, 15 kilometres from Ben Guerdane and 45 kilometres from the Tunisian-Libyan border. It contained 24 RPG shells and rockets, 40 anti-tank landmines, 23,000 cartridges, as well as 30 electric fuses and a quantity of fuse detonators.The cache is believed to have been for radical groups in the Chaambi Mountains, on the Tunisian-Algerian border.

THE ISLAMIC CALIPHATE IN EASTERN LIBYA AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

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“The (ISIS) jihadists are already here (in Libya). If a real political dialogue does not start in Libya soon, there is only one thing that will be certain: the country will be an open field for Isis”. Bernardino Leon, the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya……..‘There are a number of lessons to learn from the events in Libya, which apply to other countries in the region. The world cannot afford to ignore the fate of Libya and it hangs in the balance.’ Admiral Lord Alan West – former UK Chief of Defence Intelligence.

It is likely that the Libyan National Army General, Sulaiman Mahmoud Al-Obeidi, will have to fight yet one more battle to save his country from danger. By all accounts he has been chosen to lead the fight to restore democracy to the eastern Libyan city Derna which the armed Ansar Al Sharia militia and its allies have declared to be the Whilaya Barca fil ad-Dawlah al-Islām – that is the ‘Provence of Cyrenaica within the Islamic State’. For them this means that Derna is no longer a part of Libya but owes it allegiance to the brutal Caliphate led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and based in Iraq and Syria. According to sources in Cairo this move follows a visit by fifteen members of Islamic State, led by an Egyptian and a Saudi national, who travelled to Derna from Syria in September.In the Spring of last year, hundreds of Isil veterans, known as the Battar Group or Brigade, who had been fighting in Deir Ezzour in eastern Syria and Mosul in northern Iraq decamped to Derna, aligning themselves to another group. A Yemeni militant later arrived from Syria, in September, to become their leader.
Put simply Sulaiman Mahmoud Al Obeidi, the man who conducted the battle to free Tripoli from Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, has been chosen to lead the new Libyan National Army to fight the difficult battle to root out the ‘Islamic State’ (IS) from its Libyan stronghold. Some Derna residents believe that his forward units are now only 40 kilometres or so east of Derna, awaiting orders to attack.
The magnitude of General Sulaiman Mahmoud’s task should not be underestimated. The Islamic State fights dirty. Its ruthless soldiers embed themselves and their armouries amongst the civilian population so that an invading force must proceed with great caution and implacable discipline. This ‘human shield’ tactic was employed by Hezbollah in Gaza to great effect and resulted in the dreadful civilian causalities caused by the Israelis.
It should be clear that Ansar Al-Sharia has not achieved power in Derna democratically. When Libya elected a House of Representatives this year, Ansar Al-Sharia would not allow the citizens of Derna to vote. They eliminated their opposition by shooting some and terrifying others. They argue that “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 (Libya) other than the laws of Allah.” The Libya Herald reports, they have ‘banned the teaching of foreign languages, mathematics and science and closed both the local Higher Education Institute and the law department at the town’s Omar Mukhtar University, the later because it was not teaching Sharia law, the former because of gender mixing among staff and students’.
The Derna Caliphate has imported foreign judges, one of whom is from the Yemen, said to be versed in Sharia law to preside over new courts. They have already sentenced some youths to a public flogging for drinking alcohol. The sentence for this crime, which in this case was carried out in the courtyard of an old mosque, is 40 to 80 lashes with palm branches stripped of their leaves.
The Libyan government of Abdulla Al-Thini recognises that dialogue with the newly declared Islamic Caliphate of Derna is likely to lead nowhere. The Libyan National Army has already embarked on a battle to free neighbouring Benghazi of Islamic militias. It is clear that Al-Thinni thinks that Derna must be liberated next. In this context his statements in a recent press conference are important; “There are (IS/ISIL) groups located in the city of Derna and other Libyan cities …..Also, even the group Boko Haram from Nigeria is present……Terrorism has no specific place and we have to recognize the seriousness of the existence of these groups to destabilize the security of the country….They will destabilize the country until the state breaks down and Libya becomes divided into a diaspora”.

Those who advocate dialogue with the Islamic extremists may find little enthusiasm for their position in Libya’s eastern neighbour, Egypt, which is fighting a bloody war in Sinai. According to Egyptian government figures, more than 500 people, most of them military and security forces personnel, have been killed across Egypt in militant attacks in the past year. The extreme Islamist group Ansar Bayt al Maqdes has claimed responsibility for many of these attacks. Ansar Bayt al Maqdes may hope to establish a Provence of the Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula. Should this happen Egypt would be threatened by IS/ISIS on its eastern and western flanks.
In a particularly bloody attack Ansar Bayt al Maqdes militants detonated a truck bomb in Sinai at the Karm al-Qawadees military checkpoint Oct. 24, killing 30 military personnel and wounding 27. Karm al Qawadees is near northern Sinai’s biggest town, el-Arish, and not far from Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip. Another three soldiers were killed in a fire-fight hours after the initial explosion. Egyptian sources have said that initial investigations of the Sinai massacre have thrown up the unwelcome news that a number of the terrorists are undergoing training in eastern Libya. It is also being claimed that the weapons and munitions used in the attack bore Libyan serial numbers. It would not be too difficult to see these attacks in the Sinai as an attempt to destabilise Egypt.

These heartfelt words of despair written by Osman Mirghani in Ciaro’s Asharq Al-Awsat dated 1st November 2014 are worth noting by all who care for the future of the Arab world; ‘Over the past few decades we have witnessed the systematic destruction of the region and its states—by terrorism, conflict or civil wars—to the point that many people in the region have completely forgotten the very taste of stability and security. Iraq was destroyed and is now facing the likelihood of partition and division. Syria today more closely resembles Berlin after the Second World War in terms of the extent of the destruction and displacement that has been visited on its population. Libya is drowning in destructive wars following the proliferation of arms and militias on the ground. Yemen is reeling from the advance of the Houthis and their control of key state institutes. Lebanon has suffered one setback after another and is beset by fears of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) advancement. The list goes on.’
Libya is indeed ‘drowning in destructive wars.’ Reports from the eastern city of Benghazi, where the Libyan National Army is fighting to remove Islamist militias, indicate that 283 people have been killed since the operation began on Wednesday 15th October. Fighting there is still fierce and centred around the dock area.
John Oakes 4th November 2014

Update 5th November 2014

France, the UK and the US have just petitioned the UN Security Council to add Ansar Sharia in Benghazi and Derna to the UN terror list. According to the Libya Herald they do so because, amongst other reasoms; there is evidence that the Benghazi branch operates several training camps whose recruits feed mainly into Syria and Iraq, with some going to Mali.
Twelve of the 24 jihadists who attacked the In Amenas gas complex in Algeria in 2013 trained in the Ansar Al-Sharia camps in Benghazi…..The Derna branch also played a role in the 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi and is known to operate camps in Derna and Jebel Akhdar for training jihadists bound for Syria and Iraq.

Update 14th November 2014

The dreadful brutality shown by the ‘Islamic State’ has not, so far, deterred numerous recruits to their colours from Europe, the US and Australia. It is hard to see how they can rationalise this appalling news. During the past week four young men have been beheaded by ‘IS’ in Derna and their executions filmed and posted on social media. Three of them were killed for blogging criticism of the Islamic State in Derna and the fourth appears to be a soldier from the army of Khalifa Hafter’s Operation Dignity which is poised to retake Derna on behalf of the internationally recognised government.

Update 26th November 2014

This appeared in the Libya Herald on 20th November 2014 and I take the liberty of quoting it in its entirety here. It needs some further thought.

‘General Sulaiman Mahmoud Al-Obeidi, was in charge of the revolutionary army forces in Tobruk during the revolution, has again said that he is ready to lead a force to wrest Derna from the control of Ansar Al-Sharia. He says he is awaiting authorisation from the Chief of Staff, the House of Representatives and the government. He also says that he has been asked by tribes in the Jebel Akhdar (the Green Mountains) to head an attack and was on a reconnaissance visit to the area yesterday.
Last month, he announced that he was ready to surround Derna and was awaiting final instructions from the Chief of Staff
It appears, however, that the authorities are not particularly keen for him to take on the task, especially after he reportedly said that he would “clear Derna without damaging it” – a claim seen as a deliberate criticism of Khaled Hafter, whose Operation Dignity to remove Ansar Al-Sharia and associated Islamist forces from Benghazi has lasted six months, with hundreds dead and considerable damage to the city
According to Saqr Adam Geroushi, the commander of Operation Dignity air forces fighting as part of the Libyan National Army, Obeidi has been given no green light to launch an offensive against Derna – and is unlikely to be given it.
The current military and political leadership are said to be nervous about Obeidi’s relationship with the Qaddafi regime before the revolution. Additionally, he is accused of retaining links with the sacked Chief of Staff, Major-General Abdussalam Jadallah Obeidi, as well as with another military leader the Tobruk-based authorities regard with some suspicion, Colonel Mohamed Bughafir. The latter, who leads the Beida-based Ali Hassan Al-Jabber Brigade, is regarded with some considerable hostility by Ibrahim Jadhran who is now an ally of the House of Representatives and the Thinni government. The two fought each other in Ajdabiya earlier this year
As a result, Geroushi said, the Obeidi tribe had stated that it would not support any action unless the general had prior approval from the Chief of Staff.
If Obeidi tried to undertake any military action against Derna by himself, Geroushi added, there would certainly be no air support from him.
For the time being, remains blockaded to the east, west and south. Its only free access is by boat. Local families, however, are still managing to flee the town. Many have been accommodated in Marj, Beida and Tobruk. Some have gone to the safer parts of Benghazi’.

Update 7th December 2014
(Reuters 19th November 2014) – The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday blacklisted two branches of the Islamist extremist group Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, which Washington says was behind the 2012 Benghazi attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

(Derna should be well known to US citizens. It was defended briefly by the US Navy and US Marines in 1805 during the Barbary wars when the sailors from the USS Philadelphia were incarcerated in the dungeons of Tripoli castle. They, and any others with an interest in Libya or US history, will find this source fascinating; http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/barbary_derna.htm )

BENGHAZI LIBYA – The Libyan National Army has entered the city in force to eject the Islamist Militias. (Updated 17th February 2017)

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By Wednesday 15th October 2014 large units of the Libyan National Army commanded by the Chief of Staff Abdul Razzaq Nazhuri and including Major General Hafter’s troops from Operation Dignity had entered Benghazi. As they did so they were joined by 204 Tank Brigade which had, until Wednesday, remained neutral in its barracks within thn the e city. It seems that the combined force has taken over the extensive barracks of the 17th February Brigade in the centre of the city. The 17th February Brigade has been an ally of the Islamist Ansar Sharia Brigade and Raafallah Al-Fahati Brigade which have dominated Benghazi for some considerable time.

Speaking on Sky News (Arabia) on 15th October the Libyan Prime Minister, Abdulla Al-Thinni, stated that the successful routing of Benghazi’s Islamist Militias which had combined under the banner of the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council (BRSC) was ‘part of a plan, devised by the state and executed by the Chief of Staff Abdul Razzaq Nazhuri’. It is clear that this is the first attempt by the elected government of Libya to assert its control over Benghazi which has hitherto been dominated by Militias.

Reuters reports today that ‘Special forces commander Wanis Bukhamda told Reuters the area of the [Benina] airport was under full army control after Ansar al-Sharia – blamed by Washington for an assault on the former U.S. consulate in 2012 which killed the American ambassador – fled.’ There was still some fighting in the city according to sources but it seems that the Islamist forces may have been overwhelmed. Large numbers of Libyan National Army units were still entering the city on Thursday 16th October.

There are reports of Sudanese fighters amongst the Islamist militias some of whom may have entered Libya via Darfur and Kufra in the south east. Reliable eyewitness reports are awaited but it is interesting to note that Bernardino Leon, the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, has stated that Isis jihadists are already present in the country and awaiting their opportunity. Major General Khalifa Hafter, the leader of Operation Dignity, has also indicated that his intelligence people have confirmed that there are numerous foreign jihadists present in Libya.

There were a number of air strikes in support of the Libyan National Army and it has been rumoured that they were carried out by the Egyptian Air Force. This has been denied by officials of both the Egyptian and the Libya governments. However a member of the House of Representatives for Benghazi has told the Associated Press that Egyptian warplanes were being used in raids over Benghazi but that they were being flown by Libyan pilots. In the last few weeks there have been a number of accurate air strikes on military targets in Libya and speculation about who carried them out is rife. The United Arab Emirates have been implicated in the past but its warplane would have needed logistical support and air to air refuelling to attack Libya targets. John Oakes 16th October 2014

Update 21st April 2016

This in the Libya Herald dated 20th April 2016 tell us that at long last Benghazi has been liberated;

Presidency Council congratulates Hafter-led army in Benghazi |

The Presidency Council has congratulated the Libyan National Army for eliminating the so-called Islamic State (IS) and allied militants in Benghazi. In a statement today, Wednesday, those fighting IS throughout the country were commended, but there was special mention of the military forces in Benghazi fighting against IS.

In the statement, the Presidency Council said that there had to be united efforts to fight IS across the country. It mentioned in particular Sabrath and the Sidra area. Presenting its condolences to the families of those murdered by IS in Benghazi, Sirte and Derna and elsewhere, the council praised those who had understood the threat and decided to stand up to IS. It encouraged others to do so, while at the same time urging the House of Representatives (HoR) to meet and approve the national unity government.

The statement pledged that the government would rebuild Benghazi and other places that suffered in the fight against the extremists. The military, too, would be supported in line with the Libyan Political Agreement, and the borders would be secured.

Update 28th January 2017

Despite the optimism expressed on 20th April 2016 the Islamist extremists held out in Benghazi supplied and supported by allies across the Gulf of Sirte in Misurata. In the meantime Khalifa Hafter has been promoted to Field Marshall and Bernardino Leon has been replaced by Martin Kobler as UN Special Representative. The return of relative peace in Benghazi has been emphasised by the welcome news that the international high street stores, Marks and Spencer, Next, Mango and Aldo are all in the process of reopening.

This appeared in the Libya Herald dated 27th January 2017:

‘White flags have been raised today in the remaining rebel-held buildings in the Busnaib area of Benghazi’s Ganfouda district following an attempted breakout by Islamist militants.

According to a Saiqa (Special forces) official, a convey of cars attempted to flee as the Libyan National Army (LNA) attacked what is known as “12 Buildings” in Busnaib at 6am this morning. Saiqa apparently killed three of the militants in the ensuing firefight which led to the remaining combatants retreating back to the area. Some, though, may have escaped.

During the fight, the LNA reportedly managed to seize eight buildings in the district and, according to an LNA official, to free some more people held captive by the militants. He confirmed that white flags had been seen in the remaining buildings, although it was unknown whether the militants or members of their families or any residual prisoners they might continue to hold were responsible.

However, clashes were still taking place, the official told the Libya Herald.

It had been claimed by the LNA that Busnaib was liberated ten days ago. Ganfouda was declared completely free two days ago when it was also announced that over the previous 48 hours the LNA had released some 60 women and children from the militants.

Last night, Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter congratulated his forces in an interview Hadath TV and praised those local residents who had joined the fight. He also paid tribute to those who had died in the battle for the city, adding that he would not rest until all those injured in the struggle were fully treated. There was a stark warning too for any remaining rebels: “Die or give up.”

The liberation of Ganfouda and the freeing of captives held by the militants has also been welcomed by UN special envoy Martin Kobler.’

Update 17th February 2017

NOTES FROM THE LIBYAN NATIONAL ARMY SPOKESMAN COLONEL AHMED MISMARI DATED 16TH FEBRUARY 2017

Colonel Mismari has just suggested that the war in Benghazi is over after 33 months of fighting and around 4,000 Libyan National Army personal killed. He states that: “Only 70 terrorists remain in a block of 12 buildings in Ganfouda and a dozen square-kilometre zone downtown in Sabri and Suq Al-Hout.” He argues that the terrorists are now surrounded and unable to receive reinforcements and resupply. In order to save further damage, they will now be allowed to surrender or “kill themselves in attempted suicide attacks”.

THE ISLAMIC CALIPHATE OF DERNA –OR HOW TO CREATE A LITTLE HELL ON EARTH

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In the Italian newspaper Republica, Bernardino Leon, the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, has warned that Isis jihadists are already present in the country and awaiting their opportunity. He is quoted as saying; “If a real political dialogue does not start in Libya soon, there is only one thing that will be certain: the country will be an open field for Isis”.

East Libya’s Jebel Akhdar is a potential paradise on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. It has provided the rich pastures which sustained the aristocratic tribes of Libya and before them the five ancient Greek cities of Libya Pentapolis. The Greek cities were supported by a flourishing agriculture and a fruitful horticulture. The Greek colony was taken over by the Romans and given by Mark Anthony to Cleopatra the Great as a wedding present. The Byzantines ruled it a while but it became the homeland of the nine Saadi tribes of Arab descent from 1050 onwards interrupted only in 1938 by an influx of Italian colonist who were planted in the best agricultural land in the Jebel, pushing out the Arab tribes and earning the enmity of most Libyans ever since. The Italian colonists were evicted after the British and Commonwealth 8th Army destroyed Mussolini’s Italian empire in 1943. The Italians expanded the small port of Derna situated on coast and surrounded by the lush highlands of the Jebel to promote trade between its Italian colonists in the Jebel and nearby Crete and Cyprus. Gaddafi neglected Derna and it became a hot bed of Islamist opposition to his regime. It sent a number of Islamist recruits to fight the Russians in Afghanistan and later to support Al Qaeda in its confrontation with the USA. Its geographical isolation restrained its prosperity but protected it from invasion. Nowadays its most notable export is militant Islam.

Today, barring an unforeseen accident, Derna is the lair an Islamist warlord called Sufian Ben Qumu. Ben Qumu’s ‘private’ militia amalgamated with two other radical Islamist armed groups, the Army of the Islamic State of Libya and the Derna branch of Ansar Sharia, to form the Shoura Council of Islamic Youth. There are strong elements within this amalgamated group which have ties to Al Qaida. The Shoura Council of Islamic Youth has gained a reputation for violence and militancy. It has carried out at least two public executions in the Deana which have been condemned by Amnesty International. This from the Libya Herald dated 20th August 2014; ‘The Shura Council of Islamic Youth in Derna has killed an Egyptian man it accused of murder in what is reportedly the second public execution carried out by the group in the town…….[A resident] said the execution took place at a football ground in western Derna. He added that the execution began at around 5 pm, just after Asr prayers. The execution was the second such public killing in Derna. On 27 July, Islamic Youth put to death two men, one Egyptian and another Libyan, for an alleged murder. This most recent killing has received wide-spread attention after a video of the proceedings was uploaded to the internet. The veracity of the video has been confirmed and shows one man, apparently Ahmed, killed by a single gunshot to the head. He is surrounded by around 40 members of the Islamic Youth most of whom carry Kalashnikov rifles and wear face masks and military fatigues of one kind or another. One member holds the black flag of Al-Qaeda at the centre of proceedings. There are a large number of spectators present in the stands at the football ground but they cannot be seen in the video. The execution is met with the sounds of chanting and applause.’

However, there is another very powerful Islamist militia in Derna. It is the Abu Saleem Martyrs’ Brigade which is said to hold the balance of power in the town. There have been turf wars between the Abu Saleem Martyr’s and ‘Islamic Youth’. Here is part of a report carried in the Libya herald on 23rd September 2014; ‘At least six members of rival Derna Islamist brigades were killed in fighting on Sunday as tensions flared between the town’s Abu Saleem Martyrs’ Brigade and the Islamic Youth in Derna. The town today appears to have returned to what has become normality there for more than a year. Over the past twelve months, its radical Islamist brigades have effectively closed the local council, taken control of the court building and liquidated whatever remnants of the town’s security forces remained. Four members of Abu Saleem Martyrs’ brigade, one Islamic Youth in Derna militiaman along with a civilian perished in the clashes which began on Sunday evening and continued into the early hours of yesterday the morning, Bowabat Al-Wasat reported.’

There have been reports of an Al Qaeda training camp in Derna for some time. Intelligence from Sebha in Libya’s south suggest that there is a constant flow of recruits from the Sahara and Sahel countries passing through on their way to Derna for training and on their way back to stiffen Al Qaeda units in their own countries. On 27th September 2014 this appeared in the British Daily Telegraph; ‘A former UK resident once arrested and detained but then freed by the British authorities has been identified by the US government as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, The Telegraph can disclose. Abd al-Baset Azzouz, a father-of-four from Manchester, was able to leave Britain to join a terrorist network run by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor as leader of al-Qaeda. Last week, Azzouz was named officially by the US State Department as one of just ten “Specially Designated Global Terrorists”. Azzouz, 48, an expert bomb-maker, is now accused of running an al-Qaeda network in eastern Libya…… Azzouz allegedly runs a training camp in Darnah in eastern Libya.’

It is hard to see how the ordinary residents of Derna will benefit from this manifestation of extreme Islamism.

Update 7th October 2014

Some reports are suggesting that the Shoura Council of Islamic Youth in Derna has declared its allegiance to the Islamic State of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (ISIS).