Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRIPOLI – MY LETTER TO A BRITISH FOREIGN OFFICE MINISTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed so! 

John Oakes

12th May 2019

Written by johnoakes

May 12, 2019 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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

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SOME NOTES ON LIBYA’S LAWLESS SOUTH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Oakes

28th September 2018

UPDATE 8TH FEBRUARY 2019

HAFTER STIRS UP A HORNET’S NEST IN THE FEZZAN

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

 

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

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

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

 

HAFTER’S PROGRESS

Updated 2nd April 2019

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

Updated 14th April 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SOME NOTES ON SEBHA

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

HAFER’S LONG SHOT

Updated 5th Apirl 2019

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

 

BOOKS BY JOHN OAKES For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/JohOakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

 

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”.

LIBYA AND HUMAN RIGHTS

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Here is a paragraph of an open letter dated 7th August 2014 from The Lawyers for Justice in Libya to the newly formed Libyan House of Representatives now sitting in Tobruk;

‘Recent clashes between rival armed groups in Libya have resulted in a disproportionate number of civilian deaths and casualties. In the month of July 2014 alone, the Ministry of Health reported that 981 injuries and 214 deaths occurred as a result of the fighting.  Collateral damage and disputes between regions have frequently prevented whole communities from accessing fundamental resources such as water, electricity, fuel and healthcare. Targeted violent attacks and assassinations against those who are vocal of their opinions remain widespread, with civil society members, legal professionals, and journalists being particularly vulnerable. State and non-state controlled detention facilities hold thousands of detainees who currently face little prospect of a fair trial or due process. Torture remains prevalent in such facilities; a recent report stated that out of 138 detainees interviewed, 100 reported being subject to torture and other abuses.’

The whole letter deserves wider circulation. It can be accessed here:

http://www.libyanjustice.org/news/news/post/148-open-letter-to-the-members-of-the-house-of-representatives-from-lawyers-for-justice-in-libya

Written by johnoakes

August 11, 2014 at 3:15 pm

LIBYA – ‘DIGNITY’ OR ‘DAWN’

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In the midst of an incipient civil war Libya’s newly elected House of Representatives has met in Tobruk and assumed the burden of power. Tobruk is over 1,000 kilometres to the east of Tripoli where the Islamist Misratan forces have launched ‘Operation Libyan Dawn’ against the Zintani militias occupying the International Airport. Not so far away from Tobruk the forces of Major General Khalifa Hafter have been engaged in ‘Operation Dignity’ attempting to remove the Islamist Ansar Sharia and its allies from Benghazi. The House of Representatives has today ordered all warring militias to cease fire within 24 hours. The UN will monitor the ceasefire and action will be taken by the House if the order is disobeyed.

The greater majority of these warring militias are on the government payroll. It is very likely that payment is made by the government to the militia commanders some of whom have become very rich by inflating their nominal rolls and pocketing the pay for phantom militiamen. The sometime Libyan Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, apparently complained about this whilst briefly in exile. In this regard an open letter dated 7th August to the Libyan House of Representatives the Lawyers for Justice in Libya stated: ‘Mounting evidence suggests that many of the groups responsible for such grave human rights violations are largely supported and funded through criminal activities. Human, drugs and arms smuggling, has allowed many to profit illegally and immorally from the on-going crisis. These criminal activities have prolonged the disruption of peace in the country.’

I hasten to add that Hafter’s own forces may not be funded in this way though he would be wise to reveal his backers in order to demonstrate his independence. It is also noted that Hafter has the support of the Libyan Army Special Forces and the Libyan Air Force in Eastern Libya. How will the House deal with this anomaly?

Will the House have the courage and the clout to stop pay-rolling forces bent on destroying the democratic process? Does it have sufficient forces at its disposal to face down the heavily armed militias?

Libyans have been taking to the streets to demonstrate against the escalating violence. A recent demonstration against the Islamist militias took place in Benghazi. It is noted, however, that a large street protest has recently taken place in Misrata in support of the Operation Dawn.
I suspect the House of Representatives will stand or fall on the outcome.
John Oakes
7th August 2014

Update 8th August 2014

This piece confirms my hypothesis about the enrichment of Libya’s new warlords;

http://www.aawsat.net/2014/08/article55335123

Update 12th August 2014

A good piece in which the present discord is given an historical context;

http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=42729&no_cache=1#.U-pU045wbIU

Update 13th August 2014

Sami Zapita has just written this report for The Libya Herald. ‘The House of Representatives (HoR) passed a law today disbanding all officially recognized and funded militias formed after the 2011 February revolution, including Joint Operations Rooms.The law was voted for by 102 out of 104 Representatives’.

Update 18th August 2014

The recent skirmishes in and around Benghazi between Islamist militia brigades and the forces of Operation Dignity have brought a number of interesting developments to light.

Firstly it is clear that Libyan House of Representatives has no armed forces at its command and is thus impotent in the face of the well armed militias now at war with each other. The Libyan Chief of Staff, Abdulati Al-Obeidi, has confessed that the Army proper is near collapse and the Libya Shield militia brigades, nominally under his command, are now completely beyond his control.

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. They are well armed and receiving supplies from outside, mainly from Misrata. There is a propaganda war afoot and the Islamists have managed to gain control of a number of media outlets.

The forces of General Khalifa Hafter’s Operation Dignity do not appear to be unified at the moment. One of their main allies, the Libyan Army (Saiqa) Special Forces commanded by Wanis Bukhamada has been forced out of Benghazi and has regrouped in and around Benina airport. It is reported that Hafter believes it to be ‘no longer fit for purpose’ and it has been disgraced by reports of torture and brutality. Bukhamada and his staff are said to be in Tobruk.

Reports of heavy clashes in and around Benghazi have been accompanied by rumours of bombing runs made by foreign aircraft on behalf of Hafter’s Operation Dignity. This is an interesting development. The rumours have not been substantiated and are thus specious. No foreign power appears to have admitted to involvement.

There may, therefore, be a sinister reason for the rumours. The Islamists are conducting a propaganda war and they may be planting rumours about foreign involvement, something which would arouse very strong feelings of resentment amongst many Libyans.

More information comes to light;

From The Libya Herald today

‘In a dramatic overnight development in the conflict in Tripoli between Misrata-led Operation Libya Dawn forces and those from Zintan, the Warshefana and their allies, positions held by the former at Mitiga Airbase and Wadi Rabia have been bombed. The government has confirmed the attack, noting in a statement that two “unidentified” aircraft had been involved……..This afternoon [Air Force Brigadier-General Saqr Adam Geroushi, the commander of Operation Dignity’s  Air Force] told the Libya Herald  that a Sukhoi 24, under his control but provided by a foreign air force, which he would not name,  had been in action in Tripoli “to protect civilians”.’

I note that the Algerian Air Force has 34 SU-24MK.

Update 21st August 2014

Reports from the southern city of Sebha suggest that a delegation of Misratans accompanied by others from Gharyan and Zliten attempted to persuade the Municipal Council to back Operation Libyan Dawn. It appears that the deliberations were interrupted by armed militiamen apparently from the Awlad Sulaiman tribe. The Awlad Sulaiman have for some time been restive about the presence of Misratan forces stationed Sebha following recent intertribal clashes.

It is becoming clear that the Awuald Sulaiman tribe is making common cause with the Tebu against Operation Dawn. There are parallels here with the recent reconciliation between the Sway tribe and the Tebu in Kufra. However, this from the Libya Herald today seems to support my view that outside intervention is not readily acceptable to many Libyans;

‘[Tarhuna]….rejected all decisions made by the HoR, especially the request for foreign intervention in Libya. Calling it a “flagrant violation of the sovereignty of Libya and a betrayal of the will of the Libyan people”, the statement inferred that the strikes carried out by warplanes against Operation Dawn on Monday morning were the result of the decision.’ The town, and presumably the tribe, has withdrawn its support for the new House of Representatives.

Update 24th August 2014

A further strike early Saturday morning by ‘foreign’ warplanes on Misratan positions around Tripoli has been reported by the Libya Herald, Reuters, the British Sunday Telegraph and others.

‘Fajr Libya [The Misratans] on Saturday accused the United Arab Emirates and Egypt of involvement in the Friday night air raid and an earlier strike when two unidentified aircraft bombarded Islamist positions on Monday night.

“The Emirates and Egypt are involved in this cowardly aggression,” the coalition said in a statement read out to Libyan journalists in Tripoli.’

So far, Italy, Egypt and Algeria have denied armed intervention in Libya’s internecine battles.

LIBYA – CAN LIBYA’S NEIGHBOURS REMAIN ON THE SIDELINES MUCH LONGER?

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 Cairo’s Asharq Al-Awsat dated 4th August states ‘Veteran Egyptian politician and former Arab League chief, Amr Moussa, called for a public debate in Egypt on the possibility of using military force against Islamist extremists in Libya on Sunday. Moussa issued a statement over the weekend saying that Egypt’s “right to self-defence” against extremists in Benghazi and eastern Libya should be considered, as the situation in the country was a cause of great concern for Egypt and other neighbouring states’.
Libya is in a parlous state and her neighbours and allies are deeply concerned for the stability of the region. The insipient civil war is leading to fears that a connection between Libyan Islamists and ISIS in Iraq, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya and Boko Haram in Nigeria is a likely and undesirable outcome. Here are some short notes on the state of play as of 2nd August 2014.

IN LIBYA

Tobruk
A large majority of the newly elected House of Representatives has arrived in the city. (Notably absent are the Representatives from Misrata). The House intends to meet on Monday for the first time in the Dar es Salaam Hotel despite the efforts of a rump of the now discredited General National Congress to deny it legitimacy. The Libya Prime Minister is present with some of his cabinet as is the Army Chief of Staff.
Derna
The city is in the hands of the Islamist Ansar Sharia militia and its allies who have declared that it is now an Islamic Emirate. It was impossible to hold elections for the Libyan House of Representatives in the city which is now out of control. Ansar Sharia and its allies have been receiving weapons by sea from Misrata.
Benghazi
The battle for Benghazi, Operation Dignity, has taken an alarming turn. The Libyan Army’s Special Forces operating against the Islamists under the overall command of Major General Hafter have been forced to abandon Camp Thunderbolt in Benghazi and are in tactical retreat from the city. It is reported today as being at Benina Airport. The leaders of Ansar Sharia and its allies have posed in triumph at the gates of Camp Thunderbolt and declared that the city is now an Islamic Emirate. However, a large demonstration of citizens gathered in the city after Friday morning prayers demanding the removal of Ansar Sharia and Libya Shield militias and the return of law and order.
Operation Dignity has taken a drubbing. Its leader, Major General Khalifa Hafter, is consistently called a renegade by the media and also by some expert western observers. Since I am neither of the media nor likely to be an expert I risk a considerable drubbing myself from some quarters when I suggest that Hafter is not a renegade. He might well be arrogant and smell a little of the CIA but it is clearly time for Libya’s government to decide what to do about him. At the moment he looks like the only man courageous enough to face down the Islamists. There are unsubstantiated rumours of a rift between Hafter and his top commanders.
Efforts during the past few days by a Council of Tribal Elders may have arranged a truce but there were explosions in the city this morning.
Misrata
This is Libya’s third largest city and it was badly mauled during the 2011 ‘ousting’ of Gaddafi. It has established itself as a near autonomous city state and Islamist powerhouse. The Misratan Union of Revolutionaries oversees some 200 militias and has 800 tanks and more than 2,000 ‘Technicals’ at its disposal. It has despatched its forces to Tripoli and is attempting to limit, or suppress, the power of the elected House of Representatives. Its own elected Representatives are notably absent from todays gathering in Tobruk.
Tripoli
Tripoli is in the grips of a war between Islamist leaning Libya Shield Central forces from the city of Misrata and two major Zintani militias loosely associated with Operation Dignity. The Zintanis in Tripoli comprises the Al Quaaqa Brigade and the Al Sawaiq Brigade both of which recruit men who come mainly from Tripoli who have connections with Zintan and the Jebel Nefusa in Libya’s south west. It is noted here that the Zintan Military Council oversees around 23 militias from the western mountains.
Battle has raged for some days around Tripoli’s International Airport. The key air traffic control unit has been destroyed and an Airbus damaged beyond repair. Tanks in the Brega oil storage depot on the road from Tripoli to the airport have been set alight.
The near total breakdown of security has forced embassies to close. The British ambassador left for Tunis today. Only and Italian and Maltese diplomatic staff remain in post as of today.
Amidst the chaos in Tripoli Sami Zaptia has just written this for the Libya Herald: ‘Both the outgoing GNC and the Caretaker government of Abdullah Thinni seem impotent to do anything to stop the paralysis, terror and destruction of Tripoli which continues to suffer rotational electricity cuts leading to internet cuts, as well as cooking gas and petrol and diesel shortages’.

Kufra
An interesting alliance between old enemies, the Arab Sway tribe and the Tebu, has been formed recently and they may join forces on the side of Khalifa Hafter against the Islamists.

LIBYA’S NEIGHBOURS

Tunisia
One side effect is that the Tunisians have been inundated by some 5,000 to 6,000 refugees per day fleeing the warfare, most of whom are Libyans but there are a number of Egyptians and Tunisians amongst them. The Tunisian government protests that it cannot cope much longer with the refugee crisis and has today closed its border with Libya.

In addition – according to the International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Report No. 148 – ‘the aftermath of the Tunisian uprising and of the Libyan war has provoked a reorganisation of contraband cartels (commercial at the Algerian border, tribal at the Libyan border), thereby weakening state control and paving the way for far more dangerous types of trafficking.

Added to the mix is the fact that criminality and radical Islamism gradually are intermingling in the suburbs of major cities and in poor peripheral villages. Over time, the emergence of a so-called islamo-gangsterism could contribute to the rise of groups blending jihadism and organised crime within contraband networks operating at the borders – or, worse, to active cooperation between cartels and jihadis’.

Egypt
Arms and drug smuggling across the southern border between Libya and Egypt has accelerated and is difficult to control. The slim possibility that the Misratans may have captured aircraft from Tripoli International Airport which they indent to use as suicide weapons against Egypt was apparently mooted in Cairo and Egypt’s air traffic controllers have been put on alert for aircraft entering their airspace without flight plans. This is an unlikely outcome but the Egyptian reaction demonstrates the raised level of anxiety amongst Libya’s neighbours.
The Egyptians are fighting Islamic militates in Sinai which, they fear, will make common cause with Libyan Islamists should the latter gain the upper hand. It is noted the Muslim Brotherhood is designated a terrorist group in Egypt. The presence of Jihadists in Libya is, therefore, alarming the Egyptian security services.

Algeria
There are strong indications that the sometime Al Qaeda ‘Emir of the Sahel’, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has moved his headquarters into lawless southern Libya near the Algerian border. He is a notorious smuggler, arms trafficker, hostage taker and opportunistic Islamist. He is a Chaamba Arab and has mounted high profile attacks on petroleum installations in Algeria.
Mali
Mali is troubled with a potential breakaway Tuareg state in it’s arid north. The unrest is a magnet for Al Qaeda and instability in neighbouring Libya exacerbates the problem, not least because of the flow of illegal arms from Gaddafi’s huge stockpiles.
Niger
Niger’s long borders with Libya are porous and dangerous. The Tebu militias are the only control in the region and they are likely to be engaged in subsistence smuggling. The presence of Mokhtar Belmokhtar in Libya is disturbing the government of Niger. He led an attack on Niger’s uranium mining facilities recently.
Nigeria and Kenya
Both are troubled by Islamists; Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Kenya. Should Libya become an Islamist Emirate both countries would see an increase in terrorism which would find ready support and shelter there.
The African Union
The AU has expressed its unease to the Libyans. The Islamist threat to sub Saharan Africa is growing. Drug, arms and people smuggling is facilitated by Libya’s anarchy and consequent lack of control over vast regions of the Sahara and the Libyan Desert.
John Oakes
2nd August 2014

UPDATE 4th August 2014
Even now the rump of Libya’s General National Congress is attempting to deprive the newly formed House of Representatives of its legitimacy by insisting that the handover of powers is to be in Tripoli. Representatives are gathered 1,000 kilometres away in the eastern city of Tobruk for their inaugural meeting today. The near total breakdown of security in Libya has rendered travel by air very difficult indeed. Many Representatives have travelled to Tobruk by road. I have driven from Tripoli to Tobruk and it was not easy, especially in August.
What lies behind this brinkmanship? Is it so that the Islamist can claim the House of Representatives has no legal powers to legislate if there is no handover ceremony? Is the outgoing head of the GNC playing for time so that the Islamist militias can consolidate their grip on the main cities? Whatever the reason it poses great dangers for Libya and the region.
The GNC has hitherto claimed that it, and not the Prime Minister, is in command of the Libya armed forces. In this way it can claim that the Islamist militias are legitimate member of Libya’s armed forces. The Chief of Staff is in Tobruk at the moment. What advice will he give to the House of Representatives? It looks like showdown time.

Update 4th August 2014

The latest news is the GNC has recognised its own demise and ceded power to the House of Representatives without a ‘hand over’ ceremony.

Update 5th August 2014
This has just appeared in the Libya Herald. Note that the Justice and Construction Party is the ‘political arm’ of the Muslim Brotherhood.
‘The political department of the Justice and Construction Party has likewise said in a statement that because it had not received power at a ceremony organised to occur yesterday in the capital, the House of Representatives did not have the authority to operate.’
Follow events from the GNC point of view……www.facebook.com/LibyanGNC
John Oakes
4th August 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 3rd August 2014

A good survey of the opposing forces within Libya;

http://www.aawsat.net/2014/08/article55334952

Update 8th August 2104

This piece by a prestigious journalist argues for Egyptian intervention in Libya;

Update 18th August 2014

From The Libya Herald today

‘In a dramatic overnight development in the conflict in Tripoli between Misrata-led Operation Libya Dawn forces and those from Zintan, the Warshefana and their allies, positions held by the former at Mitiga Airbase and Wadi Rabia have been bombed. The government has confirmed the attack, noting in a statement that two “unidentified” aircraft had been involved……..This afternoon [Air Force Brigadier-General Saqr Adam Geroushi, the commander of Operation Dignity’s  Air Force] told the Libya Herald  that a Sukhoi 24, under his control but provided by a foreign air force, which he would not name,  had been in action in Tripoli “to protect civilians”.’

I note that the Algerian Air Force has 34 SU-24MKs. Algeria has been contemplating intervention in Libya since May this year. The Algerian military establishment has been in favour of intervention but the politicians have been cautious.

Update 19th August 2014

One of the bombs used with precision in the air to ground attack on the Misratan Grads and howitzers in Tripoli is said by someone to have been a US made type 83 general purpose bomb. This type of bomb is ‘typically’ used together with a precision guidance package by the US Navy. It is not listed, as far as I know, amongst the armaments in use by the Algerian Air Force. The accuracy of the bombing clearly indicates a high level of aircrew training and that the target coordinates were given by observers on the ground. It would only be possible for well equipped air force to carry out a raid on Tripoli which might have involved in-flight refuelling. Carrier based aircraft could, of course, be brought into range.

No doubt more reliable information will emerge soon.

An AP report carried by the Huffington Post indicates that the attack was made at night and may have been carried out ‘to protect civilians’ and in response to a request made by Libya’s new House of Representatives.

Update 24th August 2014

A further strike early Saturday morning by ‘foreign’ warplanes on Misratan positions around Tripoli has been reported by the Libya Herald, Reuters, the British Sunday Telegraph and others.

‘Fajr Libya [The Misratans] on Saturday accused the United Arab Emirates and Egypt of involvement in the Friday night air raid and an earlier strike when two unidentified aircraft bombarded Islamist positions on Monday night.

“The Emirates and Egypt are involved in this cowardly aggression,” the coalition said in a statement read out to Libyan journalists in Tripoli.’

So far, Italy, Egypt and Algeria have denied armed intervention in Libya’s internecine battles.

 

LIBYA – ELECTIONS IN A HEAT WAVE II – WHO WILL WIN AND DOES IT MATTER?

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Preliminary results for the Libyan elections for the new House of Representatives which will sit in the Tebesti Hotel in Benghazi have just now been announced. My own superficial and inexpert assessment of the result favours Mahmoud Jibril’s largely secular National Force Alliance rather than the Libyan Moslem Brotherhood’s Islamist leaning Justice and Construction party. However the majority of candidates were required to stand as independents and whilst the list has been published it is very hard to say accurately which of the rival parties the winners will support in practice. The Islamists are saying that they have the support of the majority of independents.
A number of observers also appear to be cautiously forecasting a victory for the secular candidates over the Islamists. We will see, but it may take time for the horse trading to end and the political composition of the new Libyan House of Representatives become clear. Perhaps the recent escalation of violent attacks by Islamist militias is a sign that think they have failed to gain enough seats to control the House and wish to make military gains before it meets. Ansar Sharia has just mounted an all out attack on the forces of Major General Hafter in Benghazi and the Islamist Misratan militias have renewed their attack on the Zintanis at Tripoli’s International Airport. I suspect that the Libyan Islamists will not readily accept the will of the people as expressed in the ballot held on the 25th June, unless they win.
In his paper, The Role of Tribal Dynamics in the Libyan Future, Arturo Varvelli of Italian Institute for International Political Studies, proposes an impossible and near unique trilemma which the people of Libya must somehow accommodate in order to function as a nation. As I understand it, he argues that the coexistence of Islam, democracy and a rentier state has never been successful.
It is, he seems to argue, just possible to implement some democratic principles in an Islamic state. I too argue that in practice the separation of Islam from popular democracy is not easy to achieve. Both the holy Koran and the authenticated saying of the Prophet Mohamed contained in the Sunna are silent on the matter of representational ‘western’ democracy.
Some Muslims argue that the democratic process has its roots in ‘Shura’ or consultation. In effect this suggests that Shura is usleful but only when there is no guiding text in the Koran or the Sunna. The growing Salafist movement, however, rejects all such debate, arguing that what is not accounted for in the core texts is un-Islamic and thus outlawed.
Arturo Varvelli argues that the rentier state, one which derives most of its income from oil and gas, does not encourage democracy. He and others suggest that rentier states do not need to tax their people who consequently have no incentive to exert pressure on government to respond to their needs. We might upend the inspirational catch phrase of the American War of Independence – no taxation without representation – and suggest that democracy withers without taxation.
Varvelli offers the examples of the Gulf States such a Qatar, The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to show that a rentier state which is at the same time an Islamic state cannot also be a truly democratic state. The common factor that these states share is the presence, so far at least, of an hereditary ruling family; the House of Al Thani in Qatar, the eponymous Ibn Saud and in the UAR, Al Nahyan and Al Makhtoum amongst others. Gaddafi’s efforts to establish himself and his family in a similar role in Libya failed spectacularly in 2011, probably because of his serious character flaws, the low esteem in which his tribe is held and his suppression the Libya Islamists.
It would seem then that the brave attempt to elect a House of Representatives may not be the final solution to the Libyan trilemma.
These well researched pieces in Al Jazeera English may prove interesting reading for those who seek a more detailed analysis.
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2014/06/infographic-explaining-libyas-election-2014624134840313976.html
http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/7/libya-council-ofdeputieselectionsislamistssecuritybenghazi.html
and this excellent piece from the BBC.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-28418925
John Oakes
22nd July 2014