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Short Stories by John Oakes

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LIBYA – DANGEROUS STILL (A work in progress commenced 19th September 2018)

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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. (The full version can be found here.)

‘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

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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

LIBYA – ELECTIONS IN A HEAT WAVE – IS DEMOCRACY COOKED?

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Yesterday, so it is reported, 630,000 Libyans went to the polling booths, despite a fierce heat wave, in an election which many hope will bring a strong House of Representatives into being. Voting was slow according to Reuters and there are still enough obstacles in the way of free and fair elections to worry Libya’s friends. Given the circumstances this was a courageous effort but it may well be the last chance for Libyans to establish a democracy.
The new House of Representatives is to replace the old and now largely discredited General National Congress which was brought into being in July 2012 by means of the first democratic election in Libya for over 40 years. Like the GNC, the House of Representatives will have 200 seats of which only 17 are reserved for women. It seems that something of the order of 1,600 candidates stood for election but no political parties were allowed, openly at least, to endorse candidates.
The serious security breakdown in the country hampered the voter registration process and only around 1.5 million were on the electoral rolls as compared to 2.8 million who were eligible to vote for the old GNC in July 2012.This means that there was a 45% turnout in this crucial election.
The High National Elections Commission has reserved 15 seats until elections can be held in Derna, Kufra, Murzuk and al-Jamial where security breakdowns stopped the democratic process.
Sources are reporting that voting in Kufra, the southern oasis city, has been held up because of a protest by the majority Sway tribesmen who are attempting to ensure that their favoured candidate wins the poll. The Tebu minority however turned out in force in their neighbourhoods. This means that 10 out of the 15 polling stations in the city did not open on the 25th June.
In Sebha, the old capital of the Fezzan, all of the polling booths except two were open and functioned effectively. The two exceptions were in the neighbourhoods were tension was high because the Gaddadfa and the Awlad Sulieman tribes had clashed recently.
Benghazi is in the throes of a major battle between the forces of Major General Khalifa Hafter and the Islamist Jihadist Ansar Sharia and its allies. The terrible news of the brutal killing of women’s rights activist and lawyer Salwa Bughagis just as she had returned from the polling booth has shaken Benghazi. Khalifa Hafter declared a cease fire to allow people to vote. The process must have been fraught with danger. Even so it seems that all the polling stations but one operated successfully.
In the eastern city of Derna which Ansar Sharia and its allies have established an Islamic Caliphate, voting has been declared impossible and the outcome there remains uncertain.
The High National Elections Commission has stated that the Libyan House of Representativ election results may be announced on 27th or 28th June.
John Oakes
26th June 2014
This infographic gives you all the information on the Libyan election. It is essential reading.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2014/06/infographic-explaining-libyas-election-2014624134840313976.html

More thoughts on Libya’s House of Representatives elections can be found here.
http://www.aawsat.net/2014/06/article55333637
or
http://www.thewire.com/global/2014/06/what-you-need-to-know-about-libyas-elections/373387/