Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Posts Tagged ‘LNA

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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LIBYA – IS FIELD MARSHAL KHALIFA HAFTAR STRONG ENOUGH TO RULE ? (UPDATED 21st JUNE 2018)

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On 18th December 2017 the British newspaper, the Times, ran a piece on Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar which opened with these words.

‘The most powerful military commander in Libya has declared the internationally recognised government redundant and suggested that he should run the country.

In a speech likely to lead to further chaos in the already fractured nation Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control most of east Libya, claimed that a 2015 UN-brokered peace deal had expired, rendering the government that emerged from it illegitimate.

In an address broadcast from his headquarters in Benghazi, General Haftar said: “All bodies resulting from this agreement automatically lose their legitimacy, which has been contested from the first day they took office.”

Acknowledging that the country was now at an “historic and dangerous turning point”, he hinted that he would consider filling the political void by running for president.’

 

 

FIELD MARSHAL KHALIFA HAFTAR LAUNCHES A BID FOR POWER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notable in this regard are the reports coming from inside Libya that the Egyptian Air Force has made two bombing raids on Islamist strongholds in Derna recently. The last was on the morning of the 29th May.  The raids were made in conjunction with Haftar’s Libyan National Army and aimed at strategically important points controlled by Derna’s Mujahadeen Shura Council. The Egyptians had been exasperated by murderous attacks on their Coptic Churches which, they believe, were carried out by terrorists based or trained near Derna. Egypt has now shown its support for Haftar in no uncertain terms

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

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

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

WHAT WILL FIELD MARSHAL KHALIFA HAFTAR DO NEXT? (Further notes added 13th June 2017)

Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces are now in possession of the Brak Al-Shatti and Jufra airbases in Southern and Central Libya. Effectively they took them from the Misuratan based 13th Brigade and Mustafa Al-Sharksi’s Benghazi Defence Brigade which had deployed ruthless tactics. The 13th Brigade is said to have withdrawn to its base in Misurata and the Benghazi Defence Brigade to Sabratha to the west of Tripoli.

Once Haftar’s advance troops have made the airfields safe, cleared their approaches and organised the logistics, he will be able to position his warplanes within striking distance of Misurata and Tripoli. He can also use his transport aircraft to ferry in material and reinforcements to build up a strong foothold in Central Libya. This shifts his strategic outlook considerably but it gives Haftar a new set of political and tribal considerations peculiar to the South and West of the country.

Let us look at it now from the tribal point of view. Brak al-Shati is in the territory of the Magarha tribe to which belonged Abdulbaset al-Magrahi, the convicted Lockerby bomber. Notable amongst the tribe’s sons is Abdulla Senussi, Gaddafi’s brother in law and intelligence supremo and Major Abdessalam Jalloud, Gaddafi’s sometime second in command.

Jufra is within the tribal homeland of the Aulad Suleiman to which Gaddafi’s tribe, the Gaddadfa, is in a client relationship.  The Gaddadfa is now much diminished in influence in the light of Ghadaffy’s downfall, though it is interesting to note that Gaddfi’s eldest son, Saif al Islam, has just been released from prison in Zintan. His whereabouts are still unknown and speculation is rife at the time of writing. One suggestion is that he has joined Gaddafi’s sometime General, Ali Kana, the Tuareg whose militia controls much of Libya’s south west. There is an interesting paper on the Gaddafists here.

Saif al Islam’s whereabouts are important because they may give us an indication of where support for the old Gaddafi regime is strongest. The Gaddafists are, so far, lying doggo but they oppose Haftar who they consider to be an American with his own agenda. At some time Haftar will have to deal with both the Gaddafists and with Ali Kana’s Tuareg militias. There is something about Ali Kana here.

The Zintanis are Hafter’s allies in the Jebel Nefusa some 180 kilometres south west of Tripoli. They have been preparing to move back into Tripoli for some time. They refer to themselves as the Western Command of Haftar’s Libyan National Army and are well armed and thirsting for revenge having been beaten out of Tripoli in the summer of 2014 by the Misuratan lead forces. They have broken up the Abubakr Al-Siddiq brigade which released Saif al Islam and Haftar can still count on their support.

Misurata, Libya’s third largest city some 210 kilometres east of Tripoli, is in the process of change. The municipal council is beginning to assert itself against the powerful Islamist militias which have dominated the city for some considerable time. The militias are, however, still well armed and Hafter would be wise to outflank them were he to intend to dominate Tripoli. It is perhaps this consideration which has influenced his strategy.

He has indicted that his next step is to move some 300 kilometres north east into Beni Walid. This is particularly interesting. Beni Walid is the stronghold of the Warfella tribe and was one of the last pro-Gaddafi centres to surrender during the 2011 civil war. The Warfella, one Western Libya’s Sa’adi tribes, is also said to be one of Libya’s largest and was greatly favoured by Gaddafi for much of his reign. There are reports that Haftar has already met Warfella leaders to discuss future operations. There are still, it is said, a number of Gaddfists in Beni Walid. Which horse will the Beni Walid leaders put their money on?

Should Hafter achieve a move to Beni Walid he may consider the Warfella’s western neighbour the Tarhuna tribe as the next objective on his road to Tripoli. We will see.

HAFTAR  CONSOLIDATES  HIS POSITION IN CENTRAL LIBYA

On 17th October 2017 Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar told a meeting of his army commanders in Benghazi that the size of Libya is 1,760,000 square kilometres and the Libyan National Army which he commands controls of 1,730,000 square kilometres of it.

As expected, he has reached an agreement with the Warfella tribe based around Beni Walid. He has raised the new 27th Infantry Brigade for recruits from the Warfella under the command of Colonel Abdulla al- Warfella. It is noted that the Warfella tribe was highly favoured under the Gaddafi regime. The new regiment is scheduled to undergo as period of training but it is clear that Hafter’s sphere of influence has been extended to one of Libya’s respected tribes with wide territorial influence. (This map will serve to show the location of the Warfella tribe’s homeland in Libya).

The leadership of the Warfella tribe under Sheikh Mohamad al-Barghouti has been notably withdrawn from the damaging armed discord which has bedevilled Libya since the downfall of the Gaddafi regime. A good piece about this by a noted Libyan journalist can be found here.

However, the tribe has long been at odds with the Misuratans who conducted a siege of Beni Walid in 2012 on the pretext of flushing out Gaddafists who were said to have been afforded refuge there. The story of the siege and something of the history of the enmity between the Warfella and the Misuratans may be found here.

What the Field Marshall did not say on 17th October, but his commanders will know,  that he has not reached an accommodation with the militias of Libya’s third largest city, Misurata, where a number of powerful, well trained and battle-hardened militias are ranged against him. It is hard to see how he intends to deal with the considerable challenge they pose.

Nor does he appear to have referred to the Tuareg militias in the south west of the country though, no doubt, he has entered into discussions with their leaders.

Some observers believe he is preparing to enter Tripoli soon. He will have a number of tactical problems to overcome. There are some strong but warring militias in Tripoli which will not take readily to the loss of power they now exercise. They may put aside their differences and oppose him. He will not wish to confront them in built up areas and cause collateral damage. However, he may be negotiating with people within the city in order to eliminate, or at least reduce, armed opposition. He may use the fact that a large proportion of Tripoli’s civil population is heartily fed up with the constant armed battles between militias and the shortages of fuel and electricity. For example, the people of Tripoli have recently sufferd sever water shortages because the flow of water from the sub Saharan aquifers in the Jebel Hasouna has been interrupted by an armed gang which attacked the electricity control room supplying the pumps.

He will need to block the Misuratan militias who would, no doubt, attempt a flank attack on his forces.He will clearly wish to delay his confrontation with them until he has separated the Islamist/Jihadist militias from the moderates.  He can afford to wait but not too long. IS is has retained a foothold in Libya but has been attacked recently by US drones. With the fall of its Syrian bases it will be tempted to set up in a divided Libya.

MORE NOTES ON HAFTAR’S PROGRESS – 29th OCTOBER 2017

Haftar’s communication chief, Colonel Ahmed Mismari, has stated that the Libyan National Army, is now preparing to go to Tripoli where it would be welcome by the people. He told the press that the ‘LNA’s new operational area was West Libya’, that is the old Province of Tripolitania, and preparations were now in hand for the ‘next phase’ of what he called the ‘decisive battle for the Libyan Army’. He implied that Haftar had given the politicians attempting to bring some form of stable and effective government into being six months to do so before the LNA moves to take over. It will be interesting to follow this battle as it develops. In the meantime, there follows some speculative notes on allies and enemies which will need the attention of Haftar’s planners.

Were Hafter and his Libyan National Army to intend to move towards Tripoli he would likely be joined by his allies from Zintan in the Jebel Nefusa to the south west of the city. To that end he has trained a considerable number on new recruits to augment the battle hardened Zintani militias. He may already have sounded out, and would likely receive support from, the Warishifana tribe whose territory dominates Tripoli’s western approaches. It will be interesting to see how his plans are developing in this direction.

For the moment he has clearly allied himself to the Warfella tribe. He is thus in a strong position to the south east of Tripoli but, as discussed above, threatened by the Misratan militias. However, between the Warfella and the city lies the Tarhuna tribe. (This map may be useful for locating the tribal homelands.)

No doubt his intelligence people have made a thorough assessment of the Tarhuna tribal leadership and its likely allegiances. From the observer’s standpoint the outstanding problem is the Kani militia which dominates the tribe and has the Tarhuna town council in its pocket. The Kani militia claims to be Islamist but there are some who observe its operations with scepticism and suggest it has a record of revenge killings and involvement in shady trading. It does seem to be unscrupulous in practice. Haftar’s people will have noted that the Kani militia was allied to the Misuratan militias in Operation Libyan Dawn during which the Haftar’s allies, the Zintani militias, were beaten out of Tripoli and wanton destruction of aircraft and property took place at Tripoli’s international airport. An excellent paper on the battle between Haftar’s forces and those of Libya Dawn may be found here. It is the alliance between the Kani and the Misuratans which must exercise the minds of Haftar’s planners.

DERNA AND AL ABYAR– HAFTAR’S HOSTAGES TO FORTUNE?

Hafter may have concluded that he exerts military control of Eastern Libya, that is the old province of Cyrenaica. He has extended his direct influence over city and town councils and has now closed the port of Tobruk to imports other than for the direct use of the city itself. He has established a Military Authority for Investment and Public Works (MAIPW). Under its auspices he has taken control of ship bunkering at the port Benghazi and some agricultural enterprises near the oasis city of Kufra.

There is, however, one notable exception. It is the city of Derna situated about 290kms by road to the north east of Benghazi. Here he has a difficult nut to crack in the form of the city’s ruling Derna Revolutionaries’ Shura Council (DRSC), an Islamist entity which has recently removed IS from the city. It has links, I believe, with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Sharia. Some of the background to this assertion may be found above and here and here.

Haftar’s forces have Derna under siege. After the summary execution of the pilot of one of Haftar’s aircraft shot down when attacking DRSC positions the siege has been tightened and residents have been running short of food and medical supplies. Recently there has been an inaccurate bombing raid on the city which has caused collateral damage and civilian deaths. The raid has been attributed to, but denied by, Egypt. These events have drawn international condemnation which may damage Haftar. At least they may cause some hesitation on the part of the Egyptians to continue their overt support. In this context it should be noted the Egypt has intelligence which supports its view that IS is now regrouping in Libya and threatens its western frontier. The United Nations Mission in Libya has reminded Hafter “that direct or indiscriminate attacks against civilians are prohibited under international humanitarian law and reminds all parties of their obligations to protect civilians”.

Were this to be Haftar’s only hostage to fortune he may be able to contain the fallout. There is one other major issue which is likely to add weight to the growing claims that his forces have committed war crimes. The battle to clear Benghazi of Islamist/jihadists has been long and brutal. It has only recently been brought to a close and the city returned to some sort of normality. However, the bodies of 36 men which bore the signs of torture and gunshot wounds to the head have recently been found in Al-Abyar, east of Benghazi. They are said to be the bodies of militant fighters who had for so long held out against Haftar’s soldiers. The suspicion is growing that a Libya National Army field commander may have been involved in or at lest directed the killings.

This disturbing report in the British newspaper, the Guardian, sheds some light on the use of brutality and rape as a weapon of war in Libya. It contains some graphic descriptions of torture which are unpleasant to read and need further corroboration.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH REPORT ON LIBYA 2018

The Libya Herald has drawn the attention of its wide readership to the Human Rights Watch report on Libya 2018. There follows and extract from a piece by Sami Zaptia in the 19 January 2018 issue of the Libya Herald:

‘On May 18, forces aligned with the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) attacked an airbase controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is affiliated with the Interim Government in eastern Libya, summarily executing 51 individuals, mostly captured fighters. On August 15, the International Criminal Court prosecutor issued an arrest warrant, its first for crimes committed since the 2011 uprising in Libya, against LNA special forces commander Mahmoud al-Werfalli, after the emergence of videos implicating him in apparent summary executions in eastern Libya. In October, the bodies of 36 men were found in the eastern town of al-Abyar, apparently executed summarily by armed groups loyal to the LNA.’’

‘‘At least 20,000 people from Benghazi remained forcibly displaced, mostly since 2014. LNA forces prevented them from returning to their homes, accusing whole families of “terrorism,” while subjecting them to abuses including seizing their private property. Armed groups from Misrata continued to collectively punish 35,000 residents of Tawergha by preventing them from returning to their homes, accusing them of war crimes in 2011, despite a UN-brokered agreement between the parties. The GNA announced on December 26, that displaced residents of Tawergha would be allowed to return to their town from February 1, 2018.’’

The full Human Rights Watch report is found here and is essential reading for all those connected to or interested in Libya.

IS HAFTER LOSING CONTROL? (Update 26/02/2018)

Hafter’s leadership is threatened by a number of factors. Has he been too slow to take Tripoli and the levers of power in Libya? This cautionary piece has appeared which briefly outlines the threats he faces.

WHERE IS KHALIFA HAFTAR?

It is Friday 13th April 2018. In some western cultures Friday 13th is considered unlucky. Perhaps it may be an unlucky day for Libya? Reports in the Libyan press and now in the UK broadsheet The Guardian speculate that Khalifa Haftar has suffered a stroke and is in hospital in Paris.  His spokesperson denies the reports but Haftar has yet to make a personal appearance.

This piece in Jeune Afrique dated 5th February 2018 is a rare and useful piece by a French journalist who has met Khalifa Hafter. It can be found here.

By 24th April 2918 the rumours have gathered pace.

Reports of Field Marshal Khalifar Haftar’s death are beginning to gain in strength. He was said to have been transported to the Val-de-Grace military hospital in Paris after falling ill in Jordan. Other sources suggest that Haftar has suffered a severe and debilitating stroke which would require constant ongoing medical attention and render him unfit to rule Libya. 

This, however, appeared on the LNA Twitter account on 11th April:

‘‘All the news about General commander’s health are false, Marshal Hiftar is in excellent health and he is following his daily general command duties and all op rooms specially Omar Moktar ops room’’.

To add to the confusion the Libya Herald is reporting that some sources saying Haftar will return to Libya on 26th April 2018.

This piece in the Middle East Eye expands on Haftar’s health problems.

It is supposed that President Sisi of Egypt and leaders in the UAE are working hard to delay the official announcements of Haftar’s demise because the tensions within the Libyan National Army (LNA) which controls Eastern Libya and the Libyan oil crescent would otherwise be released with drastic consequences.

‘Because he’s so revered in eastern Libya, any potential successor to Haftar would likely face serious challenges from within the LNA, and his death could trigger deep internal conflict’ according to Sarah Al Shaalan, a Middle East and North Africa researcher at risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

Some observers are suggesting that one of Haftar’s two sons may take over but there are a number of local factions which might assert a claim.

One of Haftar’s son’s commands 106 Brigade of the LNA which appears to have been in control of Benghazi. It is reported to have commenced to move by night to Libya’s oil crescent. That would make sense in the light of the rising alarm.  The possibility that Masurian forces may take the opportunity to move on the oil facilities around the Gulf of Sirte must exercise the minds of LNA leaders. Other opportunists in the area may take advantage of a lack of resolve amongst Haftar’s petroleum facilities guards.

The LNA Special Forces commander, Wanis Bukhamada, has been reassigned to Derna. He has not always seen eye to eye with Haftar. He may be amongst those who make a bid for power.

Haftar’s very powerful Chief of Staff, Abdul Razzaq Al-Nadhuri, is head of the Benghazi Joint Security Room (BJSR). He has just recently survived a car bomb attack.

The possible tensions between Bukhamada and Al-Nadhuri are worth watching.

This piece by a noted Libyan academic is the best analysis of the situation to date. It is especially good on the tribal support for Haftar.

In the south where unrest in Sebha between the Tebu and the Awlad Sulieman tribe is endemic, the Haftar loyalist, Brigadier Khalifa Abdulhafeed Khalifa Omar, has been appointed to replace Brigadier Ihmied Mohammed Salim Al Ataibi in command of the 6th Infantry Brigade following the latter’s breakaway declaration.  

In the west the position of the powerful Zintanis will be watched with interest. 

HAFTAR RETURNS TO LIBYA

On 26th April Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter arrived at Benina Airport in Libya to be greeted by senior officers of the LNA and notable tribesmen of the region. He gave a short address but failed to speak about his health or explain his recent absence from Libya and public life,

It is now clear that on his way home Hafter had stopped off in Cairo for talks about the problem posed by the Islamist extremists still in control of the City of Derna.   Hafter’s forces have thrown a cordon around the city but need to allow  the ordinary citizens medical supplies and sustenance. This is a particularly nut to crack and Egypt is alive to the threat the Derna Islamists pose to their western border and their national security as a whole. They recognise that Islamist training camps in Derna prepare terrorists to penetrate Egypt and create instability. No doubt Hafter was able to call on Egyptian assistance in the forthcoming battle to liberate Derna.

HAFTAR CAUGHT OFF GUARD?

Haftar takes his eye off his western flank and his old enemy Ibrahim Jadhran takes advantage and seizes the oil terminals at Ras Lanuf and Sidra on Thursday 14th June 2018. Jadhran appears to have attacked both oil ports and may have been supported by the Islamist ‘Benghazi Defence Brigade’ and an armed group variously described as a Tebu or Chadian rebel militia. I have written about Ibrahim Jadhran here.

Hafter may have reduced his defences around Ras Launf and Sidra in order to stiffen his forces surrounding Derna where he is taking decisive action against the Islamists who have been dominating the city. My early piece in the Islamists in Derna can be found here. Hafter’s local commanders claim to have liberated more that seventy five percent the city by now and expect drive out the remaining Islamists within days.

The Libya Herald has a report on Jadhran’s attack on the oil ports here. The Libya Observer’s report can be found here. Oil industry reports suggest that the tanker Minerva has been diverted in view of the Libyan National Oil Corporation’s declaration of force majeure. This map shows where Ras Lanuf and Sidra are located.

Ashraq Al-Awsat has this report on events in Derna and Ras Lanuf today -18th June 2018

CRUDE OIL EXPORTS REDUCED

The fall in Libya’s crude oil exports because of Jhadran’s attack and the subsequent damage to the storage capacity at Ras Lanuf is becoming critical.  Since the civil war began in 2011 eight of the original thirteen tanks have been destroyed. Jhadran’s attack has resulted in damage to two more. Libya’s National Oil Corporation has pointed out that it ‘will result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in construction costs, and billions in lost sales opportunities. Rebuilding the tanks may take years, especially in current security circumstances’.

HAFTAR’S FORCES RETAKE RAS LAUNUF AND EL SIDRA

Today 21st June 2018 Ashraq Al-Awsat reports;

‘The Libyan National Army said on Thursday it had rapidly retaken the shuttered key oil export terminals of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, where the head of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) said he hoped operations would resume in a “couple of days”.

Staff were evacuated from the key terminals in Libya’s eastern oil crescent and exports were suspended last Thursday when armed fighters led by Ibrahim Jathran attacked the ports and occupied them.

The closure has led to daily production losses of up to 450,000 barrels per day (bpd), and two oil storage tanks were destroyed or badly damaged by fires during the fighting.

For the past week, Khalifa Haftar’s LNA has been pounding the area with air strikes as it mobilized to retake the ports, and it continued to target its rivals with air strikes on Thursday as they retreated.’

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