Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Posts Tagged ‘Misurata

LIBYA – A GOOD START IN THE VOLUNTARY SURRENDER OF ARMS AND AMMUNITION

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There has been some success with the planned weapons amnesty in Benghazi. On Saturday and today Tahir Square has been the venue for citizens to hand over arms and ammunition to the Libyan National Army. At a similar event in Tripoli’s Martyrs Square two tanks were handed in by the Triq Asour militia brigade.
The hope is that the amnesty will be expanded to other parts of the country. It may not be as readily accepted in Libya’s third city, Misurata, where a large number of militia brigades have become deeply entrenched. The Misuratans are wary of their neighbours, the Warfella tribal confederation based in Beni Walid, and may be reluctant to believe that the National Army will be capable of keeping the peace. Many members of the Warfella federation held out for Gaddafi until the last days of the civil war. They are suspected by many of being pro-Gadaffi still. The Misuratans may feel that the Libyan National Army is still tainted by ‘Gadaffism’ and will favour the Warfella.
In the eastern sea port of Derna, Salafist militias are in power at the moment but may not be popular. The prominent families in Derna are unlikely to live with the situation for too long but may still feel powerless. The Libyan Navy has recently stationed a warship there. It may help to tilt the balance of power in favour of ordinary citizens. In the meantime there are known to be a number of radical Islamists in town.
In the Jebel Nefusa, the mountain range south west of Tripoli, there were serious clashes in June between a Zintan militia and the Mashasha tribe. More than 100 people were killed and several thousand displaced. This area will remain tense for some time.
In Kufra in the south east the long standing differences between the Sway tribe and the Tebu minority is still simmering and neither party is likely to hand in its weapons. This is a region troubled by arms, drug and people smuggling.
The successes in Tripoli and Benghazi must be heartening for ordinary Libyans. Many are stating openly that the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi was the catalyst which started a reaction against heavy handed militias. If that is so, Ambassador Stevens will not have died in vain.

LIBYA – WAS PRESIDENT OBAMA’S INTERVENTION IN LIBYA’S CIVIL WAR BELATED?

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Janet Daley, writing in the British ‘Sunday Telegraph’ today, appears to argue that the anti-American violence in the Islamic world is a by-product of President Obama’s Middle East policy. She states that: ‘He [Obama] retreated dramatically from confrontation in the Middle East: so much so that when the opportunity arose to remove the tyrant Gaddafi from power, he would offer only belated back-up to an Anglo-French initiative. (This did not, of course, prevent him taking credit, after the fact, for liberating the people of Libya from their oppression.)’
It is likely that he was wary of intervention for a number of reasons. As the events in Libya were unfolding I was writing my book ‘Libya – The History of Gadaffi’s Pariah State’ and said this therein: ‘The French and British governments had been working hard to construct a consensus in favour of military intervention on the good and clear evidence that Gaddafi was murdering civilians. President Sarkozy of France was taking the lead, perhaps to boost his popularity ratings which had slipped alarmingly. The Arab League was in favour of intervention since a number of its members were less than happy with Gaddafi, though their contribution was unlikely to extend further than diplomatic manoeuvring.
The USA was wary. The CIA had been concerned for some time about the uncomfortable presence of Libyan jihadists in Derna and Benghazi, who had been involved in the Afghan war. Libya watchers, and there must have been some in the CIA, MI6 and elsewhere, will not have forgotten the Islamic fundamentalist violence in the Gebel Akhdar (Green Highlands) of Cyrenaica – now called East Libya – between 1995 and 1998. The violence was fomented and largely controlled by ‘The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’. It was ruthlessly suppressed by Gaddafi using the Libya Air Force, though the aircraft that did the strafing and bombing were flown by Cubans and Serbs.’
In my blog of 13th September 2012 (LIBYA – HOW THE LIBYAN INTERIM NATIONAL COUNCIL ASKED FOR NATO’S HELP IN MARCH 2011) I explained how President Sarkozy opened a ‘back channel’ with the anti-Gadaffi leadership in Benghazi and recognised it as the legitimate government of Libya thus pre-empting others. I also showed that Hilary Clinton was sufficiently impressed by the arguments raised by Sarkozy and Jebril [see my 13th September blog] that she saw to it that UN security Council Resolution 1973 was approved, permitting intervention against Gaddafi. I also noted the Sarkozy’s foreign minister was excluded from the consultations and that German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. was not in favour of intervention. It might be said that Sarkozy’s actions were partly motivated by a need to improve his popularity ratings.
Despite the lack of unity amongst Europeans and the anxiety about al Qaida franchises in Libya Obama authorised his forces to act. On 19th March 2011, Tomahawk missiles fired from US and UK navy vessels hit air defences around Tripoli and Misurata and French jets attacked Gaddafi’s armour near Benghazi. The city was saved but just in time. Tanks were in its western approaches and Gaddafi’s snipers were firing from buildings very close to the rebel headquarters in the court house. It would be as well to remember that President Obama, for a number of reasons no doubt, offered crucial but limited assistance and required NATO to assume command of the No Fly Zone.’
So Janet Daley is nearly right but her neat change of emphasis makes Obama sound weak. She states that Obama offered belated back-up. I argue that he offered timely back-up but he had good reason to be cautious. An al Qaida franchise may have been embedded in Libya.
This appeared in the Libya Herald online toady: ‘Questions are being asked both in the US and in Libya whether there is an Al-Qaida link [to the killing of the US ambassador to Libya and some of his colleagues]. It is being suggested that the Omar Abdul Rahman Brigade, which supports al-Qaida, was behind the attack. National Congress Speaker Mohamed Magarief himself has already indicated that it is not coincidental that that attack took place on the anniversary of al-Qaida’s 9/11 attacks on the US.’

IS A MILITARY STRONGMAN NECESSARY IN LIBYA?

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On the 17th February 2012 Libyans will celebrate the first anniversary of the Benghazi uprising which triggered the fall of Gaddafi. As they do so they may feel that their new leaders have been too slow to control the numerous revolutionary militias (known as thwars) formed during the civil war and have yet to disband. The militiamen argue that they fought to topple Gaddafi and are entitled to say who runs their country. Since they are heavily armed, some with artillery and tanks, they easily assert their authority because the regular army is weakened and there is no real police force. What is more, the Gaddafi regime destroyed civic society and outlawed political parties. Ordinary Libyans lack the democratic machinery to fill the power vacuum.
The capital, Tripoli, is a case in point. There are at least seven armed militias controlling the city, one of which is led by the sometime Islamist fighter, Abdul Hakim Belhadj. He fought the Russians in Afghanistan and now heads the Tripoli Military Council. He is loudly proclaiming that the British MI6 was complicit in torture. The leader of another group, Abdullah Ahmed Naker, recently claimed to have 22,000 armed men at his disposal and that his forces already controlled of 75 per cent of the capital, whereas Belhadj could only call on 2,000 armed supporters.
More significantly thwars from other regions of Libya control parts of the capital. One of them is from Misurata and has recently been in a gunfight with Belhaj’s militia. A further thwar is from the town of Zintan and it controls Tripoli airport. It is this Zintan militia which captured Gaddafi’s favourite son, Saif el Islam. He is still incarcerated in Zintan, apparently without access to a lawyer. The Berbers from the Gebel Nefusa also maintain a militia in Tripoli. Clearly they intend to see that the Berbers, long suppressed by Gaddafi, are not marginalised in the new Libya.
The provisional Libyan government seems to have abandoned Misurata to its militias of which there are thought to be 170 or so. The strongest is probably the Hablus Brigade which still has 500 militiamen at its disposal. The Misuratans appear to control a region stretching from the east of Tripoli to Sirte, Gaddafi’s old home town. We may yet find that a Misuratan militia executed Gaddafi.
Some of the militias have been accused of mistreating suspected Gaddafi loyalist. According to the UN Commission for Human Rights, there has been torture, extrajudicial executions and rape of both men and women. The medical charity, Doctors Without Frontiers, has refused to treat prisoners in Misurata jails where its volunteers have been asked to revive torture victims. According to the U.N., armed militias are holding as many as 8,000 prisoners suspected of being Gaddafi loyalists in 60 detention centres around the country.
The appearance of a Coalition of Libyan Thwars (revolutionaries) and a Cyrenaica Military Council to represent militias from several parts of Libya is disconcerting. Is it likely that a military strongman will soon emerge in Libya or will the country disintegrate into civil war again as Gaddafi predicted? Neither would be desirable.