Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

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LIBYA – KARAMA – (SOME NOTES ON KHALIFA HAFTER’S OPERATION DIGNITY)

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On 16th May 2014 ‘retired’ Libyan Major General Khalifa Hafter launched his National Libya Army against the Islamist militias which have for some time dominated the citizens of Benghazi. These militias, the Ansar Sharia Brigade, Libya Shield No. 1, Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade and 17th February Brigade, have espoused a doctrinal form of Islam called Salafism. Recently there are signs of a more extreme form of this doctrine surfacing in the city. This is Tafrikism. Takfiris reject any reform or change to their interpretation of religion as it was revealed in the time of the prophet. Those who deny the fundamental foundations of Islam, or follow any other form of Islam, they call apostates and regard them as non Muslims. Hafter has dubbed his ‘Battle for Benghazi’ Operation Dignity. The Libya Herald dated 17th May reported; ‘Hafter launched his assault [on 16th May] on Ansar Sharia as well as on 17 February Brigade and Libya Shield No. 1 Brigade, both widely viewed in the city as Islamist, from his Al-Rajma military compound in the east of the city yesterday morning. The operation which took everyone by surprise has so far left dozens dead and at least 250 wounded. Benghazi Medical Centre told the Libya Herald that it had 35 bodies and dealt with 138 injury cases. Jalaa Hospital said it had two dead and 29 injured and Marj Hospital six dead and 81 injured.’

At the time of writing the forces of Major General Khalifa Hafter are still in armed confrontation with Islamist militias in Benghazi, Libya’s second city and sometime capital of the old province of Cyrenaica. He has declared that his forces will soon be in Tripoli and his intention is to rid Libya of Islamist militias and their supporters, some of whom, he claims, are foreign. In particular he has singled out the Muslim Brotherhood as his main ‘political’ target. It has been reported that sometime before he mounted his first attack in Benghazi Hafter asked a close friend ‘am I committing suicide?’ Is he indeed committing suicide?

Libya’s immediate neighbours, Tunisia and Algeria to the west and Egypt to the east must surely be engaged in an assessment of his strengths and weaknesses and will be moving military resources to contain any spill over should Libya disintegrate into total chaos and become a Somalia on the Mediterranean. All these states have their own issues with Islamists. Egypt today (29th May) has elected the former military chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi as President after a turbulent period of Islamist government, albeit democratically elected, and is engaged in an ongoing low grade war with jihadists in Sinai. It is thus somewhat distracted.

If Hafter fails and Libya becomes a stronghold for Al-Qaida and Salafist-Jihadists the stability of much of North Africa will be threatened and there will be a knock on effect in the Sahel states and Nigeria. Libya, therefore, matters. The coastal city of Derna is now firmly in Islamist hands and the vast and lawless south of Libya is a haven for Al Qaeda franchises and criminals. The coalition which has attempted to govern post-Gaddafi Libya has disintegrated and there are currently two prime ministers neither of whom can deal with the serious security problems. Hafter is attempting to demonstrate that only he can deal with the growing anarchy. He may also have political ambitions and has stated that he is willing to run the country if that is the popular demand.

The battle lines in Libya are now clear. Arrayed against Hafter are forces akin to Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shaabab in Somalia and Kenya, some of the anti Assad rebel militias in Syria. One of the Islamist militias, Ansar Sharia, the Tafriki-Salafist-Jihadist group based mainly on Benghazi and Derna issued this uncompromising statement some weeks ago; “The goal of Ansar al-Sharia brigade is to implement the laws of Allah on the land, and reject the human implemented laws and earthly made constitutions. There will be nothing ruling in this country other than the laws of Allah.” As Hafter’s warplanes bomb his strongholds in Benghazi a defiant Ansar Sharia military commander, Mohammed Al-Zahawi, has accused him of waging a crusade against Islam. He portrayed Hafter’s forces as lackeys of the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt and warned him that he would suffer the same fate as Gaddafi. Zahawi asserted that his forces beat off the attack launched on Benghazi by Hafter on 16th May and claimed it is a victory for Ansar Al-Sharia. Zahawi said: “We thank God that we were able to defeat Hafter and we challenge him to attempt entering Benghazi again. We warn him that if he continues this war against us, Muslims from across the world will come to fight, as is the case in Syria right now.”

Hafter has positioned himself as the sole leader capable of dealing with the Salafist-Jihadist threat and taming the numerous and heavily armed militias which dominate the civil powers throughout Libya. His aim is to gather support from the Libyan man in the street and claims that demonstrations in his favour in Benghazi and Tripoli last Friday gave him a popular mandate. The pro-Hafter demonstration outside Benghazi’s Tibesti Hotel was, however, countered by another, albeit much smaller one, in Tahir Square. In an interview published in Ashraq Al- Awsaat on 22nd May 2014, Hafter is quoted as saying; ‘The security problem is a major issue that has shaken our country in a frightening manner after the GNC allowed all the terrorist forces across the world to come to Libya and coexist with the Libyan people. We know that these terrorists can never coexist with the people of Libya. The Muslim Brotherhood is leading this move. They are being granted Libyan passports and are coming to our country from abroad. There is now a large group of Brothers here, and that is why our neighbours are raising questions about this situation—particularly Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia. These groups, unfortunately, represent a great threat.’

If Hafter manages to win the ‘Battle for Benghazi’ and succeeds in taking over Tripoli he has still to deal with the Islamist Militia in Derna and win over the Islamist leaning City of Misrata. Tribal and ethnic discord needs urgent attention. The Cyrenaican Federalists are still in control of the main oil terminals and the unruly South presents a military problem of its own. In the mean time the Russians have made a diplomatic move by favouring one of the two rival Libyan prime ministers. There entry into the fray is interesting at this time. 1st June 2014 This from the Libya Herald today brings us up to date with the level of popular support for Hafter’s Operation Dignity. ‘Friday demonstrations have grown across the country since the beginning of “Operation Dignity” in Benghazi two weeks ago. The arrival of Central Libya Shield forces in the capital a week later, following an attack on the GNC, appears to have galvanised residents in Tripoli against the presence of armed groups there. Hafter claimed after last week’s demonstrations that popular support had provided him a mandate to continue his campaign against militant Islamist groups. On Wednesday, he bombed an Islamist brigade’s camp and a number of known Islamist safehouses and check points in Benghazi.’ Update 13th June 2014

This from Wikipedia gives a balanced and well researched picture of Operation Dignity: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Libyan_Uprising Update 16th June 2014 This, from World News, carries a clear statement of intent from Hafter; http://pressall.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/leave-libya-or-be-buried-here-hafter-warns-ansar-al-sharia/ and in this are more accusations of involvement by Qatar; http://www.aawsat.net/2014/06/article55333306 This puts the UK, at least, in an interesting position with regard to Qatar. It must be hard being a diplomat these days! http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c403bec6-3f63-11e1-ad6a-00144feab49a.html#axzz34ncPXw4n

Update 9th February 2015
In the last few days the forces of General Khalifa Hafter’s Operation Dignity have launched an all out attack on Ansar Sharia and its allies in Benghazi. The fighting is still going on and Ansar Sharia appears to have received around 250 reinforcements from Misrata who infiltrated the city from the sea.
From eye witness accounts the docks and fish market area is still in Ansar Sharia hands as is Freedom Square and a considerable swathe of the suburbs.

UPDATE 19TH NOVEMBER 2017

Further and more up to date notes  on Haftar’s progress can be found here.

 

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

LIBYA – A COUP THAT FAILED – HAS THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD SHOT ITSELF IN THE FOOT?

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Late in September 2013 rumours began to emerge that members of the Justice and Construction Party (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya) were attempting to gather the necessary 120 votes in the Libyan General National Council to dismiss Prime Minister Ali Zedan from office. It became increasingly clear early in October that their efforts were to be in vain.
On 5th October 2013 the US ‘Delta Force’ captured the Al Qaeda operative Nazih Abdul-Hamed Nabih al-Ruqai’i, whose nom de guerre is Abu Anas al-Libi, as he walked home from Friday prayers in the Nufleen district of Tripoli and smuggled him aboard a US Navy vessel from whence he was transported to the USA to stand trial for terrorist activities. I believe the Nufleen district of Tripoli is under the control of the Zintan militia brigade, the strongest in the city. The Libyan Prime Minister states that he was unaware that the US was to capture al Libi.
Whilst this daring operation allowed the Obama administration to claim some much needed kudos at home it implied that the Zeidan government had lost control of state security and at the same time that it may have been in the ‘pocket’ of the USA. The combined effect will have further diminished the authority of Ali Zeidan’s government in some quarters and given his enemies a propaganda coup.
Early on the 10th October 2013 the Libya Herald carried this startling report: ‘Dr. Zeidan, the Libyan Prime Minister, was abducted by two gunmen from his room in a Tripoli hotel at around 03.30 this morning. It seems that his bodyguard failed to resist being under the impression that the abduction was official.’
Later that day the same paper published this:
‘The Prime Minister was not released by his captors following negotiations with them, according to government spokesman Mohamed Yahya Kaabar: he was rescued after the headquarters in Fornaj of the Counter Crime Agency was stormed. This version of events was confirmed by Haitham Tajouri, the Commander of the First Support Brigade who had been involved in trying to negotiate Ali Zeidan’s freedom. He has said that Ali Zeidan was freed after thuwar from Fornaj and elsewhere in Tripoli had stormed the place where he was held.’
It is clear now that local residents of the Fornaj district joined the two ‘thuwars’, the First Support Brigade and the 106 Brigade, in storming the building in which the Prime Minster was incarcerated. Ali Zeidan was still, it seems, in his night attire when he was rescued. It is also reported that the powerful Zintan Brigade made it clear that they would ‘flatten’ the armed groups involved in the kidnap if the Prime Minister was not released; a not inconsiderable threat.
The Egyptian ‘Ashraq Al-Awsat’ reported:‘The audacious abduction of the Libyan premier by some 150 gunmen on Thursday points to a dangerous state of security instability in the North African country.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, head of Tripoli’s Supreme Security Committee, Hashim Bishr, said that a group affiliated with the Operations Room of Libya’s Revolutionaries (ORLR) appeared at the Corinthia Hotel where Zeidan was staying, informing the prime minister’s security guards they had orders from the Public Prosecutor to arrest Zeidan. But Bishr said that Zeidan’s guards “did not see any arrest order.”Tasked with providing security for the Libyan capital, the ORLR “told him [Zeidan] that he was wanted for questioning and he went with them, although his guards wanted to resist.”
The ORLR is a thuwar or militia which is contracted to the Interior Ministry to provide security in Tripoli. It has no training in police or security work. Its militiamen owe their loyalty to their commanders, not to the state. On the morning of the 10th October it stated on its Facebook page that it had been under orders from the Libyan Public Prosecutor when it arrested Ali Zeidan. It later removed this post and began to claim that it had arrested Ali Zeidan on charges of corruption and incompetence and for colluding with the USA in the capture of al Libi.
Sometime later Mohamed Sawan, the leader in the General National Congress of the Justice and Construction Party, told the AP that Ali Zeidan should resign and that Congress was seeking a replacement for him. This sounds like a defensive statement. The armed kidnap and intimidation of the lawful Prime Minster of Libya was focusing international condemnation and his determined refusal to be coerced by force into resigning was strengthening his mandate with the general public.
On 11th October Ali Zeidan delivered a long speech on national TV. He made some key remarks which were rendered into English by journalists from the Libya Herald. I believe the following to be the most significant:
“The GNC is being intimidated by a dangerous loud minority,” said Zeidan, “who stop at nothing to pass their agendas…. Since the day I assumed office a group within the GNC has been doing nothing but work to oust me on no real grounds. This group wants to rule Libya on its own”
“My abduction is a huge crime with so many sides to it, from lying to falsifying government documents and abducting the head of the government”.
“This number of armed men and vehicles would never happen without being pre-organised. This was nothing less than a coup. The armed group claimed to have an arrest warrant and terrorised hotel staff and guests. Armed men forced their way into my room and demanded that I go with them. They stole all my personal belongings, including my clothes”.
He appears to have made it clear that ‘his political opponents had been behind his abduction, intent on forcing him to resign after they had failed to unseat him by forcing a vote of confidence in the GNC’.
He promised to name the members of the GNC who were the instigators of the failed coup. It is not difficult to infer that he was referring to Mohamed Sawan’s Justice and Construction Party, though he may not be in a position to deal with them as a number of his coalition government belong to that party.
For the moment the balance of power has shifted towards Ali Zeidan and it is easy to agree with the notable Egyptian journalist and commentator Abdul Rahman al Rashed who suggests that …‘the responsibility of Zeidan’s government is to abolish and disarm the militias. What happened made him a hero in the eyes of the majority of Libyans, who saw in him a brave figure, refusing to bargain in the face of threats or to be blackmailed.’

JOHN OAKES
15th October 2013

Update 21st October 2013
According to Reuters this morning the Libyan government has accused two members of the General National Congress, Mustafa al-Tariki and Muhammed al-Kilani, of involvement in the kidnap of Ali Zeidan. Both congressmen deny the charges but it as well to remember that they have immunity from arrest. The Libya Herald is carrying a long report giving more details.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/10/20/zeidan-names-two-congressmen-behind-his-abduction/#axzz2iLBw6NIy

Update 28th October 2013

The two GNC members named by Ali Zeidan as the leaders of the kidnap debacle, Mustafa al-Tariki and Mohammed al-Kilani represent Zawia. It seems that the Zawia town council is run by the Muslim Brotherhood and there have been protests in the town by ordinary citizens who wish o register their dissatisfaction with its performance.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/10/26/anti-muslim-brotherhood-protests-in-zawia/#axzz2j0sFK1vp

Anyone interested in the future of Libya should read this interview with the highly respected Mustapha Abdul Jalil, sometime Chairman of the National Transition Council formed on 5th March 2011:
http://www.aawsat.net/2013/10/article55319995