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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 – ‘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 – 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 ON THE BRINK OF CIVIL WAR?

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20th May 2014
The Forces of Major General Khalifa Hafter appear to be gathering for an armed confrontation with Islamist militias in Benghazi, Libya’s second city and sometime capital of the old province of Cyrenaica. In the mean time the price of Brent crude has shot up at the likelihood of a civil war in Libya and the US has moved six hundred marines from Spain to a forward base in Sicily in order to protect and evacuate US diplomats and other citizens from Tripoli where Islamist militias range freely. They are threatened mainly by powerful forces from Zintan, a city on the edge of the Jebel Nefusa. The Libyan General National Congress, by now probably without legitimate mandate, has been attacked by Zintani militias and has been stood down. The ‘legitimate’ but so far ineffective, Libyan army, seems to be divided and has not shown its hand. The Libyan Air Force units in Tobruk and, I believe, Benina have declared their support for Hafter.
Hafter’s forces, now named the Libyan National Army, are based to the east of Benghazi and were said to number 6,000 on the 17th May, though the Special Service (Lightning) Brigade stationed within the city is reported today to have sided with Hafter who also has tribal support, though the extent of this is unknown to date. It is probable that Hafter has been joined by Ibrahim Jadhran’s Cyrenaica Defence Force which hails from Marsa Brega and controls the main oil terminals on the southern shores of the Gulf of Sirte. The Islamist Omar Mukhtar Brigade is said to have left Kufra to join the confrontation though I do not know where it is heading.
Haftar’s tribal militiamen seem to have set up a ring of road blocks around Benghazi in order to stop Islamist forces, from Derna in particular, from entering the city and coming to the aid of those within. 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.
At the time of writing the Libya Herald appears to be off line though its server may be unable to cope with the unprecedented number of calls on its service. The last news I have been able to access from that source was on 17th May 2014 and I take the liberty of copying parts of its despatches here.
‘A threat by General Khalifa Hafter made on Libya Awlan TV today to “cleanse and purify” Benghazi of Islamist militants took concrete form this evening when a massive explosion destroyed Ansar Al-Sharia’s radio station in the city’s Leithe district.
Earlier in the day, an imam, said to be a supporter of Ansar, was also reported killed at his home in Hay Salam. He was named as Mohamed Ashur.
Hafter launched his assault on Ansar 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 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.
Figures could not be obtained from Hawari and other hospitals.’

It seems that the action has been in the south west of the city – in Hawari and Sidi Ferej districts, in particular the area controlled by Ansar Al-Sharia between the south-western gate checkpoint and the cement factory – as well as in the port area where clashes were reported between Hafter’s forces and Libya Shield 1.
The Libya Herald continues:
‘……. Hijazi said that he did not recognize the legitimacy of the government or the GNC. He claimed that the GNC had long lost their legitimacy back on 7 February (the date he said they were supposed to end their term).
The government and GNC were out of touch, weak and ineffective, he added, saying that his own forces’ military actions were in response to demands of the people (in the face of terror attacks by extremists, criminals and extremist Islamists). He stressed that the “Dignity” operation would continue, but refused to disclose any further details.
Earlier in the day Hijazi had called on residents of three districts to evacuate, on the assumption of a planned military strike. However, Hijazi refused to elaborate.
This evening, there was an eerie calm in Benghazi as most of the city’s inhabitants waited nervously to see what happened next. There are conflicting reports as to how much support Hafter enjoys in Benghazi. Some inhabitants and commentators have expressed relief and joy on the fact that someone – anyone – was prepared to confront the extremist militias.
Others saw no difference between the illegitimate Hafter, who they saw as pursuing his own personal political agenda, and the extremist militias he was confronting.’

Some notes on Khalifa Hafter follow:-

The Libyan revolution began on 17th February 2011 in Benghazi. On Saturday 5th March 2011, the Libyan opposition movement in Benghazi nominated an Interim National Council to lay the foundations for a government. A Military Council of fifteen including, Omar Hariri, was also set up. The most interesting figure was Staff General Abdul Fatah Yunis, who had resigned as Gaddafi’s Interior Minister on 20th February. Yunis was a long standing colleague of Gaddafi and one of his companions in the 1969 coup. It seemed to some observers that he may have harboured ambitions to replace Gaddafi and some believed that he may have kept ‘back channels’ open to his erstwhile boss. He may even have attempted to negotiate a deal in which Gaddafi would stand down thus bring the rebellion to a relatively peaceful end. This would not have suited some of the hard line Islamist militias.
In protest over the Gaddafi brutality, Khalifa Hafter, a native of Benghazi who was a retired Libyan general made his way from the USA and joined the Military Council. He became the general commanding the rebel forces.
Hafter was one of Gaddafi’s senior officers during his long and abortive war with Chad. I understand he was left in Chad to fend for himself when Gaddafi withdrew his forces after a humiliating defeat. Hafter sought exile in the USA, living near the CIA Head Quarters in Langley and he may have been what is politely known as a CIA asset. It is this apparent connection with the CIA which has made Haftar unpopular in some quarters in Libya and allowed the suspicion to grow that he is still under its influence.
Early disagreements amongst members of the Military Council led to disquiet and Italy, France and Britain later sent teams of military advisers to get the staff work sorted out. After some infighting, Abdul Fatah Younis took overall command of the rebel forces with Hariri as his deputy and Hafter was deposed to third place. Abdul Fatah Younis was murdered on or around 29th July 2011 and his killers have yet to be brought to book. Hariri and Hafter remained in command at least until the attack on Tripoli. Harai’s whereabouts are not known at the moment but he, and Haftar, would have been precluded from military command by the Political Exclusion Law passed in February 2013 by the Libyan General National Council as he had held high office under Gaddafi.
I believe that Hafter has been touring the country and building support for the formation of a Libyan National Army with which he is about to confront the Islamist militias which are holding the reins of power in Benghazi and Tripoli. He appears to have won over the powerful Zintani militias and some Air Force units. It remains to be seen if he can win over the highly organised militias in Misurata which are known to have Islamist leanings and to oppose the Zintanis.
On 20th Febraray 2014 the ‘Middle East Online’ reported in part:
‘On….Feb 14, Maj. Gen. Khalifa Hafter announced a coup in Libya. “The national command of the Libyan Army is declaring a movement for a new road map” (to rescue the country), Hifter (sic) declared through a video post. Oddly enough, little followed by way of a major military deployment in any part of the country. The country’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan described the attempted coup as “ridiculous”.’
Ali Zeidan was deposed as Prime Minster and went into exile. Haftar roamed the country building a military following. He clearly reached the conclusion that the time was ripe to make his move when a number of protesters were killed in Benghazi. This report in the Libya Herald dated 10th May 2014 describes the event.
‘Three protestors were shot dead in Benghazi early this morning outside the headquarters of the 17 February Brigade. Another 20 were injured. Four were taken to the city’s Jalaa hospital, were one is in a critical condition, according to the hospital’s spokesperson. Sixteen were taken to the Benghazi Medical Centre………..The protestors had gone to the brigade’s headquarters after shots were fired yesterday afternoon at them while they were demonstrating outside the Tibesti Hotel over the security situation in the city. They were convinced that the gunmen were members of the brigade.
As with so many other similar incidents in Benghazi the exact circumstances of what happened are confusing and it is impossible to say who killed the demonstrators.
As they headed to the headquarters at the end of Venezia Street at about 7.30pm, ignoring warnings from the Benghazi Joint Security Room not to do so. Shortly afterwards, as dusk fell, the lights in the area were turned off.
For around two and a half hours they chanted slogans outside the gates of the brigade, which is headed by Ismail Salabi, such as “We don’t want you here”, “No to militias” and “All we need are the police and the army”. According to one of the protestors, there was then shooting of automatic rifles in the air from inside the headquarters, in “an attempt to scare us off”. Another report says that the shooting was proceeded by an explosion, possibly from anti aircraft missile fired from inside the base…..’

As I write Haftar may be regrouping to the east of Benghazi and awaiting further recruits to his banner. That the Special Forces ‘Lightening’ Brigade stationed in the city has declared for him he is commencing to look stronger.

22nd May 2014
According to Khalifa Hafter the pause in the progress of his forces in Benghazi is because the Islamist militias have taken refuge amongst the civilian population. This, he points out, requires a change in tactics in order to save innocent lives. He argues that the operation, code name Dignity, continues according to plan.

The commander-in-chief of Libya’s Air Force, Col. Gomaa Al-Abbani, has just backed Haftar’s offensive. Abbani said: “The Air Force’s Chief of Staff announces its full accession to Operation Dignity” and called on the Libyan people to “support the armed forces in their battle against terrorism and to restore security.”

In the meantime political support the operation appears to have grown. There are reports that the largest political bloc in the Libyan General National Congress, The National Forces Alliance, has voiced its support for Hafter.

Significantly, the powerful armed forces of Misurata assembled as though to move to Tripoli to oppose Hafter but stood down and returned to their bases. Their appearance in Tripoli would have caused some unrest in any case but their failure to act may have tipped the balance of power further in favour of Hafter. They are Islamist in outlook and will be a hard nut for Hafter’s forces to crack should it come to a showdown.

There are rumours that demonstrations in favour of Hafter’s Operation Dignity are planned in Tripoli and Benghazi tomorrow. We will see.

22nd May 2014

The Misurata militias did not abort their mission and have arrived, according to this AP report, in Tripoli. This will not help the planned? protests and Hafter will certainly face difficulties. See this:

‘Tripoli, AP—Islamist-led militias on Thursday streamed into the Libyan capital amid a standoff with fighters loyal to a renegade general whose offensive has won support from officials, diplomats and army units, but has also threatened to fragment the country further.

The militias, known as Libya Central Shield, are composed of groups from the western city of Misrata. They are under the command of the army’s chief of staff, who answers to parliament.

Witnesses in Tripoli said they saw Misrata militiamen take positions early on Thursday in army barracks in the city’s south, near the airport highway. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their own safety.’

This from the Libya Herald adds to the picture. The difference between the GNC and the government is becoming notable. ‘The Libyan Government has called on armed groups – namely Libya Central Shield, Qaaqaa and Sawaiq brigades – to leave Tripoli as the brigades squared up in the capital this evening.
Members of the Misratan-based Libya Central Shield arrived on the outskirts of Tripoli today, stationing themselves in the Salaheddin district, where clashes took place in the early hours of yesterday morning. It is not clear how many Shield troops have arrived in Tripoli……….It said it would hold the General National Congress (GNC) responsible for any of Libya Central Shield’s actions, because Congress head Nuri Abu Sahmain had called on them to protect the capital.’

The powerful Qaaqaa and Sawaiq brigades are from Zintan, the city in the Jebel Nefusa in which Saif al Islam Gaddafi is still held pending trial. They have been in Tripoli for some time.

There are useful and well informed sources which offer further information, in particular you will find Jason Pack here:
http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2014/05/libya-power-struggle-brink-civil-war-2014519151514777968.html

The best guide to the Libyan Militias is to be found here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19744533

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

Update 20th May 2014
Hafter speaks:
http://www.aawsat.net/2014/05/article55332450

Is this significant? Has the balance of power shifted in favour of Hafter? The Misuratani forces have failed to move to Tripoli.
http://www.libyaherald.com/2014/05/20/central-libya-shield-forces-scrap-move-on-tripoli/#axzz32LaFWQkw

Update 22nd May 2014

A good piece on Hafter in the Washington Post

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/rival-militias-prepare-for-showdown-in-tripoli-after-takeover-of-parliament/2014/05/19/cb36acc2-df6f-11e3-810f-764fe508b82d_story.html