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Short Stories by John Oakes

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LIBYA – CAN FIELD MARSHALL KHALIFA HAFTER TAKE TRIPOLI? (8TH APRIL 2019) (UPDATED 8TH MAY 2019)

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HAFTER SHOWS HIS HAND AND THREATENS TRIPOLI

On 29th November 2017 I wrote this. ‘[Field Marshall Khalifa] 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. 

Haftar has kept his word. It is reported today – 7th April 2019 – that Hafter’s advanced forces are threatening Tripoli. They are said to have taken Gharian in the foothills of the Jebel Nefusa and some further reports today suggest his forward patrols may have been within 27Kms of Tripoli.

The powerful militias from Misurata, his sworn enemies, are reported to be on their way to Tripoli to stop his progress. The Misuratans appear to be aided by the Italians and some reports of transport aircraft operating between Italy and Misurata are coming in. Though confirmation is needed.

Hafet has secured Witya military airfield close to the Libyan border with Tunis.

There appear to have been some firefights in the vicinity of Tripoli’s international airport. 

NOTES ON HAFTER’S ATTACK ON TRIPOLI.

Dated 11th April 2019

Hafter’s forces attacking Tripoli are said to be commanded by Major General Abdul Salam al-Hassi supported by Major General Al Mabrouk al-Ghaziwi. Major General Wanis Bukhamada is leading his Saiqa Special Forces in the font line of the attack. Bukhamada’s Special Forces are a formidable unit having a great deal of experience in urban fighting during the recent battles for Benghazi and Derna. They may have benefited from the advice and training they received from French urban warfare experts.

It seems that Hafter’s mobile forces together with their commanders moved via the old trade route from Sebha in the Fezzan to Gharian in the Jebel Nefusa prior to the advance on Tripoli proper.

Italy, whose support for Hafter’s sworn enemies the Misuratan militias, appears to be opposing Hafter’s attack on Tripoli in diplomatic circles. France, on the other hand, has been supporting Hafter’s takeover of Sebha and much of the south east of Libya has thus been placed in a difficult position and has diplomatically urged both sides to stop fighting. Hafter’s forces are said to have a number of French military advisers. The Misuratans may have received ‘assistance’ from Italy. (Readers may recall that the Misuratans supported Hafter’s opponents in the battles to liberate Benghazi and Derna with supplies and military hardware.) In this context ‘The Libyan Address’ reported this today:-

PARIS – The Spokeswoman for the French Foreign Ministry said in an official statement that some groups and persons, classified on the United Nations sanctions list because of their terrorist acts, are involved in the fight in Tripoli against the Libyan National Army (LNA).

The Spokeswoman comments came in reference to the participation of persons classified internationally on sanctions list such as the smuggler known as Abdul Rahman al-Miladi, the commander of Al-Somoud Brigade from Misurata Salah Badi, Ibrahim Jidran and other extremists linked to Al-Qaeda such as Ziad Balaam who appeared in the battles within the forces of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).’

Anyone with an interest in the conditions prevailing in Tripoli before Haftar’s attack would it find useful to read this well researched paper on the Tripoli militias before reaching a conclusion.

REINFORCEMENTS FOR HAFTAR’S LNA ARRIVE FROM BENI WALID

It is reported today – 12th April 2019 – that a large contingent of troops from Beni Walid has arrived to join Hafter’s forces attacking Tripoli. Beni Walid is the home of the Warfella tribe. The Warfella have long been at odds with the Misuratans. I wrote this on 29th November 2017:

As expected, he [Hafter] 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.’

LOGISTICS – WILL RESUPPLY BE HAFTER’S ACHILLIES HEEL?  

Dated 13th April 2019

Hafter has attacked Tripoli from the south. This means the supply lines from his base in Eastern Libya are very long. Some observers thought he would run out of fuel and ammunition unless he made a rapid and successful advance to take over his opponent’s logistics bases in Tripoli. His planners must have found a way to deal with the long distances and unfavourable terrain of his attenuated supply line. The coastal road from Benghazi to Tripoli is controlled by his opponents, the Misuratans, from Sirte westwards. This adds distance and rough terrain to his supply line. In order to outflank his opponents in Misurata, Hafter is forced to route his supply line from the east of Libya though the city of Hun. From road maps of Libya Hun can be seen to be a critical hub and his opponents have spotted his vulnerability here and are directing air strikes on and around the city.

I believe his forces are still (13th April 2019) fighting to take over Tripoli’s international airport – my own place of work in the mid-20th Century. Possession of this facility would allow him to build an air bridge and relieve some of his logistical problems. His planners have been notable successful in many ways. It will be interesting to find out how they handled the logistical conundrum that bedevilled the British and German armies in World War II. Or will logistics be his Achilles Heel?

Update 20th April 2019

Haftar’s opponents claimed yesterday (19th April 2019) to have pushed his forces out of the logistical base in Gharian in the Jebel Nefusa. I await confirmation of what would be a catastrophic blow to Hafter’s Libyan National Army and would seriously interrupt its resupply rout.

HAS HAFTER BEEN LET DOWN BY HIS ERSTWHILE ALLIES IN ZINTAN?

Hafter’s sometime allies, the powerful militias from the city of Zintan situated in the Jebel Nefusa, have not appeared amongst his coalition of forces on his drive to take Tripoli. It appears that the Zintani elders were in favour of joining the attack alongside Hafter but the sometime Minister of Defence, Osama Juwaily, opposed them. Juwaily is a Zintani and was a army captain during Gaddafi’s rule. He has considerable influence in Zintan, and appears to have split the city’s militias which have so far kept out of the fray.

Some experts are arguing that Hafter had banked on the Zintani militias joining the battle on his side and suggest that his advance has been fatally flawed as a result. However there had been indications of Juwaily’s alignment for some time and I suggest that Haftar was aware of his loyalties.

Update 23rd April 2019

At least two reliable sources report that Major General Idris Madi (Apparently commander of the Western Region) is leading a large force from Zintan in the Jebel Nefusa to join Hafter”s attack on Tripoli. It seems that the issues which have restrained the formidable Zintanis from joining Hafter have somehow been resolved.

Some deatailed background about the Zintani militas and the connection between Zintan and Italy can be found here:

https://jamestown.org/brief/look-commander-zintan-military-council-osama-al-juwaili/

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TRIPOLI ATTEMPTS TO ATTACK HAFTER’S EXTENDED LINES

I suspect this is the first sign of General Ali Kanna and his Tuareg militias. The pro Tripoli ‘Southern Protection Force’ attacked Tamanhint airbase near Sebha on or about the 17th April and Hafter’s forces retreated, regrouped and returned. They are said to have regained possession of the airbase. It is clear that Tripoli is endeavouring to harass Hafter. Some relevant information about Ali Kanna can be found here.

Reports of further reinforcements arriving at Hafter’s forward base in Gharian make it clear that he is able to attract support.

HAFTER’S POWERFULL INTERNATIONAL ALLIES

THE USA

Hafter has dual US and Libyan citizenship. President Trump and Hafter have recently conferred by phone. Trump expressed his support for Hafter’s drive to take Tripoli undermining at a stroke the efforts of the British and Italians to raise a UN resolution condemning the use of force in Tripoli. This has changed the game radically and tipped it in favour of Hafter.

This cautionary piece in Bloomberg dated 25th April 2019 is worth reading in this context. It suggests that there is some disagreement between President Trump and the US State Department about Hafter

FRANCE

For some time, France has been supporting Hafter. They see the threat of IS and similar Islamic extremists now embedded in Libya’s lawless south as threats to the old French Empire states of Chad, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso thus as dangers to France. They have a considerable armed presence in the Sahel region, and they are aware that Islamist groups operating in Southern Libya draw support from allies in Tripoli. Hafter has moved to dominate Libya’s south west and will attempt to eradicate the Islamist groups. The French propose to support him.

Update 2nd April 2019:

This appeared in ‘Adress Libya’ today:-

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Le Figaro, – France’s Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian said:-

“For a long time, since the French operation Serval 2013 in Mali, we have realized that most weapons came from Libya and that many groups had back bases, starting with AQIM,” said Le Drian, using the acronym of the terror group Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Remember, al-Qaeda became dominant in Benghazi, US Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the same city in 2012, and Daesh [aka ISIS] then infiltrated Libyan territories,” he said.“I had alerted from September 2014, in an interview with Le Figaro, on the terrorist risks and on the possibility of local implementation of Daesh. This is exactly what happened: Daesh occupied several Libyan cities and even threatened, at one time, to get its hands on the oil resources.”

“Since May 2014, LNA, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, conducted one military operation after another and successfully hunted ISIS and other terrorist groups from one city to the next. LNA first defeated the so-called Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, a militia alliance which included the group responsible for the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador, after two-month long battle in Benghazi.In October 2014, the terrorist group ISIS took control of numerous government buildings, security vehicles and local landmarks in Derna. LNA launched a military operation in 2015 which successfully liberated the city from ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.”

“LNA forces and local police began to impose security in previously lawless cities one by one until finally dominating all of Cyrenaica and securing the country’s vital oil resources.Earlier this year, LNA mobilized its forces towards the southern region of Fezzan in response to calls made by residents who suffered from the criminal acts of local militias and Chadian armed rebel groups. The residents of Fezzan quickly embraced LNA, which enabled its forces to take control of the region in less than three months.”

“LNA continues its territorial expansion with its recent operation to liberate Tripoli. In addition to France, other international powers such as the United States, Russia and China have signaled their support for LNA’s operation.”

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES AND SAUDI ARABIA

Both states are supporting Hafter with funds and military hardware. It has been reported that drones have been used at night by Hafter’s forces to bomb his enemies in Tripoli. Hafter’s aged Russian fighter aircraft are incapable of operating at night. Reuters is carrying reports from a number of Tripoli residents who say they heard drones circling the city for 10 minutes before opening fire. These reports, and the unusual accuracy of the attacks, are leading some experts  to believe that UAE drones were used.

Update 8th May 2019

Today there are a some widely circulated reports about the drone attack on targets south of Tripoli on the night of 19/20th April. It appears that there are photographs of parts of a Blue Arrow 7 laser-guided missile amongst the target debris. This has led investigators to attribute the strike to a Chinese manufactured Wing Loong drone operated by the UAE. The UAE is known to have Wing Loong drones armed with BA 7 missiles, as have China and Kazakhstan. Egypt, according to some, also may also have Wing Loong drones armed with BA 7 missiles but corroboration is needed. The UN Security Council will view the usse of the drone and missile as a violation of the arms embargo currently imposed on Libya.   An interesting piece about these weapons can be found here.

EGYPT

The Egyptian President Sisi has been a longstanding and steadfast ally of Hafter. He is aware of the influence exerted in Tripoli by the Muslim Brotherhood and it is clear that he needs a stable and sympathetic neighbour on his western border. He has enough trouble with Islamists in the Saini on his eastern border and the Sudan has not been a sympathetic neighbour in the south. I believe he has communicated his reasons for supporting Hafter to Germany’s Angela Merkel.

RUSSIA

Russia is playing its usual canny game by supporting Hafter in the UN. It is also courting Hafter’s favour with inexpensive but effective gestures and, some say, supplying Russian mercenaries to train Hafter’s military. Hafter himself trained in Russia at an early stage in his career.

HAFTER’S POWERFUL ENEMIES

QATAR

It is clear that the Al Thani family who rule Qatar has purchased considerable support in Libya. Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia are uneasy about the effect Qatar is having in Libya and in the Middle East in general. Some sources suggest that the total value of Qatari arms to militants in Libya is estimated at 750 million euros between 2011 and 2017. This long but interesting report is illuminating in this context:

https://www.refworld.org/docid/596c92b64.html

TURKEY

The Ottoman/Turkish occupation of Libya began in 1551 and ended when the Italians replaced them in 1912. The main value for the Ottomans was in the profits of the trans Saharan slave trade which was not extinguished (in Benghazi at least) until 1911. Ottoman Tripoli was also a base for Barbary Corsairs which harried merchant ships in the Mediterranean. The Turks have, therefore, an historic interest in Libya. The Islamist nature of Turkey’s present government seems to have persuaded it to conspire with Qatar against Hafter. Turkey has recently stationed a warship in close proximity to Tripoli and another close offshore Misurata. This seems like a belligerent act against Hafter.

Update 28th April 2019

A spokesperson for Hafter’ Libyan National Army made this statment on 27th April:


‘During the past week, LNA was able to arrest a number of Turkish armed elements who were fighting alongside the Tripoli militias, in a development that seems to confirm the direct involvement of the Erdoğan government in the Libyan conflict. Many of the passports of the Turkish elements were seized by LNA forces.’

Update 5th May 2019

There are some reports of the presence of a large number of Syrian made M-302 artillery missiles in the hands of militias apposing Hafter’s LNA on the approaches to Tripoli. These missiles (also referred to as the Khaibar-1 rocket about which little is known outside Syria and, some imply, Iran) were said to have been imported in April into Libya on the Iranian cargo ship Shahr E Kord through the port of Misurata. Some experts are connecting this shipment of arms with Turkey. 

BACKING TWO HORSES IN A FATAL RACE ?

ITALY – ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA

Italy has been investing time and resources in courting the two powerful city states of western Libya outside the capital Tripoli. Libya’s third largest city is Misurata. Its militias fought a protracted and bloody battle against Gaddafi in 2011. The city was badly battered, and its people suffered greatly. The Misuratan militias became experienced and formidable fighting units. Since that time, they have been involved in Tripoli and were the winners of a war with the militias of the other powerful city state, Zintan, situated in the Jebel Nefusa. The Zintani militias are also battle hardened and well-armed.

Italy, the sometime colonial power in Libya, has found it expedient to court both the Misuratans and the Zintanis with military and financial support. Hafter has allied himself with the Zintani’s and probably counted on their support when he planned his attack on Tripoli. They appear to have hesitated to join his attack but are now engaged on his side. The Misuratans on the other hand are opposing Hafter.

Italy is thus on the horns of a dilemma. It is also experiencing internal political tensions and suffering from a great influx of migrants who set off to cross the Mediterranean from western Libya.

LIBYA – TRIPOLI AND THE PERILS OF URBAN WARFARE (28TH APRIL 2019)

There is something especially horrible about urban warfare today. There are a few readable papers on the subject which are worth a few moments to those who recognise that urban warfare represents one of the great shifts in how armies fight each other. They are found here and here. Here is a quote from the latter:

‘The nature of the battlefield is as complex as the enemies within it. Urban environments in particular—with dense populations, narrow streets, subterranean passages, and multi-storey buildings that serve as enemy defensive positions—pose significant challenges for mechanised infantry assault forces and have traditionally been avoided when at all possible.’

‘A multi-storied building may take up the same surface area as a small field, but each story or floor contains approximately an equal area as the ground upon which it sits. In effect, a ten-story building can have eleven times more defensible area than “bare” ground—ten floors and the roof. Buildings and other urban structures, damaged but not destroyed, can become (or remain) effective obstacles and possible booby traps.Roofs and other super surface areas may also provide excellent locations for snipers; lightweight, handheld antitank weapons; MANPADS; and communications retransmission sites. They enable top-down attacks against the weakest points of armoured vehicles and unsuspecting aircraft.’

‘Subsurface areas include subterranean areas such as subways, mines, tunnels, sewers, drainage systems, cellars, civil defence shelters, and other various underground utility systems. In older cities, they may include ancient hand-dug tunnels and catacombs. Both attacker and defender can use subsurface areas to gain surprise and manoeuvre against the rear and flanks of a threat and to conduct ambushes. However, these areas are often the most restrictive and easiest to defend or block. Their effectiveness depends on superior knowledge of their existence and overall design Many threats will integrate widely available off-the-shelf technologies into their weapon systems and armed forces. However, sniper rifles and small, man-portable, fire-and-forget weapons and demolitions and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs), to include suicide and car bombs, will likely dominate the urban environment.’

As this piece is being written Hafter’s forces are attempting the fight their way from the southern suburban centers on five fronts into down town Tripoli. Reports indicate that the main battle front stretches across Ain Zara, Khalat Al-Furjan, Aziziya, Wadi Rabea and Gasr Ben Ghashir. The last, Ben Gashir, some twenty miles south of down town Tripoli, is in the vicinity of the cities long disused international airport and most of the battle front is in the Tarhuna tribal area.

The dark side of urban warfare is clearly illustrated by this extract from the report dated 26th April by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

‘About 1,700 Internally Displaced (IDP) children have been reached with psychosocial assistance and more than 37,500 persons have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting around the borders of Tripoli. There are at least 90 civilian casualties, including 21 verified fatalities since the beginning of the conflict. These casualties include medical personnel, women and children, and at least one foreign national.

The conflict has significantly affected the capacity of hospitals and primary health centres with some medical personnel leaving the health facilities, thus hindering the capacity of the health system to respond to increasing needs. Specialized health workers are particularly needed. Armed actors and security institutions have restricted freedom of movement and increased security check toward the civilian population. IDPs who originate from Eastern Libya, the home of Hafter’s LNA, are being targeted as potential combatants or being politically allied to Hafter.’

TARHUNA – A CHANGE OF ALLEGANCE

In an attempt to predict Hafter’s plan for his advance on Tripoli I wrote this about Tarhuna on 29th October 2017. (I declare an interest in the region as one of my duties whilst serving with the British Royal Air Force in the 1960s brought me into occasional contact with a facility called the Tarhuna Range.):-

‘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.

It was clear at the time I wrote the above that Hafter had made and alliance with the Warfella tribe based at Beni Walid. Between the Warfella and Tripoli lay the Tarhunans. Hafter would have to approach Tripoli through their tribal lands to outflank his powerful enemies in Misurata. Hafter’s luck was with him. The Kani militia attacked the Tripoli militias recently and underwent a change of heart. See here and here for some background. The Tarhunans were clearly brought into an alliance with Hafter thus opening the southern approaches to Tripoli. That must have been an interesting negotiation and may have involved a number of promises Hafter will have to honour later should he win.


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/JohOakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1B

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.’

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ISLAMIC STATE IN LIBYA – THE CAMEL’S NOSE IS IN THE TENT. (Updated 27th April 2016)

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Since the 11th century the nomadic and semi nomadic Bedouin tribes of Libya lived out their traditional lives on land they owned by right of conquest. They moved their tents, their animals and their goods about their homelands according to the seasons. The Libyan Desert and the Sahara are reluctant to yield food and water to those who choose to live in them. Libyan tribes, therefore, protected their water sources, their plough land, their seasonal grazing lands and their date palms. They won a frugal living from a harsh environment with which they remained in a finely balanced equilibrium. Consequently the appearance of strangers in their homelands was treated with a degree of suspicion which underlay traditional desert hospitality.
The Bedouin humour needs a practiced ear to appreciate it. You can hear it in the phrase they used when strangers overstayed their welcome amongst them. They would say, ‘The camel has got its nose in the tent’.
In the middle of the last century oil was found in abundance in Libya’s tribal lands. Tribesmen found employment in the oil industry and the old pastoral life faded. For more than 40 years Libya was ruled by the eccentric Muammar Gaddafi, a man born in a Bedouin tent near Sirte. His rule was despotic and he was removed from power in 2011. Since his demise Libya has been wracked by strife and armed discord. The seed of religious extremism, ruthlessly suppressed throughout Gaddafi’s rule, has germinated in the Arab Spring and now threatens to overwhelm Libya.
The brutal Caliphate which calls itself ‘The Islamic Sate of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)’ exploded out of Syria and seized territory and minds in Iraq with bewildering speed. It has become a de facto state with much of the apparatus of statehood. It is expanding rapidly and has looked for vulnerable and profitable places into which it might expand. It clearly has a greedy eye on Egypt which it threatens from the Sinai Peninsular.
Egypt’s western neighbour, Libya, became a magnet for ISIL. It harbours rich reserves of oil. It is a very large country and thus hard to police. It has fallen into armed discord since the demise of Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s huge stockpiles of arms have been looted and the country is awash with weapons. The armed militias which fought to topple Gaddafi have remained in being and are vying for power. There are two governments which are unable to reconcile their differences and one of them, that which is based in Tripoli, has Islamist leanings. Neither government has, so far, been able to exercise control over the numerous armed militias many of which are led by militant Islamists. There is no effective national police force or judiciary. The militias have assumed both of these roles from which they enrich themselves.
In the near anarchy of Libya, the ‘Islamic State’ was guaranteed a ready source of recruits and also a sufficiency of fellow travellers in positions of power. Now it has a foothold in Derna and Behghazi and is in complete control of the coastal city of Sirte and its neighbouring town of Al-Nawfaliyah.
Sirte was Gaddafi’s home town and he poured a great deal of money into it. He was killed trying to escape from it in 2011 and the city of Sirte has been a pariah ever since. It was thus virtually outlawed and an easy target for IS. It lies between the de facto government based in Tripoli and the internationally recognised government based in the eastern city of Tobruk. These ‘governments’ as so badly at odds that they are unable to combine to root IS out of Sirte. The Islamic State is thus safe in Sirte until a government of national unity exerts sufficient force to attack and eliminate it.
I vividly recall making the journey from Tripoli to Benghazi by road in the 1960s. The Tripoli oasis ends as the road turns south east at Misrata and dives into the desert through which it continues with little let up but for the towns and oil ports for more than 650Kms until it reaches Ajdabia. It is hard to convey in a few words how daunting that desert journey was in the mid twentieth century. It may have become somewhat easier now but is clear – to me at least – how difficult it would be to mount an attack on IS in its stronghold in Sirte.
So safe does IS feel in Sirte that it is from there that it now operates ISIL’s satellite TV station Al Bayan on which it broadcasts the brutal Islamic State propaganda.
There is one other major factor which has not so far been emphasised. Sirte lies to the west of the major oil ports which are spread along the southern shore of the Gulf of Sirte. This is significant in the light of this report by Maha Sulaiman which appeared in the Libya Herald on 3rd November 2015.
‘There has been another assassination attempt in Ajdabiya. Gunmen last night attempt to kill a local imam, Salem Rahil. Several shots were fired at his car as he was leaving his home. Rahil, who is also a member of staff at the University of Benghazi’s Islamic Studies Department, was unhurt.
Ajdabiya is currently the most dangerous place in Libya in terms of assassinations and attempted assassinations, which are on the rise.
Last week, a Salfist imam was murdered when a car bomb exploded beneath his vehicle. Ten days earlier the local army intelligence chief Colonel Ataya Al-Arabi died in a hail of gunfire as he drove up to his home. The day before that there was an attempt to kill another Salafist imam in the town in a similar car bomb attack. Sheikh Mohammed Bodiam escaped serious injury but his nephew was killed.
At the beginning of October, Hassuna Al-Atawish Al-Magharbi, the commander of the LNA’s Brigade 302, which is currently fighting in Benghazi, was shot dead in the town. In September, local militiaman Nasser Al-Rugaieh and political activist Belgassem Al-Zwai were killed in separate incidents and there was an attempt to kill local journalist Usama Al-Jarred.
Almost all the attacks have been blamed on Islamic State (IS) forces or the Islamist Ajdabiya Revolutionaries’ Shoura Council.’

The Islamic State is bidding to take over Ajdabia. Why is this significant? Ajdabia is a strategic city in Libya. It lies to the east of and very close to the oil ports on the southern shores of the Gulf of Sirte. I have already pointed out in earlier blog posts that Adjdabia lies at the point where the coastal road from Tripoli around the shores of the Gulf of Sirte branches north east for Benghazi, almost due east for Tobruk and south east for Kufra. It is a hub for people trafficking from the Sudan. It is also the base of Ibrahim Jhadran who commands the Central Petroleum Facilities Guard and has the power to shut down the oil ports in the Gulf of Sirte.
It is not difficult to see what would happen if IS controls Ajdabia as well as Sirte. It would lie across the sole road access to Libya’s major oil terminals which lie between Sirte and Ajdabia at Marsa Brega, al-Sidr and Ras Lanuf. It would also command the hub of Libya’s eastern highway system. That would not be desirable. The IS camel would have its nose firmly in the Libya tent.
John Oakes
6th October 2015

Update 2nd December 2015

This, in the British Daily Telegraph today, makes disconcerting reading:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/12028246/Islamic-State-is-building-a-retreat-zone-in-Libya-with-3000-fighters-say-UN-experts.html

Update 5th January 2915

IS has launched an attack on the Libyan oil terminal at Sidra. This from the BBC is worth noting as it has a useful map showing the various ‘power bases’ in Libya.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-35220281

The Libya Herald is today carrying a report listing the names of the IS fighters killed in the attack. They are all Sudanese:

‘As with almost all other IS suicide attacks, there are no Libyans involved. All four were Sudanese. IS names them as Abu Muad Al-Ghurhani, Abu Hamam Al-Ansari, Abu Abdalla Al-Ansari and Abdulrahman Al-Mohajer.’ ……….. ‘At least two members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard were killed this morning during a two-pronged attack by IS on the Sidra and Ras Lanouf oil export terminals.

It appears that IS launched two suicide car bombers at the security gate guarding Sidra in a diversionary strike while another force of up to a dozen vehicles looped south and attacked Ras Lanouf, 32 kilometres further east. In this assault one of the storage tanks in the tank farm was set ablaze.’ From Libya Herald, Tripoli, dated 4t January 2015.

Update 6th January 2015

This by Mustafa Fetouri, a Libyan academic, makes the case for intervention:-

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/12/libya-danger-isis-control-syria-iraq.html#

Update 24th April 2016

This from the Libya Herald.

Tripoli, 23 April 2016:

The head of the central region Petroleum Facilities’ Guards (PFG), Ibrahim Jadhran, was injured this morning in fighting with convoy of vehicles from the so-called Islamic State. According to a PFG source, one guard was killed and, in addition to Jadhran, three others wounded. He claimed that a number of IS fighters had been killed and six of their vehicles captured.

Jadhran was not seriously wounded, the source stated and, after treatment at Ajdabiya’s Imhemed Al-Magarief Hospital, returned to the fighting.

The convoy of around 100 vehicles was spotted around dawn this morning south of Brega. PFG forces from Ajdabiya were called in and engaged them some 50 kilometres from Brega. Fighting continued until around midday.

According to the source, the convoy was not that of the IS fighters who retreated from Derna on Wednesday. With less than 40 vehicles, it was reported to have reached Sirte on Thursday.

The PGF source was unable to say where today’s convoy was heading, although with 100 vehicles it was thought to be taking part in a fresh military operation, possibly an attack on the oil facilities in Brega itself. In January, IS attacked the Sidra and Ras Lanuf export terminals and then attempted an attack on the Zuetina terminal.

Meanwhile there are separate reports of IS fighters pulling out of the village of Ben Jawad, 170 kilometres west of Brega and returning to Sirte, but these have not been confirmed.

Ben Jawad was captured by IS in January.

Update 27th April 2016

It is clear that a concerted attempt to deal with the IS lodgement in Sirte is underway as this in the Libya Herald shows:

Tripoli and Khartoum, 26 April 2016.

There are reports of the movement of two groups of Libyan National Army troops towards Sirte from the south-west and east. Meanwhile at least one Misratan brigade  has announced it is moving eastwards toward the 200 kilometre-long coastal strip controlled by IS terrorists.

An army source told this newspaper that a force of more than a thousand men had left Ghabghab, the main army base at Marj and was heading for Sirte.  It seems likely that the convoy will include some of the armoured personnel carriers and pickups delivered to Tobruk from the UAE on Saturday.

It is also being reported that the LNA commander in the west, Colonel Idris Madi, is pushing towards IS territory from the south-west. He is said to be accompanied by Colonel Mohamed Ben Nail, the commander of 241 Brigade and Colonel Ali Seedi Al-Tabawey, commander of the Tebu 25 Brigade. This unit, which fought against IS and Ansar Al-Sharia forces in Benina in Benghazilast year is based around the Sarir/Messla oil fields, the Sarir power station and the Shula oil compound.

On its social media site today Misrata’s Marsa Brigade has said that forces belonging to the city’s Military Council were concentrating before advance eastwards toward Sirte.

It is unclear if the Misratan move is being made in coordination with the Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Khalifa Hafter.

It is significant that the army has named its part of the move against Sirte  “Qurdabiya 2” after a battle near Sirte at Wadi Al-Hamar (The Red Valley) fought against the Italians in 1915. This was notable for the fact that it was the only major occasion on which Libyans from Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan fought side by side against the Italians,

An elder of the Magharba tribe said today on 218 TV that his people will do whatever they can to help the movement of army units from the east. Meanwhile, Petroleum Facilities  Guard commander Ibrahim Jadhran, a long-standing Hafter opponent, is understood to have agreed not to interfere with the army advance. Jadhran, who is himself from the Magharba, is believed to have sought to extend the PFG’s control over more oil fields to the south.

There has been considerable social media chatter in recent days about an impending operation against IS. A series of pictures has been posted claiming to show various units advancing.

Reports from inside Sirte this evening indicated that the town in unusually quiet and that the local radio station is broadcasting an almost constant diet of IS songs.

(https://www.google.co.uk/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=libya%20herald)

 
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

 

‘IT IS TIME TO SELL THE CHILDREN’ – SOME REFLECTIONS ON PEOPLE TRAFFICKING IN LIBYA – UPDATED 28th FEBRUARY 2017

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When drought hits the people of Northern Niger they often say ‘it is time to sell the children’. Sometimes they do just that. It is little wonder that so many people of the Sahel now set out on the long and dangerous journey to Europe where the streets seem to be paved with gold. Many of them travel the old trans-Saharan slave trafficking routes through Libya. There are few people writing about Libyan people trafficking with real experience of living there. Without that experience it is difficult for observers to understand the great distances and physical hazards migrants must overcome to reach the Mediterranean shore and embark on the hazardous sea crossing. Libya is a very large country much of which is inhospitable. I lived and worked there for more than eight years and drove my less than reliable British motor car over its roads. It was in the middle of the last century admittedly. Libya was just then emerging from being one of the poorest countries in the world into oil rich nationhood and Gaddafi was still training in the Royal Libyan Military Academy. Tribes still migrated with their flocks and telephone communication was sparse and intermittent. King Idris was still nominally in charge but he was a reluctant monarch who attempted to abdicate at least twice whilst I was there.

I have not driven but have flown over some of the other countries the migrants traverse such as Chad and Niger. From the air the Libyan Desert and the Sahara look forbidding enough but the view through an aircraft widow is a privileged one and not shared by an impoverished migrant riding the roads and tracks in an overloaded Toyota half truck. We have no real data about the number who die on the land leg of their journey but I suspect there are many. The simplest of the long road trips I made regularly was from Tripoli to Tobruk along the old military road constructed by the Italians when they occupied Libya. They built rest stations along the way but in my day these had been abandoned. The last remnant of the Italian colonial way stations was Mamma Rosa’s bar at Ben Juade. Mamma Rosa’s daughter had acquired somewhat overrated popularity born of long periods of life without women amongst those who drove supplies to the oilrigs deep in the hinterland. At Mamma Rosa’s one could purchase a cold drink, admire her daughter and watch camels replenish their capacious water storage organs at the drinking troughs.

The distance by road from Tripoli to Tobruk via Misrata, Sirte, Ajdabia, Benghazi and Derna is approximately 1,460 kilometres and the journey should take around 19 hours if you drive without stopping at Libya speeds. Few would attempt to do so, even today. The road was not in good repair in the middle years of the last century when I travelling around Libya. On one notable occasion I was met and summarily forced off the road a few kilometres west of Ajdabia by a motor convoy conveying King Idris from Tripoli to Tobruk. The poor king, who was not in robust health, was so shaken up by the numerous potholes in the road that he caused them to be repaired by a Greek construction company. The Greeks succeeded in replacing the potholes with lumps which were almost as destructive. Land travel in Libya is hazardous for a number of reasons. Libyan drivers are rather reckless and are not keen on being overtaken. Wrecked cars are not uncommon, even on long strait roads.

Also it gets very hot indeed during the day in the summer but the temperature dips steeply at night. As I write the temperature in Ajdabia is 40C and is forecast to drop to 23C tonight. High winds can make life very difficult. I drove through a gale whilst near Marsa Brega when the sand blast raised by the wind was so severe it stripped paint off the front of my car and polished its sump to a high shine. Water is not readily available and dehydration can be lethal. Vehicles which overheat are not recommended. A real, but fortunately infrequent, hazard is the hot wind which rolls up from the deep south. These winds are known as Khamseens in Egypt. In Libya they are called Ghiblis and they are formidable and can kill. The sight of a Ghibli as it approached me over the Red Plane west of Benghazi frightened me a great deal. These awful sandstorms suffocate one in dust. There is only one thing to do and that is to stop and sit it out in the hope that one does not dehydrate and that the motor engine will not have seized up with sand when the storm has passed. They can last up to four days and they are hot.

Nowadays enterprising militias set up roadblocks to augment their fighting funds and it is fatal for Christian migrants to meet Islamic State fanatics who kill them brutally. Their default method is beheading. Islamic Sate is in control of the city of Sirte on the Tripoli to Benghazi road.

I knew the city of Ajdabia well enough. I would stop there on my regular journeys from Benghazi to the developing oil ports on the shores of the Gulf of Sirte. I often ate a late breakfast in one of its cafes of a boiled egg and a cup of very strong and very sweet coffee, known in Libya as ‘Ghid Ghid’. So strong and addictive is ‘Ghid Ghid’ that it may account for the lack of harmony which besets Libya today! It is an interesting town. It has strategic value today because it is here that members of two major Libyan tribes, Al Magharba and Al Zuweya, live in a wary coexistence. The Magharba now exercises a great deal of influence over the oil terminals on the shores of the Gulf of Sirte and the Zuweya tribe’s homeland includes a major section of Libya’s oilfields. It is at Ajdabia that the coastal road from Tripoli now branches in three directions, one branch goes north east across the white and red plains to Benghazi, a second strikes out eastwards across the southern foothills of the Jebel Akhdar, roughly following the old Trig al Abd camel track to Tobruk, and a third takes the hazardous route going SSE in the direction of Kufra and, even further south, to the Jebal Uweinat.

This is one of the main roads for people trafficking. The distances are enormous. For example the Jebal Uweinat is around 1,200 kilometres from Ajdabia. Ajdabia is now one of the northern hubs on the people trafficking routs from East Africa and the Horn of Africa via Khartoum and Dongola in the Sudan and Kufra in Libya’s Deep South. From Ajdabia traffickers often take their human cargo westwards to Tripoli to find the fragile and unstable boats in which they are packed to hazard the Mediterranean crossing to Lampedusa, Malta, Sicily and mainland Italy. Kufra is an oasis town which is now Libya’s the south eastern hub for people trafficking. The route through Kufra to Ajdabia is favoured by refugees from Eritrea and Somalia. Data from the International Organization for Migration shows that these two countries are large contributors to the tide of human migration into Southern Europe.

Many of the young migrants from Eritrea appear to be escaping military conscription and Somalia has long been a failed state, a veritable model of anarchy. Recently a number of refugees from Syria have been using this route. They are escaping the Syrian misery and finding their way to Turkey from whence they fly to Khartoum and travel thence by land to Kufra. That would be complicated enough but they still have to get to the Mediterranean coast from Kufra and then make the parlous crossing to a European shore. It is a demonstration of the lengths human beings will go to find a future for themselves and their progeny. It is also a demonstration of the firestorm of warfare, religious intolerance, corruption, grinding poverty and racial hatred which blights a great swathe of the Middle East and Africa.

For those who make it as far as Kufra the journey to Europe would be hard enough but Libya is a failed state. Civil society is near nonexistent and corruption is rampant. The economy is collapsing as Libyans fight each other, the oil revenue diminishes and trade dries up. The people traffickers are growing ever more callous and brazen. Human trafficking from Libya across the Mediterranean was a $170 million business last year.

Some Sudanese traffickers are taking their clients on a new route westward from Dongola and Khartoum to Quatrun and Sebha in the Libya’s Fezzan. Here the migrants from East Africa join those from the Sahel and West Africa who trek eastwards via Bamako in Mali and Naimy, Agadez and Dirku in Niger. This is the route followed by drug smugglers carrying their lethal mind altering chemicals shipped into corrupt West African states by the South American drug cartels. A substantial number of the ‘western’ migrants originate in Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and the Gambia. Once in Quatrun the migrants face a 1057 kilometre road trip to Tripoli before they embark on the lethal sea crossing to Lampedusa, Malta, Sicily or mainland Italy.

Libya is shouldering the blame for the tide of economic migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean. There is no doubt that unscrupulous people traffickers are making money out of human misery and that Libya is disintegrating into chaos. The migrants are following tracks made by their ancestors who were sold into slavery by unscrupulous Sultans in Darfur, Wadai and Kano and trafficked across the Sahara. Even today they may see the skeletons of those who were left to die for the desert is slow to recycle bones. It is time to question the resounding silence of the Africa Heads of States from whose lands the tides of migrants have their origin.

(A number of helpful maps can be found here)

John Oakes 25th June 2015

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

Update 30th June 2015

From the Libya Herald 28th June 2015:

The EU states also have to contend with the attractive business and economic model of people smuggling. An illegal migrant worker is charged between a low of US$ 1,000 and US$ 3,000 per crossing with some boats carrying up to 700 people. The average Libyan border guard or policeman gets paid US$ 1,000 /month. The lure of people smuggling is very strong and a weak Libyan state, barring a return to dictatorship, will struggle to counter this lure for a few years to come.

Update 9th July 2015

This from Amnesty International can not be ignored:

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/05/libya-horrific-abuse-driving-migrants-to-risk-lives-in-mediterranean-crossings/

Update 19th September 2015

A graphic piece about the perils of the land leg of the trans-Saharan migrant journey:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/middle-east/article24785137.html

Update 9th June 2016

This is from the Libya Herald and is dated 7th June 2016. It represents the Libyan view about people trafficking:
London, 7 June 2016:

Libya’s Government of National Accord Prime Minister-elect and head of its Presidency Council, Faiez Serraj, has sunk EU policy on illegal migration by refusing to accept migrants picked up at sea back onto Libyan territory.

The news comes as the Libyan Red Crescent updated the number of migrant dead bodies washing up on the Zuwara coast over the last few days to 133.

Speaking over the weekend to a number of media outlets, Serraj rejected a Turkey-style deal with the EU to hold onto illegal migrants and possible refugees in ‘’reception centres’’ in Libya. Serraj said Libya and Turkey were different. Libya would not accept that the EU send them back to Libya to settle.

Serraj criticized the EU saying that bombing boats in the sea would not be the solution to illegal migration. He said that the solution must be found in the migrants’ countries of origin. He insisted that Libya would not allow migrants to use Libya as a transit country, however.

He said that the EU must send illegal migrants back to their home countries, adding that on this issue Libya and the EU were in disagreement.

Backing his Prime Minister-elect, Libya’s GNA Foreign Minister-elect, Mohamed Siala confirmed the position taken on the issue by Serraj. Siala reiterated that Libya would not be accepting back migrants that sailed from Libya.

Siala said that illegal migrants should be returned to their country of origin and not to the country of transit. He said that these had entered Libya illegally. Siala said that if a large number of illegal migrants accumulated in Libya with its relatively small population of over 6 million, they would have a great (negative) effect on Libya’s demographic make-up.

The highly experienced Siala, who had held a number of high governmental positions in the previous Qaddafi regime, including Deputy Foreign Minister, pointed out the existence of a Libyan-Italian agreement which stipulates that any illegal migrants that travel to Libya illegally, without documents or visas, cannot be returned to Libya.

He stressed that this agreement would be implemented.

These latest pronouncements by the UN-backed GNA through its Prime Minister-elect and Foreign Minister-elect will be a big blow to the EU. It completely scuppers EU anti-illegal migration policy in the central Mediterranean based upon installing a pro-EU Libyan government in Tripoli which was expected to agree to a deal on the lines of that struck with Turkey.

The EU had hoped that Libya would either retain most illegal migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean or accept those rescued at sea into ‘’reception centres’’ on Libyan soil.

Meanwhile, international aid agencies such as MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiers) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have been critical of EU policy intentions to return migrants to Libya.

MSF’s UK Executive Director, Vicky Hawkins, told Libya Herald today that “European governments should not be sending people back to Libya”.

“Last year MSF operated three rescue boats in the Mediterranean. 92% of our patients fleeing Libya by boat reported having directly experienced violence in the country, while 100% witnessed extreme violence against refugees and migrants including beatings, murders and sexual violence. No wonder people are trying to flee”.

“All European governments must uphold their legal and moral responsibilities and urgently increase the proper management of refugee claims across Europe. This is the only solution for this crisis that will not lead to an unacceptable level of suffering”, she concluded.

Equally, HRW said that the EU should do less prevention and more search and rescue at sea. It said that the EU should provide safe and legal routes for refugees. It said that ‘’trapping people in detention centres in Libya would expose them to terrible harm”.
It added that ‘‘partnering with Libya on migration would be disastrous. While smugglers bear direct responsibility for sending boats from Libya, European governments share moral and political responsibility’’.

It is worth pointing out to readers that while the issue of illegal migration is very prominent in EU political and media debates, it figures very low on the minds of Libyans and on the internal Libyan political agenda.

Libya is currently suffering a political and economic crises reflected in high foreign exchange rates, high prices and inflation, cash-shortages at banks, late salary payments and high rates of militia-related crime and kidnapping.

As most illegal migrants are loaded onto their boats away from prying eyes, usually after midnight, Libyans get to see very little of the phenomenon at home.

Update 28th February 2017

This detailed and extensive report is essential reading for anyone interested in the human condition;

https://www.unicef.de/blob/135970/6178f12582223da6980ee1974a772c14/a-deadl-journey-for-children—unicef-report-data.pdf

Update 11th May 2017

The following report is from the UN’s International Organisation for Migration. 

Over the past weekend, IOM staff in Niger and Libya documented shocking events on North African migrant routes, which they have described as ‘slave markets’ tormenting hundreds of young African men bound for Libya.

Operations Officers with IOM’s office in Niger, reported on the rescue of a Senegalese migrant (referred to as SC to protect his identity) who this week was returning to his home after being held captive for months.

According to SC’s testimony, while trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he was told he would have to pay CFA200,000 (about $320) to continue north, towards Libya. A trafficker provided him with accommodation until the day of his departure, which was to be by pick-up truck.

The journey – over two days of travelling – through the desert was relatively smooth for this group. IOM has often heard from other migrants on this route who report seeing the remains of others abandoned by their drivers – and of trucks ransacked by bandits who siphon away their fuel.

SC’s fate was different. When his pick-up reached Sabha in southwestern Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn’t been paid by the trafficker, and that he was transporting the migrants to a parking area where SC witnessed a slave market taking place. “Sub-Saharan migrants were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them,” IOM Niger staff reported this week.

SC described being ‘bought’ and then being brought to his first ‘prison’, a private home where more than 100 migrants were held as hostages.

He said the kidnappers made the migrants call their families back home, and often suffered beatings while on the phone so that their family members could hear them being tortured. In order to be released from this first house, SC was asked to pay CFA300,000 (about $480), which he couldn’t raise. He was then ‘bought’ by another Libyan, who brought him to a bigger house – where a new price was set for his release:  CFA600,000 (about $970), to be paid via Western Union or Money Gram to someone called ‘Alhadji Balde’, said to be in Ghana.

SC managed to get some money from his family via mobile phone and then agreed to work as an interpreter for the kidnappers, to avoid further beatings. He described dreadful sanitary conditions, and food offered only once per day. Some migrants who couldn’t pay were reportedly killed, or left to starve to death.

SC told IOM that when somebody died or was released, kidnappers returned to the market to ‘buy’ more migrants to replace them. Women, too, were ‘bought’ by private individuals – Libyans, according to this witness – and brought to homes where they were forced to be sex slaves.

IOM collects information from migrants returning from Libya and passing through IOM transit centres in Niamey and Agadez. “Over the past few days, I have discussed these stories with several who told me horrible stories. They all confirmed the risks of been sold as slaves in squares or garages in Sabha, either by their drivers or by locals who recruit the migrants for daily jobs in town, often in construction, and later, instead of paying them, sell their victims to new buyers. Some migrants – mostly Nigerians, Ghanaians and Gambians – are forced to work for the kidnappers/slave traders as guards in the ransom houses or in the ‘market’ itself,” said an IOM Niger staffer.

During the past week, IOM Libya learned of other kidnapping cases, like those IOM Niger has knowledge of.

Adam* (not his real name) was kidnapped together with 25 other Gambians while traveling from Sabha to Tripoli. An armed Gambian man and two Arab men kidnapped the party and took them to a ‘prison’ where some 200 men and several women were being held.

According to this witness, the captives were from several African nations. Adam explained that captives were beaten each day and forced to call their families to pay for their release. It took nine months for Adam’s father to collect enough money for Adam’s release, after selling the family house.

Adam said the kidnappers took him to Tripoli where he was released. There, a Libyan man found him and due to his poor health condition, took him to the hospital. The hospital staff published a post on Facebook requesting assistance.

An IOM colleague saw the post and referred the case to an IOM doctor who visited him in the hospital. Adam spent 3 weeks in the hospital trying to recover from severe malnutrition – he weighed just 35 kilograms – and the physical wounds from torture.

Upon release from the hospital, IOM found a host family who sheltered him for approximately one month, while the IOM doctor and protection colleagues made frequent visits to the host family to provide Adam with food and medication and assist him with his rehabilitation. They also brought him fresh clothes.

Adam was also able to call his family in the Gambia, and after his condition stabilised, he was assisted by IOM Libya’s voluntary returns programme. On 4 April, he returned to Gambia.

The IOM doctor escorted Adam to Gambia where he was reunited with his family and immediately hospitalised. IOM Libya will continue to pay for his treatment in Gambia and he will also receive a reintegration grant.

Another case IOM learned of this month, involves a young woman being held in what she describes as a warehouse near the port in Misrata by Somalian kidnappers. She is believed to have been held captive for at least 3 months, although the exact dates are unknown.  Her husband and young son have lived in the United Kingdom since 2012, and they have been receiving demands for money.

It has been reported that this victim is subjected to rape and physical assault. The husband has paid via family and members of the Somalia community $7,500, although they have recently been told the kidnappers are demanding a second payment of $7,500.

IOM Libya was informed of this case by the UK Crisis Response and Hostage Negotiation Unit, which is currently following up on the case together with the Libyan Red Crescent (LRC), which has assisted in releases in similar cases in the past.

“The situation is dire,” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Director of Operation and Emergencies, who recently returned from a visit to Tripoli. “The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for many migrants. Some reports are truly horrifying and the latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages.”

Abdiker added that in recent months IOM staff in Libya had gained access to several detention centres, where they are trying to improve conditions. “What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder. Last year we learned 14 migrants died in a single month in one of those locations, just from disease and malnutrition. We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”

He said so far this year the Libyan Coast Guard and others have found 171 bodies washed up on Mediterranean shores, from migrant voyages that foundered off shore. The Coast Guard has also rescued thousands more, he added.

“Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe, have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them just over the border,” said Leonard Doyle, chief IOM spokesman in Geneva. “There they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value.”

Doyle added: “To get the message out across Africa about the dangers, we are recording the testimonies of migrants who have suffered and are spreading them across social media and on local FM radio. Tragically the most credible messengers are migrants returning home with IOM help. Too often they are broken, brutalised and have been abused, often sexually. Their voices carry more weight than anyone else’s.”

LIBYA – THE ISLAMIC STATE IS MEETING RESISTANCE AND REACTING BRUTALLY. WILL IT MOVE SOUTH? (Update 22nd April 2016)

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There are reports emanating from Derna, the port on the north east coast of Libya, that the gang calling itself the ‘Islamic State’ is murdering members of prominent families in a bid to retain control of the town with a show of ruthless brutality. There is a horrific photograph currently circulating on the internet showing the dead and brutalised bodies of three man hung by their wrists in a simulated crucifixion. The victims are said to be members of the Harir Al-Mansouri family. There are reports of armed clashes between ‘IS’ and the Harir family which have lasted for 12 hours or more. It seems that the leaders of local families and tribes have met to plan a way of eliminating the IS gang. The Islamic Sate leadership in the town are clearly rattled. Despite its alarming reputation for the ruthless and rapid exploitation of much of Iraq and Syria, ‘IS’ has experienced some unexpected barriers to its expansion in Libya. There are for four main reasons for this. Firstly, as a late comer, it has not made much progress against the numerous powerful Libyan militias which have their own powerbases and ambitions. In particular Islamic State in Derna and Sirte is in competition with the militant Islamist group called Ansar Sharia currently under attack by the Libyan National Army in nearby Benghazi. Secondly there is no Sunni-Shia sectarian divide which it can exploit in Libya as has with success in Iraq and Syria. Thirdly, the ancient and powerful Libyan tribes have proved resistant to its blandishments. Fourthly, and perhaps crucially, it has not been able get its hands on some of the oil revenue. It has thus only been able to make a lodgement in Derna and in Sirte which is somewhat remote from the military powers centred in Tripoli and Tobruk. It is notable that both of the IS lodgements have so far avoided a major confrontation from either of Libya’s rival governments. That it is meeting resistance to its expansion in Libya may be the reason for its notable brutality in Derna and also for the publication of a video of the execution of 30 Ethiopian Christians in two locations in eastern and southern Libya, two months after it beheaded 21 Egyptian Copts. The video is clearly meant to imply that the Islamic State has managed to expand in Libya from its limited presence in the eastern towns of Derna and Sirte. The west has much to fear from Islamic State attempting to infiltrate the throngs of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya in order to export ruthless terrorists to Europe’s vulnerable cities. 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 (by which I mean the old province known as the Fezzan). 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 bring the French, who have troops stationed in the Sahara, into play. Possibly one of the reasons IS has not so far appeared in southern Libya is that it is within the bailiwick of Mokhtar Belmokhtar also known as Khaled Abou El Abbas or Laaouar, Algerian terrorist of the Chaamba tribe, leader of the group Al-Murabitoun, sometime Al-Qaeda Amir and kidnapper, smuggler and weapons dealer. Mokhtar Belmokhtar has gone suspiciously quiet recently. John Oakes 26th April 2015

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

Update 17th June 2015 Mokhtar Belmokhtar has escaped death so many times. Perhaps he has escaped again? Read these:- http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/15/us-usa-libya-idUSKBN0OU0ZJ20150615 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-33146555

Update 25th July 2015

The Islamic State (IS) in Derna has outlived its welcome. Sometime in early July an IS preacher at the Derna mosque stated the Islamic State supporters were the only true Muslims. He declared all other Islamist militias in Derna ‘murtad’ or, in English, apostate. In this he revealed the true Takfiri nature of IS and its franchises.

The rival Islamist grouping in Derna, the Shoura Council of Mujahideen in Derna immediately issued an ultimatum telling IS to renounce Takfiri extremism and to stop its brutal murders or face the consequences.

The Shoura Council of Mujahideedn in Derna was formed in May 2015 to oppose General Khalifa Hafetr’s Operation Dignity. It then consisted of four Islamic militias; Ansar al-Sharia in Derna headed by Sufian Ben Qumu, the Abu Sleem Martyrs brigade headed by Salem Derbi, Islamic Army headed by Amin Kalfa and the Islamic Fighting group headed by Nasser Akkar. All of these militias have Al Qaeda links and strongly opposes General Hafter.  There are reports that Ansar Sharia has since left the group.

It is now clear that IS has been expelled from Derna by the Mujahideen. It was reported to have taken refuge in Ras Hilal in the Jebel Akhdar and to have clashed with units on the Libyan National Army. The Shoura Council of Mujahideen is now in control in Derna.

According to recent reports the Libyan Air Force has made a number of precision bombing raids on Islamist Militia bases in Derna.

These two links are pertinent:

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/isis-libya-islamic-state-driven-out-derna-stronghold-by-al-qaeda-linked-militia-1506241

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/battle-libya-guide-countrys-factions-militias-1506154

Update 21st April 2016

This in the Libya Herald yesterday tells us that a long and bitter period for Derna may have ended:

LNA claims victory as IS abandons Derna

The Libya National Army (LNA) says it has driven the remaining fighters from the so-called Islamic State (IS) out of the Derna area.

Abdulkarim Sabra, spokesman for the LNA’s Omar Mukhtar Operations Room which covers Derna and the surrounding region, told the Libya Herald that the army had taken control of Derna’s south eastern suburb of Fataieh and the area known as District 400 at the far east end of the town following a new ground and air offensive today. IS forces had, however, managed to escape, he said, claiming that they had pulled out of the town on the express orders of IS’s “caliph” himself, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

The terrorists, he stated, had retreated towards the desert road to Ajdabiya, heading for Sirte, taking 32 vehicles with them. They had, Sabra added, refuelled their vehicles at a petrol station on the way before wrecking it.

 

However, this later report in the Libya Herald shows us that there are still some problems to overcome in Derna:

‘The spokesman from the Libyan National Army (LNA) chief of staff, Colonel Ahmed Mismari, says that LNA planes hit the convoy of Islamic State vehicles as it retreated from Derna yesterday and had killed “many” IS fighters.

The attack supposedly happened after the IS convoy, put at 32 vehicles, had arrived at Al-Mekhili, some 100 kilometres south west of Derna. There, he said, IS had found the petrol station closed and, desperate for fuel, had started shooting at it. They then continued further south. At this point, however, LNA aircraft were mobilised and bombed the vehicles.

Mismari did not say how many had been hit or how many casualties there had been other than “many”.

Following the IS pullout, the commander of the LNA’s 102 Brigade, Colonel Idris Eljali, was now in charge of Derna’s Fatiaeh area and District 400, Mismari added.

Asked whether the LNA was now going to try and take over the whole town, he said that Derna was not an immediate strategic objective. The objective now was Sirte.

However, there were negotiations by mediators with the Derna Revolutionaries Shoura Council (DRSC), he disclosed. It was being given a deadline by the army to hand over the town. He did not, however, disclose when the deadline was.

The DRSC is dominated by the local Abu Sleem Martyrs Brigade. This, Mismari claimed, was divided over dealing with the army. One part, he said, was totally opposed to the LNA. It regarded the army as “kuffar” (infidels). It and IS were, he stated, two sides of the same coin.

However, others in the brigade were more amenable, he said. They wanted to work with the army, but they were still extremists and were making demands about the army – for example, that it must contain no one deemed to be a Qaddafist.

Such demands were unacceptable, he said.

For his part, Abdulkarim Sabra, spokesman for the LNA’s Omar Mukhtar Operations Room which covers Derna and the surrounding region, is reported to have said that LNA aircraft had attacked DRSC positions at the town’s prison and its Sayida Khadija district on Wednesday evening.’

 

 

 

 

 

Written by johnoakes

April 26, 2015 at 6:15 pm

IS LIBYA ABOUT TO SELF DESTRUCT?

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(A UN sponsored meeting of key political figures from Libya is scheduled for today, Thursday 5th March 2015, at a venue in Morocco. Will it result in a government of national unity with sufficient resolve to save Libya?) ‘The sense of fear and concern within Libya regarding the threat of terrorism is very palpable. In meetings I have had over the past week, Libya’s counterparts have expressed grave concern about the danger that terrorism poses to Libya’s security and stability, and of the very limited capacities of the Libyan State to effectively confront this challenge. It is crucial to create the right conditions to address this threat, while at the same time we should be ready to support Libyan efforts to tackle terrorism and extremism. We should be careful to not underestimate the sense of urgency and alarm underpinning this request for international support on addressing the threat of terrorism.’ From the briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya to the Security Council Mr Bernadino Leon, on 4th March 2015

On the eve of the crucial meeting in Morocco of the opposing factions in Libya’s disintegrating state the UN Support Mission in Libya has stated that -‘’The Libyan people have paid a huge price and have suffered much over the past months. At this critical juncture in Libya’s transition, and in view of rapidly diminishing window of opportunity for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Libya, UNSMIL appeals to all parties to approach the next round of talks with a spirit of constructive engagement and strong sense of national responsibility’’……“As difficult as the past few years may have been for their country, the Libyan people have not given up on their hopes and aspirations for a modern Libyan democratic state based on the rule of law and respect for human rights,”

There must surely be sense of urgency about the proposed talks. In stark and simple terms Libya now has two governments, two legislatures and two armies. The elected government is based in Beida and Tobruk and is headed by Abdullah al-Thinni whose tenure is not all that secure. The unelected Tripoli-based government is led by Omar al-Hassi is backed up by the military might of the Misratan Militias. Both governments are unable to protect their ordinary citizens or maintain the supply of essential services. So busy have they been trying to maintain some semblance of government that they failed to stop the Islamic State (ISIS) establishing foothold in Derna, Sirte and elsewhere. News is leaking out of Libya that the ‘Islamic State’ has attacked the Shara and Bahi oil fields in the Sirte Basin. Whilst the raid was short lived and curtailed on 3rd March for lack of ammunition much damage was caused. The oil terminals at Es Sidra and Ras Lanuf, which contribute half of Libya’s oil output when operating normally, shut down in December due to the conflict. Libya currently produces around 400,000 barrels of oil per day, compared to 1.6 million bpd before Gaddafi was toppled. What is more the desalination plants which supply water to Tobruk are becoming unserviceable for want of maintenance, the fall in oil revenues has led to a run on Libya’s foreign exchange reserves and is threatening to weaken the exchange rate of the Libyan dinar, the Misratan steel works has been forced to cut production for lack of gas and the Misrata Free Port is not attracting business because ships are no longer docking there. From Benghazi we hear that that there is an acute shortage of bottle gas, frequent power cuts, little fuel at the filling stations, the hospitals are running out of supplies and staff, random rocket and artillery fire is making the streets hazardous, many schools are closed and the port is a battleground.

Writing about a recent visit to Libya in the New Yorker Magazine John Lee Anderson states – ‘Many shops are closed during the day, opening for a few hours after evening prayers; there are no women to be seen on the streets. There are sporadic bursts of gunfire and explosions, and it is impossible to tell whether someone is being shot or someone is cleaning a gun on a rooftop. Nobody asks; Libyans have become inured to war, and, in any case, decades of secret-police surveillance (under Gaddafi) have conditioned them not to inquire into the causes of violence.’

More important in my view is this, written by Mustafa Fituri in a piece for Al Monitor dated 14th February 2015 – ‘Libyan society has been more divided than it ever has been. It will take years to get back the social harmony and peaceful way of life Libyans enjoyed before February 2011, as the war has wreaked havoc on daily life of almost every Libyan family. The tribal society used to have a well-entrenched frame of reference, where religious and social norms were observed and respected by all. Disputes and quarrels used to be settled amicably outside the court system thanks to wise elders who were respected and enjoyed high esteem. This unwritten code of conduct has disappeared and is being replaced by another in which groups without social roots and lacking any social cohesion dominate. They are mostly armed gangs and social outcasts who call themselves “thawar” and have arms ready to use whenever they like. Libyan social life itself has been badly hit, as reflected in the increasingly weak family relations, even within the same family.’

There are those who argue that the efforts of the United Nations to bring a government of national unity together in Libya is doomed to failure and we must wait for a military solution. There are two major military forces in Libya. Both appear to have political objectives. In the west, and centred on the two major cities of Tripoli and Misrata, are the forces of Libyan Dawn. These are principally made up of the battle hardened Misratan militias and have the political support of war lords who have seats in the unelected General National Congress in Tripoli. The Libyan Dawn forces are said to have Islamist leanings and are opposed to two tribal armies, the Zintanis and the Warsifana, who are fighting in loose cooperation with the Libyan National Army of Lt. General Khalifa Hafter of whom more later. In the east, the old province of Cyrenaica, Lt General Khalifa Hafter has just been confirmed as Commander General of the Libyan National Army by House of Representatives President Ageela Saleh Gwaider. His forces are in alliance with the Petroleum Facilities Guard led by the young military entrepreneur, Ibrahim Jadhran, and units of the Libyan Air Force recently strengthened by the arrival of an Ilyushin-73 cargo transporter and – some sources are reporting – four Russian made Sukhoi SU-27 fighter jets. It is said that Lt General Hafter is now exercising considerable influence over the internationally recognised government of Abdulla al Thinni. It is not unusual to suggest that no political settlement will survive without the agreement of General Hafter on the one hand and the leadership of the Misratan Militias on the other.

John Oakes 5th March 2015

Update 6th March 2015

This from the Libya Herald today. It is a warning from the Libyan National Oil Corporation following a series of attacks on oil fields –

‘The NOC warned that if the poor security situation continues it will be forced to close all oilfields and oil terminals with all the resulting deficit in state revenues and the direct effects on the lives of Libyans in the form of power cuts as a result of cuts in gas supplies and liquid fuel and shortages in fuel, if the interest of the country are not put first.’

See this from Reuters today for the full story:-

http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/03/05/uk-libya-security-oil-idUKKBN0M02MU20150305

Update 6th March 2015

This from the Libya Herald dated 6th March 2015 must surely concentrate the minds of all Libyans and of the international community:-

Islamic State militants this afternoon attacked another oilfield (Ghani) killing eight people and damaging equipment and installations before apparently withdrawing. There are unconfirmed reports that a Filipino and an Austrian worker were abducted by the attackers.

Update 7th March 2015

This series of photographs is of children playing war games in Benghazi. A more chilling set of pictures would be hard to find. It is clear that the effects of the conflict in Libya will have repercussions for many years to come:-

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/8547874/Children-playing-war-games-in-Benghazi-Libya-pictures-by-Cai-Yang.html

Update 9th March 2015

Arms shipments to Libya are embargoed by the UN Security Council. In view of the deteriorating security situation Libya has sought U.N. permission to import 150 tanks, two dozen fighter jets, seven attack helicopters, tens of thousands of assault rifles and grenade launchers and millions of rounds of ammunition from Ukraine, Serbia and Czech Republic. However, the UN Security Council has received a report on the matter part of which states:- “While the threat posed by terrorist groups in Libya is a major challenge for the authorities, the panel is concerned about the possible use of this materiel in attacks on areas and installations under the control of rival militias, which are not terrorist groups.”

It is important to note, however, that the Libyan Sanctions Committee named Libya as the primary source of the illegal weapons trade that is fuelling conflicts in at least 14 countries around the world according to a report to the UN Security Council in March 2014.

The panel noted that ‘the control of non-state armed actors over the majority of stockpiles in Libya as well as ineffective border control systems remained primary obstacles to countering proliferation and that Libya had become a primary source of illicit weapons, including MANPADs [portable air defence systems]. Unable to secure its borders, Libya has let weapons fall into the hands of radical elements on several continents. “Transfers to 14 countries reflected a highly diversified range of trafficking dynamics; and that trafficking from Libya was fuelling conflict and insecurity – including terrorism – on several continents.’

As though to prove the point the Libya Herald reported today that an arms cache had been found in near Moussarref, 15 kilometres from Ben Guerdane and 45 kilometres from the Tunisian-Libyan border. It contained 24 RPG shells and rockets, 40 anti-tank landmines, 23,000 cartridges, as well as 30 electric fuses and a quantity of fuse detonators.The cache is believed to have been for radical groups in the Chaambi Mountains, on the Tunisian-Algerian border.

“Are Jihadists Informed by the Quran or Grand Theft Auto?”

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‘Syrian children have been subjected to “unspeakable” suffering in the nearly three years of civil war, with the Government and allied militia responsible for countless killings, maiming and torture, and the opposition for recruiting youngsters for combat and using terror tactics in civilian areas, according to the first United Nations report on the issue.’ UN News Centre, 4th February 2014.’

In 1961 I was a briefly suspected by the Libyan police of stealing a consignment of golden ‘bijouterie’ which had arrived by air from Italy and stored awaiting collection in one of my warehouse at Tripoli’s international airport. I was arrested and interrogated by a polite and well trained police lieutenant and, it transpires, followed by competent detectives for some time.

Some members of my Libyan staff who also came under suspicion were treated with less consideration. On them the police used an interrogation technique known as the bastinado. I had not heard of this painful process until I asked one of them why walking caused him such pain. He told me that during his interview in the airport police post he was forced to lie on a bedstead whilst someone thrashed the soles of his feet with a stick.

It took two years for an insurance agent to work out that a near bankrupt Tripoli jeweller had arranged an insurance scam in which a box of worthless costume jewellery was shipped to him by air from an accomplice in Naples. It was insured for a considerable sum as ‘golden bijouterie’ and marked as a valuable consignment on the air waybill and cargo manifest. He arranged for other accomplices in Tripoli to steal it from my freight warehouse so that he might claim its fictitious value in gold from his insurers. His scam, his insurance claim and his business failed.

My failure to protest about the brutal interrogation of my staff is amongst my bad memories but I may have been conditioned by my own education to accept it as normal. In the late 1940s I attended a boarding school in the English county of Cornwall where beatings of younger boys by their elders were common and vicious. Initiation ceremonies in such establishments were both physically and psychologically violent and were perpetrated by boys who are now pillars of society. Violence, habitually committed, leads to a point where it loses its significance. Put simply, savagery begets savagery.

When moral leadership, law and order and civic society is absent people tend to seek mutual security by bonding in groups which may be religious, racial, political, tribal, gang or clan. When this happens individual identity merges with the ‘group self’ and loathing for other groups is increased. Groups with strong internal identities, especially religious and political groups, can become capable of inhuman savagery. Eventually people will do savage things if their leaders tell them it is acceptable once they have renounced their individuality and merged with the group self. Examples of this are found in the Red Terror, the Pol Pot extermination of 25% of the Cambodian population and the horrors perpetrated in the name of religion today. When religion is infused into the ‘group self’ it seems to heighten hatred for those who hold incompatible values. The fate of Christians in the Middle East is a notable example. Salafist-Jihadists have begun to see themselves as the sole arbiters of Islam. They persuade their foot-soldiers that ‘their hands are prepared to do the blessed act’ of beheading their enemies.

Revenge, which is a strong value in Arab culture, may play a part in perpetuating the savagery. The Bedouin tribal concept of ‘Amara dam – ‘those who have agreed on the blood’ – means a group of close male tribal relatives who are bound to revenge a killing of one of their number or to pay blood money should one of their number kill a member of another tribe. This is a manifestation of group behaviour sanctioned by tradition and which grew up in the lawless and nomadic tribal life of true Arabs to reduce the homicide rate.

I suggest that this was what made the killing reported in the Libya Herald dated 30th August 2014; ‘The Shura Council of Islamic Youth in Derna has killed an Egyptian man it accused of murder in what is reportedly the second public execution carried out by the group in the town……..The execution was the second such public killing in Derna. On 27 July, Islamic Youth put to death two men, one Egyptian and another Libyan, for an alleged murder. This most recent killing has received wide-spread attention after a video of the proceedings was uploaded to the internet. The veracity of the video has been confirmed and shows one man…… killed by a single gunshot to the head. He is surrounded by around 40 members of the Islamic Youth most of whom carry Kalashnikov rifles and wear face masks and military fatigues of one kind or another. One member holds the black flag of Al-Qaeda at the centre of proceedings. There are a large number of spectators present in the stands at the football ground but they cannot be seen in the video. The execution is met with the sounds of chanting and applause.’ Sources in Derna say that the man who pulled the trigger was the murder victim’s brother.

In a paper entitled ‘Kitchener’s Lost Boys’ published in The Evacuee and War Child Journal, volume 1, number 7 and dated 2012, I attempted to show that juvenile adventure and war stories played a major role in recruiting adolescent volunteers to fight for Kitchener’s New Armies in the early years of World War I. I argued that the effect was magnified because of the neuro-physiological changes which take place in the frontal lobes of the human brain between the ages of 12 and 19. This is a period, which might be called the early formative years, when synaptic connections are forged in the frontal lobes in response to experiences. The frontal lobes influence conformity in adults and the connections formed therein during adolescence are said to exert a profound influence over subsequent moral behaviour.

Educators will point out that adolescence is a period when the tendency to form groups is at its strongest. In this case it is often a defence against perceived injustice or for self protection. The group self becomes very strong and is bolstered by a hierarchy, conformity in dress and language and dislike of out-groups. This tendency is exploited by military trainers to focus loyalty onto ‘the cause’ and to reduce individuality in favour of group loyalty.

As James Walvin wrote in a study of English childhood between 1800 and 1914; “It is reasonable to assume that the adults who displayed such fierce nationalism in the early years of the century had learned their jingoistic lines and acquired their sense of national superiority in their early formative years, when thumbing through their books, comics, magazines and yarns.” We might remind ourselves that Walvin refers to a period when the first Information Technology revolution took place fuelled by improvements in papermaking, printing, book binding and by the coming of railways offering rapid distribution of what became the mass print media.

Those of us who are against censorship in any form may have to consider our convictions with greater care in the case of our own IT revolution and in particular the ‘Social Media’. Perhaps we might take the view that the social media is a ‘virtual’ country where law and order, moral leadership and civic society are largely absent. People tend to use it to form virtual groups some of which develop strong group identities. Vulnerable adolescents are particularly prone to this effect and may isolate themselves with their laptops and games consoles from real society and begin to abdicate their identity to a ‘group self’. In this way Jihadist propagandists adjust the inner personal narrative of their target audience so that their recruiters find ready volunteers.

In particular we might consider the effect of violent videos depicting public executions and savagery on adolescent development. I argue that these videos are the ‘flight simulators’ for brutalising the minds of young recruits to the Islamist militias.

A future James Walvin might well write; “It is reasonable to assume that the adults who displayed such fierce Jihadist zeal in the early years of the 21st century had learnt their murderous ways and acquired their sense of religious superiority in their early formative years, when watching videos and playing violent games on their laptops and games consoles.”

Update 27th September 2014

This sad piece is about a ‘Bedroom Radical’ who, despite a promising life in Scotland was radicalised in just the way I have outlined above;

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/09/03/parents-of-bedroom-radical-aqsa-mahmood-plead-for-her-to-come-home-from-syria_n_5761220.html

….and this story of radicalisation by social media;
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/26/brighton-mosque-laments-deaths-teenagers-jihadis-syria

Read this fine essay by a respected journalist for a succinct overview of the emerging ‘Caliphates’;

http://www.aawsat.net/2014/08/article55335958