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Short Stories by John Oakes

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LIBYA – HAFTER HAS WEAPONISED THE TRIBES (FURTHER NOTES ON FIELD MARSHALL KHALIFA HAFTER’S STRATEGY DATED 19TH FEBURARY 2020)

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It is for others to write about the Tripoli government, the Government of National Accord (GNA) as it is known. For these notes it is sufficient to say that it has resorted to an alliance with Turkey’s President who has commenced the supply of military hardware, advice and numerous Syrian mercenaries which have strengthened the GNA’s militias defending Tripoli and Misurata against Hafter’s Libyan National Army (LNA).  

Negotiations between representatives of the GNA and the LNA are taking place – or were taking place until today – in Geneva to arrange a lasting cease fire. Hafter’s LNA has effective control over most of Libya barring Tripoli and Misurata. He is able to use his high-tech weapons to attack targets in Tripoli and has fired on shipping in Tripoli’s harbour and on its only functioning airport.

The diplomatic efforts to devise a sustainable political solution to Libya’s long and brutal civil war are troubled by the divergences within the EU and the Gulf Sates involved in a proxy war in Libya. The weapons embargo placed long ago on Libya is being systematically violated.

Hafter, when confronted with Turkey’s belligerent intervention, was, in my view forced to play the tribal card. Libya is almost totally dependant on the revenue it earns from its extensive oil fields. These fields and the oil terminals though which the stuff is exported are in remote parts of Libya. Most Libyans live in the coastal cities such as Tripoli, Benghazi, Misurata, Tobruk and Derna for example. It is notoriously difficult to get people to work in the remote oil installations. The quasi military force, the Petroleum Facilities Guard, which guards them draws its recruits largely from tribesmen in whose homeland the installations are situated. I have written at greater length about this here. In effect, Hafter has used the Petroleum Facilities Guard to shut down the majority of Libya’s oil industry at the instigation, it is said, of Libyan tribal leaders. Hafter has a strangle hold on the Government of National Accord in Tripoli. He has weaponised the Libyan tribes.

According to the Libya Herald: –

In its latest information bulletin on the oil blockade of ports and pipelines released yesterday, Libya’s state National Oil Corporation (NOC) confirmed a drop in production to the current level of 191,475 b/d, as of Wednesday February 12, 2020, with losses at US$ 1,380,468,480.’l

The threat of fuel and power shortages in Tripoli, Misurata and other major cities is acute.

As I write, sheiks and notables from Libya tribes are gathering in Tarhuna for a conference. It will be interesting to see which tribes attend and what resolutions emerge from their deliberations.

Written by johnoakes

February 19, 2020 at 2:06 pm

LIBYA – HAFTER PUSHES ELEMENTS OF HIS FORCES FROM SIRTE TO ABU GREIN SOME 120 KM SOUTH EAST OF MISURATA. (DATED 31ST JANUARY 2020 AND UPDATED 8TH FEBRUARY 2020)

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Hafter has pushed forward his Libya National Army defensive line to the westwards of Sirte. It has stopped at the town of Abu Grein and may consolidate there to protect the strategic city of Sirte and to threaten Misurata, Libya’s third largest city.

I do not remember Abu Grein though some years ago I drove from Tripoli to Benghazi along the old coastal road. I assume it offers Hafter a defensible position from whence he can screen Sirte and the Libya Oil Crescent. This map may be useful despite being somewhat over busy. It gives the overall picture of the current war some days ago.

I have been arguing in this blog for some time that Hafter is a canny general. He has experience of urban warfare. His battles for the eastern cities of Benghazi and Derna will have given his fighters plenty of bitter experience of the collateral damage urban warfare causes both to people and military reputations. He will not forget that the Misurata militias are battle hardened and from a substantial part of his enemy’s military assets.

I suspect he will slowly tighten his cordon around the Tripoli oasis and redouble his efforts to influence the proxy war now afoot in Libya.

He will see Turkey’s belligerent intervention as a propaganda windfall as well as a military hazard. The French and the Greeks have been making very strong protests about Ankara’s efforts to send regular Turkish Army personnel and to sponsor the movement of Syrian militias into Misurata and Tripoli. The French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle is on station in the Eastern Mediterranian as a sign of President Macron’s unease.

As far as I can ascertain these are the Syrian militias preparing to go to – or are already in – Misurata. (I would welcome some information about them and their capabilities from anyone with the expertise in the subject of Syrian militias. In the meantime this appears to be the man behind the source. You will make your own assesment of its reliability. ) They are believed to be the al-Mu’tasim Brigade, Sultan Murad. Brigade, Northern Falcons Brigade, Hamzat, Legion of Levant, Suleiman Shah, Samarkand Brigade and the Euphrates Shield. I may have missed some but there are said to be 1,700 militiamen preparing to move or have already been deployed to Libya.

There is a good piece on the mercenary groups operating in Libya here. This piece about the Russian Wagner group fighting with Hafter’s LNA is interesting.

I suggest that Ankara’s belligerence has played into Hafter’s hands. Libya was an Ottoman province of importance. Hafter’s propaganda machine will not hesitate to put much emphasis on what he will suggest is the Turkish president Erdogan’s effort to re-establish Turkish colonial power in Libya.

Both sides in the Libya proxy war and both sides on the ground in Libya are engaged in an intense diplomatic campaign and a fierce propaganda war. Hafter will aim to influence civilians in Misrata and Tripoli to support him or at least oppose his enemies. His intelligence and propaganda assets are likely be in contact with people within Tripoli and Misurata. This paper by Nathaniel Greenburg gives some detailed and interesting background about the role of propaganda in Libya.

I suggest that Hafter will be intensifying his efforts to influence and spread discord amongst his opponents and to gain favour amongst the citizens of Tripoli and Misurata.

LIBYAN OIL PORTS CLOSED BY TRIBES SUPPORTING HAFTER AND THE LNA. (19TH JANUARY 2020)

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Today the international effort to bring peace to Libya is focussed on the conference in Berlin attended by Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Johnson,and President Macron as well as heads of sate, ministers and diplomats from Italy, Turkey, USA and Russia amongst others. Field Marshall Khalifa Hafter who commands the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Head of the Govenment of National Accord (GNA), are, of course, attending.

It is the primary purpose of the conference to establish an agreement between the GNA and Hafter. Other observers – with better insights and sources than I have – will be commenting on the conference and its outcome.

There are corroborated reports from Egytian and Libyan sources that the eastern oil ports have been closed by tribes in support of Hafter. They are said to oppose the arrival of Turkish sponsored mercenaries from Syria to strengthen the GNA which is defending Tripoli and Misurata against Hafter’s LNA which now surrounds them.

It is noted that Hafter’s LNA holds Eastern and Southern Libya and thus the important oil fields and the oil ports around the Gulf of Sirte and the oil port near the Eastern city of Tobruk.

Libya’s oil revenue is paid to the Libyan National Oil Company which is based in Tripoli and which has hitherto remained relatively neutral despite the schisms caused by the long years of armed strife in Libya. Hafter, it should be noted, has de facto control over most of Libya’s oil fields and the means of shipping their output but is unable to sell the oil. He has only once attempted to interfear with this. (There was an attempt to control the oil ports by an adventurer called Jhadran. Hafter effectivel removed Jhadran with the assistance of local tribes which exert some influence over the so callled ‘oil crescent’ of which more annon)

Turkey’s belligerent attempt to send troops – or Turkish sponsored militias – to the assistance of Hafter’s enemies has clearly had the effect of uniting powerful Libyan tribes against what they percieve as an attempt to revive Ottoman rule in Libya. It is noted that the tribes likely to be involved in the closure of the oil ports are the amongst those which cooperated with the Libyan resistance hero Omar Mukhtar in a long rebellion against the Italian occupation of Libya which followed the removal of the Turks in 1911. These tribes will be profoundly opposed to the percieved attempt by Turkey to renew ‘colonial’ ambitions.

These are the tribes in whose homeland the eastern oil ports are found. The al – Magharba tribe in which are the Ras Lanuf, the Marsa Brega and the al-Zuetina terminal and the al-Abaidat in which the Tobruk oil terminal is situated. The Zawia (known locallly as the Sway) tribe holds sway over the oil fields and much of the pipelines. (N.B. Spelling of Libyan tribal names vary – these are mine and follow E.E. Evans-Prtichard)

These tribes are amongst the so called Saadi tribes which are highly respected and influential. However, they would need encouragemet to act togther. The possibility that Hafter has been able to coordinate their actions – or at least encourage them to do so – is strong. It will not have escaped the notice of the more diligent diplomats that Hafter’s highly respected tribe, the Farjan, lives amongst the al-Magharba and the Awaqir tribes in the area stretching from near Sirte in the west to Bengahzi in the east. It makes a powerful statement of intent which those gatherd in Germany today might be wise to note.

It is significant that the Libyan National Oil Company has stated: –

“The blockade instructions were given by Maj Gen Nagi al-Maghrabi, the commander of Petroleum Facilities Group appointed by the Libyan National Army, and Col Ali al-Jilani from the LNA’s Greater Sirte Operations Room,”

Major General Nagi al-Maghrabi is a member of the Maghrabi tribe mentioned above. The Petroleum Facilites Group is a paramilitary force which guards the Libyan oil assets such as the oil ports around the Gulf of Sirte known as the ‘Oil Crescent’. They are in the homeland of the al-Magharba tribe and the guards are recruited locally. The oil ports can only have been taken over with their cooperation, or by the ‘tribesmen’ of the Patroleum Facilities Group.

At 15:45 UK time it was reported that tribes in Libya’s south west have occupied the Murzuk oil fields effectivley closing down the whole of Libya’s oil exports. The tribes are said to be acting against the percieved attempt by Turkey to interfear in Libya.

LIBYA – HAFTAR HAS TAKEN SIRTE AND IS THREATENING MISURATA. (A WORK IN PROGRESS UPDATED 17TH JANUARY 2020)

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Turkey has become belligerent and is attempting to gain a foothold in Libya. The Turkish parliament recently voted to send troops to aid the Libya ‘Government of National Accord’ (GNA) whose militias are under attack on the outskirts of Tripoli by the Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by Field Marshall Khalifa Hafter. Some Turkish units have already been positioned in Tripoli and have, so far, opened an operations room from which they are helping to the GNA’s attempts to defend itself from Haftar’s forces. Turkish drones are being used in the defence of Tripoli and are likely ‘flown’ by Turkish ‘pilots’.

Turkey has been roundly condemned for this aggressive move by Egypt, Algeria and the African Union. Algeria has stated that it will not stand by and allow Turkish interference in Libya and Tunisia has stated that it will not offer Turkey bases from which to launch attacks on Libya. The African Union, which has also condemned the Turks, is anxious about the effect of its interference in Libya on the Sahel states which are not stable. Turkey has already severely antagonised Greece and Cyprus. It is disputing the sovereignty of some of the Greek islands and its invasion of Cyprus in the 1970 has left part of that island under Turkish control.

There are strange but uncorroborated reports such as this. Syrian militias are being offered Turkish citizenship and big money to fight in Libya. This appeared in a Libyan source recently; Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Research Fellow at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, stated that “sources inside the Turkish-backed Syrian factions tell me that in exchange for fighting in Libya, fighters are being promised Turkish citizenship after 6 months of deployment.” (Note dated 15th January 2020; An article dated 15th January 2020 in the British broadsheet, the Guardian, coroborates and expands on this report.)

The GNA was, until Monday 6th January, in effective possession of Tripoli, Libya’s capital, its third largest city, Misurata,which lies 211 Km east of Tripoli and Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace on the Gulf of Sirte some 271 Km south east of Misurata. Much of the armaments, including drones, which Turkey has sent to aid the GNA have been shipped into Libya via Misurata’s port. The Misurata’s ‘Flying School’ has been used as a base for the GNA’s air force.

Haftar, from his headquarters in Benghazi, has reacted decisively to the Turkish threat. His forces hold sway over Eastern Libya, including the so-called oil crescent around the Gulf of Sirte and in Sothern Libya once known as the Fezzan. On Monday 6th January units of his LNA marched into Sirte virtually unopposed. The GNA’s militias hitherto in possession of the city retreated towards Misurata.

I suggest that Hafter’s forces will now move on Misurata as rapidly as possible to at least threaten and at best take possession of the city and its port before the Turks are able to get enough boots on the ground. To this end Haftar’s forces have announced the expansion of the war zone near Misurata and declared a no-fly zone which extends over the Tripoli. The no-fly zone comes into effect at 21:00 local time on 9th January. It includes Tripoli’s Mitiga airport and civil airlines are warned that their aircraft risk destruction if they attempt to ignore the no-fly zone.  

However, the Misurata militias are battle hardened and aggressive and I suspect Hafter may hope that the Turks will be discouraged by international condemnation from committing a large expeditionary force in Libya. Much will depend on the attitude adopted by the Misurata militias in the face of a potential large-scale Turkish intervention. Haftar has called for a ‘jihad’ against the Turks and there will be lingering resentment amongst many in Misurata about Turkey’s history in Libya.

Libya was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1551 to 1911 when Italians invaded and took possession. The main value of Libya to the Ottoman Turks was the slave trade via the slaving routes from sub-Saharan Africa to Tripoli and Benghazi. Also, Ottoman Tripoli was one of the principle ports of the notorious Barbary Corsairs. There was a period of ‘home rule’ in Libya under the Karamanli dynasty between 1711 and 1835. The Karamanlis were a family of Turkish cavalry officers who had married Libyan women and ceased power from the Ottoman Pasha of Tripoli in a brutal coup. It was during the Karamanli regime that Libya and the newly formed United States of America were briefly at war.

We do not have to look far for a principle reason for Turkey’s interest in establishing itself in Libya. The eastern Mediterranean is harbouring substantial natural gas reserves. They will be difficult to exploit for physical reasons. The most pressing difficulty is that to monetarise them a number of national interests have to be bought into agreement. Countries laying claim to a share of the reserves are Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Libya. Turkey has no claim having no continental shelf falling within the undersea gas fields. It is noted that Turkey took a part of eastern Cyprus by forces in the 1970’s but its claim over what is called Turkish Cyprus is recognised only by itself. Some background on this problem can be found here.

Turkey has recently signed a treaty with the GNA in Libya which allows it some leverage in Libya’s claim to part of the eastern Mediterranean gas reserves. This is antagonising the other claimants considerably. Should Turkey consolidate its hold over the Libyan GNA it will, because of Libya’s strategic position in the Mediterranean, gain a whip hand in the exploitation of the eastern Mediterranean gas reserves. It is as well to remember that Turkey is now heavily dependent on Russian natural gas delivered through the TurkStream pipeline laid below the Black Sea and opened for business a few days ago. It should also be noted that TurkStream will be extended to carry Russian natural gas to European countries in the near future.

Turkey’s motivation for sending troops to Libya and the consternation it causes is probably best understood in terms of access to energy supplies.

HAFTER WENT TO MOSCOW TO SIGN A PEACE TREATY WITH THE TRIPOLI GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL ACCORD (UPDATE 14TH JANUARY 2020)

President Putin has perusaded Fied Marshall Khalifa Hafter to sign a cease fire in LIbya and agree to travel to Moscow and possibly sign a peace treaty with the Goverment of National Accoyd, his opponent in Tripoli. I have followed the progress of Hafter for some time and porpose to draw on the insights I have gained tio suggest why he has decided that the time is ripe to bring the fighting to an end and commence negotiations leading to a possible settlement in Libya.

Firstly, he would not have agreed to go to Moscow if he was not in a postions to negotiate from strength. His forces have recently taken the startegically important city of Sirte and he has been strong enough to declare a no-fly zone over Tripoli.

However, he may reason that he has reached a point where the risk inherent in futrher military action may be too great. That is, he may have calculated that taking Misurata and Tripoli would be costly militarly, politically and internationally.

He has been recruiting Sudanese militias from Drafur which may show that he is finding it difficult to recruit and train sufficient troops to keep his widly dispersed territory and its diverse population under his control and, at the same time, fight a costly and prologed urban battle which he would face had he continued his advance on Misurata and Tripoli. His battle to expel radical Islamist militias from Benghazi was prolonged and dirty. He may have calculated that the fanaticism and experience of some of the militias which oppose him would have caused long and politically costly delays.

In political terms he may calculate that the viscious and costly nature of urban warfare would arouse too much anti-war sentiments in the capital city and would alienate too many of the passive population against him.

He may recognise that there are traits in his personality and incedents in his history which do not make him potentially popular. His dual Libyan-US citizenship does not sit well with some factions in Libya. His notable ability to raise an army and to wield it well may not transfer into politcal sucsess.

Internationally he has been successful in gaining support from, amongst others Egypt, France, UAE and Russia and the tacit support of his sothern neighbours such as Chad and Niger. At one time Presidneyt Trump voiced his support but his somewhat bellicose remarks were modified by more balanced and statsmanlike communiques later. The USA is seruously concerend about the presence of IS and al Qaeda in Libya and suspect that they have enthusiastic allies in some of the militias supporting the Government of National Acciord in Tripoli.

Recently and in response to Turkey’s proposed military support for the Tripoli GNS Algeria made it clear that it would not tolerate foriegn intervention in Libya and the Afrcan Union was clearly opposed to Turkey’s beligerent threats. Italy, at one time a potential ally of Turkey against Hafter, is somewhat restrained by indecision right now.

I suggest that Turkey’s belligerence when it proclaimed its intention to send troops to aid Hafter’s enemies has caused consternation. It was clear that Egypt would not tolerate this and it demostrated its oppostion with naval ecercises in or near Libya territorial waters.

Persident Putin, ever the opportunist, was in comunication with the Turkish president Erdogen during the events around the opening of the TurkStream pipeline supplying Russian natural gas to Turkey. The influence he thus secured was sufficient to discourage Turkey’s beligerence and broker a cease fire between Tripoli and Hafter which appears to be holding resonably well so far.

The desperately dangerous sutuation in Iran will have concentrated minds in favour of avoiding all-out urban war in Tripoli and Misurata.

HAFTER REFUSES TO SIGN THE PEACE TREATY (FURTHER UPDATE 14TH JANUARY 2020)

Hafter has declined to sign the peace treaty proposed by presidents Putin and Erdogen and is believed to have left Moscow. It appears that the treaty did not allow for a satisfactory time table for disbanding the Tripoli militias. Hafter is of the opinion that they are dangerous.

He must be suffciently confident that he will be supported by Egypt and the UAE should Erdogen attempt to send troops to aid the Government of National Accord. Erodogen is now making belllicose threats about punishing Hafter.

WHY DID HAFTER REFUSE TO SIGN THE TREATY? (UPDATE 16TH JANUARY 2020)

There is some speculation about why Hafter risked refusing to sign the Putin/Erdogen treaty between him and the Tripoli Government of National Accord. A sometime British ambassador to Libya apparently suggests that Hafter is confident that his allies, Egypt, the UAE and others, will come to his aid should Erdogen commit Turkish or Turkish sponsored troops to join the Tripli militias.

Hafter has long held, and expressed, the view that the Tripoli militias are corrupt and contain too many militant Islamists. It has been one of his principle aims to defeat them and establish an independent police force and judiciary. He would not abandon that view or that plan easily. He can be somewhat volatile but he would not, in my view, abandon one of his principle objectives and Putin and Erdogen must have been ill advised to try to persuade him to do so.

There is another speculative hypothosis doing the rounds. It suggetst that he may have concluded also that Erdogen and Putin had privatley cooked up a plan to remove him from the field in their own interests. There is no eveidence to suport this.

Their is also the view in some quartes that should the Turks send a large body of troops to Libya public opinion would turn in Hafter’s favour. The history of Ottoman rule (see above) is not viewd with favour in modern Libya, a country which has not long, in the scheme of things, been independent.

Hafter can be volatile and he may have been angry enough by the lack of a commitment to stand down the Tripoli militias to put his long planned and carefully exicted plan in peril. I suggest he may believe he has sufficient strength and outside support to win the battle for Tripoli. If not, the outcome is likely to be a catastrophy for Libya.

HAFTER AGREES TO ATTEND A MEETING IN BERLIN ON SUNDAY 19TH JANUARY WITH MACRON, MERKLE AND HIGH STATUS REPRESENTATIVES FROM TURKEY, RUSSIA, US, UK, CHINA ANS ITALY. (UPDATED 17TH JANUARY 2020)

On 16th June Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, arrived in Bengahzi to invite Hafter to a summit meeting in Berlin at which he will make his expectations clear about a possible peace treaty between him and the Tripoli Goverenmant of National Accord.

It is clear that he cannot refuse to attend but he will expect a better informed and more balanced reception of his case than was possible when he met Erdogen and Putin in Moscow. He may well have felt that Erdogen in particular and Putin attempted to railroad him into signing a peace treaty which had been toheavily biased in favoutr of the Tripoil GNA.

Erdogen was said to have displayed anger in no uncertain terms after the Moscow peace intiative failed and has since upset a number of governments by continuing to send Turkish or Turkish sponsered troops to Libya. The US State Department has just expessed its alarm by calling for the removal of all mercenaries from Libya.

In the meantime consultations are taking place with the Algerian government and, no doubt, with Egypt. Both countries have been critical of Turkey’s belligerent intervention in Libya.