How did we get here?
February 2011 UprisingsFebruary 2011
Libya emerged from more than four decades of authoritarianism in 2011. Against the backdrop of uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, popular protests against Muammar Gaddafi gained significant momentum on the ground in February 2011, a manifestation of the gradual erosion of the legitimacy of the Jamahiriya (a term coined by Gaddafi normally translated as “the state of the masses”). Around a month later, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 was adopted in March 2011. It proved instrumental as it allowed the imposition of a no-fly zone and the protection of civilians and peaceful protesters against whom Gaddafi’s forces mobilised. Meanwhile, Western states recognised the interim National Transitional Council (NTC), formed at the time as the political face of the revolution and Libya’s de-facto government. However, the legitimacy of the NTC was not accepted by all factions since the body relied on donations from foreign countries and the mobilization of NATO-backed revolutionary forces against Gaddafi.
Gaddafi’s killing in October 2011 paved the way for opposing social, political and ideological forces that had taken part in the revolution to vie for control over state resources. These forces essentially inherited different economic and political aspects of Gaddafi’s system. One was the Jamahiriya’s institutional apparatus, a system that was tasked with the distribution of oil wealth through clientelist jobs and patronage networks. These were, and still remain, the incentive structures that form the cornerstone of Libya’s (war) economy today. The fateful NTC decision to attempt to co-opt these forces by putting all those who claimed revolutionary fighter status under the Libyan state’s payroll reflected the power dynamics and mentality of the time. The government had announced that the ministries of Interior, Defence and Labour would each register and integrate 25,000 revolutionaries, a process that was grossly mismanaged and was mired in corruption. The consequences of this decision are still seen today, with most rival political and military factions still being disbursed state salaries while being responsible for perpetuating a dysfunctional status quo.
Libya emerged from more than four decades of authoritarianism in 2011. Against the backdrop of uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, popular protests against Muammar Gaddafi gained significant momentum on the ground in February 2011, a manifestation of the gradual erosion of the legitimacy of the Jamahiriya (a term coined by Gaddafi normally […]
Libya’s political and military arena post-2011Post-2011
Despite the NTC’s missteps, the political arena post-2011 opened up. Technocrats, former regime officials who defected, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and even leadership from the defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group embraced the new reality by forming political parties and running for office. However, this new “post-2011 political elite” inherited Gaddafi’s political culture. This manifested itself as a compulsion to disenfranchise political opponents as well as viewing political compromises in zero-sum terms. While the General National Congress (GNC) was elected with more than a 60% turnout, this zero-sum approach permeated its environment and hampered its decision-making process, with parties frequently announcing boycotts.
The culture of coercing the state to grant political concessions gained momentum. This approach was used by self-proclaimed federalists that used blockades and threats6 to force the NTC to introduce changes to the constitutional drafting process before Libya’s first elections. This tactic continued to be used by actors within and outside of the GNC. Combined with the zero-sum political culture within the GNC, elected congressmen became more concerned with projecting influence and marginalizing one another than they were with governing. The introduction of the political isolation law in 20137 at the barrel of a gun was perhaps the most prominent manifestation of all of these factors.
Militarily, the leaders of armed groups that sprang up in opposition to Gaddafi benefited from the state’s weakness and from the divisions within the GNC. For many, the lowest common denominator was the obstruction of the re-establishment of effective central authority. On a broader scale, backing certain factions within the GNC meant they could use the central government’s resources to cement their local position, have higher influence at the national level and even benefit from foreign backing. In July 2013, Ibrahim Jathran, a commander from the Petroleum Facilities Guard in Ajdabiya, capitalised on these dynamics by blockading ports in Eastern Libya. Despite the fact his actions had significantly hampered Libya’s rentier economy and de-facto obstructed its only revenue stream, his brand appealed to many factions within society and in the GNC itself. He was ultimately rewarded with a government deal that stipulated he and his forces would be paid compensation, along with all charges against them being dropped in exchange for the blockade being lifted.
Despite the NTC’s missteps, the political arena post-2011 opened up. Technocrats, former regime officials who defected, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and even leadership from the defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group embraced the new reality by forming political parties and running for office. However, this new “post-2011 political elite” inherited Gaddafi’s political culture. This manifested […]
A foiled coup amidst a geopolitical quagmire2014
By late 2013, dynamics inside and outside the GNC had become problematic. Part of Tripoli’s civilian population was growing increasingly frustrated with the lawlessness that they associated with the presence of armed groups from outside the capital. The perception was that the defence and interior ministries had become conduits through which the armed groups derived state salaries. The affiliation provided the state a way to assert a degree of control. The hostilities reached a flashpoint in November 2013 as protests against the presence of Misratan groups led to the death of 40 civilians in Gharghour, killed by militiamen shooting at protestors. At the same time, tensions between armed groups from outside the capital, including Zintani armed groups and rivals from Misrata (and some in Tripoli), were building within the capital. Zintani groups, that de-facto controlled key locations in the capital including some adjacent to the headquarters of the GNC, were customarily putting pressure and, at times, physically targeting the GNC’s headquarters. This was in large part due to Zintan’s Qaqa brigade becoming increasingly politicised as it gradually became the armed wing of the National Forces’ Alliance (NFA), a coalition of political groups and NGOs leaning towards the liberal end of Libya’s political spectrum.
Tensions and manoeuvring were not confined to these actors. On 14 February 2014, Khalifa Haftar emerged in military uniform on Al Arabiya TV channel in a pre-recorded televised speech that called for the dissolution of the government and the establishment of a military council to replace it. Khalifa Haftar was a military commander that participated in Gaddafi’s 1969 coup. He defected in 1986 after being captured following the Ouadi Doum battle during Libya’s war with Chad. He returned to Libya’s Eastern city of Benghazi and joined the uprisings in 2011. At the time, Haftar’s speech, in which he called on armed groups to join his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), appeared to do little more than result in then-Prime Minister Ali Zeidan issuing an arrest warrant against him. However, amongst certain factions, particularly Islamist-leaning groups within and outside the GNC, Haftar’s botched coup attempt was a turning point. To them, it represented factual evidence that vindicated their vigilance and transformed their confirmation bias into a legitimate concern. Haftar’s emergence on the scene confirmed apprehensions that an Egypt-like scenario could be replicated in Libya. Indeed, the echoes of Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s coup in 2013 against the democratically elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, member of the Muslim Brotherhood, galvanised hard-line Libyan Islamists and revolutionaries into forming an alliance to pre-empt such a plan. Against this backdrop, Haftar’s coup attempt had an often underestimated but pivotal role on the political and military dynamics that ensued.
By late 2013, dynamics inside and outside the GNC had become problematic. Part of Tripoli’s civilian population was growing increasingly frustrated with the lawlessness that they associated with the presence of armed groups from outside the capital. The perception was that the defence and interior ministries had become conduits through which the armed groups derived […]
From coup to counterterrorism: the inception of Operation Dignity15 May 2014
Three months after his televised attempted coup, on 15 May 2014, Haftar re-emerged on the scene in Benghazi and launched his Operation Dignity. “Karama” (the Arabic translation of Dignity) was advertised as a counterterrorism operation that sought to target extremist elements in Benghazi, but also to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists from Libya. In practice, the operation not only targeted the extremist group of Ansar Al-Sharia (which was designated as a terrorist group by the US in January 2014 for, among other things, the involvement of some of its members in the assault on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012), but also launched air and ground assaults on revolutionary armed groups such as the 17th of February Brigade who were perceived to be aligned with Islamists in Tripoli and Misrata. These groups formed a coalition – the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council (BRSC) – which essentially comprised all those whom Haftar had targeted.
After suffering significant military setbacks for five months at the hands of the BRSC, in October 2015, Haftar, allegedly endowed with newfound external military support, called on youth from Benghazi to “rise”, encouraging them to join his military campaign. These young people were dubbed “support forces.” Several came from prominent Eastern tribes such as the Awaqir – and formed their own semi-formal military units, joining other more formal forces such as the Saiqa Special Forces, who had already aligned with Haftar against his opponents. The fact that the population considered radical Islamists as responsible for a long wave of assassinations that targeted military officers and civil society activists in Benghazi helped Haftar, and his Operation Dignity, garner significant support in Benghazi. In the eyes of many locals, the emergence of Islamic State affiliates fighting alongside the BRSC, which was supported with weapons by hard-line Islamists from Western Libya (particularly factions in Misrata), against Haftar in the months that followed was another factor that vindicated his use of disproportionate violence as part of Operation Dignity. Though Haftar turned the tide, thanks in large part to a combination of external military support and the contribution of the “support forces,” the fratricidal battle in Benghazi dragged on for over three years, spreading to heavily populated neighbourhoods and displacing thousands in the process.
Three months after his televised attempted coup, on 15 May 2014, Haftar re-emerged on the scene in Benghazi and launched his Operation Dignity. “Karama” (the Arabic translation of Dignity) was advertised as a counterterrorism operation that sought to target extremist elements in Benghazi, but also to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists from Libya. In […]
Libya Dawn, elections and relocation of the HoR to Tobruk18 May 2014
In Western Libya, the launch of Haftar’s Operation Dignity on 15 May 2014 was followed by Zintani armed groups storming the GNC parliament on 18 May to demand its suspension. The former military police officer whose forces were responsible for the attack – Mukhtar Fernana – read out a statement on behalf of the LNA that echoed Haftar’s anti-Islamist views broadcast in February. Moreover, the attackers kidnapped 10 GNC employees, announced that the body was frozen and demanded it hand power over to the Constitutional Drafting Assembly, a body elected in February 2014 and tasked with drafting Libya’s constitution. It comprised 60 members, 20 from each region of Libya (Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan). This event compounded the pre-existing suspicions of an Egypt-like scenario and cemented the perception that Haftar’s Operation Dignity was a power grab. This compelled several political and military factions – including Misratan armed groups, fighters from the Amazigh ethnic group, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group to form a coalition, united by the threat they believed that Haftar represented. Within the GNC, politicians associated with the aforementioned groups supported Eastern armed groups such as the 17th of February Brigade, Libya Shield and others. These were essentially viewed by these politicians as the armed groups that should be supported in order to eradicate the threat that Haftar represented in areas legitimately under the GNC’s control in Eastern Libya. This coalition became later known as “Libya Dawn” (or Fajr Libya) and mobilised against Haftar-allied Zintani groups in Tripoli in mid-July, two months after Haftar launched Operation Dignity in Benghazi. The fighting that ensued destroyed much of Tripoli’s oil infrastructure and international airport and resulted in the evacuation of most international organisations and diplomatic staff, including the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
In tandem with the fighting in Benghazi and the rising tensions and ensuing conflict in Tripoli, elections for the House of Representatives (HoR) that was set to replace the outgoing GNC were underway. Elected with a low turnout, the incoming body’s composition reflected a strong showing for candidates who were supportive of Haftar and the LNA. Though the HoR was supposed to hold its sessions in Benghazi, members relocated to Tobruk shortly after being voted in. The reason cited for the move was that fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi endangered parliamentarians’ lives.
In Western Libya, the launch of Haftar’s Operation Dignity on 15 May 2014 was followed by Zintani armed groups storming the GNC parliament on 18 May to demand its suspension. The former military police officer whose forces were responsible for the attack – Mukhtar Fernana – read out a statement on behalf of the LNA […]
Institutional divide and the Government of National Salvation2015
The relocation of the HoR to Tobruk in 2014 marked the beginning of the institutional political division. This rift had a ripple effect on the notion of sovereignty, which was then blurred. The manifestations of this rift were not confined to the political realm. Several of Libya’s sovereign institutions were affected, de-facto splitting as some aligned with the Libya Dawn coalition in Tripoli while others set up parallel institutions in Eastern Libya due to their alignment with the new HoR and the Interim Government of Abdullah al-Thani based in Bayda. Meanwhile, in Tripoli, a breakaway group of Libya Dawn-aligned politicians from the GNC set up their own government, the Government of National Salvation (GNS), under the leadership of Khalifa Al Ghwell. This was essentially a bid to encourage the international community to accept their de-facto legitimacy while contesting that of the elected HoR.
With a government in the East and another in the West, the political landscape was becoming increasingly polarised. However, it was not until December 2015 that UNSMIL and others within the international community decided to address this issue. This wasn’t before the conflict had spread geographically, pitting Misratan fighters from the Third Force (aligned with the Libya Dawn Coalition) with federalist militias under Ibrahim Jathran (then-aligned with Haftar and the HoR) along the oil crescent. The former had launched “Operation Sunrise” to wrest the oil terminals of Sidr and Ras Lanuf from Haftar and his ally Jathran’s Petroleum Facilities Guard. The fighting and destruction that ensued led to a decrease in Libya’s oil production to one fifth of pre-2011 levels17 and had a ripple effect on Libya’s economy. This caused a dramatic drop in hard currency revenues and a shock to an economy heavily dependent on imports of consumer goods. The fighting not only deepened the country’s institutional divide, it also added another economic dimension as the Central Bank of Libya was forced to draw down reserves and limit the availability of foreign currency for imports. This was a pre-emptive measure to minimise spending as Libya’s main income source – the export of oil – had been significantly affected by the blockade and subsequent fighting.
However, the impetus of the international community to address the Libyan crisis was not immediate. Rather than a genuine acknowledgement that the political and economic situation in Libya needed to be addressed for the benefit of Libyans, members of the international community had increasing concerns over the terrorist threat and migratory flows emanating from Libya. The threat of terrorism emanating from Libya galvanised the US to support a dialogue process that began in 2015.
The main factor behind the impetus to support a political solution in Libya was the concern that terrorist groups could take advantage of the vacuum to expand. Indeed, after establishing an affiliate in the city of Derna, IS demonstrated a presence in both Benghazi and Sabratha. However, it was in the central city of Sirte where IS established its first stronghold in North Africa. It is largely against this backdrop that the US and Italy, among others, pushed for the establishment of a legitimate government that could partner with the international community to address these threats. Shortly after, in May 2016, an offensive on Sirte was launched by a coalition of fighters from Western Libya – predominantly Misratan – that sought to liberate it from IS. The coalition was named Bunyan al Marsous (BAM) and was supported by US precision strikes. It ended in December 2016 with Sirte’s liberation, though at a heavy price in terms of battle casualties and infrastructural damage.
The relocation of the HoR to Tobruk in 2014 marked the beginning of the institutional political division. This rift had a ripple effect on the notion of sovereignty, which was then blurred. The manifestations of this rift were not confined to the political realm. Several of Libya’s sovereign institutions were affected, de-facto splitting as some […]
The UN-brokered Skhirat AgreementDecember 2015
The UN brokered a political agreement in Skhirat in December 2015 that was designed to lead to the formation of a single unified government, the Government of National Accord (GNA). The GNA was to act as the executive branch of government and hold elections within two years. The agreement also stipulated that the High State Council (HSC), formed in large part by members of the defunct GNC (and some members of the GNS, which had virtually disintegrated by early 2016), would act as an advisory body to the GNA while the HoR would remain as the legislative branch.
The Skhirat agreement also included a section on security arrangements, which was never fully implemented in practice. Acknowledging that Tripoli’s neighbourhoods had been carved up by different armed groups over the years, direct bilateral negotiations with armed groups were initiated to secure the arrival of the GNA in Tripoli. The GNA surprised Libyans by arriving to Tripoli in March 2016 by ship, having unilaterally secured the nominal support of some Tripoli-based armed groups. However, this led to the subsequent establishment of a cartel of militias in the capital that gradually sought to monopolise opportunities to seek rent and carve up Tripoli for themselves. These armed groups saw an opportunity in siding with the GNA with its international support and its distance from the two existing military power centres: Haftar and his coalition of armed groups, and the Misratan groups. They subsequently capitalised on the GNA’s veneer of legitimacy gradually to dislodge other militias from the capital as they consolidated their ￼ influence over the public and private sectors.
The GNA was itself mired in its own inefficiency and corruption as it never actually proposed any plan for structural reform, opting instead to establish an alliance of convenience with the Tripoli cartel that plundered state funds. Though GNA officials often claimed credit for defeating IS’ stronghold in Sirte, the coalition of Misratan militias that partnered with the US African Command (AFRICOM) – namely BAM – for the counterterrorism operation that ran until December 2016 had ambivalent, if not hostile, sentiments towards the GNA.
In Eastern Libya, Haftar took advantage of the presence of the HoR in Tobruk, which never officially ratified the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) nor recognised the GNA. The HoR instead adopted decrees that allowed Haftar to consolidate his control over the East politically, economically21 and militarily. The HoR named Haftar General Commander of the Libyan Army, before he later renamed his army the “Libyan Arab Armed Forces” (LAAF).
After his LAAF captured and secured the oil crescent in late 2016, the HoR promoted Haftar from Lieutenant General to Field Marshall. Haftar initially allowed the National Oil Company (NOC) in Tripoli to manage the oil sales from the oil crescent and Eastern terminals. In the meantime, the footprint of UNSMIL in Eastern Libya had receded, Eastern authorities (including the Interim Government, which is backed by Haftar and enjoyed international recognition until the 2015 Skhirat Agreement, and most “parallel” entities formed as a result of the political rift in 2014) were increasingly side-lined from decision-making in the East. Haftar was slowly becoming the key interlocutor in the East for local constituencies and international actors alike.
The UN brokered a political agreement in Skhirat in December 2015 that was designed to lead to the formation of a single unified government, the Government of National Accord (GNA). The GNA was to act as the executive branch of government and hold elections within two years. The agreement also stipulated that the High State […]
Macron’s La-Celle-Saint-Cloud meeting and Flawed DiplomacyMay 2017
In May 2017, Libya’s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar were hosted for political talks at La Celle-Saint-Cloud by France’s President Macron. This approach set a precedent that had repercussions on subsequent diplomatic attempts to resolve the Libyan conflict: creating a simplistic East/West and Sarraj/Haftar narrative. All subsequent internationally hosted conferences became focused on bringing Haftar and Sarraj together at the cost of inclusivity.
In practice, at the Macron-hosted La Celle Saint-Cloud meeting, Sarraj and Haftar committed to a conditional ceasefire and to work towards holding elections. However, it also stipulated that both parties would “refrain from any use of armed force for any purpose that does not strictly constitute counter-terrorism.” This formula was particularly beneficial to Haftar who, since 2014, used counterterrorism as a justification for most of his political manoeuvres.
The other precedent set was far more significant: this was the first time Haftar was welcomed by a Western country despite being the head of a quasi-state armed actor. The “Sarraj-Haftar power-sharing” blueprint was one that ignored local realities and unintentionally undermined UNSMIL’s bottom-up and consensus-based peacebuilding efforts. A year later, Macron once again hosted Sarraj and Haftar (along with the heads of the HoR and the HSC) in Paris in order to renew the same calls made in La Celle-Saint-Cloud, but also to call for the unification of Libya’s Central Bank and the phasing out of parallel governments and institutions. Despite these calls largely falling on deaf ears, in November 2018, Italy hosted a conference in Palermo. The Palermo conference became a diplomatic exercise in accommodating Haftar’s urges, with several figures representing the Italian government conducting shuttle diplomacy to convince him to make an appearance there.
In May 2017, Libya’s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar were hosted for political talks at La Celle-Saint-Cloud by France’s President Macron. This approach set a precedent that had repercussions on subsequent diplomatic attempts to resolve the Libyan conflict: creating a simplistic East/West and Sarraj/Haftar narrative. All subsequent internationally hosted conferences became focused […]
Haftar’s militarization of the economy and territorial expansionEarly 2019
As Tripoli’s armed groups established their own cartel and revenue generation mechanisms, senior-ranking officers and commanders affiliated with the LAAF in Eastern Libya also began taking control of the economy through an entity dubbed the Military Investment Authority of Public Works (the MIAPW). In addition to the MIAPW, the LAAF also developed other sources of revenue such as via budgetary allocations, disbursed partly via the Eastern-based Interim Government, and the LAAF’s influence over a parallel Central Bank set up in Bayda and a joint defence committee that was tasked with allocating the funds generated through these different mechanisms where it was deemed appropriate. Haftar also oversaw the Interim Government’s sale of bonds outside the official financial system for a total of over 30 billion dinars, which were bought up by the eastern-based Central Bank of Libya. As a liquidity crisis across Libya worsened in 2016, Eastern-based authorities also received an undisclosed number of banknotes issued by Russia that were used to finance salaries of state employees in Eastern Libya hired since 2014 (including the rank and file of the LAAF) as well as pay interest on the bonds bought by the Eastern based Central Bank of Libya. Currently, the debt accumulated and the Russian banknotes that poured into the country, alongside the proposed audit of the expenditures of each so-called “branch” of the Central Bank, have complicated unification efforts of the Central Bank.
Haftar and LAAF commanders publicised their intention of countering “terrorism” and “Islamists” across Libyan territory. This afforded the LAAF significant political and military support with certain international actors with whom the LAAF shared an anti-Islamist ideology.
Indeed, the LAAF’s gradual territorial expansion across Libyan territory post-2014 either benefitted from the political support of its international partners or their active participation with military advisors on the ground or reconnaissance and aerial support through drones and jets. It was only in early 2019 that actors outside of the LAAF’s traditional circle of international backers (namely the UAE, Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent, Russia) such as the US and Italy seemed to revise their policy as they appeared to provide tacit approval for Haftar’s LAAF expansion into Libya’s Southern region of Fezzan in what was then advertised as a counterterrorism operation to curb smuggling and criminality. In practice, Haftar also captured key oilfields in the South, a victory which was then swiftly followed by meetings in Abu Dhabi that sought to leverage his military fait-accompli and translate it into more control over the political process.
In January 2019 Haftar launched a campaign to take Libya’s Fezzan region. Haftar’s operation predominantly relied on the integration of local armed groups into LAAF structures as well as the participation and mobilization of Arab tribes such as the Zway. Given that the operation was described as a “fighting ‘Chadian gangs,’” Haftar wanted to avoid resistance from local Tebu groups who are often labelled as Chadians. As part of the efforts to avoid an outbreak of violence, the LAAF focused on undermining the ties of the Tebu with counterparts in neighbouring countries (including in Chad) by winning over influential Libyan Tebu patriarchs and elders. However, this strategy backfired in Murzuq where heavy fighting erupted, pitting local Tebu armed groups against LAAF-affiliated units. The former accused Haftar of disrupting a fragile social peace in Fezzan and of ethnic cleansing of the Tebu in general. The organisation of the Tebu and other anti-Haftar units under the banner of the Southern Protection Force occurred after this fight.
As Tripoli’s armed groups established their own cartel and revenue generation mechanisms, senior-ranking officers and commanders affiliated with the LAAF in Eastern Libya also began taking control of the economy through an entity dubbed the Military Investment Authority of Public Works (the MIAPW). In addition to the MIAPW, the LAAF also developed other sources of […]
Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli and Libya’s third bout of civil war4 April 2019
Launch of Haftar’s offensive:
On 4 April 2019, Haftar launched his operation “Flood of Dignity”, mobilising forces from Central and Eastern Libya towards Tripoli with the aim of militarily overthrowing the GNA. His offensive was launched the day the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, was visiting Libya as part of preparations for a National Conference that was only days away. The conference, which was intended to bring together political factions to reach a consensus on a path to national elections, was eventually postponed amid heavy fighting around Tripoli.
Haftar sought to capitalise on the grievances of several armed groups from other Western cities, including in Misrata, Tarhuna and Zintan, that resented the Tripoli-based groups who had gradually monopolised revenue generation mechanisms and infiltrated institutions. In fact, in September 2018, clashes had erupted between Tripoli-based armed groups and Al-Summoud Battalion from Misrata as well as the Kaniyat from Tarhuna. The latter joined Haftar’s offensive launched in April 2019.
The counter-mobilisation to Haftar’s offensive
Haftar’s offensive united several constituencies and armed groups in Western Libya against him. Though the motives for armed groups’ mobilization against Haftar differ, the number of previously demobilised fighters and volunteers who rose against him is the largest since the uprisings of 2011.33 While some of the armed units that mobilised are loosely affiliated with the GNA, several armed group leaders and units had an ambivalent if not hostile relationship to the GNA before 4 April 2019.
Trump-Haftar call revealed
On 19 April 2019, a White House statement revealed that US President Donald Trump had a phone call with Haftar earlier that week, during which he discussed “ongoing counterterrorism efforts” after the launch of Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli. The statement also added that Trump had a discussion with Haftar about Libya’s “transition to a stable, democratic political system.”
In addition to representing a potential reversal in US policy towards Libya, the call had a ripple effect on other levers of policy making. A few days after the call, the US joined Russia in vetoing a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Libya.
Proxy dynamics and the arrival of Turkish drones to anti-LAAF forces
Since 4 April 2019, Haftar’s forces were supported in their advances by drone strikes carried out by Chinese drones operated by the UAE. In response, the anti-LAAF armed groups were offered military assistance by Turkey which provided drones and armoured vehicles. These drones were particularly instrumental in halting Haftar’s forces’ advances and stalling his offensive.
The recapture of Gheryan in late June 2019
Turkish drones were used by anti-LAAF forces’ recapture of Gheryan (60 km south of Tripoli). The loss of Gheryan was a major setback for Haftar as the town had been used since its capture in April as his main supply base for the assault on Tripoli.
Increased reliance on foreign backers and deadly drone strikes in Tajura and Murzuq
The recapture of Gheryan saw a renewed increase of violence, with July witnessing the highest death toll since the start of the LAAF’s advance on Tripoli in April. In early July 2019, a foreign fighter jet conducted a strike on a compound where migrants were detained which led to at least 44 deaths and wounded another 130.￼ A month later, another drone strike on a group of civilians (predominantly from the Tebu ethnic minority) reportedly￼ killed more than 40 and injured another 51 individuals.
Russia capitalises on the stalemate
In September 2019, hundreds of Russian mercenaries belonging to the Wagner Group, a private military company linked to the Kremlin, were reported to have embedded themselves within Haftar’s LAAF. These mercenaries appeared to offer Haftar a tactical advantage, providing intelligence, strategic support and military expertise. By offering Haftar support on the ground, Russia gained leverage with one of the conflict’s key stakeholders and therefore positioned itself as a key player in any future political talks.
The US reacts to Russian presence in Libya
In November 2019, the US State Department issued a statement that urged Haftar to end his offensive on Tripoli. The statement also added that the US would support the GNA against any effort by Russia to exploit the Libyan conflict. The US State Department statement was widely interpreted as a reaction to the Russian presence within the ranks of Haftar’s LAAF rather than a renewed impetus to support the UN-backed GNA.
Turkey signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the GNA and deploys troops in Libya
In late November 2019, Libya’s Prime Minister Sarraj and Turkey’s Erdogan signed two Memoranda of Understanding covering economic, security and military cooperation and maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea. The first was meant to provide a legal framework through which Ankara would provide further military support for the GNA. The second was an agreement on maritime boundaries that encroached on Greece’s territorial waters. On 2 January 2020, Turkey approved a bill which had the intention to send troops to Libya in support of the GNA. By 5 January 2020 Turkish troops were reported to have begun deploying to Libya.
LAAF seizes the city of Sirte
LAAF forces seized the city of Sirte on 6 January 2020, a strategic city previously held by the GNA since 2016. This placed LAAF forces 230 miles from Libya’s capital.
Launch of Haftar’s offensive: On 4 April 2019, Haftar launched his operation “Flood of Dignity”, mobilising forces from Central and Eastern Libya towards Tripoli with the aim of militarily overthrowing the GNA. His offensive was launched the day the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, was visiting Libya as part of preparations for a National Conference […]
The Berlin Process19 January 2020
On 19 January 2020, the German government hosted an international conference in Berlin to address international involvement in the escalating conflict and build support for a three-point-plan for a political solution presented by Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) Ghassan Salamé. In attendance were Algeria, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Turkey, the Republic of the Congo, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States and High Representatives of the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and the League of Arab States. The conference was organised around thematic areas including a political track; an economic and financial track; a security and military track; the arms embargo; and an international humanitarian law and international human rights law track. Conclusions included a commitment to “refraining from interference in the armed conflict,” a call for a ceasefire, the resumption of a political process leading to national elections, support for the formation of a fact-finding and reconciliation commission to promote sustainable peace, justice and reconciliation, support for the formation of a 5+5 Joint Military Commission to discuss the military track, and a call for an audit of Libya’s two central banks, among others. Both warring parties agreed to send representatives to Geneva to begin the political process in early February. On 25 January 2020, UNSMIL reported that the arms embargo was being blatantly violated, including by some states that had attended the Berlin conference.
On 19 January 2020, the German government hosted an international conference in Berlin to address international involvement in the escalating conflict and build support for a three-point-plan for a political solution presented by Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) Ghassan Salamé. In attendance were Algeria, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Turkey, the Republic […]
The 5+5 Joint Military Commission8 February 2020
On 8 February 2020, five-member delegations representing the GNA and the LAAF convened in Geneva under the auspices of the UN, in talks that the international community hoped would end in a ceasefire agreement. The formation of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (5+5 JMC) had been proposed by UNSMIL and was one of the agreed outputs of the Berlin Process, aimed at resolving the military track of the conflict. However, no ceasefire was reached. Eight months later the 5+5 JMC met in Geneva again and agreed a ceasefire on 23 October. The 5+5 JMC met again in November and issued recommendations including “the formation of a military sub-committee to supervise the return of forces to their headquarters, and the withdrawal of foreign troops from contact lines.”
On 8 February 2020, five-member delegations representing the GNA and the LAAF convened in Geneva under the auspices of the UN, in talks that the international community hoped would end in a ceasefire agreement. The formation of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (5+5 JMC) had been proposed by UNSMIL and was one of the agreed […]
The Libyan Political Dialogue ForumFebruary 2020
In February 2020, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2510, which welcomed the Berlin Conference. Pursuant to this, intra-Libyan talks were scheduled to “generate consensus on a unified governance framework and arrangements that will lead to the holding of national elections in the shortest possible timeframe,” and the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) was formed. Consultations were held with a broad cross-section of Libyan stakeholders, including women and youth. Seventy-five Libyan representatives from various political factions met in Tunis from 9-15 November and adopted a plan consisting of a series of measures designed to lead the country towards national elections to be held on 24 December 2021 (the “Roadmap“). The Roadmap designated the period following the conference until the election as a “Preparatory Phase for a Comprehensive Solution,” in which time the executive authority would consist of a Presidency Council of three members and a Government of National Unity consisting of the Prime Minister, two deputies and a number of ministers, all of which would be selected according to a mechanism agreed upon by the LPDF. The Roadmap also outlined priorities for the executive authorities during the preparatory phase: The facilitation of national elections through confidence building measures; a process of national reconciliation “based on the principles of transitional justice and promoting the culture of amnesty and tolerance in parallel with truth-seeking and reparation” to address, among others, arbitrary arrest and detention and enforced disappearances; the promotion of human rights; the harnessing of public institutions and facilities to serve all Libyans; adherence to transparency and financial responsibility in the management of public expenditure; tackling corruption; to not consider any new or previous agreements that could harm foreign relations or impose long-term obligations on the country.
In February 2020, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2510, which welcomed the Berlin Conference. Pursuant to this, intra-Libyan talks were scheduled to “generate consensus on a unified governance framework and arrangements that will lead to the holding of national elections in the shortest possible timeframe,” and the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) was formed. […]
Increased Accountability Actions in the USMid-late 2020
In 2020 the United States began to take a more aggressive posture in Libya. On 6 August 2020 the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) enacted sanctions against three individuals and a Malta-based company accused of smuggling. In November 2020 OFAC sanctioned Mohamed al-Kani and the Kaniyat militia for being “responsible for the murder of civilians recently discovered in numerous mass graves in Tarhuna, as well as torture, forced disappearances, and displacement of civilians.” Meanwhile, two Libyan families filed a civil case in US courts in September 2020 accusing Haftar of war crimes during the 2016-2017 attack on Ganfouda.
In 2020 the United States began to take a more aggressive posture in Libya. On 6 August 2020 the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) enacted sanctions against three individuals and a Malta-based company accused of smuggling. In November 2020 OFAC sanctioned Mohamed al-Kani and the Kaniyat militia for being “responsible for the murder of civilians […]