key actors and institutions
Key Armed Groups
The 301 Battalion is one of the largest brigades nominally aligned with the GNA’s Ministry of Defence. Led by Abdulsalam Al-Zoubi, the armed group features a predominantly Misratanleadership and is one of the only groups outside the TPF that maintained a footprint in the capital’s suburbs after the GNA’s arrival. This can partly be attributed to the fact that the group’s membership is composed of individuals hailing from across Western Libya, including Tripoli.
The 301 Battalion maintained a presence in the area of Swani in South-West of Tripoli where it imposed taxation fees on local businesses in exchange for providing security. The 301 Battalion also withdrew from its areas of control in late 2017 to protest what it considered lack of financial supportfrom the Ministry of Interior. However, the security vacuum that it left behind led some locals to call on the 301 Battalion’s rank and file to return, praising their role in providing security. The armed group subsequently returned to its areas of control in Swani in October 2017. Partly owing to theMisratan leadership of the group, the 301 Battalion was one of the first armed groups to mobiliseagainst Haftar’s April 2019 offensive.
Led by Salah Badi, who was sanctioned by the UN in the aftermath of the clashes in September 2018, Al-Summoud Brigade is a predominantly Misratan armed group. The brigade and its leader have become known for mobilising independently from other brigades in Misrata. Indeed, Salah Badi is considered to be one of the most divisive figures in the city.
The Al-Summoud brigade, and Salah Badi in particular, were among the main actors in the outbreak of fighting against Zintani-aligned armed groups in Tripoli in 2014. Subsequently, they were driven out of Tripoli by the Tripoli cartel that supported the arrival of the GNA in 2016. Two years later, the Al-Summoud Brigade aligned with the Kaniyat armed group in September 2018 and attacked the cartel in Tripoli. As of November 2019, Salah Badi has nominally aligned with the forces fighting Haftar’s LAAF under the banner of the GNA.
In 2016, a coalition of former military units and volunteers from the Western region (predominantly from Misrata) formed the Bunyan-Al-Marsous (BAM) coalition to take on IS’ affiliate in Sirte. The resulting six-month operation was backed by American airpower, with more than 700 anti-IS fighters dying throughout the operation. Though the operation was under the nominal authority of the then-recently established GNA, several units and commanders had ambivalent if not hostile relationships with the GNA. After the operation, several of the fighters that took part in BAM’s operation demobilised and returned to their civilian occupations.
However, a standalone force – the Counter-Terrorism Force (CTF) – was created under the Ministry of Defence by the Presidency Council, with a mandate to provide security in Sirte’s vicinity and conduct surveillance and counterterrorism operations in the Central Region.
The CTF was one of the first groups to mobilise units to counter Haftar’s offensive in April 2019, partly because of the fact it is a force that never demobilised. As of November 2019, a significant number of units affiliated with the CTF remain on standby in Sirte in case Haftar’s forces launch a ground offensive on Sirte or Misrata.
The Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF, originally known as Libyan National Army or LNA) are led by Khalifa Haftar, who was appointed general commander of the armed forces of the eastern government by the House of Representatives in March 2015 and later promoted to Field Marshall by a decree issued by HoR president Agilah Saleh in September 2016.
The LAAF is one of Libya’s most organised and largest coalition of armed groups. It comprises a mix of formal military units (such as al-Saiqa), tribal/local-based units (such as the predominantly Awagir staffed unit led by Faraj Egaim in Benghazi) as well as a large proportion of more informal support forces.
The General Command of the LAAF has, over time, coordinated with several tribal and ethnic factions to integrate and co-opt armed groups for military expediency and in order to build coercive expansion capacities. This trend has been exacerbated as the LAAF sought to expand beyond Cyrenaica, engaging in significant outreach with groups in Fezzan and Tripolitania.
The LAAF also relies on a large proportion of foreign fighters (mostly from Sudan and Chad) to maintain control of key infrastructure, particularly in the oil crescent. In September 2019, Russian mercenaries were reportedly deployed South of Tripoli to take part in the LAAF’s offensive on Tripoli.
The Southern Protection Force was rebranded and revived as a response to the LAAF’s expansion in the South. Haftar had wanted to avoid resistance from local Tebu groups, often labelled Chadians, and so attempted to undermine the Tebu’s ties with neighbouring countries. However, the strategy backfired in Murzuq, pitting local Tebu groups against units affiliated with the LAAF. As of November 2019, the Southern Protection Force was aligned with the GNA, though it had not mobilised to Tripoli after Haftar’s offensive.
The Special Deterrence Force (SDF) originated in Tripoli’s Suq al Jumaa neighbourhood under the leadership of Abdulraouf Kara. Though often depicted as an exclusively Madkali-Salafist brigade, the SDF also brings together more revolutionary-leaning youth from Suq Al Jumaa as well as former Gaddafi regime officials. This has allowed the SDF, under Abdulraouf Kara’s leadership, to rise to prominence as part of Tripoli’s cartel. It has garnered legitimacy through focusing on mainstreaming an anti-crime narrative and conducting counterterrorism operations in the capital. In practice, however, the SDF is reported to be responsible for hundreds of cases of unlawful and arbitrary detention, as well as being involved in the trafficking of migrants and benefitting from extortion payments sent by migrants’ family members for their release. The SDF also assumed control over Mitiga International Airport, which is located in SDF-held territory. Control over Mitiga has granted the SDF a special relationship with GNA officials and members of the international community.
The Tripoli Protection Force (TPF) is an armed group that was formed in the aftermath of a conflict which erupted in September 2018 that pit members of the TPF with Tarhuna’s Kaniyat (an armed group headed by the “Kani brothers” that controls the city of Tarhuna) and Salah Badi’s Al-Summoud Brigade. The TPF is the result of a merger of four armed groups, the Tripoli Revolutionary Battalion, Abu Salim’s Central Security Directorate, the Nawasi Brigade and the Bab Tajura brigade, and was announced on 18 December 2018. In practice, the ideological differences and preference for preserving discrete zones of influence by these different armed groups has meant that the TPF has never formally established itself as an independent or cohesive entity. The TPF’s constituent armed groups have maintained their respective chains of command, only engaging in moderate coordination with one another in reaction to Haftar’s April 2019 offensive.
The Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade (TRB) was formed in 2011 in the Nafussa mountains, bringing together revolutionary figures ahead of the liberation of Tripoli in August 2011. The TRB is one of the armed groups that has undergone the most ideological and leadership changes throughout its existence.
Under the informal leadership of Haitham Al Tajuri, the group has navigated different alliances since 2011. In 2016, it supported the establishment of the GNA in Tripoli, a relationship which it subsequently weaponised as it became one of the four armed groups that formed the militia cartel that had significant control over the capital. The TRB translated its territorial control in Tripoli into an ability to influence key state institutions and develop alternative revenue generation mechanisms such as letters of credit fraud.
In the aftermath of the September 2018 conflict, Haitham Al Tajuri (who did not take part in the fighting) returned to Tripoli from the UAE and allegedly proceeded to assassinate several of the TRB’s revolutionary figures who opposed a potential rapprochement with Haftar’s LAAF. Though the TRB officially sided with the GNA against the LAAF on 4 April 2019, the group’s fractionalisation has greatly diminished its military weight.
Key State Institutions
The Central Bank of Libya (CBL) is the official monetary authority in Libya and is currently split between western and eastern branches. The western branch, based in Tripoli, is headed by Governor Siddiq Al Kabir, while the eastern branch, based in Bayda, is headed by Governor Ali Al-Hibri. The crisis of legitimacy between the GNC-approved cabinet in Tripoli and the HoR in 2014 required separate budgets for the two rival entities and their respective governments. The CBL is mainly responsible for maintaining Libya’s monetary stability as well as developing and implementing economic policy. Some 94% of the value of Libya’s exports comes from petroleum products, and the CBL has a major role in distributing these revenues in Libya’s highly centralised economy. The printing of Russian bank notes and debt incurred as a result of the sale of bonds approved by the Eastern-based CBL are the biggest impediments to unifying the Central Bank of Libya. In July 2020 UNSMIL announced the finalization of a process to initiate an international audit of the CBL’s two branches. The audit had been requested by GNA Prime Minister Sarraj as a “means to restore integrity, transparency and confidence in the Libyan financial system.” On 7 December 2020, members of the eastern and western branches of the CBL board reportedly held their first meeting since 2014.
The Government of National Accord (GNA) is an interim government formed under the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement, or Skhirat Agreement, signed on 17 December 2015 and endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2259. The GNA consists of a Council of Ministers chaired by a Prime Minister, a Deputy Prime Minister and a number of Ministries, as Libya’s executive authority. Under the terms of the Skhirat Agreement a Presidency Council for the Council of Ministers is tasked with carrying out the functions of the head of the Libyan state and taking command of Libya’s military. The term of the GNA would have been, in theory, one year from the date on which the HoR would grant it a vote of confidence. However, the HoR repeatedly voted against the GNA, allegedly due to reluctance over granting the GNA authority over military appointments. This was perceived as a threat both by Haftar and supporters of the LAAF, including parliamentarians who sided with him. The GNA has struggled to assert its authority across Libya and was unsuccessful in unifying it. Because the HoR never approved the formation of the GNA, it remains technically not legally constituted and receives much of its legitimacy from its recognition as the interim government by the international community.
The Government of National Salvation (GNS), formerly based in Tripoli, was formed following the 2014 election by a breakaway group of Libya Dawn-aligned politicians from the GNC who contested the legitimacy of the House of Representatives. The GNS was led by Khalifa Al Ghwell until its dissolution in 2016.
The High Council of State (HCS), based in Tripoli, was established as the highest consultative body of the state under the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) of December 2015. Under the LPA, the HCS’s main role is to review draft legislation and express binding opinions to the Government of National Accord (GNA), before submitting them to the House of Representatives, which then has the right to accept or refuse them. The HCS can also issue advisory opinions to the GNA on matters relating to international agreements.
The House of Representatives (HoR) is Libya’s legislative authority. It was created in 2014 following the election to replace the General National Congress (GNC). The election was marred by violence and a low turnout, prompting the HoR to relocate to Tobruk while groups that opposed its formation reinstated remnants of the GNC in Tripoli. The HoR’s role after the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) of December 2015 includes granting the vote of confidence in the Government of National Accord, adopting the general budget, performing oversight over the executive authority and endorsing public policy.
The political rift that de-facto split the country into two rival parliaments and governments in 2014 still exists today, albeit under different denominations. The Interim Government is based in city of Bayda, and it has the nominal backing of Haftar’s LAAF. The Interim Government is headed by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani (who succeeded Prime Minister Ali Zeidan). His government enjoyed international recognition until December 2015, when the Libyan Political Agreement, or Skhirat Agreement was brokered by the UN, which declared the GNA as the sole legitimate authority in Libya. While the HoR and Field Marshall Haftar have rejected the authority of the GNA and Haftar nominally backs the Interim Government, since 2015, Haftar and the LAAF have taken over several aspects of the economy and governance in Eastern Libya, undermining the Interim Government’s civilian oversight. Moreover, the emphasis on power-sharing agreements and diplomatic summits where Haftar’s standing is elevated has further entrenched a dynamic whereby he has overshadowed the Interim Government and civilian institutions in the East in the international and domestic political arenas.
The National Oil Corporation (NOC) is Libya’s national oil company. Its articles of incorporation legally allow it to enter into production sharing agreements with international oil companies, in addition to its main activities that revolve around oil production and the marketing of domestic oil products. The NOC possesses several subsidiaries and is headed by its chairman, Mustafa Sanalla.
In 2013, a parallel NOC was established in Eastern Libya by Ibrahim Jathran, the commander of the Petroleum Facilities Guard from Ajdabiya, part of an effort to sell oil outside the legitimate Tripoli-based NOC channels. These efforts were thwarted by Libyan authorities until March 2014, when the UAE-registered tanker, The Morning Glory, successfully departed from Libya’s oil port carrying over USD 30 million in crude oil. The tanker was subsequently intercepted and boarded by the US Navy, which ensured the ship and its illicit cargo were returned to the Libyan coastguard.
After capturing the oil crescent in 2016, Haftar allowed oil production to be managed by the official Tripoli-based NOC, with oil sales flowing through the Tripoli-based Central Bank of Libya. However, in 2018, he also attempted – and failed – to sell oil outside the legitimate NOC channels. In September 2019, a parallel Brega Petroleum Marketing Company, a subsidiary of the NOC tasked with domestic fuel distribution, was set up in the aftermath of the 4 April 2019 offensive, allegedly in reaction to a dispute over kerosene fuel distribution.
The Presidency Council (PC), based in Tripoli, was established under the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) of December 2015, and effectively acts as Libya’s head of state. Under the LPA, the PC’s role includes representing Libya in its foreign relations, supervising the work of the Council of Ministers and acting as the Supreme Commander of the army.