Tag Archives: Government of National Accord (GNA)

Prospects for Stability & Development in Libya – Libya Special Intelligence Report

This report was written by: Akshita Aggarwal – MAX Security’s Associate Director of Intelligence, Middle East & North Africa

And reviewed by: Tzahi Shraga – MAX Security’s Chief Intelligence Officer, ret. LTC from the Israeli intelligence community

Oded Berkowitz – MAX Security’s Deputy Chief Intelligence Officer

Executive Summary

Control over territory in Libya remains contested between the House of Representatives (HoR), the Government of National Accord (GNA), and tribal militias. As neither of these entities are willing to compromise upon their interests, the current political landscape in Libya will remain unstable.

Multiple militias with rival territorial, economic, political, and ideological interests operate in the country. As there is often no clear demarcation between their respective areas of influence, sporadic armed clashes between these groups will continue over the coming months.

Militant groups continue to take advantage of the lack of a unified security apparatus to operate across Libya. Although these groups currently do not have the ability to regain territorial control in the country, the sophistication and scale of their attacks will increase over the coming months.

The Libyan economy is largely dependent upon the oil industry. The ongoing political and security instability will continue to deprive the government of the ability to invest in development and infrastructure, as well as protect oil facilities from potential militant attacks.

Overall, the security environment in Libya remains extremely volatile and is set to further deteriorate in the foreseeable future.

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Background

Multiple political and armed actors are currently operating across Libya. In many cases, there is no clear territorial demarcation between their respective spheres of influence, and therefore, at times these tend to overlap. The fringes of these territories also provide a conducive environment for the proliferation of militant groups, such as the Islamic State (IS), as well as local and foreign criminal militias. Moreover, internal divisions exist even within seemingly cohesive political factions and armed units, due to differing interests and ideologies, which contribute to the already volatile security environment in the country.

The overarching geographical areas of control are as follows:

Western Libya: Largely under the control of militias aligned with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). However, the majority of these militias have rival economic and territorial interests, which often lead to hostilities between them.

Eastern Libya: Largely controlled by the House of Representatives (HoR) and its allied Libyan National Army (LNA).

Southern Libya: Largely ungoverned territory, with rival tribal militias in control of isolated towns and production facilities. Although the LNA managed to recently extend its influence over parts of southern Libya, tribal militias in control of the town hold shifting allegiances.

Main Actors & Interests

The Government of National Accord (GNA): The GNA is based out of the Tripoli Naval Base and is a product of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), signed in Skhirat, Morocco in December 2015. The LPA allows for the transition of the House of Representatives (HoR) and the General National Congress (GNC) into the GNA’s legislative body and advisory State Council, respectively. However, this transition was to be ratified by a special majority vote of the HoR within a period of one year, which was renewable only once. The HoR is yet to convene the needed quorum for this vote. On December 17, 2017, the Libyan National Army (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar declared that “All bodies resulting from this agreement [LPA] automatically lose their legitimacy, which has been contested from the first day they took office.” Regardless, the GNA continues to be considered the “internationally recognized” government and enjoys the support of the UN. Its sphere of influence extends through western Libya, particularly in greater Tripoli and Misrata.

House of Representatives (HoR): The previously “internationally recognized” government, the HoR’s parliament is based in Tobruk and the executive branch in al-Bayda. Its sphere of influence is generally in eastern Libya, with some pockets of support in the west, particularly southwest of Tripoli. The HoR is currently supported politically, militarily, and economically by several countries, most prominent of whom are France, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt. While these countries generally recognize and support the LPA, they capitalize on the fact that the HoR has not ratified the agreement as a pretext to consider it as non-valid at this time, in order to continue supporting the HoR and not the GNA.

Other groups: Both the ungoverned and the governed areas of Libya are dominated by politics based on tribal, clan, and ethnic backgrounds, as well as place of residence and origin. It is not uncommon for cities that both support the same political body to be at odds due to historical or other rivalries among their residents. Similarly, militias from the same city who support the same political organ may have a strife over tribal or other rivalries.

Armed Groups

The GNA is currently almost completely reliant on local armed militias to exert influence over its territories. The most prominent GNA-linked militia are the Misrata forces, based out of the northwestern town of Misrata. Misrata forces also maintain their own air force, which was initially formed in 2015 as the Libya Dawn Air Force (LDAF), and later in 2016, aligned itself with the GNA. Misrata has very few operational pilots and aircraft, which were most recently operationally used in 2016 in hostilities against the LNA and the Islamic State (IS). Several other militias, like the al-Radaa Special Deterrence Forces, the Abu Salim Battalion, and the Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigade, are formally under the command of the GNA’s Ministry of Defense (MoD), and hold territorial control over different parts of Tripoli.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) and its allied militias are led by Supreme Commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The LNA is allied with the HoR, based out of Tobruk. It has a clearer command and control structure, with several commanders in charge of different battalions and areas of LNA-controlled territories. Although the majority of LNA forces are anti-Islamist, certain factions within the forces hold a Salafist ideology. Presently, the LNA’s main area of operations is in and around the Oil Crescent, Jufra District, Fezzan Region, Kufra District, Benghazi, Derna, and Tobruk. It also has some influence in areas southwest of Tripoli through their association with Zintan-based militias. The LNA also maintains an air force, the Libyan Air Force (LAF). LAF aircraft are used primarily to conduct aerial reconnaissance and airstrikes against militant and militia convoys in the Sirte Basin and Fezzan Region.

Tribal militias, mostly consisting of either Tebu or Tuareg ethnic tribes, control most of southern Libya, including Sebha. These tribes are at times supported by fellow tribesman from neighboring countries, such as Chad and Sudan. They hold shifting allegiances towards the various players in the country.

Islamist militant groups, such as the Islamic State (IS) as well as the al-Qaeda-linked Revolutionary Shura Council of Benghazi (RSCB), Derna Protection of Force (DPF), and Saraya Defend Benghazi (SDB), continue to operate across Libya. The IS and the SDB are currently the most prominent of these groups.

Political Stability

The efforts of the Head of the UN Special Mission to Libya (UNSMIL), Ghassan Salame, over the past year have at least partly prompted the HoR and the GNA to work towards unification of all institutions in the country and end the ongoing political stalemate. The HoR approved the referendum law on September 14, which allows for a referendum on Libya’s draft constitution. Subsequently, in November, the HoR successfully voted on a constitutional amendment, which legally validates the referendum law. It also divides the country into three constituencies – Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan. According to the amendment, the approval of the draft constitution would require an absolute majority vote in each region as well as a two-thirds majority vote nationwide. At the same time, the HoR approved the restructuring of the Presidential Council (PC), whose membership will now reduce from nine to three. It will now be consist of a President and two deputies, and a separate Prime Minister as the Head of the government.

Assessments & Forecast: Recent measures aimed at unifying political institutions unlikely to lead to nationwide elections

While on paper, the aforementioned developments portray that the GNA and the HoR have made substantial progress towards a nationwide election process and the unification of political institutions in the country, these measures have substantially tilted the scales in favor of the latter. Members of the GNA had previously opposed the amendment of Article 6 of the LPA, which divides Libya into three distinct constituencies as well as the restructuring of the PC. If the constitutional referendum does not pass, the current law assigns Cyrenaica with a veto power, which would essentially allow the HoR to activate an article of the referendum law that would pass on the responsibility of drafting the new constitution to the HoR, thus allowing the eastern-based government to alter Article 8 of the LPA.

Article 8 of the LPA has been a highly controversial point between the GNA and the HoR. This article excludes anyone with dual citizenship from holding either a political or military post in the country. LNA Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar holds both US and Libyan citizenship, and therefore, this will exclude him from Libya’s future political landscape. The HoR’s insistence on amending this article stems from the fact that it currently extends territorial influence over eastern Libya due to its alliance with the LNA. Moreover, the LNA is in control of much of Libya’s oil infrastructure, which has gained Haftar increasingly international legitimacy over the past year, as underlined by his inclusion in both the Paris Conference in May and the Palermo Conference in November.
FORECAST: These conditions provide the HoR with an upper hand in negotiations, and therefore, it is unlikely to concede to the GNA on any key issues pertaining to the country’s future. Such a scenario will provide France with significant influence over Libyan politics vis-a-vis its regional rival, Italy. Therefore, both countries will attempt to intervene in Libya in order to ensure a more favorable outcome for themselves. This, in conjunction with the lack of electoral infrastructure, will further delay the slated March 2019 nationwide election process. If and when elections do take place, the turnouts will be very low due to the inability of either the GNA or the HoR to provide the required security to secure electoral booths from the threat of militancy. Moreover, as Libya is based on tribal culture, with a council of elders responsible for governing each town, any federally constituted government will face resistance on the local level.

Threat of Militancy

Islamic State (IS): Although IS does not control any territory in Libya as of December 2016, it has managed to rebuild some of its capabilities in the country over the past year. Initially, the majority of IS attacks were directed against LNA checkpoints in the Sirte Basin and Jufra District, which mainly utilized vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs). Gradually, IS shifted towards conducting more sophisticated multi-pronged attacks against government infrastructure in western Libya. For example, IS claimed multi-pronged attacks against the Misrata Courts Complex on October 4, 2017, against the Tripoli Electoral Commission on May 2, 2018, and the National Oil Corporation (NOC) Headquarters in Tripoli on September 10, 2018. And finally, IS militants launched two large-scale attacks against the towns of al-Fuqaha, Jufra District, and Tazirbu, Kufra District, on October 28 and November 23, respectively.

Saraya Defend Benghazi (SDB): In June 2017, the SDB indicated its willingness to disband after Misrata forces refused to provide them refuge in the city of Misrata, following the former’s loss all its territories in the Jufra District to the LNA. While reports did indicate that SDB fighters were still operating in parts of western and southern Libya, the group remained dormant for approximately a year. However, in June 2018, SDB fighters, led by the former Petroleum Facilities’ Guard (PFG) commander Ibrahim al-Jathran, launched a large-scale attack against the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals, located in the Oil Crescent. However, following the LNA’s recapturing of the Oil Crescent, the group has again gone dormant and not launched any significant attacks in Libya.

Assessments & Forecast: Although militant groups unlikely to regain territorial control in Libya, the sophistication of their attacks is likely to increase

Several factors have allowed militant groups to regain part of their ranks and capabilities in Libya over the past year. First, militants either planning to go fight for IS in Syria or Iraq, or fleeing the group’s territorial losses in these countries, view Libya as an alternative arena for their activity, and therefore have bolstered the ranks of the Sunni jihadist militant group in the country. Second, the LNA’s preoccupation in hostilities in other parts of the country, such as in Benghazi, Sebha, Derna, and the Sirte Basin, over the past year likely allowed militants to regroup in southern Libya, which remains largely controlled by tribal militias, without being detected by security forces. Third, widespread cross-border smuggling of weapons and fighters across Libya’s southern borders with Sudan and Chad, likely allowed both IS and the SDB to reinforce their offensive capabilities.

While both groups continue to remain interested in destabilizing the security environment in the country, neither of the groups currently maintain the ability to regain a territorial foothold in Libya. However, they do have the capability to launch attacks against more high-value targets, such as government offices, oil, and other infrastructure, in Libya. The lack of sufficient security protocols around these facilities allows the groups’ fighters to circumvent existing measures to gain access to their interiors. Such attacks allow militant groups to not only project their heightened capabilities to attract support and recruits, but also deprive the authorities of the necessary revenues to invest in their counter-militancy campaign. Aside from this, IS’s particularly increased focus on attacking towns in southern Libya are part of an attempt by the group intimidate locals and gain ransom from kidnappings at the same time. Overall, all these efforts are directed towards further destabilizing the security environment in the country, with the ultimate aim of expanding influence and re-establishing a territorial foothold.
FORECAST: Despite efforts by both the LNA and GNA-linked militias to dislodge militancy from the country, both IS and the SDB will continue to utilize the vast desert terrain of southern Libya as well as the fringes between GNA and LNA-held territories to regroup and rebuild their capabilities. They will the use these bases as launchpads for further attacks against government and security installations. The sophistication of these attacks may gradually increase as the militant groups attempt to launch more symbolic operations. The lack of a unified security apparatus, combined with insufficient military equipment and training, will overstretch the LNA and local militias, which will continue to hinder their ability to effectively combat this threat of rising militancy in Libya.

Economic Stability

The Libyan economy is largely dependent upon the export of oil. Oil production facilities are operated by foreign companies, with permission from the National Oil Corporation (NOC), based in Tripoli. The oil revenues then accrue to the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), based in Tripoli, which then distributes the revenue to the GNA, the HoR, the LNA, and GNA-aligned militias.

Assessments & Forecast: Political divisions, security volatility, global oil prices unlikely to significantly increase government revenues

Tensions have persisted between the GNA and the HoR regarding control have over Libya’s monetary policy and revenues, which prompted both parties to form parallel central banks based in Tripoli and al-Bayda in 2014. After retaking control of the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals from the SDB in June 2018, Haftar decided to hand over control of revenue from these oil terminals to the eastern-based NOC. However, in 2017, when PFG commander Ibrahim al-Jadhran temporarily took control of the Oil Crescent and attempted to directly sell the oil from these facilities on the international market, European countries imposed an embargo on this oil. They further stated that only oil bought from the Tripoli-based NOC would be considered as legal. Therefore, Haftar’s decision was likely prompted by an attempt to not undermine the Tripoli-based NOC, whose head Mustafa Sanalla, is popular both among the GNA and the HoR, but rather to force the GNA to replace the CBL head, Sadiq al-Kabir, whom the LNA considers as corrupt and illegitimate. This is supported by the fact that Haftar eventually agreed to hand over control of revenue from the oil terminals back to the Tripoli-based NOC on July 10. The underlines the divisions instability arising from the bipolarity between the country’s economic institutions.The widespread threat of militancy, as well as militia activity, poses a further threat to oil infrastructure in the country. The majority of these facilities are secured by local militias who have their own interests in mind.

Therefore, they often utilize these facilities as bargaining chips in their negotiations with the GNA. For example, in recent weeks, a movement under the name “Anger of Fezzan” threatened the Sharara Oil Field if their demands for development in southern Libya were not met. Moreover, the militiamen who are in charge of securing oil fields are neither well-equipped nor well-trained, and therefore are usually incapable of protecting these facilities from a well-executed attack. Oil pipelines in the country tend to run across territories held by different militias with rival interests which pose a further threat to business continuity. This, combined with the instability of global oil prices, makes Libya’s economy highly unpredictable and unstable for the foreseeable future.
FORECAST: As the aforementioned political and security issues will persist for the foreseeable future, Libya’s economy is unlikely to witness any form of stability. This will adversely impact the GNA’s already declining popularity in the country. July witnessed widespread anti-GNA protests in Tripoli and its surroundings over the UN-backed government’s inability to provide locals with water and electricity. These eventually provided local militias with conditions conducive to launch an assault against each other in order to advance their personal territorial interests, thereby sparking large-scale inter-militia hostilities in the designated capital. Therefore, an unstable economy will lead to civil unrest in the future, which, in turn, will increase the threat posed by militant groups and armed militias.

Infrastructure & Development

Political, security, and economic stability have a direct impact on the prospects for infrastructure and development.

Assessments & Forecast: Economic, political, security instability to prevent the government from investing in development, infrastructure

The lack of sufficient revenue has denied the GNA and the LNA with the ability to invest in development and infrastructure. Airports in Libya are generally controlled by local militia groups, who are under-trained and under-equipped to employ proper security protocols for air travel. This includes the lack of a secure perimeter around airports, which allows militias and militant groups to use weapons of relatively lower sophistication to target these facilities. This is highlighted by the frequent mortar shelling of the Mitiga International Airport as a result of inter-militia hostilities in Tripoli. The GNA has also been unable to reopen the Tripoli International Airport as militias frequently attempt to take control of the facility from their rivals. Aside from attacks, service disruptions at airports remain frequent due to staff strikes, particularly over unpaid salaries. This is due to the lack of sufficient funds under the control of the GNA, as it depends largely on the country’s oil reserves.

Commercial ports are also susceptible to attacks, as underscored by the temporary shut down of the Tripoli Seaport on October 17, 2017, due to clashes between GNA-linked militias near the facility. The majority of the country’s seaports are located in northwestern Libya. The Libyan Coastguard has frequently intercepted foreign vessels off the coast of northwest Libya on suspicions of illegal smuggling activity, as local militias in the area have been known to disguise as GNA officials to sell oil and fund their operations. With regards to seaports in eastern Libya, the LNA has been unable to fully operationalize the Benghazi and Derna ports following their capture from militants in June 2017 and May 2018, respectively. Moreover, the LNA Navy has designated Libyan territorial waters off the coast of Benghazi as a “no-sail” zone (until al-Tamimi, 280 km east of Benghazi), and therefore entering it requires prior authorization. This is particularly important as vessels that do not obtain such authorization and escort from the LNA Navy are automatically suspected of carrying support for militants, and may be intercepted or even targeted by airstrikes.
FORECAST: The lack of revenues will prevent the GNA and the LNA from substantially raising security protocols at infrastructural facilities in Libya. This will make such facilities an easy target for attacks by militant groups as well as militias. Militias operating in Tripoli and its environs will continue to attempt to seize control of vital airports and seaports in order to increase their negotiating power vis-a-vis their rivals. This will have an adverse impact upon operations at these facilities, even when militias try not to directly target them.

Recommendations

It is advised to defer all travel to Tripoli and Benghazi at this time due to ongoing violence, threats against foreigners, and the risk of a broad deterioration of security conditions. We advise at this time that those remaining in Tripoli and Benghazi should initiate contingency and emergency evacuation plans due to deterioration in the security situation. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

For those remaining in Tripoli, we advise avoiding nonessential travel to the outskirts of the city, particularly the Janzour and Tajoura neighborhoods, as well as to the Mitiga and Tripoli International Airports, given that these are focal points of ground clashes in the city.

Avoid all nighttime travel, including to and from the airport, due to the elevated risk for militant attacks, clashes, and acts of unrest during this time.

Travel to Misrata and Tobruk should be for essential purposes only while adhering to all security precautions regarding civil unrest and militancy. We advise against all travel to outlying areas of the country, due to the threat of militancy, kidnapping, and general lawlessness in such areas.

Avoid entering Libyan territorial waters in the area between Benghazi and al-Tamimi without prior authorization, as a no-sail zone is currently in effect in this area and several naval vessels had been intercepted or attacked due to not following proper procedures.

Those planning to conduct air travel to, from and inside Libya should avoid entering the area between Marsa al-Brega, Sirte and Sebha, as it was declared a no-fly zone by the Libyan National Army (LNA).
We further advise against all travel to Libya’s border areas at this time due to persistent violence and lawlessness in these regions.

For those operating in or conducting business with oil facilities, it is advised to consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations and ground support options.

Avoid the immediate vicinity of government buildings, police stations, media outlet offices, and political party and militia headquarters, given that these locales have been targeted by militia groups in the past and recently by militants, and thus remain at increased risk for violence and unrest.

Westerners, particularly US citizens, operating in Libya are advised to maintain a low profile and exercise heightened vigilance in light of prevailing anti-Western sentiment and increasing attacks against foreigners.

Nationwide, take precautions to mitigate the risk of being targeted for kidnapping. Refrain from travelling in luxury vehicles and maintain a generally low profile. Routinely alter travel routes and refrain from divulging sensitive itinerary information to strangers.

 

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Libya Special Intelligence Report – Projections on Stabilization and the Challenges Ahead – August 2016

This report was written by:

Oded Berkowitz – MAX Security’s Associate Director of Intelligence, Middle East & North Africa

And reviewed by:

Tzahi Shraga – MAX Security’s Chief Intelligence Officer, ret. LTC from the Israeli intelligence community
Roshanna Lawrence – MAX Security’s Regional Director of Intelligence, Middle East & North Africa

Executive Summary

Several prominent political actors, supported by various foreign countries, are currently active in Libya in various spheres of influence, some of which overlap. Despite attempts made towards unification including the announcement of a “unity government”, political rifts have deepened in recent weeks. In this context, the political instability of the country is expected to continue, both in a dichotomy of two governments competing for hegemony, as well as in internal rivalries within the various political layers.
Similarly, numerous armed factions operate throughout Libya, some supported by foreign actors (including such that are present on the ground), and hold conflicting or overlapping sets of ideologies and interests with each other. Despite taking measures towards the elimination of militancy, mostly that posed by the Islamic State (IS), the continued political stalemate and deteriorating economic situation, mostly related to the inability to produce and export oil in sufficient quantities, poses a risk of escalation in armed conflict. Overall, a resumption of large scale hostilities between rival armed factions remains possible.

As a result of these factors, the potential for a significant stabilization in Libya over the coming months remains low at this time.

Current Situation

Several prominent political actors, supported by various foreign countries, are currently active in Libya in various spheres of influence, some of which overlap. Despite appearing generally cohesive, there are divided influences and presence of opposing groups not only within the broader geographic areas, but even within certain cities that are seemingly under the control of a certain group. With this in mind, general control of Libya’s major geographic areas can be broken down as follows:

  • Eastern Libya: Generally under the control of the House of Representatives (HoR)/Libyan National Army (LNA), with Islamist militant pockets of control.
  • Central Libya: Convergence of control by LNA, Petroleum Facility Guards (PFG) and pro-Government of National Accord (GNA)/General National Congress (GNC) forces, with Islamist militant pockets of control.
  • Western Libya: Presence of forces that support the GNA and others that support the GNC, with a pocket of LNA control.
  • Southern Libya: Generally ungoverned territory with heavy presence of tribal militias who hold shifting alliances.

See below, “Actors and Interests”, for a more in-depth discussion of the major players.

Rivalries and Alliances in Libya

Forecast: Militancy and Fighting

Eastern Libya: Status quo likely to continue

  • Despite its unprecedented recent successes, the LNA has suffered some local setbacks, namely the inability to hold areas that it “liberated” in Ajdabiya in March-April, as is manifested by the renewed militant territorial presence and operational capabilities in and around the city. These are likely the result of the LNA’s need to engage in several active fronts that are also physically distant from each other at the same time, thus forcing the LNA to overstretch its resources. Moreover, the LNA’s airpower, one of its main leverages, is inconsistent in its operations due to faulty maintenance (as a result of lack of proper resources) and overuse. Moreover, in Benghazi, the primary area of operations for the LNA currently, the LNA faces persistent challenges in operating in a dense urban area and among civilians, a weakness often successfully exploited by militant groups that battle the LNA.
  • Lastly, the recent exposure of the French military presence in Libya prompted widespread local opposition, mainly from (but not exclusive to) civilians in Misrata and Tripoli, as well as the Grand Mufti, and is expected to cause opposition from the local population, as well as political complications. In the long term, that may mean that France will have to scale back its missions in Libya, or possibly entirely withdraw from the country, which will have particularly adverse effect on the LNA, France’s main beneficiary in Libya. These factors combined will likely result in a general status-quo of fighting in the east in the coming period, with the LNA making advances in certain areas, however at the expense of losing grounds or influence in other areas.

Central Libya: Misrata forces likely to eventually seize control of Sirte; factional fighting possible over coming months

  • As opposed to the east, in the Sirte Basin, pro-GNA forces (mostly in the form of militia groups from Misrata) were largely not required to fight in several different, far-removed focal points.  As a result of this, along with an at least temporary alliance struck with the PFG in the east of the basin, pro-GNA forces were therefore able to focus their forces to the maximum effect against IS and achieve far-reaching results. Given that IS’s main fighting forces have mostly been contained to a small area, which is besieged from all sides, we do not assess that it currently has the capabilities to break the encirclement and reverse Misrata’s achievements. The latter will likely opt to generally maintain the siege for the coming period in order to avoid high casualty tolls that are attributed to fighting in urban terrain, and will likely mostly bombard the city with air and artillery forces. With this in mind, unless something unexpected – such as premature renewed fighting with the LNA or PFG occurs, we assess that Misrata’s capabilities in ultimately capturing Sirte will remain high.
  • However, it is important to mention that while IS’s capturing and expansion of territory in the Sirte Basin since February 2015 served to temporarily mitigate hostilities between the LNA and the then-Libya Dawn, whose main focal point of fighting prior was the control over oil facilities in the Sirte Basin, and mainly the oil terminals along the coast. In this context, the eventual removal of IS as a major threat may in fact reignite fighting (depending also on the political situation at the time) between the LNA, Misrata, and the PFG over the control of the numerous valuable energy resources in the area.
  • Indications of this were already apparent in early May, when forces from Misrata and the LNA, maneuvering to positions prior to launching an offensive against IS, briefly but intensely clashed with each other near Zillah and its nearby oil fields.   This is particularly likely since oil and gas, which are abundant in the Sirte Basin, are Libya’s main exports, even at the significantly reduced current output, and are therefore a key factor of income, thus rendering the control of energy facilities instrumental for any actor seeking influence in Libya.
Islamic State photos of fighting with Misrata during siege of Sirte, July 2016
Islamic State photos of fighting with Misrata during siege of Sirte, July 2016

 

Western Libya: Outbreak of fighting between rival militias possible over coming months

  • Despite the GNA’s arrival in Tripoli and the subsequent large support base they were able to rally among local militia, the fractioned nature of the “military” structure in the west, which also characterized the previous Libya Dawn coalition of militia forces, persists. This results in occasional, intense, fighting between militia groups both in Tripoli and its surrounding areas, including between those that seemingly operate under the same group, over a variety of issues including control and patronage of areas, dominance over smuggling routes, as well as over local disputes, in addition to fighting that occurs between militias of rival political affiliation, namely the GNA and GNC loyalists. This situation is underscored by the most recent fighting in Garaboulli, 60 km east of Tripoli, on June and 21 which resulted in at least 29 deaths and dozens of wounded.
  • Moreover, fighting intermittently occurs between militia groups that support the LNA and the HoR, and those that support the rival factions, along the “border” west and southwest of Tripoli. The presence of pro-LNA forces in such relatively close proximity to Tripoli, in addition to the fragility of the political situation, runs the risk of an expansion in hostilities over the coming six months, particularly since multiple LNA commanders have announced in the past that their “ultimate goal is Tripoli”. This risks will be significantly heightened should hostilities between the LNA and pro-GNA forces in the Sirte Basin be resumed, potentially resulting in a spiral effect that will renew a nationwide state of hostilities such as the one that was prevalent in Libya approximately one year ago.

Countrywide Militancy: IS losses may lead to more high-profile attacks by group, while regional competition with AQIM may lead latter to exploit such losses

  • Despite the proliferation of militant groups in Libya, these organizations are mostly invested in maintaining their activity around their current areas of operations, namely in and around Derna, Benghazi and Ajdabiya. An exception to these is IS, who has both the interest and the proven capabilities to operate across Libya, and has in fact conducted attacks across the country in recent months. While IS’s loss of territory, material, and personnel first in Sabratha (west of Tripoli) in March, then in Derna in April, and finally in the Sirte Basin since June, has significantly impaired their resources base and operational capabilities, this exact same process may lead the group to conducting more high-profile attacks. This is in order to maintain the group’s diminishing prestige and project an image that it is still relevant despite its losses, both regionally and globally, due to its setbacks in Libya, as well as in Syria and Iraq.
  • Moreover, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who is a regional competitor of IS and draws from similar recruitment and funding pools, also has an operational presence in the country and may seek to take advantage of IS’s current setback to increase their own influence in the country, which will be manifested by militant attacks. In this context, while the frequency of militant attacks has declined in recent weeks, in the long term, the increased motivation and remaining capabilities of the numerous militant factions serve as indications that attacks may occur nonetheless. In light of precedent and the global jihadi groups’ strategies, such attacks are likely to prioritize strategic locales such as the energy sector (as noted before), as well as foreign companies and diplomatic missions, to further damage the economy, aggravate the instability of the state, and capitalize on the resultant void that allows militants to prosper.
UAV footage of Islamic State SVBIED attack in Benghazi, July 29, 2016
UAV footage of Islamic State SVBIED attack in Benghazi, July 29, 2016

 

Forecast: Political Stability

Political competition likely to persist between rival governments, increasing fractured nature of country

  • Since its arrival in Tripoli, the Presidency Council of the GNA has successfully expanded their sphere of influence in western Libya. That said, their influence was generally unsuccessful in breaching into the east of the country, which is still mostly under the auspices of the HoR. Furthermore, there is a common perception by locals of the GNA as being foreign installed and directed, which was likely aggravated by the “invitation” of US airstrikes and foreign intervention in Libya. This image significantly impairs the GNA’s domestic credibility, despite being presented as the unity government of Libya.
  • The rift between the GNA and HoR is aggravated by the continued inability of the HoR to hold a vote to ratify the GNA, which is perceived by the latter as an intentional move to diminish its legitimacy. Additionally, the fact that the GNA continues its own implementation despite not being vetted by the HoR is perceived by the latter as an act of marginalization of the body, which is set to be the legislative authority of the unity government. Most recently, political rivalries peaked when, following an agreement in late July between the GNA and PFG to reopen the major oil terminals in central Libya in late July, the HoR threatened to attack vessels entering Libyan territorial waters without the latter’s authorization.
  • In this context, the HoR will likely continue to fail meeting voting deadlines on the ratification of the GNA, as it postpones the latter’s full implementation without outright rejecting it. This, in turn, blocks what some of the HoR members perceive as a challenge to their aspirations of sovereignty, without attracting the negative international attention and potential ramifications that will accompany an official vote against what at least the UN perceives as a unity government. Should this process persist, it is liable to prompt the Presidency Council to continue to construct the GNA without ratification, which in turn will further discredit its domestic status and sanction political opposition to it. This will likely eventually lead to the GNA establishing their primacy in the west, but remaining a second government in Tripoli and western Libya vis-a-vis the HoR, mostly in the east.
  • That being said, it cannot be ruled out that the HoR will eventually ratify the GNA. However, even without the political branch’s dichotomy, Libya’s institutions, and more importantly its various fighting groups, still hold many conflicting interests and ideologies, along with personal animosities between leaders of these groups, which will significantly challenge the implementation of a full unification of Libya. Taken as a whole, the most stabilizing potential outcome for Libya, and the one that seems least likely at the time of writing, will see a single domestically and internationally recognized government which struggles to exert its full control over Libya, in which various competing groups will still clash with each other to maintain their respective interests. However the most likely track at this time, which will maintain and possibly exacerbate Libya’s instability, is one in which the GNA continues to compete with the HoR, and to a lesser degree with the GNC, over full control of Libya, in effect resulting in a fractured state.

Actors and Interests

Political Actors

  • Government of National Accord (GNA): Currently based at the Tripoli Naval Base, the GNA is intended to be a unity government and is a product of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed in December 2015. The LPA allows for the transition of the House of Representatives (HoR) and General National Congress (GNC) into the GNA’s legislative body and advisory State Council, respectively. However, this transition must be ratified of a vote of a special majority by the HoR, which so far has not been able to convene the needed quorum for such a vote. During this continued transition period, the GNA is currently considered the “internationally recognized” government and enjoys the support and the backing of the UN. Its sphere of influence is fractioned mainly throughout western Libya, particularly in greater Tripoli and Misrata.
  • House of Representatives (HoR): The previously “internationally recognized” government, the HoR’s parliament is based in Tobruk and executive branch in al-Bayda. Its sphere of influence is generally in eastern Libya, with some pockets of support in the west, particularly southwest of Tripoli. The HoR is currently supported politically, militarily, and economically by several countries, most prominent the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt. While these countries generally recognize and support the LPA, they capitalize on the fact that the HoR has not ratified the agreement as pretext to consider it non-valid at this time, in order to continue supporting the HoR and not the GNA.
  • General National Congress (GNC): The GNC previously controlled the majority of western Libya and is now mostly defunct, mainly since some of its members unilaterally broke away in early April and started fulfilling the role of the State Council, despite the GNC leadership’s opposition. While the GNC currently has very little political power, it still enjoys support from various militias, as well as from Grand Mufti al-Ghariani, thus retaining a partial sphere of influence in the west, particularly in Tripoli and its surrounding areas. Both Turkey and Qatar originally supported the GNC, but this support has diminished since the start of the GNA’s implementation.
  • Other groups: Both the ungoverned and the governed areas of Libya are dominated by politics based on tribal, clan, and ethnic backgrounds, as well as place of residence and origin. In this sense, it is not uncommon for cities that both support the same political body, to be at odds due to historical or other rivalries among their residents. Similarly, militias from the same city who support the same political organ may have a strife over tribal or other rivalries.

Militia and Militant Groups

Dozens of militia and militant groups currently operate in Libya, each with its own ideologies, interests, and political allegiances. Very broadly, these groups are categorized into six different competing factions, with rivalries persisting even within some.

  • Militia groups that support the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is commanded by Lieutenant General Khalifa Haftar and holds patronage relations with the anti-Islamist House of Representatives (HoR). Mainly fighting in the east of the country, with pockets of support in the west. Their main areas of operations currently are around the city of Derna, in Benghazi, in and around Ajdabiya, as well as the area between Benghazi and Ajdabiya.
  • Militia groups supporting the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), based at Tripoli Naval Base. Currently engaged in an ongoing campaign to remove the Islamic State (IS) from the city of Sirte (represented primarily by forces from Misrata), as well as taking part in intermittent inter-militia fighting in western Libya.
  • Militia groups, formerly known as the Libya Dawn coalition, supporting the pro-Islamist General National Congress (GNC), based in Tripoli. While mostly defunct, they still retain some fighting capabilities which are mostly invested in fighting rival militias, mainly those that support the GNA, in Tripoli and other areas in western Libya.
  • Petroleum Facility Guards (PFG), an independent faction that holds shifting alliances (currently allied with pro-GNA forces), however ultimately strives for its own goal of a federalist Libya. Currently is seldom fighting and mostly retaining its forces. Was briefly involved in operations against IS east of Sirte in cooperation with Misrata.
  • Islamist jihadist groups such as the Islamic State (IS), as well as additional ones that hold varying levels of connections to al-Qaeda, the GNC and/or the Grand Mufti of LibyaSadeq al-Ghariani, including Ansar al-Sharia, Revolutionary Shura Council of Benghazi (RSCB), Mujahideen Shura Council of Derna (MSCD), and others. Hold territory and operational capabilities mainly in and around Derna, Benghazi, Ajdabiya and Sirte.
  • Tribal militias, mostly consisting of either Tebu or Tuareg ethnic tribes, who may be at times supported by fellow tribesman from neighboring countries, and hold shifting allegiances towards the various players. Operate mainly in the ungoverned territories in southern Libya, in proximity to the border with Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger and Algeria.

International Actors (Non-Regional)

Numerous international actors have either confirmed their military presence on the ground in Libya in support of either of the factions, or have indications pointing to such activity by them without official confirmation at this time. This is in addition to indirect actions such as the ongoing Operation Sophia to counter illegal immigration, an actions by regional actors such as Egypt, UAE, Turkey and Qatar which will be mentioned in the political stability section. The main international actors are:

  • The United States: On July 19, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford confirmed that the US has routine and ongoing operations in Libya that are coordinated with the GNA, as well as other operations that are not coordinated with them, without specifying their nature. Later, on August 1, the US Department of Defense (DoD) announced that US aircraft targeted IS positions in Sirte on August 1, at the request of GNA leadership. In addition, the DoD stated that further airstrikes targeting IS in Sirte would be conducted in support of “GNA ground operations”. There are many indications of US ground and aerial operations in areas both under GNA (and previously GNC) control as well as in HoR territory. The most prominent evidence of US ground presence in Libya emerged as early as December 16, 2015, when a Special Operation Forces (SOF) team sent to advise the LNA was expelled from al-Watiyah Airbase by local militias, compelling the DoD to confirm that the US military is dispatching “advisors” toLibya.
US Special Operations Forces team at Libya's al-Wattiyya Airbase, December 2015
US Special Operations Forces team at Libya’s al-Wattiyya Airbase, December 2015

 

  • Italy: Provides frequent and overt logistical support primarily to the city of Misrata, most often in the form of medical evacuation of both civilians and combatants wounded by IS actions. There are local reports of regular presence of Italian SOF teams providing training, advising and liaison with locals, however these remain unconfirmed at the time of writing.
  • France: On July 17, an Islamist militant group claimed to have shot down an LNA helicopter carrying Libyan, French and Jordanian nationals. While there are conflictingreports regarding the type of helicopter and the reasons for which it crashed, on July 20 French President Francois Hollande confirmed that three French operators were present aboard a helicopter that crashed due to technical reasons in Libya; reports additionally indicate that the three were Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE) agents. This announcement accounts for the first official and public admission of direct French operations in Libya, while local reports regarding relatively large scale French presence and operations in Benghazi circulated since February.
Wreckage of helicopter likely carrying French operators, al-Muqrin, July 2016
Wreckage of helicopter likely carrying French operators, al-Muqrin, July 2016

 

  • United Kingdom: There are various local reports regarding direct British involvement in assisting Misrata forces in their campaign against IS in Sirte. While unconfirmed reports suggest that UK forces directly engaged IS forces in certain instances during May-June, both on the ground and with use of airstrikes, Misrata’s military spokesmen stated that the UK is only providing intelligence support, including by operating tactical unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as well as in advising local forces.
  • Russia: On May 1, the LNA’s official spokesman announced that the LNA’s operations are assisted by Egypt, the UAE and Russia. This accounted for the first official recognition of Russian involvement in Libya. While there is little open source information regarding potential Russian operations in Libya, on January 31, a Russian Orlan-10 tactical UAV crashed near Ajdabiya, an incident that remained unexplained since and may serve as an indication for such ground operations.
Photo of Orlan-10 tactical UAV after crash east of Ajdabiya, January 2016
Photo of Orlan-10 tactical UAV after crash east of Ajdabiya, January 2016

 

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