Tag Archives: Misrata

47 killed, 181 wounded in hostilities in Tripoli on April 7-9; LNA advances likely to become protracted – Libya Situation Update

Executive Summary

The latest hostilities in Tripoli come within the context of the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) Operation “Flood of Dignity”, aimed at eliminating local militias operating within the capital, and the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) counter-offensive, Operation “Volcano of Wrath”, aimed at preventing the LNA from taking control of the city and its surrounding areas.

Although, the LNA managed to swiftly take control of several areas west and south of Tripoli within the first three days of the launch of Operation “Flood of Dignity”, the unification of militias within Tripoli under the umbrella of the Tripoli Protection Force (TPF) will present the LNA with challenges in making further territorial advances within the capital.

The April 8-9 Islamic State (IS)-perpetrated attack in al-Fuqaha bolsters our previous assessment regarding the potential increase in threat of militancy in the country over the coming weeks and months, as militant group’s attempt to take advantage of the LNA and GNA-linked forces’ preoccupation in hostilities in northwestern Libya to ramp up their operations within the country, without the threat of being detected by security forces.

Overall, the security situation in Libya is likely to significantly deteriorate over the coming weeks and months. As the LNA’s Operation “Flood of Dignity” becomes protracted, as a result of strong defensive measures adopted by GNA-linked forces, it will be compelled to divert further troops from other parts of Libya towards Tripoli. This will allow IS to regroup in eastern and southern parts of Libya and increase the frequency of its operations over the coming weeks.

Current Situation

Across the country, the following incidents have been reported:

 

Fezzan Region

Date District/City Brief Description
March 28 Ghadduwah Islamic State (IS) claims killing of two Libyan “agents” and kidnapping of others in an attack.
April 2 Sebha Reports indicate that “heavy machine gunfire” was heard in downtown Sebha.
April 8 Murzuq Government of National Accord (GNA)-linked forces reportedly seize control of the Murzuq checkpoint from Libyan National Army (LNA) forces.

 

Misrata Environs

Date District/City Brief Description
April 1 Bani Walid A GNA team representing Libya’s Airports Authority inspected the Bani Walid Airport to reportedly prepare it to receive civil flights.

 

Jufra District

Date District/City Brief Description
April 8-9 al-Fuqaha IS militants reportedly entered the town of al-Fuqaha during the overnight hours of April 8-9 in 13-15 vehicles and cut off all communications to it. The militants also executed the head of the local council and of the municipal guard as well as burned down houses.
April 9 Sukhna GNA aircraft from Misrata reportedly conduct airstrikes against LNA positions in Sukhna. The LNA accused the GNA aircraft of targeting a civilian farm.

 

Sirte Basin

Date District/City Brief Description
April 1 Sirte Reports indicate that Sirte’s Gaddhafi tribe is demanding the departure of the Sirte Protection Force  following the reported killing of a member of the tribe by the latter.
April 1 Gate 50, east of Sirte GNA-linked forces reportedly reached “Gate 50” from Sultan, establishing a checkpoint in the area.

 

Tobruk Environs

Date District/City Brief Description
April 8 Susah, Tobruk The LNA reportedly discovered and dismantled IEDs in a vehicle in Tobruk. In Susah’s Sunday market, LNA forces dismantled an adhesive bomb on a car.

 

Tripoli Environs

Map # Date District/City Brief Description
March 30 Western Region LNA Field Marshal Khalifa Hafar appoints Abdulsalam al-Hassi as commander of the LNA’s Western Region Operations Room.
March 31 Tripoli The LNA confirms its readiness to enter Tripoli to eliminate militias and other armed groups.
April 1 Tripoli The Tripoli Protection Force (TPF) issues a statement confirming its participation in a meeting regarding the unification of armed forces in the region.
April 3 Tripoli The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) releases a communique denouncing the latest advancements by the LNA in areas south of Tripoli, stating that the government has ordered the general mobilization of all military, security, and police forces to prepare for a response to any attack on the capital.
1 April 4 Gharyan LNA Spokesperson Colonel Ahmed Mismari confirms the peaceful entrance of the LNA into Gharyan. LNA Commander of Western Region Operation Room, Abdulsalam al-Hassi announced that the LNA is in control of Gharyan.
April 4 Tripoli Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, denounced the current instability in a visit to Tripoli.
April 4 Tripoli Haftar announces the beginning of Operation “Flood of Dignity” to “liberate” Tripoli from the control of armed militias.
2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 April 4 Sabratha, Surman, al-Aziziya, As Sabiriya, Zawiya, al-Zahra area LNA captures the towns of Surman, al-Aziziya, As Sabria, Zawiya, and the al-Zahra area from GNA-linked militias.
8 April 4 Wadi al-Hira The LNA announces that its forces clashed with forces led by the GNA-appointed commander of the Western Military Region, Usama al-Juweili, in Wadi al-Hira.
9 April 4 Tripoli International Airport LNA declares control over non-operational Tripoli International Airport.
10 April 4 Janzour neighborhood, Tripoli LNA forces take control of western Tripoli’s Janzour neighborhood.
11 April 4-5 Sidi Bilal Naval Base The LNA landed several of its naval vessels at the Sidi Bilal Naval Base, located just west of Tripoli’s Janzour neighborhood, during the overnight hours of April 4-5.
April 4-5 Tripoli The Tripoli Protection Force (TPF) announces the launch of the second phase of Operation “Wadi al-Dom” against LNA forces during the overnight hours of April 4-5.
12 April 4-5 Gate 27, western entrance to Tripoli The TPF launched a counter-offensive against the LNA and was able to take back control of Gate 27, located at the western entrance to Tripoli. Gate 27 had been temporarily captured by LNA forces during the night hours of April 4.
13, 14, 15 April 5 Qasr Bin Ghashir, Wadi al-Rabee and Souq al-Khamis; Tripoli LNA seizes control of territory in Tripoli’s Qasr Bin Ghashir, Wadi al-Rabee, and Souq al-Khamis districts.
April 6 Western Libya Libyan Air Force (LAF) declares western Libya a “no–fly zone” and indicates that any military aircraft including those “conducting aerial photography” but “excluding commercial flights” identified in the area will be considered as a “hostile target”. The LNA added that the aircraft’s point of departure will also be deemed a legitimate target.
16, 17, 18 April 6 Sadiya, Ain Zara, Khallet al-Furjan; Tripoli LNA makes multiple territorial gains in Tripoli’s Sadiya, Ain Zara, and Khallet al-Furjan districts.
April 6 Wadi al-Rabee, Souq al-Khamis; Tripoli GNA conducts airstrikes against LNA positions in Tripoli’s Wadi al-Rabee and Souq al-Khamis districts.
April 6 al-Aziziyah, Gharyan GNA conducts airstrikes against LNA positions in al-Aziziyah and Gharyan.
April 7 Tripoli GNA announces launch of anti-LNA Operation “Volcano of Wrath”.  
April 7 Tripoli US Africa Command (AFRICOM) issues statement announcing the temporary relocation of a contingent of US troops supporting US AFRICOM due to the “security conditions on the ground”.
19 April 8 Mitiga International Airport LAF conducts airstrikes targeting the Mitiga International Airport.
April 8 Tripoli International Airport GNA-linked militias reportedly take back control of the Tripoli International Airport from the LNA.
20 April 8 Yarmouk Refugee Camp 29 LNA soldiers surrender to GNA-linked forces in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp.
April 8 Tripoli Italy begins to evacuate its troops from Tripoli.
April 8-9 Tripoli UN Special Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) evacuates its staff from Tripoli.
April 8 Tripoli GNA announces the closure of the air space over Tripoli. Misrata forces reportedly deploy air defense systems in the capital.
21 April 9 Salah al-Din District GNA-linked forces take control of several areas in Salah al-Din District after the withdrawal of LNA forces.
April 9 Warshefana District LAF conducts airstrikes against GNA positions.
April 9 Tripoli International Airport LAF conducts airstrikes against the GNA-held Tripoli International Airport.
April 9 Ash Shwayrif LAF conducts airstrikes against fuel trucks in Ash Shwayrif. The trucks were reportedly en route to the LNA-held Gharyan.

Political Developments

Date Brief Description
March 30 Libya held municipal elections in nine municipalities, which had a turnout of 40 percent of registered voters.
March 31 GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj called on Arab countries to agree on Libyan crisis during 30th Arab summit in Tunis.
March 31 A bilateral cooperation agreement was signed between the Atomic Energy Cooperation and The Libyan Center for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences.
April 2 Reports indicated that trade between Libya and Algeria has faced hurdles over the past days in light of the continued closure of the border between the two countries.

Assessments & Forecast

The latest developments in Tripoli come within the context of the LNA’s Operation “Flood of Dignity”, which is aimed at eliminating local militias operating within the capital, and the GNA’s counter-offensive, named Operation “Volcano of Wrath”, which is aimed at preventing the LNA from taking control of the city and its surrounding areas. The fact that the LNA managed to swiftly take control of several areas located west and south of the capital within a short span of time can be attributed to two main factors. First, the LNA had the advantage of surprise during the initial days of Operation “Flood of Dignity”. This allowed LNA forces to advance swiftly and take control of areas, such as Gharyan, Aziziyah, Surman, and Zawiya, without much resistance. This is particularly as this lack of time prevented the local militias who were in control of these towns to form any significant alliances to present a unified defense. Second, the local militias that were in control of the aforementioned towns are largely self-trained and lack the necessary resources required to withstand an offensive by the relatively better equipped and trained LNA troops. The LNA’s recent territorial gains against local militias in southern Libya likely prompted militias in northwestern Libya to concede territory to advancing LNA forces, in an effort to preserve the lives of their fighters and their respective cities’ infrastructure.

FORECAST: That said, while the LNA managed to make significant territorial gains within the first three days of the launch of Operation “Flood of Dignity” is not indicative of a similar positive momentum for LNA forces in the future. Areas within Tripoli are controlled by militias, such as the al-Radaa Deterrence Forces, the Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigade, and the Abu Salim Unit, which are unified under the umbrella organization of the Tripoli Protection Force (TPF). This will allow the TPF to present a stronger defense to advancing LNA forces, as already underlined by the fact that GNA-linked forces managed to reverse almost all the gains made by the LNA in the Qasr Bin Ghashir, Ain Zara, Salah al-Din, and Wadi al-Rabee districts on April 8-9. Moreover, recent reinforcements diverted by Misrata forces from Misrata towards Tripoli will allow the GNA to bolster its defenses within downtown Tripoli, further slowing down the LNA’s advances into the capital. Although, the LNA is likely to employ the use of heavy weaponry, such as tanks, mortar shelling, and airstrikes as cover for its ground troops, its forces are likely to refrain from making indiscriminate use of such a strategy as it will inevitably result in civilian collateral damage. A high civilian casualty count has the potential to significantly diminish Haftar’s increased international and national legitimacy.

The IS-perpetrated attack in al-Fuqaha bolsters our previous assessment that Sunni jihadist militant groups operating in Libya will likely attempt to take advantage of the LNA and the GNA-linked forces’ preoccupation in fighting each other in northwestern Libya to conduct attacks and potentially attempt to take control of territory in other parts of the country. IS has conducted several attacks in the al-Fuqaha area in the past, with the most notable one occurring during the overnight hours of October 28-29, 2018. The Sunni jihadist militant group’s known operational presence in the areas surrounding al-Fuqaha likely allowed it to quickly mobilize its fighters in the aftermath of the outbreak of hostilities near Tripoli and launch the latest attack. This is supported by the relatively low-scale of the attack, which indicates that it was likely planned and executed within a short span of time. FORECAST: The LNA will likely divert at least some troops and resources towards al-Fuqaha over the coming days in order to secure the town. These troops will likely be diverted from fronts other than Tripoli, in an effort to prevent the down-scaling of Operation “Flood of Dignity”. However, such a scenario is liable to leave other parts of eastern and southern Libya vulnerable to IS operations. Overall, the Sunni jihadist militant group will attempt to increase the frequency, symbolism, and scale of its attacks in Libya over the coming days and weeks.

Recommendations

It is advised to defer all travel to Tripoli and Benghazi at this time due to a recent uptick in 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 to avoid 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 the focal points of ground clashes and airstrikes in the city.

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.

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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Strategic implications of Libya’s Political Isolation Law

With the world’s attention fixated across the Mediterranean on the spiraling Syrian conflict, the efforts of Libya’s elected leaders to rehabilitate their nation have been stung by the poisonous barb of militia power-politics.

On May 5, the popularly-elected General National Congress (GNC) passed the Political Isolation Law, prohibiting former Gaddafi regime members from holding political office over the next ten years.  The law reportedly passed with a majority of 164 votes out of 200 total, with only four members rejecting the legislation.

Insignia of Libya's General National Congress
Insignia of Libya’s General National Congress

The overwhelming support for the law in the GNC is as much as an illusion as a desert mirage. 10 days prior to the vote on April 28, hundreds of staunchly “revolutionary” militiamen from Misrata and Tripoli’s outskirts entered the capital and laid siege to top government ministries, demanding they be purged of all “Gaddafi loyalists” and refusing to depart until a vote on the Political Isolation Law was held.  For days, the Zidan administration stood firm against their demands, while a number of GNC members insisted on holding the vote in eastern Libya, away from the militias’ gun-barrels and armored vehicles.

Continue reading Strategic implications of Libya’s Political Isolation Law

Strategic Analysis: Security threats posed by hardcore revolutionary militias in Libya

On November 14, Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) inaugurated Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s cabinet, ending this phase of Libya’s political turmoil and solidifying the first post-revolutionary government. However, the process has not been without obstacles. Following the October 31 congressional vote to approve the appointments, armed protesters from the obsessively anti-Gaddafi city of Misrata and other revolutionary groups forced their way into the GNC headquarters in Tripoli, clashing with security personnel and even parliamentarians in a chaotic attempt to protest the inclusion of ex-regime figures.

Tripoli residents hold an anti-militia protest.

These raids targeting the nascent Libyan government have become frequent occurrences of late, as the GNC attempts to address each of the nation’s disparate interests. While revolutionary militias formed the core of Gaddafi opposition, they now arguably (and ironically) present the greatest risk to post-Gaddafi stability.

Despite the newly elected leader’s calls for national reconciliation and strengthening of Libya’s democracy, Zidan’s cabinet has proven to be a sticking point for these revolutionary militias unhappy with the potential inclusion of Gathafi-era officials and dissatisfied with their regional representation. The approval and inauguration of the cabinet represent positive developments for Libya’s political stability, at a time where numerous security and economic challenges threaten the country’s foundation. Still, public disapproval for both the nominations and the GNC’s affirmative votes underscores the level of popular discontent and the potential that the country could easily destabilize yet again.

Continue reading Strategic Analysis: Security threats posed by hardcore revolutionary militias in Libya