Libya: a war, war crimes, and the man responsible for both
Updated: Jan 30, 2020
A piece on the situation in Libya at present, relevant for its international implications, human rights issues for Libyan and other people, Mediterranean import and of course Libya's status as a major host and/or stopping point for refugees from all over Africa, and beyond.
At the start of the week I had an informal meeting with an employee of an EU member state’s government in Thessaloniki.
It was a kind of ‘get-to-know you’ meeting, and we discussed a few different things including the international refugee response.
We also discussed the situation in Libya.
The following day (Tuesday 7 January) forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar announced they had entered and taken the coastal city of Sirte, where at one point I lived and worked.
As a result, although I originally planned to write three pieces to start the New Year (the ‘Left in UK and beyond’, ‘Australia’, and ‘Iran’ pieces), this is the unscheduled fourth.
It’s the last in this series for a while, promise.
I feel like I have written this piece – or something like it – several times already. But of course there are new developments (which inspired this) and particularly for some of the Greek readers (for reasons we shall see) it might be useful to revisit.
The last time I wrote about Haftar and the Second Libyan Civil War (which has been ongoing since 16 May 2014 – the Second Libyan Civil War has now lasted eight and a half times longer than the ‘official’ length; the start of the uprising to the death of Ghaddafi, or 6.66 times longer than the ‘actual’ length; the start of the uprising to the end of fighting, of the First) I received a message on Twitter from a Libyan woman, who wrote: ‘It is good that outsiders take an interest in our country, but you know nothing about Libya.’
To which if I were feeling glib I would respond: ‘I am not a cloud, but I know what rain is.’
And as I am not, currently, feeling glib, I will instead say: I am not Libyan. But I lived in Libya (in fact, in Sirte) and worked there for a period in the immediate aftermath of the First Libyan Civil War. My job there entailed travelling across the country speaking face-to-face to community leaders, to refugees from that first war (including many for whom this was not the first time they had fled war), to people internally-displaced by it (including some, from the town of Tawergha, who experienced first-hand the sole episode of ethnic cleaning carried out in that War), people who stayed in their houses throughout, people who fought for Ghaddafi, and people who fought against him.
I ran political, contextual and security analyses on the situation in Libya I wrote an actual published book about the war and its aftermath (ooooh! Get you! Yeah, fair enough. That’s not the point of making this statement though) and have been a commentator on ‘developments’ in the state since.
So, in effect, while I don’t know everything, I do know enough to be clear about what follows.
To begin, Khalifa Haftar is a war-lord and a war criminal. He began the Second Libyan Civil War, and continues to fight it.
In the course of that war, he has organised six air-strikes on Tripoli (the first since the First Civil War, and the only ones ever launched by a Libyan on the Libyan capital), targeted civilians and on at least four occasions has attacked refugee camps (these are not places run by good people, but that is not the fault of the refugees) and firing on the men, women and children within.
For those who do not ‘know’ him, Haftar was described by Libyan historian Fathi al Fatdhali as the ‘worst military leader Libya has known’ as a result of the botched mission to Chad, which also saw he and Muammar Ghaddafi, who as a 20 year-old Haftar had helped seize power, become enemies.
The Chad offensive had its roots in Ghaddafi’s desire to unify Africa, as well as in his scientists’ prediction in the mid-1970s that Chad was almost certainly sitting on vast oil deposits (now widely believed to be accurate). He also believed that a trearty signed by France (at that time the colonial occupier of Chad) and Italy (the colonial occupier of Libya) in 1935 meant the ‘Aouzou Strip’, officially in Chad, should belong to Libya.
But it actually came about because of a civil war fought by the American-backed Hissene Habre (now a convicted war criminal, found guilty of using rape as a weapon and deliberately starving tens of thousands of Chadians to death in the war the US provided him with weapons, vehicles and recognition to fight) against (eventually – at times during the long and complex Chadian Civil War, the two had been allies) Felix Malloum, and, later, Goukouni Oueddi (who had previously been an ally of Habre, and an opponent of Malloum).
During the conflict (and before it) Ghaddafi had sent Libyan forces into Chad on four occasions. But after repeated demands by France and the US (among others) he promised he had withdrawn all forces from the state. In fact, several thousand Libyan troops remained in Chad, under the command of then Colonel Khalifa Haftar.
In 1987, Habre’s forces routed Haftar, forcing him and his soldiers back into Libyan territory, where Habre’s troops once again defeated the Libyan force. In the second battle, Haftar was taken prisoner by the Chadians, and jailed within Chad.
Ghaddafi, faced with a choice between demanding the return of the leader of his forces in Chad and admitting he had broken the terms of an international treaty, or allowing Haftar to remain in prison, said nothing and did the latter.
Haftar, who never forgave Ghaddafi, was freed from Chad by the US government, and in 1990 he moved to Virginia in the United States, where he received training from the US military. He remained in the US except for a visit in March 1996, to Libya’s Eastern mountains to stage an uprising against Ghaddafi, which failed completely.
When the uprising against Ghaddafi which led to the Libyan leader’s deposition and death began in February 2011, Haftar remained in the US, but arrived in Libya in April, when he announced he was ‘leading’ the khetiba groups (militia organisations, though ‘khetiba’ actually means ‘office worker’) fighting Ghaddafi.
The actual leaders of the uprising, in the middle of a civil war, felt it was so important to let people know this was not the case that it issued a public statement denying the claim, adding that Haftar was not, to their knowledge, any part of any organisation fighting against Ghaddafi.
Haftar then disappeared – again – until Valentine’s Day 2014, when he appeared on national television to announce that he was in command of Libya’s Army (which did not, in effect, exist, following its devastation at the hands of the khetibas and NATO forces) and would take over the Libyan parliament, where he intended to install an ‘interim President and civilian government’.
At this point it is important to note that the Libyan government had been spectacularly unsuccessful. Formed in August 2012, after Libya’s first ever democratic elections, its sole task was to deliver, by December 2013 (later extended to 7 February 2014 because of delays in electoral processes and agreeing posts in the government) a constitution under which Libya would be a presidential republic with an elected national assembly.
In fact, it delivered none of this. In part, this was because the ‘Liberals’ who won the first election, were far less organised than the Muslim Brotherhood-connected Justice and Construction Party, which finished second, but also because neither group was really prepared or capable of operating in a democratic system, which had never existed before, and was far from complete when the government was formed.
Instead, to absolutely nobody’s satisfaction, it had unilaterally extended its own mandate to 25 June 2014, when it promised new national elections would be held.
Following his Valentine’s TV broadcast, Haftar again disappeared, although this time for just three m months and two days, returning on 16 May with an attack on the fundamentalist Islamist Ansar al-Sharia (which claimed, without reciprocal confirmation, to be an Al Qaeda affiliate) militia, which at that point had – as part of the wider Shura Council – taken effective control of Benghazi.
In itself, this needn’t have been a terrible move: Ansar was a violent and authoritarian militia responsible for killings on Benghazi’s streets. It had little if any support elsewhere in Libya, and even without support, his militia (the so-called ‘Libyan National Army’, which Haftar commands, is NOT the Libyan National Army: it is a militia group, some of which once belonged to the real Libyan army) could probably have eventually defeated Ansar with little assistance, and quickly and easily in cooperation with other khetibas.
Instead, two days later, the Zintani khetiba, the country’s second largest militia, launched two missiles into the Libyan parliament in Tripoli, announcing as it did so its collaboration with Haftar.
The immediate impact of this was to split Libya’s armed groups, as the Misrata khetiba, the largest military force in Libya at that point had effectively appointed itself the ‘guardian’ of the revolution, and therefore of the ongoing democratic process (as in all Libyan matters, the situation here is complex: the Misrata khetiba claimed and claims to have ‘won’ the First Libyan Civil War, despite the efforts of many other groups. It also carried out the only episode of ethnic cleansing of that conflict, and was not particularly popular in Tripoli by May 2014. Even so, it did not launch a rocket attack on the Libyan parliament).
At a stroke, Haftar had changed an effort to rid Benghazi of a largely unpopular Islamist militia into a conflict in which the two largest military forces in the state would not fight alongside him, but against one another in the country’s West, and leave his militia to fight Ansar alone.
Even worse, the attack on the Libyan parliament, the first act of the Second Libyan Civil War, took place just one month and one week before the second Libyan general election was scheduled to take place – an election in which the Liberals, who Haftar claimed to support, were predicted to win an enormous majority.
Predictably, in a state plunged back into war, the elections had a tiny turnout of just 18 per cent. Once again, these were the second elections to have taken place in the whole of Libya’s history.
Haftar’s war was not the sole reason for this low turn-out – there was a certain disillusionment caused by the previous two and a half year stagnation, and in Derna, to the East of Benghazi, the confirmed Al Qaeda affiliate Islamic Youth Shura Council, threatened to bomb ‘every polling station’ (it did not, in fact, do this), while sporadic fighting between Tebu and Tuareg militias in southern Libya also disrupted people’s access to stations, and the counting of their votes – but his war was certainly the major factor in it. And, in turn, the low turn-out and ongoing fighting have contributed to every political breakdown which has followed in the state.
The ‘Liberals’ did indeed win the election, but in the face of the attacks on parliament and war across the state refused to take their seats in Tripoli (the outgoing Prime Minister Abdullah Al Thinni, himself a Liberal, described not only the Zintani missile attack on parliament, but also Haftar’s strike on Benghazi as ‘illegal… an attempted coup. Those who attack Benghazi do not have legitimacy from the state.’), a ‘constitutional’ requirement for the Libyan government (in part this is based upon the fact that within Libya’s Eastern region, Cyrenaica, there is an ongoing drive for independence from Tripolitania in the West and Fezzan in the South).
Instead, the new government, under the name the House of Representatives (HoR), began to meet in a car ferry off the coast of the eastern city of Tobruk (they later moved to the Dar al-Salam hotel in the same city).
In the face of this, the Justice and Construction Party refused to acknowledge the new government, on the rather flimsy premise that meeting outside of Tripoli was a breach of the constitution (this argument was upheld in November 2014 by Libya’s Supreme Constitutional Court, at which point the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) declared itself the Government of National Salvation. We will stick with GNC).
Heavily implied in the J&C position, however, was also the idea that the June 2014 elections had, because of Haftar’s attacks, been rendered effectively illegitimate by their 18 per cent turnout, meaning many members of the HoR had been elected with fewer than 1,000 votes, and even then, only 188 of the 200 available seats had been filled.
In any case, the situation was that by the end of 2014, Libya’s Second Civil War had been raging for six and a half months, and the country had two governments, one ‘backed by’ Haftar, the other ‘supported by’ the Misrata khetiba – though neither militia was controlled by either parliament.
The war continued, and increasingly Haftar began to claim that the GNC and Misrata khetiba, his opponents in the West of Libya, were ‘Islamists’, effectively using the fact that he was fighting the self-declared and definitively fundamentalist Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi and the GNC and Misrata were fighting him as ‘proof’, even though he had begun the war and struck against the Tripoli parliament without provocation.
This claim was shown to be false when, in mid-2015, IS seized the Libyan cities of Derna and Sirte. It’s worth noting here that the sole reason IS was able to do so was because Libya had been torn apart by one civil war and was in the midst of another – the group has only ever been able to gain and exercise power in locations, (Syria and Iraq being the other two) devastated by conflict.
In any case, Derna is in Libya’s far East, well within the sphere of influence of Haftar (though not, in fairness, the entirely powerless HoR which he continued to claim to support) and Sirte roughly equidistant between Tripoli and Benghazi, yet Haftar took no action at all against IS in Libya.
Instead, Al Qaeda (which, for its own reasons, despises IS) drove the ‘caliphate’ from Derna, while the Misrata khetiba united (temporarily) with Libya’s Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) to oppose IS in Sirte, though without noticeable success. In fact, during this period, Haftar moved to ‘conquer’ the relatively-undefended Libyan oil fields between Sirte and Benghazi.
Nevertheless, Haftar’s undeniable opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood (albeit for reasons entirely his own) ‘earned’ him the support of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt, the only three states on Earth which list the Brotherhood as a terror group (Egypt’s dictator Abdel Fateh as-Sisi, who shot the democratically elected Brotherhood from power to seize control, killing more than 1,000 people, maiming 4,000 and jailing 19,000, and who has since arrested all political opponents in Egypt, as well as ensuring his predecessor as President Mohammed Morsi to die in jail by withholding his medicine, continues to this day to refuse to accept claims by terror groups that they have carried out bombings and other attacks: instead, he insists that every attack is carried out by the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has not claimed responsibility for a single terror act in Egypt’s history).
The three states have supplied Haftar with weapons, occasionally (though irregularly) soldiers, and all four of the air strikes to have been made against Tripoli have been carried out by aircraft which launched from Egyptian airfields.
The major support for the GNC came from Qatar, a factor which has played into the latter state’s blockade by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt since June 2017, though in fact the states’ differences over Libya is more accurately an expression of the factors behind the blockade than strictly a cause of it.
IS’ continued stranglehold on Sirte was one topic discussed at a December 2015 ‘conference on Libya’ in Rome, which was primarily remarkable for the fact that not one single Libyan person was invited to attend or take part in it.
But in a break between sessions, the then US Secretary of State John Kerry exploded, shouting ‘When will someone get us a Libyan government we can work with!?’ (on the issue of IS in Libya).
In response, the UN hastily drew up a plan for a ‘Government of National Accord’, which it signed into existence on 17 December 2015.
This was something of a slap in the face to all Libyan actors. Haftar had made no effort at all to oppose IS in Libya, hoping instead that it and the Misrata khetiba would weaken and exhaust one another, but he did (and still does) have pretences to lead Libya, and had expected the US, which had rescued him from Chad and trained him in Virginia, to back him.
The HoR believed (and believes) itself to be the rightful government of Libya, and despite the severely shaky nature of that claim, was thus unhappy that it was not consulted to assist the battle against IS (though, in all honestly, it had not made any effort to do so up to that point, and has absolutely no power to make demands of or influence Haftar on any matter).
The Misrata khetiba, GNC and (to a lesser extent) PFG, however, had a stronger reason to be unhappy. Despite the GNC’s basic illegitimacy (in that, though nothing else, it was identical at that stage to the HoR) it and the Misrata khetiba had spent time, effort and lives on attempting to remove IS from Sirte, while the PFG had left itself significantly weakened in its efforts to assist, and suffered attack from Haftar from the East in the process.
Nevertheless, the Government of National Accord (GNA) was founded, and held its first ‘cabinet meeting’ in Tunis on 2 January 2016. It met for the first time in Libya on 30 March 2016, in Tripoli.
In the first month of its existence, the GNA was rejected by both the HoR and GNC, as well – separately – as by the Misrata khetiba and Haftar. But Libya now had three, equally powerless and illegitimate governments, and was still in the middle of a Second Civil War, which had, in turn, enabled IS to take over and hold a major Libyan city.
The Government of National Accord was, in effect, not really a government, in a region no longer strictly a nation, and in which there was virtually no ‘accord’ except perhaps that all parties then in conflict (including the Tuareg and Tebu in Fezzan) with one another agreed the GNA had no right to exist.
Within weeks, however, the HoR voted to ‘recognise the GNA, which, for its part, began to make headway in the West by communicating directly not with the GNC, but instead with local governments and their leaders.
In August, the situation changed once again, with the GNC effectively voting itself out of existence and many of its members taking positions in the GNA: the Misrata khetiba had already indicated it was willing to support the GNA if such an agreement were reached; and the HoR, in response, voting on 22 August to refuse to recognise the Tripoli government.
On 12 May 2016, the GNA’s newly-named ‘Libyan Army’ (as opposed to the ‘Libyan National Army’, Haftar’s militia: the ‘Libyan Army’ was and still is the Misrata khetiba, now named the Misrata brigades, and the ‘Misrata Military Council’, which effectively constitutes the leaders of the khetibas affiliated with but not part of the Misrata khetiba itself, and the Petroleum Facilities Guard. It is still extremely unclear whether the khetiba ‘backs’ or is subordinate to the GNA, though a structure does at least exist through which the latter relationship could operate), along with forces from the US, UK and Italy, began what became known as the ‘Battle of Sirte’.
On 6 December, that battle was won, with IS chased from the city. While training centres for IS recruits still existed, (they have since been closed down), this marked the last point, to date, at which IS was active in Libya.
Now. What has happened since then has been a ‘slow war’. It has not been a series of lightning ‘strikes’ by one side or the other, as Libya as a state and Haftar as a warlord attempting to control a militia he pretends is the national army both have a series of other issues they have had to attend to. But nonetheless, this has been an ongoing development of violence, displacement of civilians, and death.
In the last three years, developments outside of Libya have seen Russia join Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE in becoming increasingly close to Haftar, for seemingly little reason other than to oppose the US-demanded and UN-imposed GNA. It has provided weapons and advice, though as yet no soldiers, or indeed air support.
France has also become increasingly close to the East Libyan aggressor and warlord, in its case seemingly because it desires to challenge Italy’s influence in the state (the latter, having occupied Libya as a coloniser, has sought to be engaged and involved in all international developments related to Libya since the Second Civil War broke out. It was not, unlike France, which broke international law by beginning aerial attacks on Ghaddafi, involved heavily in the state’s first civil war). The French government’s repeated and public meetings with Haftar (Macron has been photographed with him in public six times since he came to power on 14 May 2017) may perhaps be in France’s interest, but have lent Haftar a sense of legitimacy he has not merited and does not deserve.
Alongside Qatar and Italy, the UK and most enthusiastically Turkey are backers of the GNA (in Turkey’s case, it, along with Qatar, also strongly supported the GNC/Misrata khetiba).
US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has oscillated in a way which appears to betray he is ‘playing’ the Second Libyan Civil War. He has repeatedly expressed admiration for – and on occasion said he supports – Haftar, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he is a war criminal who has effectively derailed Libya in his desire for power, only to be pulled back and later rescinding such statements.
Within Libya’s borders, even as the state continued to be a ‘funnel point’ for refugees fleeing sub-Saharan African states where their lives were threatened by war, chaos, persecution and also shortages of food, water, shelter and in some cases medicines needed to tackle preventable diseases. Haftar has tightened his grip on Eastern Libya, and has also moved to ‘take’ vast swathes of land in Southern Cyrenaica and parts of southern Tripolitana.
But at this point it is worth noting that much of the latter land is just that: land. Desert, in fact.
Because the vast majority of Libya’s 6.3m people live in a small strip of land along its North coast. Tripoli and Benghazi alone account for well over half the country’s population (Tripoli, 2.5m, Benghazi 750,000 people). This is not to say that there is no strategic value to holding vast swathes of land in Libya’s south (though it must be noted that Fezzan, where the South’s two largest cities are located, is not in fact under Haftar’s control) and some of what Haftar controls are some of Libya’s major roads into and out of the rest of the African continent, just that much of it is effectively empty desert.
On the other hand, Haftar has taken significant sections of the north coast, adding to that just this week.
And this is really why I am writing this piece, one I had not anticipated writing, and which contains developments I had hoped not to see.
But for the benefit of Greek readers in particular, as well as others who may be interested and not familiar with ‘recent’ events we should first go back to 4 April 2019.
On that date, Khalifa Haftar announced he would undertake an all-out offensive to take Tripoli. He named this (perhaps his capacity for ludicrous and entirely inappropriate names is a result of his US military training) ‘Operation Flood of Dignity’.
Under this ‘flood’ of ‘dignity’, Haftar, backed by the HoR, his militia the ‘Libyan National Army’, the ‘Popular Front for the Liberation of Libya’, a militia run by Ghaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam al-Ghaddafi, Russia, Egypt, France, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan (along with soldiers sent by Sudan), has launched yet more airstrikes on civilian targets in Tripoli, as well as opening fire on refugee camps, killing the men, women and children within.
In the ongoing war, he is now officially opposed by the GNA, the ‘Libyan Army’, the Libyan air-force, the militias of both Misrata and Zawiya, with support from Turkey and Qatar.
In general, the GNA has also the official recognition of most of the world’s nations, but this has not resulted in military support against Haftar.
One result of the onslaught of the warlord who began this war, and is now killing refugees and civilians in Libya’s capital city, all the while backed by a variety of nations, is that the GNA has become increasingly reliant on Turkey and its open, public support.
Because Turkey has not only supplied weapons to Libya’s internationally-recognised government, but is also one of the few states which has been prepared to send its politicians out to openly criticise the militia-head Haftar and his war on Libya’s major cities.
Unfortunately, this reliance has led to a situation in which the Greek government is increasingly likely to join the ranks of the states who are backing Libya’s latest and most prominent war criminal.
On 27 November 2019, Libya (the GNA) and Turkey signed a document recognising one another’s ‘ownership’ of parts of the Mediterranean.
Of course, the treaty didn’t really do that. It was designed – at least from the GNA’s perspective – to enable Turkey to have its right to ‘exclusive economic activity’ recognised in a stretch of the Eastern Mediterranean, because international law says this is the entitlement of any country operating within 220km of its coast, but only if at least one state whose sea-based economic activity ‘entitlement area’ borders it officially agrees that this is the case.
The problem, of course, with this ‘treaty’ is that the region sketched out by Turkey in effect would give it overall economic rights over (which is not, despite some recent Greek media reporting on the issue, the same as ‘ownership of’) a large section of the Eastern Mediterranean which includes the entire Cypriot and parts of the Greek ‘economic area’.
In actual fact, the most likely cause of the Turkish move – aside from the Greek and Turkish governments’ mutual loathing (which includes, but is by no means limited to, the issue of Cyprus) – is that Greece, Cyprus and Israel have signed a gas pipeline deal (in fact, work on the pipeline is ongoing) which not only does not include Turkey, which believes it has a right to economic activity in the waters the pipe passes under, but also that it effectively entirely cuts the state out of the loop on the region’s major energy development of the last 35 years.
Aside from the fact that it is depressing, in the 21st century, to think that we are creating new opportunities to burn gas, and ignoring the fact that Israel has been in direct breach of international law since 1948, making this deal an implicit move to ‘whitewash’ a state which should under standard proceedings not be handed lucrative international contracts, the move can understandably be seen by Turkey, a state which is pinning its economic recovery on becoming an ‘energy hub’, as a deliberate slap in the face.
In other words, Turkey understands well that its geographical position – as a ‘link’ between Asia, the Middle East (and through that North Africa) and Europe – is one of its strongest points, and is staking at least part of its immediate future also on energy supply to each of those markets.
Greece, Cyprus and Israel – however understandably, given the relationship between Turkey and the first two (Erdogan’s support for Hamas does his state no favours in the minds of Israelis either) – have effectively cut both these ‘legs’ from under Turkey.
It is understandable that Turkey may see political machinations as part of this decision. It is hard to conclude it is entirely incorrect.
In the end, however, the thing which is most concerning about this entire situation is just how unimportant it really is – at least from a Greek and Cypriot perspective.
The stretch of water is neither Turkey’s to claim, nor Libya’s to give, and as a result a simple question at UN level would reveal it to be worth slightly less than the paper it is written on.
Under normal circumstances – if Turkey was a state governed by an entirely reasonable President or the Libyan government was not entirely reliant (so far) on Turkey for its continued existence – the issue would simply never have arisen.
Even under the weird circumstance in which, because of Greek and Turkish disagreement over the rights to economic activity in the East Mediterranean, both countries’ past (in Greece’s as well as Turkey’s case: we should not forget that the Greek military junta gave Turkey the excuse to invade Cyprus – which was of course an illegal act – by plotting with Greek Cypriot political leaders for Greece to subsume Cyprus into a wider Greece) and present (Turkey continually attempts to assert its ‘rights’ in this region. On the other hand, so does Greece) drive this disagreement up from ‘meaningless and totally ignorable’ to ‘offence taken on all sides’ a sensible Greek government could have easily and effectively dealt with the issue.
The simplest course of action would have been had Nea Dimokratia publicly dismissed the treaty, raised it at international level where it would once again have been dismissed, spoken to the Libyan ambassador Mohamed Younis Ab Menfi to explain its position and assured the GNA that it will continue to recognise it and will help support it even, if that helps it rely less on Turkish support and feel pushed into signing transparently silly documents to stay on Turkey’s good side.
Instead, because Nea Dimokratia swept to power on a wave of nationalist fervour (which it deliberately stirred up) and the false claim that its predecessor Syriza had refused to act in Greece’s best interests in international affairs (whether Syriza acted effectively in those affairs is a debatable point), it decided this was a matter of utmost import.
Its ministers howled their disapproval and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias summoned Ab Menfi not to have a quiet conversation, make assurances and request the GNA behave more sensibly in future, but to give him 72 hours to leave Greece.
This ludicrous piece of nationalistic overreaction has led the Greek media to seriously suggest that the GNA is an ‘enemy of Greece’ (it is already taken as fact that Turkey is) and that Greece should back a war-lord and war-criminal in his murderous bid to replace it.
Even if – as anyone who cares about Libya or indeed Greece must hope – Nea Dimokratia does not do this, there is still no escaping the fact that the Greek government, in expelling the Libyan ambassador from its borders, has effectively withdrawn recognition from the GNA, an astonishing and reckless act when one considers it, Libyan civilians, and refugees in Libya are currently under attack from a war-monger and his militia.
So much, at the moment, for Greece.
On 2 January, the Turkish government voted to send troops to Libya to support the GNA. The opinion of this author is that this was perhaps, under the circumstances, the sole option available to Turkey, and it is sort of on the right side. The risk is that other states, backing Haftar, may now do the same to a greater extent than they previously had.
But we should be as clear as possible. The Libyan situation is that the state is now five years and eight months into its second civil war. Despite Ghassan Salame, the head of the UN’s support mission to Libya saying on Monday that other countries should ‘keep out’ of Libya and its affairs, Turkey sending troops is not an ‘escalation’ in terms of the reality on the ground, although it may perhaps be in international terms.
For the majority of Libyan people, however, the international situation ‘escalating’ is unlikely to make things very much worse for many people, and may in fact actively benefit many.
Since 4 April, 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters – many of whom were only a few years or even months ago, also ordinary civilians – have been killed. International observers have noted nine possible war-crimes, including the targeting of a wedding celebration, in which 43 men, women and children were killed, all of which have been carried out by Haftar’s force. That figure does not include the four times refugees in camps have been attacked by the same force.
On top of that, 146,000 people have been forced from their homes, again, the majority of those fleeing the bullets and missiles of Haftar, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the UAE.
And on Tuesday this week, Sirte, a town I called home for a period, and a major city on the country’s largest route between Benghazi and Tripoli, was taken by Haftar’s militia.
Libyan Army members have vowed to retake the city (in a reminder of the roots of the GNA’s ‘Libyan Army’, a spokesman for the force said ‘We fought hard to liberate Sirte from IS. We will not simply leave it to Haftar’) and battles are ongoing along the city’s Western edge, but if held, it would be a significant advance for the warlord’s forces.
We should note, however, that despite LNA claims to have ‘liberated’ Sirte on Tuesday from the GNA, many (though not all) within the city have expressed fear and anger at the development.
One person told me: ‘I had to leave the city (I promised not to say where the person is, or reveal any details about them) because the situation there is very tense. I saw the LNA seizing property and items which belong to ngos. A person told them the ngo works in Benghazi too, and the invader said “We are in charge in Benghazi. Here, whatever you have is ours now”.
‘They are taking petrol, generators, everything. There are 40 vehicles carrying armed men in my part of the city. People are very afraid. The LNA seem afraid as well. Maybe they think the people will shoot them. But no one in my area has guns. And maybe it is bad that the LNA is afraid because it might make them more likely to shoot.
‘Nobody knows what will happen next. The Misratans say they will fight, and they have started again. But if things get worse, we will have to leave. To go abroad.’
In Tripoli, too, attacks continue. Haftar announced on Wednesday that no aircraft must take off from Tripoli’s international airport, Mitiga.
One resident told me: ‘Yesterday it was like hell. Indiscriminate Grad missiles, A massacre happened close to my house where 32 very young men were killed. Yet we are fighting every day to survive. We will not give up either our lives or our country.’
Nor does the fighting seem likely to end in the near future. In a slightly concerning echo of the situation in Syria, Turkey and Russia, who are also on opposing sides in that state’s ongoing Civil War, announced on Wednesday (8 January) that they had worked out a cease-fire which, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov claimed, would come into effect on Sunday 12 January and, they said, would also pave the way for meaningful peace talks, which they envisaged being hosted by the UN and perhaps taking place in Berlin.
The GNA welcomed the talks, adding that it was fighting a ‘war of defence’ and ‘welcome all initiatives to relaunch the political process and end the war as envisaged in the Shkirat Agreement.’
Khalifa Haftar, the man who started the Second Libyan Civil War, and whose forces are accused of a litany of war-crimes within it, rejected the cease-fire.
Late on Saturday (11 January 2020), under considerable pressure, Haftar finally agreed to the ceasefire.
However, fighting has continued on the outskirts of Tripoli.
In this, this ‘ceasefire’ is similar to every Russia-led ‘break’ in fighting ever enacted in Syria: broken, within hours, by Russia’s ally.
A second, also concerning, similarity, is that on Monday Russian politicians announced that the head of the GNA Fayez Al-Sarraj, and Haftar, will each travel to Russia. So far, at least, the UN oversight of the ceasefire appears to have been dropped.