The final prize is Tripoli, for anyone that can secure it. That will, it’s felt by many, stabilise Libya and end its civil war or, conversely, make it descend into a greater quagmire resulting in a new phase of very intense fighting across the country.
One of the reasons for a degree of pessimism by the ‘international community’ is the failed visit to Tripoli of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Having arrived there for talks with the UN selected GNA Government of Fayez Serraj… ahead of hopes for a National Reconciliation Conference planned for this month, they were caught off guard.
Because simultaneous to their visit, Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar was ordering his Libyan National Army (LNA) troops to “advance” on Tripoli.
Guterres’s parting words as he left Tripoli were fairly despondent: “I leave Libya with a heavy heart and deeply concerned. I still hope it is possible to avoid a bloody confrontation in and around Tripoli.”
Though ‘Prime Minister’ Serraj and Field Marshall Haftar met in Abu Dhabi in March to discuss a potential power sharing agreement, fighting broke out to coincide with the day of the UN visit to Tripoli between Haftar’s forces and ‘militiamen’ loyal to Serraj’s government.
Haftar’s LNA units said they had taken control of the town of Gharyan, and other smaller towns in the south of Tripoli.
Mr Guterres has called for de-escalation. While in several radio addresses, Haftar has continued to order a “victorious march” on Tripoli to “shake the lands under the feet of the unjust bunch” adding “Tripoli, we hear your call”, concluding significantly with a ‘olive branch type ground rule’, by saying: “Whoever raises the white flag will be safe.”So to recap: the two main power rivals are Fayez Serraj’s government, called the GNA, internationally-recognised and chosen by the UN, who are based in Tripoli; and a rival parliament, located in Benghazi (and Tobruk). This one was elected by the Libyan people; an administration called the HoR, who’s Army Chief of Staff is Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar.
Haftar’s army has also recently completed a campaign that leaves them controlling large areas of the south of the country.
These territorial gains in the main, were achieved by ‘cutting deals’ with local militia groups, rather than fighting them. A very Libyan solution.
If hypothetically there were a lasting agreement with Zintan and/or Misrata and Haftar, then, but only then, would Haftar have a chance of taking Tripoli, by June at a guess, and he could declare an interim government.What many people fail to realise is that Haftar at 75 years has no appetite to keep the reign of power.
Haftar’s army has recently completed a campaign that leaves them controlling large areas of the south of the country
Haftar would prefer to be a figurehead such as a ceremonial president. His primary objective is to eradicate former terrorists like Abdul Hakim Belhadj and all senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood currently wielding the real power in Tripoli through the militias.
Not forgetting that Haftar personally enjoys the backing from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who see him as a potential leader. Russia and France are also favourably disposed to Haftar. Eventually, one would presume, that the US will warm to him as well, given the past association Haftar had with the US.
At least 174 people have been killed and 756 wounded since Khalifa Hifter’s Libyan National Army launched its offensive Tripoli, the World Health Organization said.
The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord’s Interior Ministry spokesman, Colonel Mabrouk Abdel Hafiz said that an emergency room has been set up in the Tripoli Security Directorate to “take the necessary security measures to maintain security and stability, protect public and private facilities and follow up emergency security events”. But many among them are privately not confident they can stop Haftar.
The key is the continued bankrolling of Haftar by the Gulf States, notably the UAE and Saudi. If such unlimited funds are available to Haftar’s army, it is felt he is assured of victory. And it seems both Russia and France seem to favour such an outcome. The end of the turmoil in Libya may be at hand soon.
Richard Galustian is a political and security advisor based in MENA countries for nearly 40 years.
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