Date: Tuesday, 05 June 2018
There is now general agreement in Libya, the UN and among key Western and Arab nations that national presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on December 10 th and the new officials will form a national government. In the meantime the GNA (Government of National Accord) and HoR (House of Representatives), the two existing governments in Libya have agreed to increase their cooperation (already functional enough) to improve the operation of the National Oil Company and the Central Bank of Libya. One matter to be settled here is about the Audit Bureau (created to audit financial institutions for evidence of corruption) and disagreements over procedure and the extent of the Audit Bureau power to summon bank officials for interrogation and access to the bank databases and logs. This came to a head in April when the auditors went public about being blocked by judges who sided with the banks. This sort of thing appears to be another sign of widespread corruption that survives in part because of the two competing national government. Shutting down the illegal economy is a great idea but no one knows how to make it happen.
The Militia Muddle
The hundreds of militias and private armies operating with little supervision throughout the country are being forced to choose sides. In the past many of them, especially the ones that were Islamic and from western Libya, unified behind what was left of the GNA in Tripoli in an effort to survive. That has not worked because more Libyans want a national government and many Islamic militias lost their most radical members to ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), which is still trying to establish a base area in Libya. Less radical members joined AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) but most remained with more moderate groups like the Moslem Brotherhood. Thus the formerly Islamic radical militias gradually became more moderate and willing to compromise.
ISIL is trying, without much success, to carry out attacks that will prevent elections and the formation of a unified national government. Meanwhile in eastern Libya the LNA (Libyan National Army) continues to defeat or absorb defiant militias, especially ones that are religion based or outright Islamic terrorists.
While many Western nations consider the LNA, or at least some of its commanders, to be war criminals the fact is that pro-GNA faction leaders are no better and often a lot worse. The Arab nations that have long supported the LNA and its creator Khalifa Hiftar and understand this and the fact that Hiftar is simply a more effective military leader. After living in the U.S. for over a decade, Hiftar knows first-hand what works. Hiftar works for the rival Libyan HoR government in Tobruk. Most Libyans, having little or no personal experience of a much less corrupt and more productive Western economy, just want someone to make all the chaos and pain go away. There is no easy way to make that happen. A first step would be to form a united government. That is still a work in progress but at least progress is being made. Hiftar is also popular in Libya (and with other Moslem governments in the region) for his steadfast and effective opposition to Islamic terrorists and Islamic radicalism in general.
While there is still militia and Islamic terrorist violence in Libya there is much less of it compared to past years. The oil facilities are now well guarded and the LNA and militias throughout the country have much reduced the power of Islamic terrorists and Islamic conservatives in general.
Dead End Derna
Currently the main effort for LNA is dealing with the few remaining independent, some of them Islamic radical, militias in Derna (200 kilometers east of Benghazi). This is the only eastern coastal city not under LNA control but has been under siege by the LNA since mid-2017. In early 2017 LNA forces from further east chased the ISIL and other Islamic terrorist remnants (of other clearance operations) to Derna. Some ISIL men managed to establish a presence in Derna and use that to carry out bombings and other terror attacks on the coastal areas (where most of the people are). That led to LNA blockading Derna in mid-2017. Derna remains a problem as this city is about the same size (100,000 population) as the former ISIL “capital” Sirte. Earlier ISIL failures in Derna were the result of stubborn local militias who disliked outsiders in general. Hiftar was not popular with some of the Derna militias, especially those composed of Islamic conservatives and these groups were not cooperative. Now they are all under attack by Hiftar forces and being forced to cooperate or die. The LNA is using airstrikes and artillery to speed up the process. The UN opposes the LNA tactics because it cuts many civilians off from essential supplies and causes more civilian casualties. The LNA points out that the Islamic terrorists control who gets what when supplies get through the current blockade and that civilians in Derna have not done well with the years of chaos in the city.
Many UN member quietly disagree with the UN assessment and provide the LNA military aid for the Derna battle. One of the recent contributors is France, which provided an unarmed recon aircraft (a twin engine Beechcraft 350 packed with cameras and other sensors). The Beechcraft is based in Marj (eastern Libya near the Egyptian border. The French supplied Beechcraft can be seen parked next to AT-802U manned aircraft and Chinese UAVs (similar to the American Predator) also used for surveillance as well as missile attack. The Marj base improvements and many of the aircraft there were provided by the UAE (United Arab Emirates), which is a long-time supporter of Hiftar and the LNA. Hiftar visited the UAE early in 2018 to discuss military aid and then showed up in Egypt for discussions on what could be done to improve security along the Libyan-Egyptian border. Egypt and UAE have always been the primary supporters of the LNA and Hiftar. The LNA controlled Marj airbase in eastern Libya has played a major role in keeping Libyan based Islamic terrorists away from Egypt. This material support from Egypt and the UAE is increasing and encouraging European nations, like France, to help as well. The UAE is also spending a lot of money to help get pro-Hiftar candidates elected when the December national elections take place on.
The Lost Wages Of Sin
ISIL and AQIM are running short of cash and capabilities because the two Libyan governments, Italy and a few other foreign supporters have managed to cut the flow of illegal migrants in half. The Islamic terror groups provided security for the movement of illegal migrants through Libya to the coast and then on boats that take them to Europe. This is big business and generated enough cash for the Islamic terrorists to bribe local militias and government officials to make it possible to continue the people smuggling. With much less cash available the Islamic terror groups are unable to buy as many weapons or cooperation from other militias. Thus weakened ISIL and AQIM were no longer to maintain themselves on the coast, except in or near places like Derna where LNA control was weakest. But now Derna is under attack by LNA forces and that means fewer areas where groups like ISIL and AQIM can operate without constant fear of being attacked. Meanwhile the smuggler gangs have moved as much of their operations as possible to neighboring Tunisia. That is not an ideal location as Tunisia has a stable government and close ties to European nations that are trying to shut down the people smugglers. The people smuggler gangs are still operating because people are still willing and able to pay their fees.
June 2, 2018: In the northeast (150 kilometers south of Benghazi), ISIL gunmen attacked a checkpoint outside the coastal city of Ajdabiya. The attack was repulsed but one civilian was killed and five wounded.
May 31, 2018: In the south (Sabha, 770 kilometers south of Tripoli) an LNA base 30 kilometers from Sabha was attacked by remnants of Benghazi Islamic terror groups. The attack was repulsed. The main concern of the LAN forces down there is the continued fighting between rival tribes, which have left over 30 dead this month alone. Belgasim Al Abaj, an LNA general arrived in mid-April to negotiate a lasting peace deal. Abaj is a Zuwai and the Tebus in general respect the LNA. One reason for this respect is that the LNA has established a track record of negotiating peace deals in several tribal conflicts by establishing good relations with the major tribes (Magharba, Baraasa, Hasa, Obaidat, Zuwai and Zintan) and getting these larger tribes to make peace with their smaller rivals. Some of these peace deals are only temporary, until Libya is united and no longer in danger of massive social and financial collapse. But that is enough.
The UN backed GNA foreign minister met with his counterparts from Niger, Chad and Sudan in Chad to sign an agreement to improve border security. The rival HoR and the LNA actually control most of the borders in question so making the deal work depends on the formation of a united national Libyan government after the December elections.
May 28, 2018: In France a peace conference led to both Libyan governments agreeing to hold elections on December 10th to determine the composition of one national government. Islamic conservatives tried to prevent LNA commander Khalifa Hiftar from attending this conference. That effort failed because the other Libyans realized that Hiftar was part of the solution and the Islamic conservatives are not. Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia agreed to back Hiftar as well.
May 24, 2018: In the eastern city Benghazi a car bomb went off near a major hotel leaving six people dead.
May 22, 2018: In the northeast (150 kilometers south of Benghazi), an ISIL suicide car bomber attacked a checkpoint outside the coastal city of Ajdabiya and killed two soldiers and wounded two others. Elsewhere in the area ISIL attacked another checkpoint and kidnapped a policeman.
May 21, 2018: Egyptian, Tunisian and Algerian officials met in Algeria in a continuing effort to work out a common policy on Libya. At the moment Libya is in the midst of forming a national government for the first time since 2011. Neighboring countries want to ensure that none of them support disruptive factions inside Libya. Algeria and Egypt have had their differences about who to support in Libya but now appear to have resolved that problem and want to keep it that way.
May 13, 2018: In the southwest (500 kilometers from the capital) the Algerian army held military exercises just across the border. The exercises included live firing of artillery and other weapons. This sort of thing was meant to remind the larger militias in Libya that venturing across the border is a very bad idea.
May 8, 2018: In the east, outside the oil loading port of Ras Lanuf an ISIL suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint killing two people and wounding four. ISIL has made a number of unsuccessful efforts to damage oil production facilities.
May 7, 2018: In the east LNA began an offensive to clear Islamic terror groups from the city of Derna. A month later there have been nearly a hundred deaths there, most of them hostile militiamen.