Date: Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Because of the continued progress in clearing the gangsters and Islamic terrorists from their coastal enclaves and clearing out Islamic terrorist refuges in the south it seems even more likely that national presidential and parliamentary elections will be held on December 10th and the new officials will form a unified 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. Neighboring countries (especially Egypt, Tunisia and Italy) are cooperating with the two Libyan governments to identify key Libyan gangsters (often former government officials) and Islamic terrorists based in Libya and impose international (via the UN and Interpol) sanctions on them. These outlaws are key movers of illegal money and goods (people, weapons, oil and so on). Italy has been particularly effective here because many of the European criminals (working with Libyan outlaws) are Italian.
Italy is trying to crack down on the rampant people smuggling carried out by criminal gangs and Islamic terrorist groups in Libya. A new Italian government got elected recently by promising to address the continuing movement of illegal migrants from Libya to Italy and now Italy is refusing to let the people smuggler ships land in Italy and is going after the NGO (non-governmental organizations) rescue ships that work with the smugglers. NATO has offered to work with Italy to help the Libyans rebuild and reform their coast guard and shut down smuggling of all sorts along the Libyan coasts. It was the collapse of national government after 2011 that enabled the smugglers, especially the people smugglers, to flourish in Libya. Italian gangs were ready to cooperate with their Libyan counterparts to arrange the short boat trip from Libya to Italy. Most of the money the people smugglers made stayed in Libya and various Islamic terror groups (especially ISIL) took a large share for providing security. That included making sure the Libyan coast guard did not return so large areas of the Libyan coast. In the last few years, the two rival governments in Libya have shut down most Islamic terror groups operating on the coast and made the smuggling gangs more vulnerable. Now it is possible to cover the entire coast with coast guard patrols, especially if the two governments allow NATO ships to freely patrol just outside (and occasionally inside) Libyan territorial waters (anything within 22 kilometers of the coast) to catch those who got by the coast guard (via evasion or a bribe). Bribery remains a major problem and an honest coast guard commander, or individual crew can quickly and quietly go from honest and reliable to corrupt and unpredictable.
Italy also led the effort to provide naval patrols that would help maintain a smuggler free environment northward towards Italy. Already the existing Libyan and some EU patrol boats are also preventing anyone else from assisting the smugglers. The “anyone else” was mainly the growing number of European NGOs that are sending rescue boats to meet smugglers off the Libyan coast and escort the boats, or take the illegals aboard, to Italy. This is done to prevent some of these smuggler boats from sinking in bad weather or simply because the smuggler boats are not fit for the journey. It has gotten to the point where the NGO rescue ships will take up position just outside (or even inside) Libyan territorial waters. The smuggler boats head right for the NGO ships and then any smugglers on board return to Libya while the NGOs see that the illegal migrants reach Italy. More recently Italy began prosecuting NGOs that operated these rescue ships from Italian ports. This caused many, if not most NGOs to halt the use of these rescue ships. The new Italian government is now treating the NGO rescue ships as accomplices to the smugglers and threatening these NGOs with prosecution, as well as banning them from Italian waters.
The rescue NGOs are still demanding that the EU stop supporting the Libyan coast guard, which increasingly stops smuggler boats full of illegal migrants before they reach the NGO rescue ships outside (or even inside) territorial waters. The Libyans want the NGO boats gone and most EU nations agree. But only the Italians are actively trying to shut down the rescue NGO cooperation with the smuggling gangs. Italy supports a revived Libyan coast guard that will chase NGO ships away from the Libyan coast. This is having an impact because the smuggling gangs are forced to shift to other Libyan ports where they can bring the illegals and the boats the smugglers use for the trip (usually one-way) towards Italy along routes the Tripoli based patrol boats have a hard time reaching. As long as the Libyan coast guard has limited resources the smuggling gangs can adapt and keep the illegals going to sea and heading for Italy. But with the new Italian government, the smuggling gangs have a more difficult time because Italy will not allow illegals ashore and Libya is willing to take them back and, with assistance (cash) from Italy and the EU send the illegals back to their native countries. This has been going on for over a year and works. The repatriation program has been bad for the reputation of the smugglers and if more of the Libyan outlaw ports can be captured the smugglers will be out of business, as they were before 2011.
Until 2018 the attitude among smugglers was that yes, business is down because of the EU plan and the shrinking number of outlaw ports but in the long run they will be back in business because the smugglers have partners in Europe (mostly Italy based gangsters) who know how to manipulate the European media and politicians to apply pressure on Libya to halt its inhuman treatment of illegals and the NGOs seeking to help the smugglers get the illegals into Europe. The smugglers guessed wrong about continued European support. Then there is the culture of corruption in Libya which will often enable people smugglers to operate more freely. The bribery is still a factor but there are fewer powerful (heavily armed and willing to fight) groups willing to take a bribe. A unified government for Libya is increasingly likely and although it will likely not be a police state similar to what Kaddafi ran it will have security forces that are able to shut down the smugglers as thoroughly as Kadaffi did.
Desperately Seeking The Bad Old Days
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.
Two recent LNA accomplishments were regaining control of the coastal city of Derna, long a lawless place occupied by dozens of rival militias and Islamic terror groups. The second problem was a southern militia coalition (led by Ibrahim Jadran) that suddenly came out of the south to gain control over the three oil export ports. Jadran was once the leader of the local PDG (Petroleum Defense Guards) militia that provided security for the oil export operations at Sidra, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina. Until 2017 Jardan and his fellow PDG leaders frequently shut down exports in an attempt to get paid more for their efforts. Worse the unreliable PDG groups were also stealing oil and exporting it on outlaw ships that would sell the oil in the black market. By late 2017 LNA forces had replaced the outlaw PDG groups with more reliable ones. But many of the outlaw PDG men fled south and planned their revenge. The planned seemed good but didn’t work.
Jardan organized a coalition of ousted PDG militias who agreed to move north and regain control over the ports and resume their extortion and smuggling. After a week of fighting the LNA, the Jardan forces were finally driven away from the ports by June 22nd and are now fleeing south with LNA forces in pursuit, seeking to destroy the Jardan coalition for good. The Jardan forces included over a thousand mercenaries from Chad and over 200 armed (and some armored) vehicles. Jardan made a lot of promises to his followers that he could not keep. As a result, his coalition is falling apart as it heads south. That’s why the LNA believes they can put Jardan and is larcenous PDG groups out of business for good.
Despite the defeat of Jardan, the fighting has done more damage to the oil export facilities and further reduced the amount of oil that can be shipped each day. Making repairs to the export facilities requires time and security to assure the foreign tech personnel brought in to do the work can do so safely. This will delay the resumption of oil shipments returning to pre-war (2011) levels.
June 24, 2018: The GNA said that three Turks who had been kidnapped in November 2017 while working on a power plant in Ubari (950 kilometers south of Tripoli) have been freed. Ransom was not mentioned but was probably involved.
June 23, 2018: The GNA government threatened to shut down the border crossings to Tunisia if Tunisia did not restore order in Ben Guerdane (the area around the main crossing where much business is done). Libyans traveling through the area report increased violence against them by bandits, and sometimes Tunisian security forces. In part, this is because Tunisia has ordered its security forces to crack down on Libyans who buy a lot of consumer goods in Tunisia and then seek to smuggle it into Libya. It is unclear how much blame can be placed on the Tunisia which has been much more successful in governing their nation after the 2011 revolutions than Libya.
June 21, 2018: LNA forces once more drove out a group of former PDG gunmen who were seeking to regain control of oil export ports. This was the sixth such attack in the last week by the renegade PFG groups (led by Ibrahim Jadran). The LNA says it is now blocking all roads from the south, where the Jardan force was recruited and organized, and the LNA is moving south to shut down the rebellious groups that have provided sanctuary for Islamic terrorists as well as rogue groups like Jardan and his outlaw PDG men.
June 17, 2018: The LNA mobilized a force to regain control of the oil export facilities and deal with the Jardan PDG renegades once and for all. The LNA has an air force, including recon and attack aircraft supplied by the UAE (United Arab Emirates), Egypt and some Western nations. These aircraft were shifted Derna and quickly found the location of Jardan forces, especially reinforcements and supplies coming up from the south. These vehicles were attacked and that shut down efforts to reinforce and resupply Jardan gunmen already on the coast.
June 15, 2018: In the west (80 kilometers south of Tripoli) an American UAV used a missile to kill another al Qaeda leaders. This is the second attack in Libya so far this year. The other one was in March and destroyed a vehicle crossing the desert near the Ubari oasis (700 kilometers south of Tripoli). Two senior al Qaeda officials in the vehicle died. There have been over 550 American airstrikes in Libya since 2011, most of them in 2016 as the United States provided air support for local militias fighting to clear the coastal city of ISIL forces. ISIL had been using Sirte as a North African headquarters but once driven out of Sirte have become a minor threat in Libya.
June 14, 2018: Several hundred armed men, led by for PDG militia leader Ibrahim Jadran made the first of six attacks to regain control of Es Sidra and Ras Lanuf, two oil export facilities that Jardan and fellow members of the local Magharba tribe had for years been the PDG force. Jardan was prominent in tribal politics and a major proponent of shutting down the two oil ports regularly from 2013-2016 to extort more money from the NOC (National Oil Company). In 2017 the LNA came along and removed Jardan and his followers by force and recruited a more reliable PDG force. Jardan fled and said he would return and now here he is. The LNA didn’t expect this and had most LNA forces were still in around the city of Derna.
June 12, 2018: The UN extended the embargo on illegal weapons shipments to Libya for another year. This allows the EU to maintain its naval patrol off Libya.
June 11, 2018: The LNA declared it was in control of Derna (or most of it) after a month of fighting and that Sadha, Sirte, Misrata and Tripoli were next. Since May the main effort for LNA was 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. Fighting in Derna continued for another week, largely because many LNA troops had to be sent to deal with unexpected rogue militia attacks on nearby oil export ports.