Libya: The Perplexing Plague Peace


March 23, 2020: The UN is backing a ceasefire to deal with the coronavirus (covid19) threat to Libya. So far no one in Libya has been tested and found to have covid19. Chinese researchers found that Africans are less likely to catch covid19 because they have one fifth as many cellular receptors in their lungs than Chinese. That difference enables covid19 to cause breathing problems more, or less, readily. Other researchers found that this genetic difference was most helpful for Africans and most harmful for East Asians. People in other parts of the world have less resistance to covid19 than Africans.

Lung damage is the most frequent cause of death among covid19 victims. So far Africa, with 18 percent of the world population, has only suffered about 0.3 percent of the covid19 infections. Africans are not immune, just less likely to get  infected or suffer the breathing problems that cause most covid10 related deaths. Such genetic differences are common and account for some ethnic groups having different health problems, or advantages. For example, Africans are more prone to have sickle cell anemia. This genetic mutation helps those with it resist the deadly effects of malaria but also brings with it the high risk of blood disorders. Many of these genetic differences are useful with no bad side effects. That would include the unique eyelid structure of East Asians, which provides more protection from fine sand driven by high winds. Those sand storms still regularly blow into China from the Gobi Desert.

The Protagonists

The political situation in Libya continues to be divided. There have been two rival governments in Libya since 2015. The UN backed GNA (Government of National Accord) controls Tripoli and not much else. The other government, the HoR (House of Representatives), was elected but was supposed to be replaced by the more efficient GNA. Many Libyans refused to accept the UN-backed GNA because it was largely controlled by Islamic militias who were hostile to democracy. HoR had to flee Tripoli for eastern Libya and soon joined forces with the most effective military organization in Libya; the LNA (Libyan National Army). The LNA has been fighting since 2014 to eliminate Islamic terror groups and rogue militias in the country. This effort began in eastern Libya. By 2018, 80 percent of the country was controlled by LNA forces. In April 2019 the LNA began an offensive to take the last GNA stronghold of Tripoli. This is the largest city in Libya and the traditional capital.

The GNA has since late 2018 become more amenable to working with LNA founder and leader Khalifa Hiftar . But the many militias the GNA presides over want nothing to do with losing their power to a unified government. Currently, Hiftar forces control everything except Misrata, Tripoli and the coastline west of the city to the Tunisian border. The LNA has occupied and pacified most of the areas where oil production, refining and export facilities are.

The Impossible Dream

Recently the LNA declared it will only observe the covid19 ceasefire if the GNA does the same. That would include a halt to Turkish weapons and mercenaries entering the country. The Turks are not willing to go along with that. The UN wants the ceasefire but cannot force the Turks to cooperate. This could mean the ceasefire, like many before it, won’t work for long.

The LNA believes that covid19 will get into Libya because of the thousands of Syrian Arab mercenaries Turkey has been bringing in to keep the GNA in power. Turkey has also brought in over a hundred of its own troops. So far Turkey and Syria have as many cases of covid19 as all of Africa.

The LNA response to the arrival of Turkish mercenaries in January was to shut down oil shipments. The LNA said it will keep the oil operations shut down until the Turks withdraw. The Turks refuse to go and two months of no oil exports have cost Libya about $3 billion in oil revenue. Production is now about 100,000 BPD (barrels per day), mainly for internal use. Another new development in January was the global spread of covid19 and its impact on the world economy. The price Libya sells its oil for has fallen by half and continues to decline.

The LNA believes the GNA is paying for those mercenaries out of its share of the oil money. This oil revenue is supposed to be spent on taking care of the general population. In Libya, that means a lot of the government officials involved will steal as much of the cash as they can get away with. Libya has long been known as one of the most corrupt nations on earth and even Libyans recognize that this is an obstacle to making Libya less dangerous and more livable.

The UN also complains that the LNA is getting aviation fuel from the UAE, which is a violation of UN sanctions. The LNA believes the UN is biased in favor of the GNA. There is some truth to that as the GNA was a UN idea that never caught on with most Libyans while the LNA and the HoR government did. The LNA has been receiving material and diplomatic support from the UAE and Egypt for five years.

March 22, 2020: The GNA government ordered a 6 PM to 6 AM curfew in areas it controls and bans on large gatherings. This is to curb the spread of covid19.

March 21, 2020: The LNA agreed to participate in the ceasefire the GNA proposed to deal with the appearance of the covid19 virus in Tripoli.

March 17, 2020: The Libyan Coast Guard, which began operations in 2017, continues to patrol coastal waters used by smuggling gangs to send illegal migrants to the Italian coast. Italy trained this force and continues to provide tech and training support. The EU in general pays for operations of the coast guard, which also has to deal with threats from the smuggling gangs. The coast guard intercepts smuggler operated boats and returns the migrants to detention centers in Libya where the migrants are screened and sent home. Smuggler staff are usually released as the coast guard and gangs do not want to go to war with each other. After all, many of the smuggler boats still make it through.

March 15, 2020: Unexpectedly, at least to the GNA, the LNA moved new units into positions around Tripoli and resumed fighting and pushing back GNA forces. The fighting since last April has been low-impact (few casualties) but relentless and the LNA now occupies

March 14, 2020: LNA airstrikes over the last few days on the Mitiga Airport radar facilities have killed at least one Turkish soldier and wounded others. This is the only functioning airport for Tripoli. These recent airstrikes have caused Mitiga to be shut down again.

March 11, 2020: The LNA declared that its Naval Commando force was operational and would be active detecting and disrupting efforts by foreign governments to ship weapons and other contraband to the GNA or Islamic terrorists. These Libyan commandos recently completed their training in Egypt and returned to Libya with some Egyptian commandos and advisors as well as assault boats and special weapons contributed by the UAE. The force consists of fifty personnel.

March 8, 2020: South of Tripoli, LNA forces shot down another Turkish UAV. This one was operating out of the nearby Mitiga Airport.

March 3, 2020: The HoR government opened an embassy in Syria, in part because the Syrian are also fighting the Turks. The Libyan embassy in Syria closed in 2012 and has remained without a Libyan ambassador ever since.

March 2, 2020: Neighboring Algeria is again trying to obtain international cooperation in organizing a ceasefire and political settlement in neighboring Libya. Algeria has taken the lead in this “peace” effort and has arranged for a “Libya Committee” of the AU (African Union) to meet on the 12th to try and agree on a common approach to obtaining a peace settlement in Libya. The other committee members are Chad, Mauritania, Egypt, Tunisia, South Africa and Niger. These efforts are often at odds with what the UN is doing in Libya.

February 27, 2020: At the end of February Russia ordered hundreds of Wagner Group military contractors out of Libya because the Turkish backed GNA Libyan government had agreed to a ceasefire with a more powerful Russian backed government. The Turkish troops were to have left as well but didn’t. Once more Russian blinked in the face of Turkish resistance.

February 25, 2020: For the first time Turkey admitted that two Turk soldiers had recently died in Libya. The Turkish government tried to keep this secret, even going as far as arresting Turkish journalists who had reported on the deaths. The LNA claims to have killed at least 17 Turks and nearly a hundred of their Syrian Arab (FSA) mercenaries so far. Turkey denies that but the Turkish government always denies or plays down its casualties in unpopular foreign wars and the Libya efforts are not popular back in Turkey. Several Turkish UAVs have been shot down and photographed. The Turks not only deny these claims but back in Turkey, the government also does its best to suppress news of Turkish military personnel who have died in Libya and buried back in Turkey without any admission of where they died and how.

Turkey claims to have killed at least a hundred LNA personnel in the last few months. If the casualty reports are to be believed then the Turks are taking more of a beating than the LNA, which has always stressed keeping its casualties low. According to Turkish claims, the LNA has lost less than one percent of its strength in the same period that the Turkish mercs lost over three percent and the smaller Turkish military contingent suffered about the same casualty rate. The Russian mercs have casualty rates similar to the Turks while the Russian and Gulf Arab military personnel providing logistical and tech support for the LNA have suffered very few casualties. Most Libyans oppose the Turks and welcome assistance from other Arab states as well as the Russians, who got on well with Libyans on a personnel level. Russian support for the Kaddafi dictatorship came from the Soviet Union, which itself disappeared in 1991. After that, the Russians were no longer as eager to back Kaddafi who seemed to be following the same self-destructive trajectory as the Soviet Union. The GNA is being propped up by the Turks and still depends on independent minded Islamic militias as well as some militias that are basically criminal gangs with heavy weapons.

Historically the Turks and Russians were always rivals and often at war with each other. Although the Russian and Turk empires dissolved a century ago, the ancient animosities did not. Now Turkish and Russian forces are fighter each other in Syria and Libya. Both areas used to be part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire and both because close to Russia during the Cold War, buying most of their weapons from Russia and cooperating diplomatically. Most Syrians and Libyans are more interested in reviving the Russian relationship than the Turkish one.




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