Libya: Russia And China Make The Most Of the Mess


July 25, 2015: The Tobruk government has a major disagreement with the UN because the UN refuses to lift the arms embargo against all of Libya (including the UN recognized Tobruk government forces) until the Tobruk government works out a peace deal with the rival Tripoli government. The problem is that the Tripoli coalition is falling apart and unable to agree to any peace deal with the Tobruk government. Some factions of the Tripoli government agreed to a coalition government on July 12 th but that was not sufficient for the UN. As a result of this intransigence many Libyans blame the UN for the continued presence (and growth) of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). China and Russia are also being blamed for supporting this intransigence, apparently because it causes more problems for the Western nations that are most hurt by the continuing chaos in Libya and flood of illegal migrants. This is right out of the Russian Cold War playbook and is discussed freely and proudly on the streets of Moscow. That Chinese also recognize the usefulness of this tactic.

Meanwhile ISIL is becoming more of a problem in Libya. The coastal city of Sirte (500 kilometers east of Tripoli and 560 kilometers west of Benghazi) is now largely controlled by Islamic terrorist groups affiliated with ISIL. Sirte had a population of 100,000 in 2011 and was former dictator Kaddafi's birthplace. Before 2011 it was full of his well-cared for Kaddafi supporters. Sirte was heavily damaged, and looted, during the 2011 rebellion. Most of the population fled the fighting and when they returned they found a much less prosperous lifestyle. This caused some of the locals to arm themselves and misbehave. The continued anarchy in Sirte made it possible for many Islamic terrorist groups to establish themselves there. Until 2014 there was nothing to unify these groups but then ISIL came along and more and more Sirte based Islamic terrorist militias have pledged allegiance to ISIL. Recently ISIL began enforcing their strict lifestyle rules (including how women are to dress and act) there and public punishment (including execution) are promised for those who refuse to comply.

ISIL also controls Sabratha, which is 66 kilometers west of Tripoli and about the same size as Sirte. Further east Derna (200 kilometers east of Benghazi) which came under the control of ISIL affiliate Islamic terrorists in late 2014. Derna is a little larger than Sirte and has long been a commercial center. Al Qaeda affiliated Islamic terrorists drove ISIL out of Derna in June but ISIL managed to maintain positions on the outskirts. Al Qaeda is trying to take these ISIL bases, which make it possible for ISIL to continue carrying out suicide bombing attacks in Derna. Still even ISIL admits they were defeated in Derna.

Fighting continues in Benghazi, but the government forces move slowly, in order to keep their own losses down (and morale of their forces high) against remaining Islamic terrorists in the city. Most of the population has fled and little economic activity remains in what was once the second largest city in Libya. The most troublesome Islamic terrorist groups continue holding out in the port area, preventing the port from being used.

Next door in Tunisia the government believes at least 3,000 Tunisians have gone to Libya to join Islamic terrorist groups. That’s about 28 per 100,000 population which is about three times the rate of European Moslems but lower than some other Arab countries (especially Saudi Arabia). Tunisia never considered itself a particularly religious nation, certainly not as strict as Saudi Arabia. Such religious moderation has always been more common in North Africa than in Arabia. Thus Tunisians tolerated their more religiously conservative citizens. No more and it’s not just fear of getting physically hurt, but fear of poverty as the last two attacks were directed at foreign tourists. In a good year (like 2010 when there were over seven million visitors) tourism accounted for nearly ten percent of GDP. That fell by a third in 2011 because of the Arab Spring revolution but began to rebuild after that. Now, with these two attacks and the threat of more has tourism in decline and over 20,000 Tunisians unemployed as a result. All the other North African had the same problem with the economic and security impact of Islamic terrorism and this has led to more popular support for increased counter-terror efforts. At the moment the Tunisian government believes they have killed, captured or driven out the country nearly all the Islamic terrorists involved in the recent tourist attacks. Security is being increased on the Libyan border and Tunisia, like Algeria, is becoming a very hostile environment for Islamic terrorists.

Despite the civil war Egyptians are still trying to sneak across the border to take jobs Libyans are not accustomed to performing. So far this month nearly 700 have been caught and turned back. Most of these were Egyptians with a minority being foreigners trying to get to Europe illegally via Libya. Many more illegal border crossers are believed to have made it. So far this year over 65,000 Egyptians have left Libya to escape the growing Islamic terrorist violence there. In 2014 73,000 Egyptians fled Libya and since nearly 200,000 have fled since 2011. But a lot of Egyptians remain in Libya, in places where there is not much, if any, violence and there are still jobs. The increased number of Egyptians returning in 2015 was triggered by a February 15th ISIL video showing 20 Egyptian Christians (Copts) being beheaded on a Libyan beach. Many Egyptians still work in Libya doing jobs Libyans will not or cannot do and being paid for with oil income. This is a common practice in all Arab oil states. Before the 2011 revolution over a million Egyptians worked in Libya. But the growing chaos in Libya has sharply cut oil production and many Egyptians are returning because they are losing their jobs or not getting paid.

July 24, 2015: The IMF said it would no longer recognize the Central Bank management in Tripoli but rather a new Central Bank management established by the Tobruk government. For over a year the Tobruk government has been using its international recognition, UN support and cordial relations with many foreign nations to gain sole control of the Central Bank and National Oil Company. In January Tobruk forces seized the Benghazi branch of the Libyan Central Bank and began looking for bankers to run a new Central Bank headquarters outside Tripoli. The Central Bank (which controls nearly $100 billion in cash and gold reserves) headquarters remained in Tripoli for so long because bank officials managed to convince the UN that they were neutral and trying to continue paying government salaries and bills for essential imports. This worked for a long time because the UN believed that recognizing the “functional neutrality” of the Central Bank would help achieve a peace deal with the Tripoli government. Because of that the UN initially criticized the February seizure of the Benghazi branch. The Tobruk government insisted the Benghazi seizure was done, in part, to prevent Islamic terrorist groups from attacking the branch, whose vaults contain a lot of cash (and remained intact and under guard.) Since then the UN found that the Tripoli government has become paralyzed by factional disagreements and many international financial institutions, like the IMF, agree. So the Tobruk government effort to gain sole control of the Central Bank is succeeding. That will lead to Tobruk getting sole control over the National Oil Company as well.

July 23, 2015: In the south (Sabha) fighting (over who controls smuggling routes) between Tuareg and Tebu tribesmen left over 40 dead in the last four days. This violence has been flaring up regularly since the 2011 revolution. Most of the recent shooting is in or near the town of Sabha, which is 770 kilometers south of Tripoli and astride the main road going to the Niger border. It is the biggest city in the largely desert south. The fighting is a continuation of ancient animosities between tribes divided by ethnicity as well as loyalty to the former dictator Kaddafi, who used tribal loyalties to maintain power and favored certain tribes. Some of the pro-Kaddafi Tuareg tribes kept fighting after Kaddafi died in 2011. The violence is not so much about putting Kaddafi followers back into power, but holding on to Kaddafi era privileges and avoiding punishment for crimes committed to support Kaddafi’s rule. In this case violence continued on the southern border in part because the pro-rebel Tabu (or “Tebu”) tribesmen were put in charge of border (with Sudan, Chad and Niger) security after Kaddafi fell. There they constantly skirmished with the Tuareg tribes over control of the smuggling business. Another element of this rivalry was that the Tabu are black African while the pro-Kaddafi tribes are Arab. Kaddafi tended to support Arab domination over black Africans, something many Arabs still support. However, in some cases Kaddafi favored black tribes in the north, and used them to keep the population in line. By 2015 the Tabu were still technically in charge of the border but mostly concerned with their control over smuggling (of fuel, drugs and people). The Tabu and Tuareg leaders have worked out agreements on dividing smuggling business but discipline in the tribes is not all that tight and fights keep breaking out.

July 22, 2015: In Derna ISIL carried out two suicide car bombings against al Qaeda forces that now control the city.

The Tripoli government assured Italy that four Italian citizens kidnapped on the 19th would be rescued within ten days. Italy shut down its Tripoli embassy in February and warned its citizens to stay away. But Italian companies and individuals will work in Libya, at least anywhere the locals can provide security. The four Italians were taken as they returned from a brief vacation in Tunisia. It is believed that the four are being held by a smuggling gang that is demanding Italy release members of the gang arrested in Italy in exchange for the four captive Italians. Italy responded by insisting it would not make any such deal, at least not until there was no other option and the Italian government tired of being hammered by the media.

July 21, 2015: Greece revealed that it is holding 16 military vehicles (including eight MRAPS) that a ship from Italy was taking to Libya in defiance of the UN arms embargo. The ship carrying the vehicles (a RO/RO vehicle transport named Tychy) then proceeded, without the 16 vehicles to the Libyan port of Misrata, which is controlled by the Tripoli government.

July 20, 2015: Al Qaeda forces in Derna released a video showing the execution of an ISIL commander. The condemned man (Abu Ali al Anbari) was an Iraqi who had been expelled from another Libyan al Qaeda faction for corruption. Anbari was a very capable battlefield commander and not picky when it came to religious matters so he joined ISIL. Al Qaeda considered Anbari a corrupt traitor and when they recently captured him they decided to make an example. They paraded him naked before hanging him. This was captured on video as a warning to others.

July 19, 2015:  Off Benghazi Tobruk government warplanes sank one boat and left another burning. The two fishing boats were believed to be smuggling weapons and other supplies to Islamic terrorists holding out in the port of Benghazi. The Tobruk warplanes have also attacked ships carrying supplies for the Tripoli government forces.

July 18, 2015: It was revealed that three Christians (from Egypt, Nigeria, and Ghana) had recently been seized in Sirte by ISIL. It is feared these men may be murdered in some gruesome fashion for another ISIL recruiting video.

July 16, 2015: The UN admits that the Libyan peace talks are stalled and there is no agreement on when negotiations will resume. The problem is with the Tripoli government, which is falling apart and cannot put together a negotiating team at the moment.

July 15, 2015: In the east (Benghazi) the popular and effective commander (Salem al-Naili) of a government special forces brigade was killed in combat. This was a blow to government forces inside Benghazi because it has been superior leadership that has kept forces in Benghazi willing against Islamic terrorists and done so with low casualties to the troops involved. Places like Benghazi have become a killing zone for Islamic terrorists but the city is important to many Islamic terrorist leaders and they keep sending more men in.

July 13, 2015: Neighboring Tunisia revealed that its security forces had recently killed three leaders of an al Qaeda affiliate group that was trying to establish a base in southern Tunisia for smuggling weapons in from Libya and smuggling Tunisian volunteers into Libya for training and helping with the fighting there.

July 12, 2015: ISIL admitted that it had lost control of Derna and vowed to take the place back.

July 9, 2015: The Tobruk government issued a public warning that any oil tanker approaching the oil export of Ras Lanuf (620 kilometers west of Tripoli) without permission would be attacked. This is all the result of the National Oil Company, which is still based in Tripoli and trying to organize oil shipments from Ras Lanuf for the Tripoli government. Or at least that’s what the Tobruk government, which controls Ras Lanuf, believes. Earlier in 2015 Tripoli forces tried to take control of Ras Lanuf but failed.





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