January 2, 2016:
Despite the growing prospect of massive starvation and total economic collapse, many (apparently most) of the factions in the Tripoli and Tobruk governments refuse to approve the December 17 peace deal. This self-destructive sense of entitlement and resistance to compromise is common throughout the region but Libya is an extreme case. Unless this factionalism and corruption is overcome there is no possibility of avoiding a catastrophe. At the moment the only ones benefitting from this are criminals (especially smugglers, of people and goods) and really extreme religious fanatics like ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant). And even ISIL is succeeding mainly because they have cash and no scruples and that appeals to enough local thugs to make recruiting possible. In Libya ISIL attracts the more fanatic men from other militias and has concentrated this evil in a few places (Sirte, Derna, Ajdabiya and Benghazi) and everywhere ISIL is under attack by local militias. ISIL is believed to have more than 4,000 armed men in Libya. While there are far more (over 100,000) armed men in other groups who oppose ISIL nearly all these other gunmen are only concerned with defending the area they live in. Thus ISIL can concentrate on expanding. In addition to the battles in Ajdabiya ISIL is facing the most opposition in Benghazi where the more effective forces of the Tobruk government quickly go after any ISIL activity. In Derna ISIL has been largely chased out but is still on the outskirts trying to fight its way back in. In Sirte the local militias, some of them rival Islamic terrorists, are less effective defending against ISIL. Thus in Sirte ISIL is able to use its terror tactics (public executions and beatings) for force civilians to submit to ISIL rule.
ISIL is making a major effort to expand its control by moving forces from Sirte east into territory controlled by the Tobruk government. The main target is the oil export port of Ajdabiya. There are already some ISIL forces fighting in Ajdabiya but military supplies and reinforcements are needed. These must travel along the coast road between Ajdabiya and Sirte and that involves lots of hostile encounters with anti-ISIL militias. The forces defending Ajdabiya are receiving some help from air strikes delivered by the handful of Libyan Air Force warplanes the Tobruk government has operational. NATO has offered to provide air support, and already has some commandos on the ground. But the Tobruk government is in the process of carrying out the recently signed peace deal with the rival Tripoli government and some of the Tripoli factions oppose a return of NATO air power. So it appears that permission for NATO to hit ISIL from the air in Libya will have to wait until the political differences there can be sorted out. There is some urgency about this because ISIL is concentrating on Tobruk government territory and Ajdabiya is a key oil export facility.
Overall during late 2015 the fighting throughout Libya was fairly low key, causing fewer than a thousand casualties (dead and wounded) a month. People are pretty much fed up with all the fighting since 2011. One of the major sources of deaths in Libya is occurring offshore. The people smuggling across the Mediterranean is mostly from Libya and in 2015 that led to the deaths (at sea) of over 3,500 migrants and smugglers. In many respects it is another cost of the war in Libya because the smugglers would not be able to operate from Libya were it not for the lawless atmosphere there. The smuggling gangs bribe whoever controls a port they use and still make enormous profits. In the grand scheme of things Libya is the ninth most active site of Islamic terrorism worldwide. In 2015 Iraq and Afghanistan are first and second most violent with Nigeria third while Pakistan and Syria are fourth and fifth. The other most terrorized nations in Africa were Somalia at eighth place.
Much of the fighting in Libya centers on control of oil. Although the major buyers of Libyan oil made it clear in November that they only wanted to deal with the original National Oil Company based in Tripoli that resolve is weakening. In March 2015 the Tobruk government has set up a rival oil company in an effort to pressure the Tripoli government. At first this was thought to be a ploy to persuade Tripoli to sign the peace deal. While the peace agreement was signed on December 17th it has not been implemented yet and until it is the National Oil Company is threatening to sue any countries that deal with the new Tobruk oil company. That appears to be a bluff because Egypt recently agreed to buy oil from Tobruk. Everyone in Libya is having growing problems exporting oil and this is a huge problem. Like many undeveloped countries that found themselves oil rich after World War II Libya is dependent on oil income for basics like food and other essential supplies. Because of the factional fighting oil production has declined from 1.5 million barrels a day before the 2011 rebellion to 920,000 barrels in 2013, 460,000 in 2014 and about 400,000 barrels a day now. The country has been burning through its pre-war cash reserve and that is expected to be exhausted soon. If oil production is not restored to 2011 levels the government will burn through cash reserves and credit lines eventually. Since 2013 the predictions were that the cash reserves would be gone “by the end of the year” but that has been delayed by continuing to cut imports. At this point all that is getting in is essentials and not enough of that. Many, if not most, Libyans have left the country or are planning to. One reason for the ISIL success is that they have cash and use that to buy support. But without more oil income the economy will collapse and with that food and other essentials will not be available for most Libyans. Foreign aid donors are reluctant to fill the gap because of the chaos and corruption. Put another way, foreign aid donors know from experience that a situation like Libya means many factions preferring to steal food aid or demand large bribes to let it pass even if these actions mean many Libyans starve to death. So why bother and waste aid that is needed in places where it will actually reach those in need. Fortunately the foreign banks holding most ($67 billion) of these reserves (the Sovereign Wealth Fund) have frozen these funds until there is a true government in Libya. At the moment the Tobruk government is recognized by the UN but the internationally recognized Libyan Central Bank is in Tripoli, controlled by the rival “Tripoli government.” Until the Tobruk government is back in the traditional capital (Tripoli) that cash will not be released. Implementing the December 17 peace deal would free those funds but even that is not sufficient incentive to get many factions to cooperate.
The Tobruk government has tried another approach. In January 2015 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 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 while 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 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 a unification (of Tobruk and Tripoli governments) has been negotiated and signed. But until it is implemented Libya will not have a fully functional central bank.
Egypt continues its tight border controls with Libya. Mainly Egypt wants to keep weapons and Islamic terrorists from entering Egypt and stop illegal migrants (some of them new recruits for ISIL in Libya) from crossing into Libya. Smugglers still get a lot of people and goods into and out of Libya using the fact that the 1,100 kilometer long border largely runs through thinly populated desert. The desert route is more expensive and many illegals cannot afford it. Egypt continues making public calls for international help, from anyone, to help stop the violence and chaos in neighboring Libya. Egypt has been making this appeal for most of the year. These appeals have, so far, been answered with silence. Egypt has carried out some unofficial air strikes but wants an “international effort” (at least one other nation besides Egypt) to carry out an open and official air support campaign. One of the two governments in Libya (Tobruk) also called for some international help and got the same response as Egypt. In the meantime Egypt has developed closer, and sometimes official, economic relations with the Tobruk government. This includes a recent deal to buy two million barrels of oil a year from fields Tobruk controls. Egypt probably got a big discount but this deal was probably worth over $50 million to the Tobruk government. Egypt has, since at least 2013, provided the Tobruk some covert military support (trainers, advisors, special equipment). That appears to be continuing.
December 17, 2015: The Tripoli and Tobruk government signed the peace deal that merges the two government. Initially this will mean that nine member ruling council that will serve for one year and supervise elections. This agreement comes after 15 months of negotiations. All the major donor nations (Western and Arab) backed the deal. This deal might still fall apart because of the feuding Tripoli factions or widespread resistance by many of the factions loyal to either government. One of the key factors in this peace deal is the agreement of Arab Gulf States. The UAE (United Arab Emirates) has always backed the more secular Libyan rebels and recognizes (along with Egypt and the UN) the Tobruk government. Qatar along with Turkey and Sudan always backed more Islamic rebel groups and continues to support the Tripoli government. Qatar, Turkey and Sudan have long believed that you can coexist with Islamic conservatives. That concept has become less viable as it becomes apparent that the ancient tradition of Islamic conservatives eventually evolving into Islamic terrorists was still operational. This produced al Qaeda and its evil spawn ISIL. Many Arabs deal with this by insisting that al Qaeda and ISIL are both creations of the United States and Israel. There is no evidence for this but to many Moslems it feels good. Most Islamic terrorist groups in Libya do not accept this peace deal, but that was expected.
December 15, 2015:
Saudi Arabia announced the formation of an anti-terrorist organization (the Islamic Military Alliance or IMA) composed of 34 (so far) Moslem nations. This includes Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Chad, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Qatar, the Palestinians, Pakistan, Senegal, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Yemen. Many people in Pakistan, Afghanistan Lebanon and Malaysia objected to their nation joining the IMA. Three of these nations have large Shia minorities while Malaysia has many non-Moslems, including Hindus. Some nations are not welcome, like Iran, Syria and Iraq. This is because the Sunni Gulf States (led by Saudi Arabia) are at war with Iran, which considers Syria and Iraq allies. A growing number of Moslem nations are openly complaining that Saudi Arabia is the source of most of the Islamic conservatism that propelled al Qaeda and ISIL, the Taliban, Boko Haram and many other Islamic terrorist groups into existence. Many IMA members are the recipients of Saudi financial assistance, so refusing to join the IMA was not considered fiscally prudent. The IMA is meant to deal with ISIL and this should include Libya. But Saudi Arabia, like most everyone else, is waiting for some unity to develop inside Libya before offering help.
December 14, 2015: An American transport, carrying twenty U.S. military personnel, landed at an airbase controlled by Tobruk government. On board were armed men in civilian clothes who were U.S. Navy SEALs and found that the faction controlling the base was not the one they had arranged to work with. The SEALs were asked to leave and they did. No one is revealing details about how this happened. It did come out that U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) personnel have been operating in Libya for at least a year and in greater numbers of late. But the SOCOM personnel can only work with some factions, even among those loyal to the Tobruk government. Other NATO countries (like Italy and Britain) also have commandos, trainers and advisors in Libya helping forces belonging to the Tobruk government (which is recognized by the UN as the government of Libya.) The NATO military assistance operation is to contain 6,000 personnel and most of those are to arrive in the next few months.