Libya: Settling For Survival


July 27, 2017: The GNA (Government of National Accord in Tripoli) and HoR (House of Representatives in Tobruk) governments have both agreed to a nationwide ceasefire, elections in early 2018 and UN recognition of the LNA (Libyan National Army). The original GNA prime minister (Fayez al Serraj) and the head of the HoR armed forces (Khalifa Belgacem Hiftar) were at the talks and openly supported the agreement. These men are the most prominent leaders in the country and that gives this agreement the best chance of succeeding.

Hiftar has built the LNA into the strongest and most disciplined military force in the country. Hiftar did this using the remnants of the pre-2011 Libyan armed forces which he was a senior officer in. But Hiftar turned against the dictatorship long before it was overthrown in 2011. Hiftar rallied many other likeminded officers and troops and began training and incorporating rebel fighters. As part of the agreement the LNA will incorporate many of the militia fighters into the LNA and disarm the rest. This deal had been in development for weeks and was finally confirmed at a conference in France two days ago. In addition both governments now allow foreign warships to enter Libyan coastal waters to go after people smugglers. Hiftar is the man to organize a more effective military in general and is known to oppose smugglers, especially those dealing in people, as well as Islamic terrorists of all sorts, especially the ones involved in smuggling people, drugs and guns.

What caused this seemingly sudden willingness to compromise and cooperate was the fact that all other choices were worse. The past had caught up with Libya and most armed factions realized that the country has been torn apart by the aftereffects of the 2011 uprising. No one faction was able to win. By the end of 2015 the UN had gotten the two (Tripoli and Tobruk) major coalitions to agree to a merger that was supposed to take place in early 2016. That merger was delayed by continuing factional infighting and the more pressing need to deal with the growing Islamic terrorist presence. That was accomplished in late 2016 but the rival Tripoli (UN approved) and Tobruk (popular in eastern Libya) governments were still trying to work out how to create a unified government. That was finally achieved, it appears. In mid-2017. A major reason for the agreement was the need to avoid mass starvation. Since 2011 oil exports had shrunk and the Central Bank cash reserves were nearly gone. If peace and unity were not achieved soon no government would be able to buy and import food and other essentials. Even by Middle Eastern standards Libya was setting a new records in self-destructive behavior. By 2017 more Libyans were agreeing that the situation was indeed becoming desperate and more compromise was the only solution. Even with the current national compromise the tribal and religious differences (Islamic radicals versus everyone else) plus epic levels of corruption and entitlement keep peace and prosperity out of reach. At this point most Libyans will settle for survival. The neighbors (particularly Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria) back the new peace deal as do European nations. How long it will last is another matter.

ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant)

Many surviving ISIL members fled the country after being driven out of the coastal city of Sirte by the end of 2016. But a large number of ISIL members and their families (over a thousand people, most of them armed) fled south from their former bases in Sirte and Benghazi. Some of these Islamic terrorists found hideouts in the rural areas between Sirte and Derna and are still trying to cope with them.

Since early 2017 LNA forces from further east followed the ISIL and other Islamic terrorist remnants to Derna further inland. Some ISIL men managed to establish a presence down there and have been seeking to carry out bombings and other terror attacks on the coastal areas (where most of the people are). The new peace deal will get GNA and LNA forces operating together in finding and destroying remaining ISIL members in the south. Until now GNA and LNA forces would, at best, avoid each other and sometimes fight each other. Meanwhile Derna remains a problem. 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 under attack by Hiftar forces and being pushed out of the area. The GNA had accused Hiftar of illegally attempting to take control of Derna while Hiftar says he wants to remove any Islamic conservative or terrorist militias still in Derna.

With the new peace agreement Hiftar will have the advantage because the new arrangement includes an agreement to crack down on Islamic terrorist groups and Arab oil states that previously supported (or allowed their citizens to do so) some Islamic terrorist groups have agreed to change that. This was a side effect of the of a June 5th diplomatic showdown between most of the Arabian states (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain) and Qatar over the Islamic terrorism issue. The issue of Qatari and Iranian support of Islamic terrorism in Libya goes way back. General Hiftar and the HoR government openly criticized Qatar for working with Iran and Sudan to back Islamic terrorists in Libya. Qatar along with Turkey and Sudan always backed more Islamic rebel groups and continues to support the rival Tripoli government in part because the GNA contains more militias that are, at the very least, more “Islamic” in their outlook. 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 functioning. This process produced al Qaeda and its evil spawn ISIL. Many Arabs deal with this by insisting that al Qaeda and ISIL are creations of the United States and Israel. There is no evidence for this but to many Moslems, especially Arabs, it feels good.

A growing number of Libyans have been complaining about Qatar since 2014. Initially this came as a surprise because in late 2011, after the fall of the Kaddafi government neighboring Sudan, long the target of Kaddafi meddling, welcomed the change in Libya. But there were side effects. Huge amounts of weapons were stolen from Kaddafi era warehouses and some of the Libyan arms were showing up in Sudan, where Darfur (western Sudan) rebels were working with Libyan smugglers to get the weapons into Sudan. It was difficult to blame this on Israel and America.

This situation got even stranger after Sirte fell. A lingering reminder of Arab support for ISIL remains in western Libya where several hundred identified but unclaimed (by nations they came from) bodies of ISIL men killed in Sirte are held in refrigerated mortuaries. Tunisia, which estimates at least 3,000 of its citizens joined ISIL since 2014, accepted the dead from Sirte. Some Arab countries are reluctant to share data to help confirm who the dead are and where they are from. The Libyans, with assistance from the U.S. and some European nations, have taken DNA samples from the dead and are seeking to match that DNA many Arab nations have collected from Islamic terrorists (or those suspected of that). ISIL is so hated throughout the Arab world, and so many Arabs believe ISIL was a creation of Israel and the West, that confirming the ID of so many local men who obviously joined ISIL, is difficult to accept.

Oil And Survival

The National Oil Corporation (NOC) has managed to increase production this year to record (since 2011) levels. Currently about a million BPD (barrels per day, including natural gas equivalents) are produced. That is up from 250,000 BPD in mid-2016, 800,000 BPD in April 2017 and 880,000 BPD in May 2017. NOC expects to keep that up until, by the end of 2017, 1.25 million BPD is reached. After that work will continue to reach 1.5 million BPD by the end of 2018 and 2.1 million BPD by the early 2020s. This is far in excess of pre-2011 levels (1.6 million BPD) but is necessary because of the need to finance reconstruction and adapt to the fact that the world price for oil keeps falling, despite OPEC (the Arab dominated oil cartel) efforts to reduce overall production and drive up the price. The problem is that the United States and Canada are producing a lot more due to new technologies (like fracking) that open up huge new sources that were long known but not reachable.

OPEC had exempted Libya from production limits but this will only last until pre-2011 levels are reached and Libya hopes to get permission to exceed that limit because of hardship. That will be difficult because most of the OPEC members are suffering, politically if not economically, from the new normal for oil prices.

The new peace deal means much less fighting over oil facilities. Meanwhile there are technical problems, mostly the result of years without proper maintenance that cause production to remain unpredictable until there is enough money and time to measure all the damage. That should take until early 2018 if the peace deal holds. There is another problem that the NOC has to share responsibility for. In theory most of the oil is exported and the cash received buys essential items like food, medicine and other consumer items. In practice there is still a problem with corruption and a lot of the oil money disappearing before the needed imports can reach most Libyans.

July 25, 2017: France hosted peace talks between senior GNA and HoR factions. Italy worked with France to get the two factions to talk and played a major role in putting the final deal together.

July 9, 2017: Fighting between pro and anti-GNA militias spread in Tripoli. This fighting has been going on for over a year. Casualties are usually low but there is a lot of property damage and normal activities are disrupted.

July 4, 2017: In the west an artillery shell landed on a beach outside Tripoli, killing five and wounding 32 civilians. It is unclear if this was deliberate but it is another reminder that the GNA continues to have problems with rebellions (or downright criminal) militias in the city that will fight rather than obey orders to behave.

July 1, 2017: Fighting nationwide left several hundred dead during June, most of them Islamic terrorists or members of hostile (to both governments and most others) militias. There are few accurate statistics about deaths and estimate must be used. The LNA suffered most of its casualties in Benghazi where 44 soldiers were killed during operations to clear the last Islamic terrorists out of the city. Many of the casualties were caused by the many landmines and other explosives left behind by retreating Islamic terror groups. The LNA has troops trained to deal with this but there were so many explosive devices that casualties were higher than expected.

June 27, 2017: In the east Egyptian Air Force F-16s destroyed a convoy of twelve trucks coming into Egypt from Libya via a desert trail just north of the “sand sea” that is largely impassable to trucks. Video of the airstrike showed some of the trucks exploding twice as their cargoes of ammunition ignited. Smuggling Libyan weapons (looted from government warehouses during the 2011 revolution) into Egypt is still big business especially since Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups, plus criminal gangs, are ready to buy whatever gets into Egypt.




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