Libya: The Impossible But Necessary


August 20, 2018: Because of the May agreement on national presidential and parliamentary elections being held in December many of the larger militias are demanding assurances that militia leaders and their followers will not lose power or income because of a unified government. The combined demands of all the major militias, especially those loyal to the GNA (Government of National Accord), far exceed what will be available. This is one of the reasons the GNA is the weaker of the two existing national governments, despite occupying Tripoli (the national capital and largest city in the country). While the GNA is based in Tripoli and recognized by the UN it has proved much less capable than its eastern (Tobruk) rival the HoR (House of Representatives). It was agreements between these two existing governments that made the December election plan possible. The governments agreed to increase their cooperation (already functional enough) to improve the operation of the National Oil Company and the Central Bank of Libya. But these two institutions are about the only two that are fully functional and even that is difficult to accomplish because of the relentless efforts by various factions to corrupt the bank or the oil company. Keeping these two institutions going is essential to national survival because without the oil income living standards will plunge to levels that will force much, if not most of the current Libyan population to emigrate or starve.

The lack of other functioning national institutions (courts, legislature, civil service and security) keep getting in the way. The judicial system, such as it is, remains local (at best) with no national court to make final decisions. This makes it much more difficult to settle disputes about things like exactly how to conduct the December elections or even complete the registration (only about 55 percent of potential voters have been registered so far). There are still two legislatures (GNA and HoR) and neither of them can get all their members to attend legislative sessions. The lack of a national civil service is largely because of the lack of many national institutions and the many militias demanding more government jobs than the current oil income can pay for.

National security is in somewhat better shape because of the HoR recognizing general Hiftar and his LNA (Libyan National Army). The many still independent militias see the LNA as an enemy because accepting the authority of the LNA will mean a militia can no longer do whatever get away with and that means a substantial loss of income and decline in membership.

The LNA now controls most of the Libyan coast and is establishing security in the major cities. In the east Derna was the last major coastal city to have a Islamic terrorists and rogue militia problem and in the last few months the LNA eliminated that and is now seeking out less visible outlaws in the city. This takes time, as does the process of organizing forces to move further west against the GNA dominated cities of Misrata and Tripoli. Hiftar has held off on that to give the GNA an opportunity to pacify these two cities. That is happening, but very slowly. Meanwhile, the LNA is working on restoring order in the south and massing forces to the final advance west, to the Tunisian border.

In short, the leaders of the GNA and HoR can go to Paris in May 2019 and agree to national elections and a unified government but neither of these leaders has the means to actually make this happen. The leaders have no legs to walk on. The unification agreement was recognition that if the unification did not take place, and the national institutions get established, Libya was doomed. The problem is many armed factions still believe that the interests of their faction come first despite the risk of the nation disintegrating because of that greed.

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.

But in Tripoli, the traditional capital, the GNA never had complete control of the city because of so many powerful and uncooperative militias that had been there since the 2011 revolution. The HoR thrived because it had more competent military commanders who literally took over and rebuilt the pre-2011 Libyan armed forces. This was done by replacing all the officers and troops loyal to the deposed 2011 government with tribal militias and former Libyan officers returning from exile and training a new generation of Libyan military leaders. The UN and the West opposed this but it worked and with the cooperation of most Arab countries the HoR was finally accepted by the UN. This made possible the December elections that will merge the GNA and HoR. But the GNA might not last until December and that is a problem that has to be fixed if the elections are to take place.

The Southern Expanse

Most of Libya is desert and most of the desert in the far south has nothing (oil fields or pipelines) of value and the few people scratching out a living belong to Taureg (Berber) or black (sub-Saharan) African tribes. Poverty and knowledge of the territory have made the tribes susceptible to the influence and control of outside groups with money (or guns, but the money works more effectively). Since 2011 the south has seen a number of Islamic terrorist groups (mainly al Qaeda affiliates) enter the area and offer cash for cooperation in providing the Islamic terrorists with sanctuary and assistance (which is paid for) to operate their smuggling (people, drug, weapons and otherwise legal goods) operations. The most lucrative smuggling routes are in southwest Libya (the Fezzan region) bordering Niger and Chad. Smuggling routes tend to come up via Mali into Algeria (which has well-guarded borders) and Libya (which does not). In southeast Libya the routes come via Sudan and Chad. There is a further complication with Sudan because Libya borders the Darfur region which has suffered violence for decades and several Darfur rebel groups have taken advantage of the post-2011 chaos in Libya to establish bases in the southeast. The rebels make deals with the Libyan tribes and life goes on. In the southeast, the LNA persuaded many of the tribes to side with the LNA and with that the LNA found that it had over a thousand Darfur rebels on the payroll. That was because the Darfur rebels often joined local tribal militias and shared profits from smuggling operations the Darfur rebels operated to finance themselves. This puts the Libyan tribes in touch with Chad based smuggling gangs that also run goods (and people) into southeastern Libya.

The smuggling gangs are another matter as most are dominated by Islamic terrorists who also plan and carry out terror attacks. Some Islamic terrorists will also try to impose their religious views (and lifestyle rules) on the local tribes. That never ends well and for that reason, more of the tribes are welcoming LNA forces as they seek to shut down al Qaeda and other such groups. This Islamic terrorist clearance operation has accelerated since 2017 and the LNA is the only one that’s really making an effort to restore law and order in the south.

External Complications

Another complication the LNA encounters in the southeast is Qatar involvement. Complaints about this have been common 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 rebels were working with Libyan smugglers to get the weapons into Sudan. It was difficult to blame this on Israel and America and Qatari groups appeared to be financing this arms trade. The LNA has also encountered Turkish efforts to influence events in Libya but these may have been mainly Turkish businessmen rather than the Turkish government.

While foreign experts believe there are still 3,000 or more ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) members in Libya the LNA has encountered far fewer and is chasing them down. Currently, a lot of this is taking place in south-central Libya (Jufra, 650 kilometers southeast of Tripoli). This began in May when LNA forces cornered an ISIL faction believed responsible for some recent attacks on southern oil facilities (like the one near Jufra). Most of the remaining ISIL fighters are operating in the largely desert south, surviving as bandits most of the time. The LNA is tracking them down and destroying them, something no other organization in Libya can do.


Another achievement of the LNA peace effort in the south is to reduce violence against oil production and movement (pipelines) facilities. Most of these are halfway between the coast and the southern borders. Normally the main source of interruption is extortionate oil facility guards or other local militia problems. The LNA has concentrated on dealing with that and been successful. As a result by now (August 2018) production has returned to a million BPD (barrels per day). At the end of 2017 production was about a million BPD but that was disrupted occasionally in early 2018. The current goal is 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 may be up now but is at risk of continuing to fall, 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. The problem with increasing production is that it attracts more greedy militias seeking to get paid.

August 8, 2018: The LIA (Libyan Investment Authority) has been forced it leave Tripoli (because of militia threats and violence) for a less vulnerable location (believed to be Malta) where it can work with foreign governments and banks to safeguard the Libyan sovereign wealth fund ($67 billion of cash and other assets). Since the 2011 Libyan revolution these assets have been frozen under a UN Security Council resolution and are only accessed for national emergencies and even then there is a lot of scrutiny by foreign auditors.

August 2, 2018: In southwestern Egypt Sudanese forces handed over five Egyptian soldiers who had been captured in mid-July by a Chad militia force from Libya and held prisoner until late July. The Egyptian soldiers (an office and four subordinates) were carrying out a border reconnaissance near the Sudan border when they accidentally crossed into Sudan and caught the attention of the Chadian gunmen (who often pass this way because of their smuggling activities). Sudanese troops were alerted and at the end of July had conducted an operation in southeast Libya to help free the five Egyptian soldiers. At that point Sudan insisted that Egypt reciprocate with problems Sudan was having with rebels and dissidents finding sanctuary in Egypt. Negotiations ensued and an agreement was reached.


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