Libya: Gangsters Going Broke


September 18, 2018: The May agreement on national presidential and parliamentary elections being held in December is falling apart because many of the larger militias in and around Tripoli are refusing to cooperate. These militias are acting on their own to make sure they do not lose power or income because of a unified government. This is largely a problem with militias loyal to the UN backed GNA (Government of National Accord) in Tripoli. 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). The most obvious sign of GNA decline is its inability to keep the Tripoli airport open. Since August 31st the airport has been closed most of the time because of rouge militias either attacking the airport with rockets or occupying it. The government has spent the last few days trying to assemble enough loyal forces to regain control of the airport. There are doubts, especially by the UN, that the GNA can maintain control of the airport or Tripoli itself. Without the airport, operational international flights have to land at Misrata (210 kilometers to the east) the third largest city in the country and drive to the capital.

It was agreements between the GNA and HoR governments that made the December election plan possible but since May the GNA has declined to the point where it can no longer operate. 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. These two institutions are about the only two that are fully functional and are now looking to the HoR for protection. This security is essential 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 bank and oil company may limp along to stave off mass starvation but the GNA and HoR are not getting together to hold the national elections, at least not in 2018. The two governments were supposed to have agreed on election terms and procedures by mid-September and that has not happened. Now a lot more is not happening as well.

The collapse of the GNA and growing strength of the HoR and its military component the LNA (Libyan National Army) has meant that most of the gangsters have shifted their operations westward towards Tripoli and the Tunisian border. Most of the people smuggling is now directed towards Spain, which this year accounts for over 40 percent of the illegal migrants getting into Europe. Illegal migrant traffic is down over 40 percent this year (to 75,000 arrivals in Europe so far) and down 75 percent compared to 2016. About 1,600 illegals have died at sea this year. Italy is actively refusing to accept illegals and Greece is also difficult to get into. So now most of the smugglers concentrate on Spain, which is not happy with that and is becoming more hostile to the illegals and the smugglers involved.

The smugglers have seen their income decline over 70 percent since 2016 because more and more of the Libyan coast is controlled and policed by the LNA and Italy has made it much more difficult to get illegals to Italy. The cost of moving operations westward (often more than once) and keeping the smuggling routes from the southern border open has been high. The LNA has also been moving south and occupying key towns used by the people smugglers as they moved their clients north. Far fewer of those illegal migrants are making the journey because so many have failed (and often died in the process) since 2o16. The people smugglers provided a lot of income for local militias and with the sharp decline in people smuggling activity most of the militias loyal to the LNA have suffered sharp declines in income. A lot of desperate militia leaders are fighting over a shrinking pot of gold. Meanwhile the LNA is run more professionally and is much more dependable when it comes to payroll and logistics in general (especially medical care for those wounded in combat). LNA commanders take care of their troops and keep their casualties lower than militia leaders will, or can.

The LNA continues to defeat or absorb defiant militias, especially ones that are religion based or outright Islamic terrorists. While many Western nations consider the LNA, or at least some of its commanders, to be war criminals the fact is that pro-GNA faction leaders are no better and often a lot worse. The Arab nations that have long supported the LNA and its creator Khalifa Hiftar understand this and the fact that Hiftar is simply a more effective military leader. After living in the U.S. for over a decade, Hiftar knows first-hand what works. Hiftar always worked for the rival Libyan HoR government in Tobruk and has remained loyal to the HoR for as long as the LNA existed.

Most Libyans, having little or no personal experience living in a much less corrupt and more productive Western economy, just want someone to make all the chaos and pain go away. There is no easy way to make that happen. A first step would be to form a united government. That is still a work in progress but at least an effort is underway. Hiftar is also popular in Libya (and with other Moslem governments in the region) for his steadfast and effective opposition to Islamic terrorists and Islamic radicalism in general.

Hiftar has indicated that he might have to take Tripoli to end the war but he is not willing to fight a long and bloody battle for the city. More likely is he will continue his slow and methodical march west, where he encourages militias to join the LNA and only fights those that are basically Islamic terrorists. That does not include a lot of the pro-GNA militias composed of Islamic conservatives (and a few Islamic radicals). For decades the Kaddafi dictatorship encouraged Islamic conservatism (and promptly killed anti-Kaddafi Islamic terrorists). So a lot of Libyans are still comfortable with Islamic conservatism. But that means the Islamic conservative militias are willing to work with the LNA and a growing number already do, as do Berber and various tribes along the southern borders.

Oil Boom

The LNA continues to maintain security for oil production and movement (pipelines) facilities. Most of these are halfway between the coast and the southern borders. For August production hit a post-2011 record of 940,000 BPD (barrels per day). That’s a big increase from July (670,000 BPD). At the end of 2017 production was close to a million BPD but that was disrupted frequently 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.

September 14, 2018: The UN extended its operations in Libya another year, to September 15, 2019. The UN also admitted that it was not likely to meet the May goal of holding national elections by the end of 2018.

September 10, 2018: ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) took credit for a failed attack on the National Oil Corporation headquarters in Tripoli. There were three attackers armed with guns and two of them wore explosive vests. The three attackers were killed, along with two security personnel. Ten other civilians were wounded. Two of the attackers killed themselves by detonating their explosive vests. The last major ISIL attack was in May, against the national election headquarters. That one also failed. There are believed to be over a thousand ISIL members still active in Libya and surviving in thinly populated areas away from the coast. These ISIL remnants survive by banditry and working for smugglers. There is a lot of less demand by smugglers for security services so ISIL struggles to remain operational in Libya. Security forces have detected small groups of ISIL members trying to establish themselves about 70 kilometers south of Sirte, which was the ISIL “capital” in Libya for about a year. The Sirte militias are even more hostile to ISIL since they drove the Islamic terrorists out in late 2016.

The ISIL attack in Tripoli was made possible by the general disorder in the city over the last month. In the week before the ISIL attack at least 70 people were killed during battles between militias. Many more were wounded.

September 1, 2018: The GNA government reopened the main border crossings to Tunisia. Libya had closed it for six weeks because of the dispute with Tunisia over smuggling operations based in Ben Guerdane (the area around the main crossing where much business is done). The closure was triggered in part by Tunisia ordering its security forces to crack down on Libyans who buy a lot of consumer goods in Tunisia and then seek to smuggle it into Libya.

August 21, 2018: The UN, which keeps track of such things, reports that so far in 2018 about 130 civilians have been killed as a result of fighting in Libya (which now has a population of about six million). There were many more casualties among the military forces (LNA and militias) as well as the few Islamic terror groups still operating. Various surveys indicate that nationwide fewer than 500 civilians died during 2017 from the fighting between militias, Islamic terror groups, criminal gangs and the LNA. The armed men in these groups suffered higher casualties, most of them among the Islamic terror groups, which were considered legitimate targets by everyone.




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