Libya: A New Deal


November 8, 2018: The UN has abandoned any hope that the planned elections will take place in December. The UN also admitted the obvious about the Tripoli based GNA (Government of National Accord) it had helped create and long backed. The GNA had lost control over Tripoli as various militias did as they pleased, often with considerable violence. Many of the Tripoli militias are little more than criminal gangs and spending most of their time engaged in criminal acts (theft, kidnapping, extortion and feuding with rivals). Worse the militias were also attacking hospitals, banks and foreign aid efforts. The militias are also cooperating with the people-smuggling gangs which are having a hard time because of pressure from European governments as well as the LNA.

The UN helped arrange one more meeting (in Italy) on November 12 between GNA and HoR officials along with other major players (both Libyan and foreign). This is being called a “Stabilization Conference” and it gives the major players one last chance to work out their differences and cooperate as best they can. Meanwhile, the UN will work with groups in Libya that can effectively implement economic activities and control militia and Islamic terrorist violence. In effect, that means most groups aligned with the HoR and its LNA.

The May agreement on December national presidential and parliamentary elections was always considered a risky venture and it was no surprise that it did not come to pass. The main problem was always the militias in and around Tripoli refusing to cooperate. These militias are more concerned with maintaining their own power and income, which would be threatened by a unified government. This is especially true of militias aligned with the GNA government. 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 late August the airport has been closed most of the time because of rouge militias either attacking the airport with rockets or occupying it. The government finally regained control of the airport by the end of September but was not able to keep the peace. There were growing doubts, especially by the UN, about the GNA ability to 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. The GNA has been trying to reduce violence by appointing more powerful and cooperative militia leaders to senior government posts. That is not lucrative for many militia leaders who are finding it more profitable to get into the oil smuggling business. A growing number of oil tanker trucks can be seen headed for Tunisia. Even that is not enough to keep all the militias solvent and that is driving militia leaders to more desperate measures in order to keep their private armies operational.

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 function as a government. The GNA and HoR had agreed to increase their cooperation (already functional enough) to improve the operation of the NOC (National Oil Company) and the CBL (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. Actually, the source of protection is the LNA (Libyan National Army) that recognizes the HoR as its political boss. The HoR is not much more effective than the GNA with many of its elected members more interested in themselves than the fate of Libya. Yet some form of security (law and order or a reasonable substitute) is essential because of the relentless efforts by various factions to corrupt the bank or the oil company. Keeping the NOC and SBL 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.

Oil The Giver Of Life

Oil production has reached 1.25 million BPD (barrels per day) mainly because most of the major oil fields are now operational. The NOC (National Oil Company) has managed to get all the PDG (Petroleum Defense Guards) under control. This involved convincing local tribes or militias that nearby oil facilities (pumping, pipelines and export terminals) were not an economic opportunity just for them but for the entire country. This reduced the fighting for the right to be highly paid (and often not very reliable) PDG. This problem will only remain solved if there is a national government that can provide law and order. This is crucial because most of the major oil fields were developed and managed by multinational (mainly European nations) efforts and that means there are a lot of foreign workers there, mainly to deal with the high tech stuff. For several years the main source of oil production interruption had been extortionate oil facility guards or other local militia problems. Despite these constant interruptions the NOC has continued to increase production in exports. By the end of 2017 production was about a million BPD. The current goal is to reach 1.6 million BPD by the end of 2019 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. The major problem with increasing production is that it attracts more greedy militias seeking to get paid. Fortunately, more Libyans are accepting the fact that unless oil production is left alone the production will decline, as well as national income and Libya will become a nation of paupers.

From Russia With Conditions

Since early October it has been no secret that several dozen Russian special operations and intel officers are now stationed at bases in eastern Libya (Tobruk and Benghazi). Some of these personnel have been there for over a year but the numbers have recently increased. There are a lot more armed Russians at these two bases but most of them are contractors from the Russian Wagner Group. The contractors concentrate on providing training for LNA men. Russia is also believed to have brought some modern weapons with them, like air defense systems and cruise missiles. The LNA and its commander Khalifa Hiftar have a long relationship with Russia. Hiftar has visited Russia several times seeking more than diplomatic support from Russia. Now Russia is delivering and in return, Hiftar has helped Russia get oilfield exploration, development and management contracts. Russia has also become a major supplier of wheat to Libya, but that probably would have happened anyway because since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 Russia has resumed its pre-communist status as a major grain exporter. Russian wheat is also cheaper given lower production costs and the poor exchange rate for the Russian currency.

November 7, 2018: LNA commander Khalifa Hiftar once more visited Russia, to hold discussions with the Defense Minister and other officials. Hiftar, as well as some Russian observers, are attending the “Stabilization Conference” in Italy on the 12th. Hiftar has visited Russia several times in the last few years and has a good relationship with the Russians. Because of that Italy had discussed plans for the conference with the Russians and invited them to send observers.

November 5, 2018: The UN extended the sanctions on Libya until February 2020. This means it is illegal to send weapons and military equipment to Libya. That happens anyway, mainly for the LNA via Egypt or an airbase run by the UAE. The GNA had pushed for the lifting of sanctions but the UN believed the GNA was too corrupted to import weapons for legitimate reasons. The sanctions also seek to crack down on illegal oil exports.

November 4, 2018: In Sabratha (a coastal city 66 kilometers west of Tripoli) fighting local militias and suspected Islamic terrorists has shut down access to the city. Sabratha has long been one of the coastal ports that people smuggling gangs operated from. Local militias sometimes allowed this as long as they got a slice of that income. The militias protected the gangsters moving the illegal migrants to Europe via Libya. Most of the boats loaded with illegal migrants headed for Europe leave from Sabratha and other coastal towns in the area. It costs these illegals thousands of dollars each for the smugglers to get them to the Libyan coast and then on a boat that will get them to Europe or close enough for the EU naval patrol to rescue them and take them the rest of the way. The smuggling gangs took in over a billion dollars from this in 2015 and that kind of income is too attractive to give up without a fight. But since 2017 the LNA, some Sabratha militias and Italy worked to shut down the smugglers. The LNA and its leader general Hiftar had a plan for shutting down all the smuggling gangs and wanted more support from the EU to do the same with the European gangs which control more of this smuggling that the EU would like to admit. Earlier in 2017, Italy took the lead implementing an EU program to organize (and subsidize) a revived Libyan coast guard and paying southern tribes to go after people smugglers. That was the easy part and it soon greatly reduced the flow of illegals to the EU (most of them coming in via Italy).

November 2, 2018: The UN, which seeks to keep track of such things, reports that in October eight civilians were killed and two wounded because of militia or Islamic terrorist violence. So far in 2018, about 150 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.

October 29, 2018: In south central Libya (Jufra, 650 kilometers southeast of Tripoli), ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) was believed responsible for an attack on a LNA held town and later a gun battle at an LNA checkpoint. All this left two soldiers and three civilians dead and ten civilians apparently kidnapped. Not much has been seen or heard from local ISIL fighters in the past few months. ISIL has long been 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. The LNA is the only government controlled force in the south trying to establish law and order.

October 26, 2018: In western Libya (the Egyptian frontier) Egyptian border guards detected, intercepted and seized two four-wheel drive trucks attempting to cross the border via the desert. In the trucks, smugglers had over a ton of illegal drugs and five rifles, ammo and a satellite phone. The primary cargo was the drugs (mainly a million methamphetamine pills and marijuana). Illegal drugs have replaced weapons as the most valuable items smugglers can bring out of Libya.

October 24, 2018: Aircraft transponder data revealed that Russian Il-76 and Tu-154 transports are regularly operating from the LNA controlled (and UAE managed) al Kharouba airbase in eastern Libya. These Russian flights often connect with airports in Sudan and the Russian airbase in Syria. The Russian aircraft are moving personnel and cargo.

October 21, 2018: The LNA quietly turned over to Egypt the widow of Egyptian Islamic terrorist Omar Rifai Sorour. The widow and her daughters are Egyptian. This was not considered unusual because the LNA has been supported by Egypt for years. Earlier in October LNA forces captured the local ISIL leader, Hesham Ashmwai, along with the widow and two daughters of prominent Egyptian Islamic terrorist leader Omar Rifai Sorour during a raid in northern Libya (Derna). The widow confirmed that her husband had died of wounds suffered from an airstrike in Derna and revealed his burial site. Raids like this are capturing a lot of key Egyptian and Libyan Islamic terrorists or their families and that results in a lot of useful information on past, current and future Islamic terrorist operations in North Africa. This raid was considered a major event because Ashmwai, a former Egyptian special operations officer, had been a notably effective Islamic terrorist leader in Libya and long sought. Ashmwai continued to organize attacks in Egypt after he moved to Libya in 2014 (to recover from wounds). Ashmwai was the most wanted Islamic terrorist in Egypt. Ashmwai agreed to provide LNA interrogators with information on what he knew of current and past Islamic terrorists operations he was involved with. Egypt wants Ashmwai returned to Egypt for interrogation and prosecution. The LNA may have agreed to keep him away from Egypt in return for information. Western or Russian intel agencies would like to have Ashmwai for questioning and that may be how the LNA is keeping Ashmwai out of Egypt without offending the Egyptians unduly.




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