Libya: The Battle For Tripoli


April 11, 2019: The LNA (Libyan National Army) and its commander Khalifa Hiftar are on the verge of taking the capital and ending eight years of factional fighting that has left Libya broke and chaotic. Haftar has the support of most Libyans along with Russia, most Arab states (especially Egypt and the UAE) and a growing number of European countries. The UN opposes Hiftar, as does ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), the Moslem Brotherhood and pro-brotherhood nations like Turkey, Qatar and Iran. The main argument against Hiftar is that he could turn into another dictator like Kaddafi, who was overthrown in 2011. Hiftar had been an early supporter of Kaddafi and was a colonel in the Libyan army when, in the late 1980s, he and Kaddafi became enemies and Hiftar was declared a traitor. Hiftar got support from the CIA to form an opposition force (the first LNA) but no African nations were willing to host it for long and by 1990 Hiftar was living in the U.S. and seeking citizenship. Hiftar spent 20 years living in the West before returning to Libya after Kaddafi was overthrown in 2011. By 2014 he realized that Islamic terror groups and independent militias were preventing the formation of a new government and formed the LNA in the east (Benghazi) and took on all the warring factions, especially the Islamic terror groups. Five years later the LNA, the only organized military force in Libya, is closing in on the last concentrations of militias in Tripoli and Misrata. Moreover, he is unlikely to become another Kaddafi or ruler of Libya. Hiftar is 75 and in declining health. He is a Libyan patriot who wants to leave a legacy of a unified, peaceful and prosperous Libya. All the Middle Eastern dictators took over when they were much younger than Hiftar and did not spend two decades living in the West and witnessing what peace and prosperity look like. More UN members are realizing that, as were a growing number of senior GNA officials.

There have been two rival governments in Libya since 2015. The GNA (Government of National Accord) has since late 2018 become more amenable to working with Hiftar. But the many militias the GNA presides over wanted nothing to do with losing their power to a unified government. Currently, Hiftar forces control two-thirds of the country including most of the coastal areas (except Misrata, Tripoli and the coastline west of the city to the Tunisian border). The GNA has occupied and pacified most of the areas where oil production, refining and export facilities are. Before moving on Tripoli from the south the LNA had pacified the Fezzan region in southwest Libya. At that point, it was noticed that many prominent militia leaders in Tripoli are leaving the country with their families. The LNA was expected to move into Tripoli at the request of the GNA government but when the GNA leaders proved unable to do that the LNA acted anyway. The UN, which played a major role in creating the GNA (and deciding that LNA was a threat to Libya despite most Libyans believing otherwise) also became less hostile to the LNA.

The 2015 deal the UN brokered, backed and pushed through to create the GNA was a mistake and the UN later admitted they ignored the complexity of local politics in Libya and the ability of many local groups to block a nation-wide deal. The UN also played down the power many Islamic militias in Tripoli (and Misrata to the east) retained while pretending to support or tolerate the GNA. Meanwhile, these militias refused to halt their private feuds and wars.

There are several hundred thousand armed men in Libya. These men belong to the LNA, militias or Islamic terror groups. Despite all those armed men, Libya remains a fairly low-level conflict. While there are many factions the largest one is the LNA, which comprises about a third of the organized armed personnel in the country. The LNA also includes some allied militias, but the most reliable units are those organized along military lines (brigades, battalions and so on). The LNA is a disciplined force that takes care of its personnel and does not risk their lives needlessly.

Most of the non-LNA armed men are operating as local defense units and support themselves via extortion or voluntary support from a clan or tribal organization. Casualties come from feuds between militias (usually over territory and/or access to resources) and fighting against Islamic terrorists or militias that are interfering with national resources (mainly oil). The area with the most casualties (30 percent) was the coastal city of Derna where local militias inside the city (and more mercenary or Islamic terrorist groups south of the city) have been fighting each other and the LNA for over a year. About half the casualties in the last year were from half a dozen hot spots in the desert south where groups fought (and ultimately lose to the LNA) for control of oil or border control (smuggling routes). One reason for the success of the LNA is that it has become widely known that when the LNA moves in there is a lot less violence and general chaos. The LNA is the only armed group in the country that can do this on a large scale. All this violence is largely the result of there being no national government since the 2011 revolution.

April 10, 2019: The LNA has advanced to within twelve kilometers of downtown Tripoli. So far the Tripoli and Misrata militias have talked tough but reacted more timidly when actually facing LNA forces. There have been about 300 casualties during the last week as LNA forces moved 60 kilometers closer to Tripoli. Several thousand people temporarily fled their homes until the fighting, which has been light so far, passed them by.

April 8, 2019: Ali al Qatrani, a senior official in GNA, resigned and announced his support for the LNA. Qatrani is one of a growing number of GNA officials who are dismayed by the control Islam conservative militias exercise in Tripoli. These militias tend to do what they want not what the GNA orders them to do.

April 7, 2019: The LNA carried out its first airstrike on Tripoli while LNA ground forces advanced to within 50 kilometers of the city.

U.S. Africom announced that it had moved out American troops in Tripoli.

April 6, 2019: The LNA took control of the Tripoli airport

April 4, 2019: The LNA began an advance on Tripoli from the south. This advance quickly led to the cancellation of an April 14 UN sponsored conference to again discuss plans for national elections. There have been many of these conferences, in Libya and Europe in the last few years and all failed to obtain a degree of agreement that would allow elections and an end to the factional violence. Meanwhile, the LNA had restored order to most of the major oil production and export facilities but was encountering problems with the NOC (National Oil Company), Central Bank and the UN over how to operate all these facilities and spend the oil income. The GNA has sought, with some success, to deprive the LNA of much oil income. There were also continuing problems with corruption in how oil income was spent. One thing the NOC and LNA can agree on is that the longer the fighting goes on the more risk is of oil production being disrupted once more.

March 14, 2019: In the west, the LNA captured Gharyan which is south of and about 70 kilometers from Tripoli.




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