Libya: An Epic Flood of Water and Oil Income

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September 29, 2023: Russia and Turkey continue to keep troops in Libya despite agreeing to withdraw their troops from Libya. Both nations want to protect their interests in Libya with sufficient guarantees that their economic agreements will be respected. The UN and NATO oppose this because the Libyan Tripoli faction wants to legitimize an illegal treaty signed by them in 2019 granting Turkey some of Greece’s offshore oil and natural gas rights in an area between Libya and Turkey. This treaty ignored existing, and internationally recognized, Greek claims on that area. Turkey and Greece are both NATO members and NATO backs Greece in this matter. Turkey won’t withdraw its forces from Libya until a new national Libyan government assures the Turks that the illegal agreement is confirmed by a national Libyan government. Many people in both factions do not want to be stuck with a treaty that the UN and NATO consider illegal. Russia is no friend of NATO and is currently at war with NATO-backed forces in Ukraine. Turkey is also a NATO member but most other NATO members would like to expel the Turks from NATO. The problem there is the absence of any legal mechanism for that because, when NATO was founded, the threat to everyone was the USSR. Which dissolved in 1991. Turks and Russians are troublemakers in Europe and Libya is a foreign branch of that mischief.

Despite all the divisive problems, all the Libyan factions agreed earlier in 2023 to support one prime minister and hold national elections before the end of 2023. Russia has moved its embassy from Benghazi to Tripoli. Delays were caused by security concerns. Tripoli still has problems with local militias. By reopening its embassy in Tripoli and backing the Abdulhamid Dbeibah GNU (Government of National Unity) faction in Tripoli rather than the Fathi Bashagha faction and the LNA (Libyan National Army) in the east, Russia is in effect cooperating with Turkey, whose illegal agreements with the Tripoli government include giving Russia some of Greece’s rights to explore for oil and gas in areas of the Mediterranean. Libya is encouraging the reestablishment of embassies in Tripoli. The American embassy closed in 2014 but so far the Americans have no plans to reopen their embassy. A few dozen nations have, or are planning to reopen their embassies in Tripoli.

The Russian Wagner Group mercenaries in Libya are unaffected by the recent armed dispute between Wagner and Russian armed forces plus the subsequent death of the Wagner Group founders. With Wagner leaderless, the Russian government told Wagner clients in Africa that Wagner operations would not be disrupted. Wagner forces have been in Libya since 2018, when Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the LNA (Libyan National Army) hired them. Haftar had a military background and was once a senior officer in the pre-2011 Libyan military. Haftar fled Libya in the 1980s after incurring the wrath of dictator Kaddafi. Now an American citizen, he returned to eastern Libya in 2013, revived some of the units of the Kaddafi-era military and began taking control of military bases from militias and Islamic terrorists. Eastern tribes rallied to Haftar, who had organized the most effective counterterrorism effort in the country. Haftar had the support of most Arab states, especially Egypt and the UAE. Egypt has a vulnerable border with Libya that was being used by Islamic terror groups to move people in and out as well as smuggle weapons into Egypt. The LNA continues to be a major military force in Eastern Libya. Khalifa Haftar, now in his 70s and suffering from health problems, has turned over his military commands to one of his sons.

September 25, 2023: In Derna, the mayor and several other officials were arrested. These men were responsible for maintaining the dams south of the city. The last time dam maintenance contracts were issued, in 2007, the work was never done. The city has been at peace for the last three or four years but that did not lead to an effort to catch up on dam maintenance.

September 24, 2023: The UAE has, over the last 11 days, flown in 622 tons of aid for Derna.

September 14, 2023: During the last two days the four Libyan oil export ports reopened after being closed for two days because of the major storm that caused the dam break and flood in Derna. Oil production, which takes place far from the coast, was not interrupted. The Libyan National Oil Corporation has restored normal oil production levels of 1.2 million BPD (barrels per day) and seeks to increase it to two million BPD by 2027. Producing last month was about 36 million barrels. The government is trying to boost that to 40 million barrels. Oil is currently selling for nearly $100 a barrel. The main obstacles to increasing production are the various tribal leaders who demand cash in return for not disrupting production. Officially the tribes are providing “oil field guards'', but the main threat is the tribal militias. Nationalism in Libya is not as powerful as loyalty to a tribe or urban militia.

September 13, 2023: Turkey is sending a ship loaded to Libya with aid for the flood victims in Derna. Turkey has also sent three air transports loaded with aid. Also on board are members of the Turkish Gendarmerie and Disaster and Emergency Management Forces to help with finding and treating victims of the Derna flood.

September 11, 2023: The coastal city of Derna, which is 250 kilometers east of Benghazi, has been heavily damaged by the collapse of dams 11 kilometers south of the city. The massive flood tore through and destroyed about 20 percent of the city. About ten percent of the population (nearly 10,000 people) were killed and many more injured and even more lost their homes. This is a catastrophe for Libya because only about two percent of the country, almost entirely along the coast, receives enough rain to support agriculture and grazing. The coastal city of Derna is at the center of a small, well-watered coastal zone that favors farming and, further inland, grazing. The rains are seasonal and during the rainy season (September through March) there often were small floods. To deal with this, the government built two dams south of Derna to hold the large amounts of rainwater and provide water when there was a drought. The earthen dams south of Derna were built in the 1970s and had to be maintained to prevent eventual failure. The dams have had little or no maintenance for the last twenty years because of unrest and revolution. The last few years were relatively peaceful and provided an opportunity to catch up on dam maintenance. That was not done and when exceptionally heavy rains arrived in September the dam reservoirs quickly filled and put an overwhelming strain on the poorly maintained dams that caused them to fail. Before the 2011 revolution, Derna had a population of about 100,000. That has declined in the last decade because of nearly continuous fighting.

September 7, 2023: UN officials continue working with Libyan Central Bank managers to enhance the bank’s credibility and efficiency. This is necessary to provide the most money for essential supplies and services for the many Libyans who depend on this.

August 30, 2023: The War in Ukraine has had an impact on other wars that Russia is involved in. For example, Russian influence in Libya has diminished since Russia invaded Ukraine and failed to achieve a quick victory. Libyans note that Russians in Ukraine are now stuck in a morass of its own making. The Russians are losing ground and the situation in Ukraine takes priority over what Russia had going on in Libya. There are still enough Russian troops in Libya to prevent Turkey, Libyans or Egyptians from taking control of whatever they want. In this case the Russians have a lot of local support. Libyans see the Russians as a foreign occupier that doesn’t want to be there while the Turks are former imperial occupiers that have ambitious plans for a continued presence in Libya.

 

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