Libya: Follow The Money And Count The Bodies


January 29, 2015: Follow the money. One reason the new peace talks are making progress is because factions with responsibilities for large chunks of the population are willing to compromise if that will help stem the accelerating decline in living standards nationwide. Economic activity is shrinking and shortages increasing because of the factional fighting and especially because two governments claim to rule the entire country. Then there is all the Islamic terrorist violence. While most Libyans appreciate the help from Islamic terrorist groups in overthrowing Kaddafi in 2011, since then these groups have become more of a menace than the Kaddafi era secret police ever were. Most Libyans agree that peace is a good idea and that the Islamic terrorist groups are most definitely standing in the way. So are tribal and political militias, but these groups have leaders you can negotiate with. Most Islamic terrorist declare they are on a Mission From God and no negotiation is possible. Most Libyans now agree that if you can’t negotiate you can shoot, and the Islamic terrorists respond to that.

Then there are larger political problems. The Tripoli and Tobruk governments are far apart and represent different groups. The Tobruk government has international recognition and won the 2014 national elections. The Tobruk government is backed by many tribal organizations (and their militias) and most of the more secular Libyans (who tend to live in cities or along the coast). The Tripoli government is backed by groups with more of a religious motivation as well as tribes and cities in the west that feel they deserve to run the country (as they long did under Kaddafi). The Tripoli government does not control all the Islamic terrorist groups that are technically under its command.  The only thing the two governments will sometimes agree on is the use of oil income, which the Tobruk government largely controls. This money buys essentials (like food) that are, when possible, distributed to all Libyans. This is what always mattered most because the oil money pays for everything. Unfortunately the two governments have been unable to cooperate on getting oil out and essential supplies delivered to most Libyans. It is the international community that controls the ability of Libya to buy essentials (most of the food and everything else) needed to keep Libyans alive and the international community recognizes the Tobruk government. Because of the violent response to the 2014 elections by Tripoli based Islamic terrorist militias, the legitimate government set up shop in the small port city of Tobruk (1,600 kilometers east of Tripoli) after encountering hostility from militias loyal to the pre-June government that refused to recognize the results of the June elections. Many other government offices moved to Tobruk but many stayed or could not get out in time.

The UN is under growing pressure from members to “do something” about Libya. I n early January Mali and four of its neighbors appealed in the UN for intervention in Libya because southern Libya had become a sanctuary for Islamic terrorist groups that were increasingly active in nearby countries because of those sanctuaries. No one is willing to intervene in Libya but there is UN support for a negotiated settlement and that led to the current peace talks. Some countries, especially Egypt, see Libyan peace talks as futile and counterproductive because the Islamic terrorist factions really have no interest in compromising. Nevertheless Algeria and most Western nations (especially the EU) see a negotiated settlement as the best way to deal with the Libya civil war. The Tobruk government goes along with this, mainly because they cannot afford to annoy the UN and risk losing the international recognition as the legitimate government. Egypt still insists that it will not intervene militarily but is apparently providing substantial, and secret, support to the Tobruk government. This comes in the form of air support, weapons and other military supplies and even some Egyptian special operations troops. Algeria, t he United States and the UN are trying to persuade Egypt, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Qatar to drop their support for more secular (and non-terrorist) pro-Tobruk factions fighting in Libya. Egypt feels it cannot afford to do nothing. Their border with Libya is easy for smugglers to cross and Egypt had been negotiating directly with Libyan tribes who live near the Egyptian border to make arrangements (cash payments and other traditional favors) to obtain cooperation in keeping smugglers under control.

The Tripoli government is falling apart because it consists of too many very fanatical factions. Most of these are Islamic terrorist groups, but some of the difficult factions are tribal or political. The Tobruk government tended to attract factions more agreeable with compromise that unity is a major strength of the Tobruk government. Nevertheless the fanatic factions backing the Tripoli are more violent and ruthless and that is something pro-Tobruk military commanders cannot ignore. That fanaticism is real and deadly.

The UN got the current peace talks going by pointing out that Libya was sliding into a state of anarchy. Not only does this make life difficult for Libyans but foreign aid groups are unwilling to operate in such an environment and foreign aid donors are increasingly refusing to contribute aid for such situations because years of experience has shown that such aid tends to get stolen or diverted by armed groups. No one is willing to intervene militarily to provide security for aid operations, as that has proved futile and pointless in the past.  The Tripoli government is supported by groups that will not accept defeat and are willing to destroy the oil facilities to deny the Tobruk government victory. Some Tripoli leaders believe this threat may coerce the Tobruk government and their international supporters to support a compromise that will give the Islamic radicals more power than their numbers justify. That angers most Libyans who do not want to live in a country that, in effect, is forced to pay a portion of their national income to a bunch of terrorists.

Islamic terrorist militias loyal to Tripoli continue trying to take two oil export ports (Ras Lanuf and Es Sider/Sidra). This has been going on since December 13th. These efforts have shut the two ports down. Troops and militias loyal to the Tobruk government have so far kept the ports from falling under Tripoli control. These two export ports can ship 300,000 barrels a day but have been closed since December and will remain shut down until the Tripoli force is defeated. The Tripoli group apparently wants to take control of oil resources and thus have something to bargain with. Oil facilities are threatened all over the country. In the southwest the local Tuareg tribes have been fighting the Tebu tribes in the area for control of oil facilities (Sharara oil field, capable of producing 300,000 barrels per day) in the area. This has been going on since early 2014. Because of all these attacks on oil facilities production has dropped from 800,000 barrels a day in early December to about 350,000 barrels in early January and about 250,000 by the end of the month. This decline in exports has not had any noticeable impact world oil prices, which continue to slide.

January 27, 2015: In Tripoli an ISIL faction attacked a well-guarded luxury hotel frequented by foreigners and senior members of the Tripoli government. This attack left nine dead, including an American and four other foreigners. Two of the attackers died, one by using an explosive vest. The other dead were security personnel, who prevented an even higher death toll. The attack involved four or five Islamic terrorists and began with the detonation of a car bomb, which killed three guards and enabled the gunmen to rush into the hotel compound. The Tripoli government blamed the attack on the Tobruk government but that is highly unlikely. ISIL, and other extremist Islamic terrorist groups are allowed to operate freely in Tripoli and ISIL took credit for the attack. The Tripoli government is now under a lot more pressure to face reality and exert some control over the Islamic terrorists it tolerates in its midst. The alternative is less foreign aid and international access to Tripoli. Few airlines will operate in Tripoli anymore, especially after this attack. Fewer ships are willing to visit ports controlled by the Tripoli government because the Tobruk government controls what is left of the Libyan Navy and Air Force and that gives the Tobruk government enough military muscle to threaten, and sometimes attack, cargo ships trying to deliver or leave these ports with cargo.

January 26, 2015: Peace talks between most Libyan factions resumed in Switzerland. The talks were organized by the UN. The Tripoli government is not officially taking part, but some officials of the Tripoli government are at the talks, sort of unofficially.

January 25, 2015: An air force warplane forced a Greek tanker to halt its efforts to dock at the port of Misrata (controlled by the Tripoli government) and instead go to Tobruk. The tanker was loaded in Greece with 24,000 tons of fuel oil. In Tobruk the tanker was searched for weapons and, when none were found, was released. Such threats to ships has prevented the Tripoli government from getting a lot of outside help.

January 23, 2015: Ansar al Sharia, the largest Islamic terrorist group in Benghazi, admitted that its leader had indeed been killed. He apparently died from wounds suffered back in September. Ansar al Sharia was responsible for the 2012 attack that killed the American ambassador and has most of its strength in the east (around Benghazi). The fighting in Benghazi has cost Ansar al Sharia a lot of people and hurt the groups’ reputation because of territory lost in the city. Ansar al Sharia supports the Tripoli government.

January 21, 2015: In Benghazi Tobruk government forces seized the local branch of the Libyan Central Bank. Although the Central Bank (which controls over $100 billion in cash and gold reserves) headquarters are still in Tripoli, the bank officials have managed to convince the UN that they are neutral and trying to continue paying government salaries and bills for essential imports. The Tobruk government is still trying to get its own man to take over the bank but for the moment the UN has advised Tobruk to go along with the “functional neutrality” of the Central Bank. Because of that the UN criticized the seizure of the Benghazi branch. This was done, in part, to prevent Islamic terrorist groups from trying to attack the branch, whose vaults contain a lot of cash (and remain intact and under guard by forces loyal to Tobruk.) These forces claim to control 90 percent of Benghazi but Islamic terrorist groups continue to hold out in parts of the city. Heavy fighting in Benghazi has been going on since October and left over 600 dead so far.

January 19, 2015:  General Hiftar has been officially recalled to active duty by the Tobruk government. Actually this was done several weeks ago and just now revealed. Another 108 Kaddafi era officers, all of them anti-Kaddafi, were also recalled. Hiftar, a former Kaddafi general and long-time Kaddafi opponent created a coalition of tribal militias and army units in late 2013 and it is now officially part of the Tobruk government armed forces because he proved very effective fighting the Islamic terrorists. This official recognition fo Hiftar is seen as part of an effort to seek more active assistance from Egypt and other Arab countries. Hiftar has over the last year managed to get most of the post-Kaddafi armed forces under his control and backs Tobruk pleas for foreign assistance in obtaining more weapons and other military supplies. Hiftar is a career military man and speaks with experience in these matters. So far the West and Arab countries refuse to provide this aid but some Arab countries are believed to be providing some weapons and military supplies covertly and in small quantities. The Tobruk government points out that the lack of foreign assistance puts them at a disadvantage since Islamic terrorists are moving to Libya in large numbers and weapons for them are being smuggled in. Some military supplies for Islamic terrorists are being blatantly flown in from Sudan and no one is trying to stop that. One side effect of this is a stalemate in Benghazi, where months of fighting had slowly pushed many Islamic terrorists out of the city.

January 18, 2015: The Tobruk government agreed to a ceasefire the Tripoli government proposed and implemented on the 16th. However the Tobruk forces reserve the right to continue fighting factions that do not obey orders from the Tripoli government. Thus the fighting will continue in places like Benghazi.

January 17, 2015: In Tripoli a bomb exploded outside the Algerian embassy, wounding two security guards and a nearby civilian. The Arab League warned the Tripoli government that violence like this had to cease otherwise most Arab states would order their remaining diplomats and citizens out of the city. The Algerian embassy was closed in 2014, as were most other embassies in Tripoli.

January 13, 2015: Egypt is seeking cooperation from the Tobruk government in gaining the release of 20 Egyptians who were kidnapped by Islamic terrorists in Libya recently. These Egyptians were seized because they were Christians (Coptic Christians make up about ten percent of the Egyptian population and have been around since they converted some 2,000 years ago).

January 10, 2015:  The UN announced that it had gotten most of the major Libyan factions to send representatives to peace talks to be held outside Libya later in January. 




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close