Libya: Trouble Money

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July 23, 2018: Although there is agreement on national presidential and parliamentary elections being held in December so that the new officials can form a unified national government that might be soon enough. The GNA (Government of National Accord), one of the two existing national governments, is falling apart. The GNA is based in Tripoli and recognized by the UN has proved much less capable than its eastern (Tobruk) rival the HoR (House of Representatives). It was agreements between these two existing governments in Libya that made the December election plan possible. 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. Neighboring countries (especially Egypt, Tunisia and Italy) are cooperating with the two Libyan governments to identify key Libyan gangsters (often former government officials) and Islamic terrorists based in Libya and impose international (via the UN and Interpol) sanctions on them. These outlaws are key movers of illegal money and goods (people, weapons, oil and so on). Italy has been particularly effective here because many of the European criminals (working with Libyan outlaws) are Italian.

But in Tripoli, the traditional capital, the GNA never had complete control of the city because of so many powerful and uncooperative militias that had been there since the 2011 revolution. The HoR thrived because it had more competent military commanders who literally took over and rebuilt the pre-2011 Libyan armed forces. This was done by replacing all the officers and troops loyal to the deposed 2011 government with tribal militias and former Libyan officers returning from exile and training a new generation of Libyan military leaders. The UN and the West opposed this but it worked and with the cooperation of most Arab countries the HoR was finally accepted by the UN. This made possible the December elections that will merge the GNA and HoR. But the GNA might not last until December and that is a problem that has to be fixed if the elections are to take place.

Risky Business

The LNA (Libyan National Army) has become the most effective organized and disciplined armed force in Libya. 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 and 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 of 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 progress is being made. 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.

Now Hiftar is accusing someone in the NOC (National Oil Company) and/or CBL (Central Bank of Libya) of financing some of the recent attacks on oil facilities. Hiftar believes that a southern militia coalition (led by Ibrahim Jadran) that recently, and suddenly came out of the south to gain very brief control over the three oil export ports was provided with a lot of cash to organize this operation. Jadran was once the leader of the local PDG (Petroleum Defense Guards) militia that provided security for the oil export operations at Sidra, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina. Until 2017 Jardan and his fellow PDG leaders frequently shut down exports in an attempt to get paid more for their efforts. Worse the unreliable PDG groups were also stealing oil and exporting it on outlaw ships that would sell the oil in the black market. By late 2017 LNA forces had replaced the outlaw PDG groups with more reliable ones. But many of the outlaw PDG men fled south and planned their revenge. The latest plan seemed good but didn’t work.

Jardan organized a coalition of ousted PDG militias who agreed to move north and regain control over the ports and resume their extortion and smuggling. After a week of fighting the LNA the Jardan forces were finally driven away from the ports by June 22nd and are now fleeing south with LNA forces in pursuit, seeking to destroy the Jardan coalition for good. The Jardan forces included over a thousand mercenaries from Chad and over 200 armed (and some armored) vehicles. Jardan made a lot of promises to his followers that he could not keep. As a result, his coalition is falling apart as it flees south. That’s why the LNA believes they can put Jardan and is larcenous PDG groups out of business for good. Hiftar learned from interrogations of captured Jardan followers that were was talk of where Jardan got the money to organize his latest attack. The cash apparently “came from Tripoli.” That meant the GNA and the branch of the NOC based in Tripoli. To deal with this problem Hiftar announced earlier in the month that he would send oil sales proceeds to the eastern branch of the NOC and CBL in Benghazi and work out the details with the UN (which tries to make sure most of this oil income is spent on what Libya needs and not stolen).

Despite the defeat of Jardan the fighting has done more damage to the oil export facilities and further reduced the amount of oil that can be shipped each day. Making repairs to the export facilities requires time and security to assure the foreign tech personnel brought in to do the work can do so safely. This will delay the resumption of oil shipments returning to pre-war (2011) levels.

Gangster Games

The EU (European Union) is anything but united on how to deal with the people smuggling gangs in Libya. A growing number of European nations are withdrawing from EU agreements to cooperate with the smuggling gangs and assist the smugglers to get boats of illegal migrants across the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy. A new Italian government has refused to accept any more of these illegals, even if they were now on EU warships or some of the “rescue ships” operated by EU civilians belonging to NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Libya (plus Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia) turned down the latest EU proposal; to set up EU migrant processing centers in a North African country where illegals would be screened by EU personnel to determine who are eligible for asylum (very few) and who is not (who would have to pay smugglers to try and get them across the Mediterranean to Malta or Spain, the only two EU nations willing to cooperate with the people smugglers. As a result of this opposition the number of illegal migrants is down by half so far this year compared to 2017. But that means the number of illegal migrants stuck in Libya is increasing and is over half a million and rising. About 50,000 illegals made it to Europe so far this year, but about two percent of those attempting to reach Europe died getting across the Mediterranean.

The people smuggling business is too lucrative to shut down as long as it is possible to land illegals in an EU nation bordering the Mediterranean. As soon as one Libyan people smuggler gang is shut down in a particular coast town, another shows up elsewhere, often run by the same people smuggler organizers that fled when the militia or Islamic terror group they were allied with (and paid a lot of money to for protection) got defeated. As long as there is a good chance of getting into Europe people in Africa and the Middle East will find the cash to pay people smugglers to get them into Libya (relatively easy) and across the Mediterranean (getting more difficult). All that money in a nation facing an economic crisis (Libya can only survive via food and other imports paid for by oil income) means many Libyans are willing to participate. For example, a Libyan Bedouin tribe (Awlad Ali) which actually straddles most of the Libyan border with Egypt. While most Awlad Ali tribesmen oppose Islamic terror groups they see smuggling as an ancient and legitimate enterprise. So Awlad Ali members will work for people smuggling gangs based on the Libyan coast and, for a fee, bring illegal migrants across the Egyptian border to the coastal town the people smugglers use to get illegals on a boat and on their way to Europe. Other Libyan tribes in the south also provide guides to get illegals across the southern border and to the coast. If confronted by armed opposition these tribal smugglers tend to flee rather than fight. Because these tribesmen are in it just for the money they do not show up in reports of who the people smugglers are. Nor do the many tribal and militia leaders who accept gifts (bribes) to allow the people smugglers to move through with their illegal migrants. What annoys Libyans most about the people smuggling is that the cash from this business keeps a lot of Islamic terror groups and troublesome militias in business, which makes it difficult to get the Libyan economy (mainly the oil industry) revived.

Until 2018 the attitude among smugglers was that yes, business is sometimes more difficult (and less profitable) because of EU countermeasures and the shrinking number of outlaw ports but in the long run they will continue to thrive because the smugglers have partners in Europe (mostly Italy based gangsters) who know how to manipulate the European media and politicians to apply pressure on Libya to halt its inhuman treatment of illegals and the NGOs seeking to help the smugglers get the illegals into Europe. The smugglers may have overestimated continued European support. Then there is the culture of corruption in Libya which will often enable people smugglers to operate more freely. The bribery is still a factor but there are fewer powerful (heavily armed and willing to fight) groups willing to take a bribe. A unified government for Libya is increasingly likely and although it will likely not be a police state similar to what Kaddafi ran it will have security forces that are able to shut down the smugglers as thoroughly as Kadaffi did.

July 17, 2018: Most of the disrupted (by fighting) oil production and export facilities were working again, for a few days, until there was another incident. Oil exports from the Zawiya export facility were halted because of an attack on the Sahara oil fields, which supplies Zawiya. Four workers were kidnapped by local tribesmen. Two hostages were soon released but the other two (one of them a European engineer) were being held for ransom. During a recent (until early July) month of violence the mayhem turned out to be somewhat organized in that some of the attackers were paid to get join together and try to seize control of facilities and then demand high pay and permanent status as PDG ((Petroleum Defense Guards). This scam is usually (but not always) attempted by local tribes or militias that see nearby oil facilities (pumping, pipelines, export terminals) as an economic opportunity that potentially worth a lot of money if you are willing to fight for it. The problem is there are often competing groups willing to fight for the right to be the highly paid (and not very reliable) PDG. The only solution to this problem is a national government that can provide law and order.

The most recent attack was on part of the Sahara facility, which is largest oil field in Libya and before the revolution in 2011 accounted for 17 percent of national production. Currently it can, when undisturbed, still produce the same amount, 270,000 BPD (barrels per day), as it did in 2011. The Sahara field was developed and managed by a multinational (Spain, France, Austria and Norway) effort and that means there are a lot of foreign workers there, mainly to deal with the high tech stuff.

Normally the main source of interruption is extortionate oil facility guards or other local militia problems. Despite these constant interruption 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 1.5 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 for oil keeps falling, 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.

July 11, 2018: In south central Libya (Jufra, 650 kilometers southeast of Tripoli) LNA forces have cornered an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) faction believed responsible for some recent attacks on southern oil facilities (like the one near Jufra). Most of the remaining ISIL fighters are 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.

July 10, 2018: The LNA is trying to confirm where a Bulgarian freighter carrying weapons came from. The ships was caught at a port (al Khums) east of Tripoli. It is suspected that the weapons came from, or were financed by, Qatar. The weapons were apparently intended for some local Islamic militias that oppose the unified government effort and the December elections. The UN has imposed sanctions on exporting weapons to Libya but there have been numerous violations. .

July 7, 2018: During the first six months of 2018 Libyan oil income was $11.4 billion. This continues a positive trend. Libya tripled its oil income (to $14 billion) in 2017 but that achievement has attracted a lot of corrupt officials. This threatens the ability of the oil industry to function. Despite the chaos since 2012 the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and Libyan Central Bank (LCB) were generally left alone to deal with essential matters like importing food and other necessities that Libya does not produce itself. Yet there is so much more cash available that more of it is mysteriously disappearing.

June 28, 2018: The LNA declared it had complete control of the coastal city of Derna, long a lawless place occupied by dozens of rival militias and Islamic terror groups.

 

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