Libya: Crawling Towards Compromise

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December 7, 2018: The GNA (Government of National Accord) leader has invited the LNA (Libyan National Army) commander Khalifa Hiftar to come visit GNA headquarters in Tripoli and discuss unification. GNA leader Fayez al Sarraj spoke with Hiftar on November 13th when both were at the Libya conference in Italy. While many GNA backers want nothing to do with Hiftar (seeing him as another potential dictator) a growing number of Libyans and regional leaders recognize that Hiftar and his LNA are the only force in Libya that has consistently (for over five years) worked to unify the country rather than plunder it. Hiftar has been the most important element of the other Libya government, the HoR (House of Representatives). Going to Tripoli would be dangerous because the city is controlled by numerous militias, some of them led by Islamic radicals, who see the LNA as the end of their independence. Most Libyans, and especially most residents of Tripoli would like the LNA to come in and pacify the place. Hiftar has delayed doing that until he could get Sarraj and the GNA on his side. Hiftar left the Italian conference because he refused to negotiate with Islamic radical leaders who still control some major private armies in Libya. Hiftar's refusal to negotiate with Islamic terrorist or Islamic radical groups is seen by many as the key to his success. But the UN and many European countries still back negotiating with the Islamic radicals. Sarraj appears to have come around to Hiftar's approach but, unlike Hiftar, Sarraj does not have much military clout to deal with the Islamic militias in Tripoli and other towns and cities in western Libya.

The UN is now trying to organize elections in early 2019. The UN also admitted the obvious about the Tripoli based GNA it had helped create and long backed. The GNA has lost control over Tripoli as various militias do as they please, 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 the meeting in Italy on November 1213 between GNA and HoR officials along with other major players (both Libyan and foreign). This was called a “Stabilization Conference” and it gave the major players one last chance to work out their differences and cooperate as best they can. The conference brought Hiftar and the GNA leader closer together. Meanwhile the UN continues working 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 HoR armed factions are not a problem but the GNA ones are and that is where Hiftar and the LNA come in.

Oil And Money

The NOC (National Oil Company) has managed to get all the PDG (Petroleum Defense Guards) under control and has shifted its attention to long delayed oil facilities maintenance and upgrades. Current estimates are that this will cost $60 billion for work that will take at least five years and enable production to reach two million BPD (barrels per day) by 2022. Current 0il production is about 1.25 million BPD mainly because most of the major oil fields are now operational. Oil income this year has been about $2 billion a month, which is nearly double what it was in 2017 and three times 2016 income.

The NOC convinced 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. The LNA has been the main force dealing with rogue PDGs that refused to settle.

Peace 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 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 1.6 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.

The Central Bank has made major progress in halting inflation and stabilizing the currency. Both governments have agreed to back plans to increase the cost of oil and gas to Libyans so that these products are no longer subsidized and the prices reduce the smuggling of cheaper Libyan oil products to neighboring countries. More important both governments have agreed to get their bank notes from one source. Since the political crises that split the nation in two between GNA and HoR governments the HoR has had to get its bank notes from another source (Russia) and while this provided cash to eastern Libya it also contributed to inflation and, as is usually the same, some corruption.

Smugglers Struggling

Since early November Sabratha (a coastal city 66 kilometers west of Tripoli) fighting between 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. There are fewer ports people smugglers can use and more Libyan naval patrols off the coast that are turning smuggler boats back. In early December the last large NGO backed “rescue ship” quit the area mainly because the naval patrols were preventing it from helping the reduced flow of illegal migrants from getting to Europe. About 100,000 illegal migrants reached Europe from Libya this year while the Libyan patrol boats turned back 14,000. The UN is assisting the return of these illegals to their country of origin.

Local militias have long protected smugglers 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 left 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).

December 2, 2018: In the west (Tripoli), protestors occupied a GNA compound demanding unpaid salary and benefits. The GNA leader is in Jordan seeking foreign aid.

November 29, 2018: In the south (Al Uwaynat), an American UAV used missiles to kill 11 AQIM Islamic terrorists and the three vehicles they were traveling in. Target information was provided by the GNA. This is the sixth UAV attack in Libya this year. There were against ISIL and three against AQIM.

November 27, 2018: In the southwest (Ghadames, where the Tunisian, Algerian and Libyan borders meet), the Algerian state oil company is completing removal of its oil exploration equipment from the area. Here, since 2005, Algeria has had the contract to explore for and extract oil. The work was interrupted by the 2011 revolution and subsequent chaos but was resumed in 2015. But now it is being halted once more because of the persistent problems with local security. GNA is in charge of this area and has always had a difficult time with local bandits.

November 25, 2018: Egypt and Sudan have agreed to conduct joint military patrols. Both nations are concerned about spillover violence from Libya. The joint border forces will also combat terrorism and cross-border crimes.

November 23, 2018: In the southeast (Kufram bear the Chad border), ISIL attacked a police station in an oasis town north of Kufra. Six civilians and three policemen were killed before the ISIL gunmen were driven out by local militia. The ISIL raiders took some hostages and loot as they fled. ISIL is still around but not able to do much more than stage one of these looting operations about once a month and then issue a press release on the Internet. The local tribes consider the remaining ISIL forces in the area as another bunch of bandits who will eventually be hunted down and destroyed.

November 21, 2018: The LNA captured several Islamic terrorists who were involved in 2012 killing the American ambassador in Benghazi and another American (a teacher) in 2013.

November 20, 2018: In the southwest (the Sharara oil field), eight gunman raided a substation and stole three vehicles and some cell phones. There were no casualties or interruption of production. Sharara is the largest source of oil and gas in Libya and the frequent target of attacks for no other reason because it has always been a place where there was stuff to steal.

November 19, 2018: The United States joined the UN in agreeing to act on sanctions against Libyan military leader Salah Badi. This militia leader is the major cause of chaos and violence in Tripoli and has shown no interest in making peace.

November 12, 2018: European and Libyan leaders assembled in Italy to try and work out a peace deal that would reduce the factional fighting in Libya and allow elections in early 2019. The two-day conference included GNA and HoR leaders as well as leaders of several major militias and delegates from Chad, Egypt, France, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, the UAE and the United States.

November 10, 2018: Just across the border in Algeria Two armed Islamic terrorists surrendered in the southeast, near the Libyan border.

 

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