Libya: Dollars For Deadly Deeds

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April 22, 2020: Last month a ceasefire was proposed and had some impact on efforts to avoid the spread of covid19 throughout Libya. Up to that point (March 2020), no one in Libya has been tested and found to have covid19. All Libyans agree that it is important to keep it that way. Currently, there are 59 cases have been identified in Libya and one person has died. There may be others but no one knows. Covid19 is most dangerous in crowded urban areas, like GNA (Government of National Accord) controlled Tripoli and Misrata. In LNA (Libyan National Army) controlled Tobruk and Benghazi there is no quarantine, just a night-time curfew imposed by the eastern HoR (House of Representatives) government the LNA works for.

Turkish involvement in the Libyan civil war keeps growing. This conflict has been going on as long as the Syrian war but has been a lot less destructive. Turkey has sent about 5,000 troops to Libya, but 90 percent of them are Syrian Sunni mercenaries which Turkey has long used in Syria. These mercenaries are paid more to serve in Libya, so there is no shortage of volunteers.

There have been some problems managing these mercenaries because a number of them went on strike when their pay was reduced. Turkey is having financial problems and the payroll for the Arab mercenaries is about $5 million a month plus the costs of medical care and death benefits. There are about 5,000 of these Arab mercenaries in Libya and at least 1,500 more undergoing training back in Turkey.

So far this year about 15 percent of these mercenaries have been killed or wounded. Rumors that the Turks were going to cut the death benefits to families of mercs killed in Libya may have triggered the latest unrest.

Money Matters

The LNA response to the arrival of Turkish mercenaries in January was to shut down oil shipments. The LNA said it will keep the oil operations shut down until the Turks withdraw. The Turks refuse to go and three months of no oil exports have cost Libya about $4 billion in oil revenue. Production is now about 88,000 BPD (barrels per day), mainly for internal use. Another new development in January was the global spread of covid19 and its impact on the world economy. The price Libya sells its oil for has fallen by half and declined to under $20 a barrel because of a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. That price war has apparently been resolved but the price of oil will not regain its former ($40-50 dollars a barrel) levels quickly because the covid19 pandemic has created a global recession and sharp decline in oil demand.

The LNA believes the GNA was paying for those Turkish mercenaries out of its share of the oil money. This oil revenue is supposed to be spent on taking care of the general population. In Libya, that means a lot of the government officials involved will steal as much of the cash as they can get away with. Libya has long been known as one of the most corrupt nations on Earth and even Libyans recognize that this is an obstacle to making Libya less dangerous and more livable.

The UN also complains that the LNA is getting aviation fuel and other military supplies from the UAE, which is a violation of UN sanctions. The LNA believes the UN is biased in favor of the GNA. There is some truth to that as the GNA was a UN idea that never caught on with most Libyans while the LNA and the HoR government did gain popular support. The LNA has been receiving material and diplomatic support from the UAE and Egypt for five years.

Now the GNA is trying to gain complete control over the Central Bank of Libya. Because the LNA controls most oil production and exporting facilities, the rival eastern (HoR) Central Bank has become more powerful than the one in Tripoli. One reason for most Libyans supporting the eastern Central Bank was that many of the directors of the Tripoli based Central Bank belonged to Islamic Brotherhood militias and backed the establishment of an “Islamic government” in Libya. Few Libyans favor this.

Before the latest shutdown of oil exports, oil production was 1.25 million BPD. Since 2018 the LNA has controlled most of the oil production and export facilities. The oil income generated goes to the national oil company and the Central Bank, which is allowed by the GNA and HoR to purchase essential imports and handle financial matters associated with the oil industry and distribution of imports. The two rival governments generally honor this agreement because either government could disrupt the system and cause widespread economic hardship throughout the country. But now the HoR believes the GNA, on the advice of Turkey, is violating this arrangement and GNA seems guilty as changed because of the latest moves against the Central Bank.

April 21, 2020: The LNA accuses Turkey of bringing in four of their F-16 fighters and basing them in Misrata (the city east of Tripoli. The LNA claim they shot down one of the F-16s.

April 20, 2020: In Tarhuna (60 kilometers southeast of the besieged capital Tripoli) LNA forces repulsed a GNA attack organized by the Turks. Tarhuna is astride a key road and contains LNA support facilities.

April 17, 2020: The GNA ordered people in Tripoli and Misrata to quarantine themselves to halt the spread of covid19.

April 16, 2020: In Tarhuna (60 kilometers southeast of Tripoli) LNA forces shot down another Turkish Bayraktar TB2 UAV. This is the eighth Turkish UAV the LNA shot down this month. So far the LNA has claimed to have taken down 28 Turkish UAVs. Photographic evidence is not available for some of the destroyed UAVs and the LNA admits that some of the Bayraktar TB2s were destroyed over enemy (GNA) controlled areas. The LNA is actively supported by several Arab states, mainly Egypt and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). The UAE has been operating its Chinese armed UAVs in Libya and the LNA has an active air force that can shoot down large UAVs like the Bayraktar TB2. Despite these combat losses, the Turkish UAVs have performed as expected and are considered equal to the Chinese UAVs. All these UAVs are based on the American Predator.

April 14, 2020: LNA artillery opened fire on the Mitiga airbase east of Tripoli and other military targets in Tripoli.

April 13, 2020: In Sabratha (a coastal city 66 kilometers west of Tripoli) GNA forces pushed the LNA garrison and pro-LNA militias out of the city the LNA had controlled since 2017. GNA forces also took the nearby (ten kilometers away) coastal town of Sorman. Sabratha had long been notorious as the main port from which criminal gangs, under the protection of Tripoli based militias, moved illegal migrants to Europe. Local militias sometimes allowed this 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 leave 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 was 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. This latest move by the GNA makes it possible for the larger Tripoli militias to resume their people smuggling. After 2017 many of the gangsters LNA drove out of Sabratha rejoined the Tripoli militias they came from.

April 12, 2020: A clan militia some 70 kilometers south of Tripoli seized a water pipeline facility and cut off the water supply for Tripoli. The militia is demanding the GNA free one of their members from jail.

March 30, 2020: The EU (European Union) agreed to organize and operate a naval blockade (Operation EU Active Surveillance) a hundred kilometers off the Libyan coast and maintain it for one year. The blockade forces have orders to inspect any ships headed for a Libyan port to check for weapons and other military supplies. Most of the Turkish military supplies going to Libya arrive by ship. Unless the Turks were able to intimidate the EU warships to back off, the blockade would sharply cut Turkish support of the GNA forces. Supplies could still be flown in but that would encourage LNA forces to attack GNA controlled airports even more. Commercial satellite photos show ships leaving Turkish ports carrying armored vehicles, artillery, trucks and other military equipment to an undisclosed destination. These ships turn off the location transponders and are often later seen unloading at Tripoli or Misrata.

March 26, 2020: The GNA launched an offensive against LNA forces holding the coastal area between Tripoli and the Tunisian border. The LNA accused Turkey of violating the January 12 truce to bring in more military supplies and Arab mercenaries for this offensive.

March 25, 2020: GNA claims their forces captured the Al Watyah airbase, 170 kilometers southwest of Tripoli. Apparently the attack was repulsed because the LNA forces still are there. The GNA said they would keep trying to take Al Watyah because it is a key LNA airbase. Meanwhile, the LNA is building another airbase closer to Tripoli.

 

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