Libya: Disagreeable Negotiations

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September 28, 2020: A majority of Libyans, including most of the people ruled by the UN-backed GNA (Government of National Accord) in Tripoli, want the Turks and their Syrian mercenaries out of the country. The Turks refuse, insisting that they signed a binding agreement with the GNA leader. That leader, GNA prime minister Faiez Serraj announced he will resign at the end of October, after four years in office. Originally the GNA was created to unite the entire country in an agreement for elections and a return to stable government. That has not happened, in large part because the Islamic militias that dominate Tripoli and Misrata can’t agree with each other and are opposed to any national government that seeks to curb their power and privileges.

Tripoli is the traditional capital and together with nearby Misrata, dominates western Libya. Tripoli is the largest city in the country of six million, containing 20 percent of all Libyans. Misrata has about six percent. Since the UN created the GNA in 2016 there have not been elections, although the HoR (Horse of Representatives) government in Tobruk was created by the last national elections in 2014 and refused to cede power to the GNA. Although the HoR was created by an election the elected representatives could not agree on much. The GNA was supposed to solve that problem but couldn’t. Serraj is fed up with four years of frustration and apparently regrets signing off on the deal with the Turks.

The problem is that Libya has never been a democracy but rather a collection of powerful tribes and clans presided over by a king (until the 1960s) and then a military dictator until 2011. Since then no one has been in charge. There have been some national agreements to keep the oil facilities operating and oil exported. Libya cannot feed or sustain its six million population without the oil income. Take away the oil and Libya reverts to a relatively poor North African country that can only support a few million people, at most. Until the 20th century the population of Libya never exceeded a million people and until the 19th century had never exceeded half a million.

While Serraj struggled with his GNA, which was dominated by Islamic militias from Tripoli and Misrata, tribes in eastern Libya rallied around former exile Khalifa Hiftar, who had fled Libya in the 1980s after incurring the wrath of dictator Kaddafi. Now an American citizen, Hiftar, a former Libyan Army colonel, managed to revive some of the units of the Kaddafi-era military and began taking control of military bases from militias or Islamic terrorists who had occupied them. The eastern tribes, and most Libyan tribes, wanted the Islamic terror groups gone. Hiftar agreed and in 2014 began to do just that, as well as expanding the network of tribes that supported him. Hiftar acknowledged the HoR government and remained loyal to it when it was forced to move to Tobruk by the new GNA.

Hiftar sees the recent Turkish intervention as yet another obstacle to national unity. Turkey supports Islamic government which most Libyans oppose. People in Tripoli and Misrata have come to loathe Islamic government because the Islamic militias have not brought peace and prosperity but perpetual violence and poverty. The Turks intervened because prime minister Serraj signed an agreement with Turkey in November 2019 giving Turkey rights over large offshore areas that overlap with Greek claims. In return Turkey agreed to provide military assistance to prevent the LNA from seizing control of Tripoli and eliminating the GNA as a government that controlled any Libyan territory. This Turkey deal was declared illegal by most other Mediterranean nations and technically GNA did not have the authority to make such a deal. GNA is not a government but a UN created entity that was supposed to unite the country and hold elections. The only entity in Libya close to doing that is the HoR government and its LNA armed forces. So far the UN refuses to abandon its failed GNA experiment, and has done nothing to discourage Turkey from its expansion into Libya and central Mediterranean waters which other nations have existing rights to. The UN is backing yet another peace conference in an effort to get the HoR and GNA to agree to form a united government. The biggest obstacle to that is Turkey, which the UN refuses to take on.

While Turkey is seen as an invader, Russian forces, which have been supporting the LNA for over three years, is seen as an ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism. Russia and Turkey are allies in Syria but are actually fighting each other in Libya. Well, not exactly fighting anymore but maintaining armed forces and confronting each other in anticipation of a peaceful settlement. In addition to Russia the LNA was backed by Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In Syria Russian airstrikes have killed Turkish troops while the Turks have killed Syrian troops. That has also stopped, for the moment. The Libya fighting resulted in NATO countries openly backing Greece in the maritime dispute with Turkey that led to the Libya invasion.

In Syria Turkey, Russia and Iran continue to pretend they are all friends and allies of Syria but the reality is different and becoming more visible and violent. Syrians fear Russia and Turkey will join forces to extract what they can from Syrian. Many Libyans fear that Russia and Turkey are planning to grab the Libyan oil and keep it for themselves. There’s nothing like that to be grabbed in Syria. Russia may also be seeking use of a Libyan port as a naval base. That has already been obtained in Syria. At the moment Russian and Turkish forces in Libya are observing a ceasefire and an effort to settle the civil war there peacefully. That remains to be seen.

September 26, 2020: Oil exports have risen to 250,000 BPD (barrels per day) since a month ago when the LNA ordered preparations for oil exports to resume. The key oil ports include Ras Lanuf (620 kilometers east of Tripoli) and Es Sider/Sidra (20-30 kilometers further east). In normal times Es Sider and Ras Lanuf can ship 600,000 barrels a day. Nearby is the oil port of Zueitina (220 kilometers west of Ras Lanuf and 180 kilometers southwest of Benghazi). In between Ras Lanuf and Zueitina is the oil port at Brega. Ras Lanuf , Zueitina and Brega can export 800,000 BPD. Max Libyan production is a little over a million BPD.

September 25, 2020: In Tripoli two GNA backed militias went to war with each other. This was another violent territorial dispute. This one led to many deaths on both sides as well as a lot of property damage. The UN demanded that the GNA do something about this and the GNA ordered the militias to cease fire and comply with GNA orders. The militias refused, as they have long done.

September 18, 2020: LNA commander Hiftar met with GNA deputy prime minister Maitiq and negotiated an agreement to reopen oil facilities and resume oil exports. This came after a month of negotiations over the terms of this deal. A key point in the agreement is that oil income will not be used to pay for foreign mercenaries. This mainly means the Turks who, unlike the Russians and Arab states that back the LNA, have not asked to be paid. The Turks are in it for the money and this has divided the GNA government with some ministers willing to pay for Turkish assistance while other want the Turks out. GNA prime minister Serraj backs the LNA deal but cannot control the pro-Turkey ministers or some of the militias that insist that the Turk mercenaries stay. Without the Turks the GNA would be vulnerable to another LNA offensive. Serraj finally decided to resign after a new prime minister was selected. That presents more problems as there is no candidate with a majority of support and the pro-Turkey faction threatens violence if an anti-Turkey prime minister is selected.

September 15, 2020 : In the south (Sabha, 770 kilometers south of Tripoli) LNA troops raided a suspected ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) hideout and after a six-hour battle with the nine ISIL people inside, captured the building and seven dead terrorists. Subsequent efforts to identify the dead men discovered that two were Libyans while three were from Saudi Arabia, one from Egypt and one from Australia. Two women, a Libyan and an Egyptian, were taken alive. Further investigation found that one of the dead men was the senior ISIL leader in Libya and North Africa. The dead Australian was not an Australian citizen and had an Australian ID card because he lived in Australia at one time. Three LNA troops were killed during the operation.

September 6, 2020: In neighboring Tunisia three Islamic terrorists armed with knives attacked some soldiers, killing one and wounding another before being killed by other soldiers. The attack began when the three attackers in a car rammed the vehicle the soldiers were riding in. Except in Libya and Egypt, where Islamic terrorists are still active, there has been little Islamic terrorist activity in North Africa this year. Libya has a lot of Islamic terrorists but they have largely been killed or suppressed by the Libyan National Army, which controls most of the country.

August 31, 2020: The UN reported that it had tracked 338 Russian military transport flights to Libya in a nine-month period ending at the end of July 2020. The UN estimates that Russia still has over a thousand military contractors in Libya in addition to a growing number of Russian Air Force combat aircraft. The UN also monitored Turkey, the UAE (United Arab Emirates), Jordan and Qatar sending weapons to Libya via air and ship. All of this in in violation of an arms embargo for Libya.

August 28, 2020: The LNA ordered the three main oil export ports to prepare to resume exports. The LNA had halted the exports in January in response to the Turkish military activity in western Libya.

August 27, 2020: Algeria praised a ceasefire agreement in neighboring Libya. That is only a pause in the war because Turkey continues to enlarge its forces there and preparations for a major offensive. Algeria has no interest in sending troops to Libya as peacekeepers or to eject the “Turkish invaders.” Since independence from France in 1962, Algerian law has banned use of the army outside Algeria. Like all the other North African countries, except Egypt, Algeria wants a peaceful settlement to the fighting in Libya. With the recent (since late 2019) Turkish intervention peace in Libya may be later rather than sooner.

August 25, 2020: Turkey does not seem to fear an Egyptian military response to their invasion of western Libya even though Egyptian forces are gathering at the Libyan border. The official Turkish view is that Egypt is a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudis Arabia and the UAE who have been backing the anti-Islamic terrorist/Moslem Brotherhood LNA in Libya for years. The Turks may underestimate the Arab hostility towards their aggression in North Africa. Iranian involvement is more recent and after the religious dictatorship took power in the 1980s Kaddafi was one of the few Arab rulers the Iranians could do business with. Because of that, Iranian interference is not welcome either.

Russian ally g eneral Hiftar, commander of the LNA, is not supporting the four-day old ceasefire agreement. The LNA is concentrating forces in the coastal city of Sirte while Turkish forces keep arriving from western Libya and deploying for an attack on the city. To Hiftar this indicates that the Turks have no intention of maintaining the ceasefire.

 

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