Manish Rai

Khalifa Haftar Getting Stronger

General Khalifa Haftar led Libyan National Army (LNA) offensive on Tripoli has now completed its first anniversary since it was launch. Current offensive has widened the proxy war, bringing more countries and foreign fighters into the Libyan battlefield making it more complicated. Yet neither side has managed to make a breakthrough and gain any sizeable territories. Although the LNA took the strategic coastal city of Sirte 500 km east of Tripoli in January this year. That victory of Sirte failed to be translated into any further gains on the road to the capital. Even if the LNA could advance beyond its current positions west of Sirte. It would still have to deal with formidable city of Misrata. Dominated by anti Haftar forces the semi-city state in western Libya enjoys direct access to Turkish arms, drones, mercenaries and ammunition. But despite this still Khalifa Haftar is the most dominant player in Libyan political landscape. As at this point in time General controls according to some estimates up to 80 percent of Libyan territory. Tripoli based Government of National Accord (GNA) is still able to defend the capital just because of Turkish mammoth support. But some recent developments can give a big push to Haftar’s Tripoli offensive.

The European Union in last week of March announced the launch of a new naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea. This mission solely aimed at enforcing the United Nations arms embargo on Libya. The new mission named Irini, the Greek word for “peace” will last for one year. As announced the core task of this mission will be the implementation of the UN arms embargo through the use of various resources including aerial, satellite and maritime assets. Moreover, mission will have power to carry out inspections of vessels on the high seas off the coast of Libya suspected to be carrying arms or war supplies to and from Libya. The current Libyan conflict has developed as more of a proxy war between different regional players rather than any local conflict. On one side Turkey is supporting by all means Tripoli based GNA and on other side UAE and Egypt are firmly backing General Haftar. Turkey is sending armed drones, thousands of Syrian mercenaries, intelligence personnel, air defence systems and artillery to its allies. Egypt and United Arab Emirates are supporting Haftar since the year 2014 with arms, airstrikes and funds. This continued supply of war stock by foreign powers to their allies has only contributed to the prolongation of the Libyan conflict. But now because of EU new naval mission equations will change in favour of Haftar.

There are two main entry points of war supplies to Libya. First one is the western maritime border in Mediterranean which Turkey use to ship in weapons to the Government of National Accord in Tripoli. And the second one is the eastern border which Egypt and the United Arab Emirates use to support Haftar. This new naval mission will only take care of Libyan maritime borders used primarily by Turks. General Haftar will benefit in great way from this as his allies will be sending him almost all supplies from Libyan eastern border with Egypt through land route without any hindrance. Also, LNA recent blockading of oil terminals has deprived the GNA of its revenue. This revenue is crucial for GNA as its used primarily to buy loyalty of different allied militias who are fighting on its behalf. This blockade so far has cost GNA close to $4 billion according to the National Oil Corporation which manages and overseas Libya’s oil production. Another important thing General Haftar is counting on to work in his favour is steadily deteriorating situation in Western Libya outside his control. Especially in capital Tripoli crime, insecurity and corruption have been on the rise. While living conditions have markedly worsened as the local economy has struggled and the provision of social and health services has nearly collapsed. The capital is divided between different militias with different vested interests, and the GNA is itself weak and corrupt to control them.

Haftar is trying to project himself as a military strongman who could unite the country and bring back stability and order. This self-styled image as Libya’s saviour has been promoted by a massive propaganda campaign propagated by backers of Haftar. Due to this significant number of Libyans now see Haftar as the only person who can bring some form of order in there lawless and chaotic country. Moreover, the veteran general clearly understands different dynamics of power in Libya based on region, city, tribe, political factions, ethnicity, and militia membership. So, Haftar is ensuring that he gets support from major tribes like- Magharba, Baraasa, Hasa, Obaidat and up to a some extend Zintan which has most powerful tribal militia called Zintani brigades. So, after taking into account all these efforts which General Haftar is undertaking to strengthen his position. It seems that it is just a matter of time when he will take over Tripoli and announce his complete victory. But being in the strongest position in the country also brings in responsibility of ensuring peace and stability across Libya. For that a comprehensive political settlement that includes participation from all Libyan political parties, tribes and important forces on the ground is required. And after achieving any durable political arrangement then only General Khalifa Haftar can claim any complete victory in real sense.

About the Author
Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region; Editor of a geo-political news agency Views Around (VA)
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