After General Khalifa Haftar launched Operation Dignity in mid-May to eliminate “terrorist” groups, Islamist parties decided to engage in an open military confrontation. Haftar’s campaign posed an existential threat to these parties, so in response, and upon encouragement from the Qatari-Turkish axis supporting regional political Islam, these groups launched operation Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) on July 13, 2014.
They chose to fight their battles in Tripoli to capture the capital’s international airport, which is controlled by the Qaaqaa and Sawaq brigades, which are linked to Al-Zintan tribe and allied with Haftar.
Goals of the operation
The Islamist groups that launched Fajr Libya say its aims are to correct the path of the revolution and establish a stable, secure state. They say rebels who toppled Muammar Qaddafi have joined their operation to purge Libya of tribal and local armed factions, adding that it is not against any particular tribe or area.
The operation’s implicit aims are mainly:
• Defend the military presence of Islamist groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadist movements in the east and their allies in Misrata.
• Obstruct the civil movement’s success in the last legislative elections in order to restore the General National Congress, which they consider the “only legitimate body.”
• Bolster political Islam in the region. Libya is Islamists’ last haven for political and military activity, after Brotherhood rule collapsed in Egypt and the Ennahda party handed over power in Tunisia.
Fajr Libya fronts
The operation includes several Islamist armed factions. Apart from the Brotherhood, they include:
• The Libyan Shield Militia, affiliated with Misrata and close to the Brotherhood. Although it says its forces are linked to the Defense Ministry, its leaders do not belong to the official military institution. It is present in Misrata, Benghazi, Khoms and Tripoli.
• The Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room, considered a strong supporter of the Brotherhood as the latter has used it in its political disputes with its rivals. An example is its abduction of former premier Ali Zeidan in 2013.
• The Tripoli Brigade, close to Abdul Hakim Belhaj, head of Al-Watan party. It is mainly active in Tripoli and western Libya.
Islamist militia launched an operation in Benghazi to confront Haftar’s forces. The Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries was thus formed on June 20, 2014. It includes:
• The February 17 Battalion, the biggest brigade affiliated with the Brotherhood. It is centered in Benghazi, and receives financial support from official parties.
• The Rafallah Sahati Brigade, centered in Benghazi. Although it had announced that it was joining the Libyan army, it has kept its arms and camps.
• Ansar al-Sharia, the biggest armed jihadist group in Libya. It includes Libyans and thousands of foreign fighters from Tunisia, Algeria and other African countries. It is blacklisted by the United States as a terrorist group.
• Libya Shield 1, a militia close to the Brotherhood. It is centered in Benghazi, and recently allied with Ansar al-Sharia.
• The Sawaq Brigade, led by Imad Mustafa al-Tarabulsi is considered one of the strongest factions in Libya.
• The Qaaqaa Brigade, formed by rebels in Zintan in 2011 following battles with Qaddafi’s forces before he was toppled. It is commanded by Othman Milaiqtah.
• Forces of Operation Dignity, led by Haftar. It recently led airstrikes against posts occupied by Fajr Libya forces and their allies in Tripoli.
• The Rishvana Brigade, affiliated with the Rishvana tribe in support of Qaddafi’s regime. It is centered near Tripoli, and its aim is to protect the tribe from armed militias.
• The Tabu Brigade, present in the cities of Murzuk and Kufra.
On Aug. 23, 2014, Fajr Libya forces announced their seizure of Tripoli’s international airport following battles with fighters from the Zintan tribes and their allies. After the seizure, parliament declared Fajr Libya, Ansar al-Sharia and the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries as terrorist groups and outlaws.
Islamist parties’ progress in Tripoli necessitates action from regional powers - the Arab League, Egypt and Algeria - to save Libya from chaos. Developments on the ground show that the country is heading towards a Somalia-like scenario.
The use of Libya as a base for jihadist activity against neighboring countries also necessitates developing regional security and intelligence coordination.SHOW MORE