Libya’s General Haftar: From captivity and exile to ‘conqueror of terrorism’

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General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan army, is a military figure with an interesting past and a remarkable present. This Libyan strong man refused since returned back from exile in the United States to bargain with terrorism, and has devoted himself to fight it until he managed to root it out from the strategic eastern city of Benghazi, Libya's second largest, with many observers throwing predictions that the general is bound to have a special role in the future of his country.

Going back to the history of his military role during the 1970s, Haftar is the son of Libyan tribe al-Farjan. He has gained his first military experience a decade before that when he joined “the Free Patriotic Officers Movement” established by Muammar Qaddafi to overthrow King Idris and take over authority before being promoted to colonel in the mid-1980s and eventually led ground forces in Libya’s war with Chad.


In Chad, Haftar was captured along with a number of other soldiers. Qaddafi would deny their roles and their existence. After his release, Haftar turned away from Qaddafi and became an opponent. He joined the newly formed opposition group, “the National Front for the Salvation of Libya” which was military and financially supported by the US, before leaving to Washington. He participated in crossing the Suez Canal with the Egyptian Army on October 7, 1973 against Israel, and won a military star.

INFOGRAPHIC: Who is Libya’s general battling Benghazi Islamists?

Libya's general Khalifa Haftar infographic
Libya's general Khalifa Haftar infographic

During the Libyan revolution in 2011, Haftar returned to Libya and joined the rebels in the fight against the Qaddafi regime and played a prominent role in overthrowing him.

After the overthrow of the Qaddafi regime, he disappeared again until February 2014 when he announced the launch of the "Dignity Operation” against militias in Benghazi, but he did not find support in the beginning and the Libyan street was divided about his capabilities and intentions. However, with the passing of time and after being able to achieve military victories one after the other, and thanks to his moderate speech, many began to support him and won the legitimacy of the parliament, the government, the support of the major tribes in Libya and even international support by convincing them to join in his fight against terrorists.

These circumstances have prepared the Libyan army commander with the famous phrase "We fight terrorism on behalf of the world", so that he can defeat terrorism in the city of Benghazi, which had fallen into the trap of extremism and became a destination for a number of terrorist militants and political Islamist groups since the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens in 2012, Haftar’s name became the most common in and out of Libya.

Benghazi's liberation from terrorism was a new military victory that has brought General Haftar more attention to become the most polarized figure in Libya, so many in the Middle East talk about his name after he managed to rid them of the fire of extremist militants that burned them for years after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi's regime, until people were betting on him as a last chance to save all Libya from chaos.

After accomplishing one of its most important goals: to rid Benghazi of terrorism, it is not yet clear what new military plans he will lead and whether he will seek to expand his role in western Libya where armed militias are against him.

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