General Haftar’s plans and Libya’s future
General Khalifa Hafter is making small and important strides against opposition voices and militias in Libya
Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, the leader of Operation Dignity, is making small and important strides against opposition voices and militias in Libya. His forces have struck at the Libyan parliament, hit Islamist groups and targeted rebel militias. General Haftar is commanding a growing force of perhaps thousands of men with the core group of 500-1000 who received special forces operations training “somewhere in Eastern Europe” according to an Arab official.
Interestingly, Haftar’s forces are using sophisticated weapons, air raids, and urban tactics. Haftar stated recently “Operation Dignity is multiple battles, it’s not just one battle, it’s not a normal battle” that illustrates he is using network attacks in small forces, using close air support and information operations to shape the battle environment. Indeed, Operation Dignity is the very tip of the operational and tactical spear. There is no guarantee of the results but the point is that Haftar is creating the conditions necessary for a Libyan nationalist revival to wipe out the disorder of the post-Qaddafi security environment.
Haftar’s comments last week regarding the enemy in Libya sounded much like Syria’s battlefield where thousands of foreign fighters are going to receive live action training for future operations:
“We see that confrontation is the solution. What is the discussion? They are armed, I do not think talks will work with them. These are criminals, international criminals from Europe and Asia and Africa. Unfortunately, we are not defending only Libya but we are now defending the entire world in this way because the escapists and killers they move from place to place. If we expel them from Libya they will go to another place, but if we are following them everywhere the situation will be different for all countries who fight terrorism.”
General Haftar’s actions curry favor with those who support a future Libyan state with a stronger hand much like Egypt todayDr. Theodore Karasik
General Haftar’s analogy to Syria is important. He sees that Libya is, just like Syria, a terrorist and criminal incubator that could impact all of Northern Africa and Europe as well as the rest of the MENA region. A Libyan analyst commented that “General Haftar’s actions are already having an impact on the illegal arms flow out of Libya by halting the movement of weapons to the Syrian battlefield.” Clearly, mitigating “the Libyan effect” is a key goal of Operation Dignity.
In addition, General Haftar’s actions curry favor with those who support a future Libyan state with a stronger hand much like Egypt today. He does not want to just rout the “terrorist” threat, he wants to crush it. General Haftar’s persona and character lend themselves to other robust leaders such as President al-Sisi. And that is where the relationship between Egypt and Libya may get interesting. It may very well be that President Sisi’s first action will be to give General Haftar support by sending in Egyptian special operation forces to give Operation Dignity a boost and strangling the Islamist forces and militias from behind.
Such a move by President Sisi would help not only protect Egypt’s Western region but also send a message to Libya’s neighbors about the seriousness of Cairo’s intentions to calm Northern Africa, specifically Chadian, involvement in Libya. Moreover, the pending historical agreement between Hamas and Fatah regarding a unity government is setting the stage for halting too the arms flow from Libya to other salafist-jihadist groups who benefit from the illegal pipeline of weapons.
General Haftar may not reveal exactly what he has in mind for Libya’s future at this conjuncture. But one can see an emerging trajectory that suggests he has big designs given his desire to have the world stand by his mission to restore peace in Libya. Egyptian President Sisi already called on the United States to help fight jihadist terrorism and warned that Libya was becoming a major security threat, with militants infiltrating across the Egyptian-Libyan border. General Haftar, if successful, will be seen as a champion who can unite the country across tribal lines.
America is already responding by getting ready to evacuate American citizens and embassy officials as General Haftar makes progress. Remarkably, it seems that President Obama’s new national security doctrine is at work: Egypt, along with General Haftar, are taking the lead on reversing Libya’s decline with back-up support from America. This move should be interpreted for exactly what it is: Egypt and allies are helping General Haftar first and foremost and relying on America for partnership through a stand-by position in this particular case. America has no appetite to get involved fully in Libyan and Egyptian affairs in North Africa.
Will General Haftar be the next charismatic, nationalist leader of Libya? General Haftar’s vision for Libya seems to be already in place and his appeal to a good number of Libyans is evident. With additional victories and the wiping out of the opposition, General Haftar’s portrait will soon be posted not only on buildings and streets but across cyberspace. General Haftar has already congratulated President Sisi for his victory. Will President Sisi congratulate a President Haftar in the near future? Only time will tell, especially with a pending legislative election on June 25, 2014.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.
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