Is the real Libyan battle for Tripoli underway?
Thinni and General Haftar are looking for and receiving military assistance in their campaign to take Tripoli
Over the past few days, General Khalifa Haftar’s forces, after arming the Warfalla and Tebu tribes, is launching an offensive to take back Tripoli from the hands of Libya Dawn. This process towards not negotiating with what Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni and his government, the House of Representatives (HOR), call terrorists, which they are, has been building for the past few months. Thinni’s government makes no secret of the military offensive with a public statement.
General Haftar’s forces are pushing towards the Tripoli with precision strikes. With airstrikes, combined with specific on-the ground operations, it is Thinni and the HOR’s hope that the battle for Tripoli is underway and will be successful. The airstrikes on Libya Dawn’s weapons depots are helping to cut supplies. A spokesman for Haftar's forces, Mohammed Hegazi, said they had warned their rivals against using "ports and airports" to transport weapons, ammunition and fighters.
The pro-Tobruk air force bombed Libyan Dawn sites in Zuwarah, Abu Kamesh and Tripoli’s Qasr bin Ghashir. Air strikes also targeted a warehouse and a factory in Zwara which is located west of the Tripoli. The targeting of the area West of Tripoli is critical for degrading Libya Dawn’s capabilities. Simultaneously, Italy and France are supplying intelligence to Haftar and his forces and Italy itself is supplying his forces with weapons and ammunition.
Regional and international interference
I believe the international community would be wise to stay out of Libya and let Libyans decide for themselves who should be responsible for governance. Nevertheless, Sudan is becoming involved which is worrying because of Khartoum’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood (Muslim Brotherhood). Over the past few days, Sudan has been hosting a conference on resolving the Libyan debacle. According to an Arab official, “this move by Khartoum is allowing the Muslim Brotherhood a voice where it should not have one”. Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali Karti accused "foreign parties" of fuelling fighting in Libya as he opened a meeting of neighboring countries including Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Niger Tunisia, the Tabrouk government, as well as Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi and an African Union envoy. Indeed, it is ironic that Sudan’s top diplomat would make such a statement given Khartoum support not only of the Muslim Brotherhood but also receipt of billions of dollars in aid from Muslim Brotherhood supporters. The Egyptian and Tabrouk representatives at the conference are certainly alert to Sudanese meddling. It is well known in security circles that Sudan is major route for weapon supplies for Libyan extremists of all stripes. Just three months ago Thinni accused Sudan of backing the terrorists after a plane loaded with weapons landed in the southern oasis of Kufra.
Thinni and General Haftar are looking for and receiving military assistance in their campaign to take TripoliDr. Theodore Karasik
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is also involving itself in Thinni and Haftar’s plans at the wrong time. While UNSMIL is convening a new round of dialogue among Libyan stakeholders soon, the U.N. body is not helping the situation because this gives time for Libya Dawn and its allies the Misratans and the ethnic Tuareg to convince outside powers that they are not extremists. This approach by UNSMIL is hindering the goals of the democratically-elected HOR based in Tobrouk. According to an Arab official I spoke to, “the UNSMIL is misreading the situation on the ground because of the tribal mix behind Libya Dawn and its allies. There is a vital need to understand the nuances.” Indeed, if there is a round of U.N. talks, these negotiations need to be well-informed about the real scene on the ground in Libya by seeing the situation not through rose-colored glasses.
In the south of Libya, French special operations forces have moved closer to the Libyan border, and the United States has built two drone bases in Niger. One concern is the possibility of weapons flowing to extremist groups like Ansar al-Sharia in towns in Libya's northeast but also the development of the Derna Veliyat and training camps for Islamic State supporters. With the United States announcing that it is keeping an eye on the development of these training camps, it would not come as a surprise that Paris and Washington will militarily strike these locations in order to rid of the extremists and boost the HOR. Altogether, there seems to be momentum towards a military solution to tip the balance in favor of Thinni as opposed to a political, negotiated settlement.
Overall, Thinni and General Haftar are looking for and receiving military assistance in their campaign to take Tripoli. Operation Dignity, which began over this past summer, is now receiving a push from outside powers for a military solution. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s visit to Italy and France was a clear indicator of the events in Libya this week. Observers should note that this process has been gaining momentum. The major point is that military action seems to be trumping political discussion at this point in time.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Senior Advisor to Risk Insurance Management in Dubai, UAE. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets: @tkarasik