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Would Trump prevent escalation of violence in Libya

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LIBYAPROSPECT – Kusai Rahal

A report on Foreign Affairs Website published a report analyzing the ongoing Libyan crisis after the threat of Daesh and how the trump administration can be the solution for the crisis.

The report begins by highlighting the Libyan crisis as a major challenge for the Trump administration. After Daesh was ousted from Libya last year, oil production in Libya has reached a three-year high. However, Libya has become more fragmented and polarized than ever before. The Presidential Council (PC) of the Government of National Accord (GNA) is failing in its essential functions and faces a major obstacle created by the head of the army of the House of Representatives (HoR), General Khalifa Haftar, who was backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Russia.

The report goes on to write “now is the time for careful and robust American diplomatic leadership,” calling Trump to learn about the complexities of the Libyan politics, and should shun the “easy and incorrect categorizations of “Islamist, secular, or nationalist.”” And it must avoid viewing the country through a lens of counterterrorism and sub-contracting its Libyan policy to regional states, especially Egypt. Also, handling the Libyan crisis over to the Europeans is also useless because a European role will lack credibility without American backing.

The report focused on Daesh and how their activity in Libya may have been overshadowed by their activity in Mosul and Eastern Syria over the past year. But the Libyan forces, despite the arms embargo, they managed to earn a hard-earned victory against Daesh and ousted them from their stronghold in the city Sirte and all the other main cities. However, remnants of Daesh could still regroup themselves; they fled to the desert valleys of southern Sirte. The security vacuum in Libya continues, and a return of Daesh could be imminent. It is important to note that terrorism thrives on conflict and instability.

The report said that many observers believed that the fight against Daesh was what Libyan factions needed to be united, but the complete opposite happened campaigns against Daesh “were pell-mell and carried out by disparate and hostile militias without any unifying authority. For example, militias from the powerful city of Misrata that defeated Daesh in Sirte are only loosely tethered to the GNA in Tripoli—and many in their ranks fiercely oppose it.”

The fight against Daesh has served for Haftar and his supporters to make a renewed attempt for national domination, which comes with his threats to bring war and turmoil to the capital city of Tripoli. The risk of renewed conflict is what created calls for American diplomatic leadership, Washington has already lent military muscle to help eliminate Daesh, it cannot leave Libya in the current climate.

Later, the report said that “the GNA’s domestic support base has steadily narrowed; its international backers have forfeited much of their credibility because of their inability to dissuade regional states and Russia from supporting the GNA’s adversaries.”

Since the GNA agreement was reached in December 2015, the balance of forces has changed, with Haftar consolidating his power in the Eastern city of Benghazi. The GNA has struggled in weakening Haftar, they tried to support some of his rival Eastern figures, but Haftar has been expelling and silencing his former opponents in the east to cement his authority. “He empowered armed Salafi groups, reinstated many former elements of former leader Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence services, and appointed military governors to replace elected municipal councils. In September, after months of working to co-opt tribal leaders and military figures, he took over eastern Libya’s biggest oil export terminals without significant military action.”

Now when Haftar has crystallized his hold over the eastern side of Libya, he now aims to expand his dominion across the whole country. In the south, militants loyal to Haftar are relatively weak but have begun to act more aggressively. “Near Sirte, Haftar has deployed officers and militiamen drawn from the city’s tribes. In an eventual confrontation with Misrati forces in the city, he could likely count on support from a powerful Salafi brigade that had fought with the Misratis against Daesh.”

To make the matters more worrying, Haftar and his associates have been recently announcing that they will soon begin a campaign to (liberate) Tripoli. This may not be a direct invasion by him and his forces, “all he needs to do is drive a wedge between militias in and around the capital and strike alliances with some of them,” according to the article. By creating more instability in the capital city, he can show the public that he can bring about stability and can win support.

The GNA is crumbling since it arrived in Tripoli in March 2016, it has failed to gain support and authority in Tripoli.

Efforts to establish a UN-backed presidential guard that would protect GNA institutions have been extremely slow in materializing. For ordinary Libyans “the GNA’s ineffectiveness is most clearly seen in the country’s worsening economic crisis and long power cuts. Although several of its members have boycotted the GNA from the beginning or resigned over the past year, even its staunchest supporters are now willing to renegotiate the agreement on which the GNA is based.”

Haftar’s stubborn stance is not only linked to the support he receives from Egypt, the UAE, and Russia; but also to his expectations that the Trump administration would back Egypt’s position on Libya. Or it will “support Haftar by lifting the UN arms embargo and directing closer American intelligence and military support to his forces.” The Egyptian and Russian officials are suggesting to Libyan and Western interlocutors that they could induce Haftar to strike a deal and for him to have national dominion. But even more than their willingness, their ability to do so is highly doubtful. In addition to Egypt and Russia, Algeria and Tunisia are also “proposing their services as mediators, stepping into the void left by the UN’s faltering efforts.”

Moving swiftly onto the final section of the report, the GNA is no longer a viable option, and neither is the easy solution of following the military muscle of Haftar. Haftar has no realistic prospect of stabilizing Libya, he has no strategy in doing so, his army is not national, and some say it is not even an army. Even in the East, “the bulk of Haftar’s forces are drawn from civilian fighters-militias of varying backgrounds that are increasingly disguised as formal army units. In the west and south, the LNA units have a distinctly tribal composition, provoking suspicion among neighboring communities that view them as little more than tribal militias.”

Encouraging Haftar to believe that he can rule a country like Libya would only prompt him to start another civil war, and the end to the conflict will not be in sight. With a third of the country’s population living in the greater Tripoli area, “such a conflict could cause displacement and humanitarian suffering on a scale not seen to date in Libya.”

Even if Haftar does end up winning the leadership of Libya, the report suggests that it will result in the increase and not decrease of radicalisation. Like Egypt’s Sisi, Haftar makes no distinction between Daesh, Al-Qaida, and the Muslim Brotherhood, his goal is of killing, jailing or exiling those Islamists of all types, which risks provoking even the moderate, pro-state Islamists into allying with the radical jihadists.

The report concludes by saying that a unification through military action is simply not realistic for Libya. Instead “the United States, in conjunction with regional states, should support a renewed push for a political settlement.” Trumps administration must send strong signals to forces on all sides of the conflict that political solution is the only viable path to get out of the chaos.