Libya in Transition
By Riley Madrian
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar began his military career by taking part in the 1969 coup that overthrew King Idris and established Muammar Qaddafi as the head of the Libyan state. Shortly thereafter, Haftar became Qaddafi’s chief of staff of the armed forces and was given control over Libya’s conflict with Chad. Although loyal to Qaddafi, when Haftar and his men were captured as prisoners of war in Chad in 1987, Qaddafi repudiated him and demanded that Haftar’s soldiers be returned to Libya; however, the United States moved them to Zaire. Qaddafi’s disavowal angered Haftar and in 1988 he joined the C.I.A.-supported National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) while in Chad. When the NFSL was unable to overthrow Qaddafi, the United States flew Haftar and his men to Virginia, where Haftar lived for the next 20 years while gaining U.S. citizenship.
Haftar returned to Libya in 2011, shortly before the First Libyan Civil War was ignited by protests in Benghazi in February. This civil war was fought between Qaddafi loyalists and opposition groups who wanted to end Qaddafi’s dictatorship. The National Transitional Council of Libya (NTC) was formed in March 2011 and became the de facto government in Libya. After Qaddafi was ousted and killed, the NTC continued to govern Libya and organized elections for a General National Congress, which were held on July 7, 2012. The General National Congress (GNC) became the legislative authority for two years after the First Libyan Civil War. Elections were held in June 2014 to replace the GNC with a new legislative body: the House of Representatives (HoR). The HoR assumed legislative control in August 2014, but was met with opposition from the GNC, who had rejected the results of the HoR election. The GNC is based in western Libya and supported by powerful local militias as well as Qatar, Sudan, and Turkey; the HoR was unwilling to replace the GNC in Tripoli, so it established itself in the eastern city of Tobruk. The HoR has the support of the Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Haftar as well as air support from Egypt and the UAE. This contention between the HoR and GNC was just the beginning of the ongoing civil war in Libya. After long talks between the groups, the Libyan Political Agreement, which formed a united Government of National Accord (GNA), was signed in December 2015. According to the U.N. document, the GNA would consist of 17 ministers led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. In March 2016, al-Sarraj arrived in Tripoli despite threats from city militias who rejected the authority of the GNA. While the GNA is the only internationally recognized government in Libya, the HoR continually refuses to recognize it. This political stalemate has pushed Libyans, particularly Haftar, to believe that there is a military solution.
The most recent military campaign in this war has been the offensive launched by the Haftar-led Libyan National Army (LNA) against western Libya, particularly Tripoli. This offensive began on April 4, 2019, when the LNA captured the city of Gharyan, 30 miles south of Tripoli. There has been various international involvement in Haftar’s campaign. Within days of the LNA taking Gharyan, the U.S., U.K., the U.A.E., France, and Italy made a joint statement condemning Haftar’s actions; and the G7 countries urged Haftar to stop his advance on Tripoli and stated that there is no military solution to Libya’s political strife. Haftar has received unwavering support from Egypt’s President Al-Sisi, who has praised Haftar and his army for pushing to dismantle the militias remaining from the First Libyan Civil War, calling it an effort in counterterrorism. Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that called on the LNA to end its advance on Tripoli, stating that the resolution should apply to all parties, not just the LNA. Sudan began sending their Rapid Support Forces to Tripoli in July, the same forces that carried out the Darfur Genocide and the June 3 massacre.
Since the beginning of this Tripoli offensive, 1093 people have been killed, 106 of whom were civilians, while 5752 people have been injured, 294 of whom were civilians. More than 100,000 people have been displaced by the conflict. On August 10, both sides agreed to a ceasefire for Eid Al-Adha; however on August 11 the LNA claimed that forces loyal to al-Sarraj carried out an attack, effectively ending the ceasefire.