Libya: Slow Roll To Salvation
January 14, 2019: This article is copyrighted and republished with permission from our friends at Strategy Page.
The GNA (Government of National Accord) is now supporting the LNA (Libyan National Army) and its commander Khalifa Hiftar. This began when GNA leader Fayez al Sarraj spoke with Hiftar on November 13th when both were at the Libya conference in Italy. While many GNA backers want nothing to do with Hiftar (seeing him as another potential dictator) a growing number of Libyans and regional leaders recognize that Hiftar and his LNA are the only force in Libya that has consistently (for over five years) worked to unify the country rather than plunder it. Hiftar has been the most important element of the other Libya government, the HoR (House of Representatives). The LNA is useful to the GNA in Tripoli because the city is controlled by numerous militias, some of them led by Islamic radicals, who see the LNA as the end of their independence and barely acknowledge the GNA. Most Libyans, and especially most residents of Tripoli would like the LNA to come in and pacify the place and Sarraj seems to now accept this as a possibility he could possibly live with. Hiftar has delayed doing that until he could get Sarraj and the GNA on his side. Hiftar left the Italian conference because he refused to negotiate with Islamic radical leaders who still control some major private armies in Libya. Hiftars’ refusal to negotiate with Islamic terrorist or Islamic radical groups is seen by many as the key to his success. But the UN and many European countries still back negotiating with the Islamic radicals. Sarraj has come around to Hiftars’ approach but, unlike Hiftar, Sarraj does not have much military clout to deal with the Islamic militias in Tripoli and other towns and cities in western Libya.
The LNA is moving west. Not to occupy Tripoli but to eliminate the remaining Islamic terrorist and independent militias in the interior, especially around oil production facilities. This task is coming to an end and the next objective would be the troublesome militias along the coastline of western Libya, mainly in the cities of Misrata and Tripoli. The only complication here is that Sarraj and Hiftar are not actually allies yet and the LNA plans to move on the troublesome militias in Misrata and Tripoli are seen by many GNA supporters as an effort to take over the GNA not support it. Hiftar’s Arab allies, especially Egypt, want some sort of formal peace deal with the GNA before the LNA pacifies Misrata and Tripoli but Hiftar considers that a waste of time and easier to deal with once the two cities have had their troublesome militias pacified. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission.
The LNA has controlled most of the Libyan coast since mid-2018 but has found that maintaining security in the coastal towns and cities is time consuming and requires a lot of manpower. In the east Derna was the last major coastal city to have a major Islamic terrorist and rogue militia problem and while the LNA has eliminated major opposition there are still less visible outlaws in like Derna who continue to shoot back when cornered. ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is now reduced to a few hundred members and survives as bandits away from the coast and continue to carry out the occasional suicide attack in the cities. Most of the violence (and casualties) in the coastal cities is the result of occasional armed clashes between rival militias. Normally the militias are not looking for a fight, just ways to make money and survive. But these militias are heavily armed and that keeps the atmosphere tense, and occasionally very dangerous, wherever they operate. This continued violence in many population centers has delayed elections to form a national government and those elections that were supposed to take place this year are more likely to occur in 2020.
The benefit of providing more security for areas with oil production facilities has paid off. In 2018 the state oil company generated $24.4 billion in revenue, the most in five years. Production in 2018 averaged 1.1 million BPD (barrels per day) and is growing. If security around oil facilities can be maintained production could reach two million BPD by 2021. Security is a constant struggle. At the end of 2018, the Sharara oil field in the southwest was shut down for more than a week because of local militia threats. Sharara is the largest source of oil and gas in Libya and the frequent target of attacks for no other reason because it has always been a place where there was stuff to steal.
January 7, 2019: At Misrata, a major a port 210 kilometers east of Tripoli, customs officials found a variety of weapons concealed in a shipment of household items and toys from Turkey. Customs inspectors have been more carefully searching shipments from Turkey since weapons and ammo were found hidden in Turkish cargo back in December. Turkey is a major manufacturer of weapons in the regions, especially small arms. These are often bought by arms smugglers who sneak them into areas where new weapons are hard to come by and buyers are willing to pay more. The Turkish government is accused of tolerating this smuggling if it is going to help the Islamic terror groups the current Turkish governments tolerate. There is some truth to that but the Turkish arms smugglers have been around a lot longer than the current Turkish government.
January 3, 2019: In Jilma (250 kilometers south of Tripoli), police raided an Islamic terrorist hideout and after a brief gun battle the two Islamic terrorists killed themselves with explosives rather than risk capture. The two men were part of a group that has been planning terror attacks in coastal cities.
January 2, 2019: The GNA issued arrest warrants for 37 individuals believed responsible for many of the 2018 attacks on oil facilities in the south and east as well as an attack on the LNA controlled Tamanhint airbase outside Sabha ( 770 kilometers south of Tripoli) last May. Six of those sought are Libyan but the rest as described as “mercenaries” from Chad and Sudan. The people being sought generally work for Islamic terrorist groups that have been fighting LNA forces. That the warrants were issued by the GNA was a welcome sign of cooperation between the two rival governments (LNA belongs to the HOR government in Tobruk).
January 1, 2019: Two ISIL suicide bombers attacked a police station in the southern city of Sabha, killing three soldiers and wounding another.
December 31, 2018: LNA forces found and seized an ISIL hideout near the southern city of Sabha and freed 19 locals the Islamic terrorists had kidnapped in order to obtain ransom or cooperation. One soldier and several ISIL gunmen died during the operation.
December 27, 2018: In the south (900 kilometers south of Tripoli), an armed group from Chad attacked an LNA base at Traghen (400 kilometers from the Chad border) leaving one soldier dead and 13 wounded.
December 25, 2018: In Tripoli, two ISIL suicide bombers attacked the foreign ministry compound. In addition to the bombers, three others were killed including a local militia leader who happened to be around when the attack occurred.
December 18, 2018: At a port 65 kilometers east of Tripoli, customs officials checking a shipment of food from Turkey found 3,000 Turkish made pistols and some hunting rifles. Following up that with a more thorough search of another freighter 4.2 million pistol bullets were found.
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