Gains Made Against Al-Qa’ida
CAIRO, Egypt –Even as Libya is tossed as a political football in United States presidential debates, ground-level complications are increasing in Benghazi and beyond despite recent blows to the Islamic State and a tentative return to oil exports.
In Ganfouda, a southwestern suburb of Benghazi, the Libyan National Army [LNA commanded by General Khalifa Haftar claims it is clearing out the last stronghold of Al-Qa’ida affiliated militants while the UN cautions against harming innocent civilians in the neighborhood. “We support the fight against terrorist organizations as identified by relevant Security Council resolutions”, said Martin Kobler, the UN Secretary General’s Libya envoy “but such a fight should be conducted in line with International Law.”
An Amnesty International field report says Ganfouda is devastated by the fighting- with food, water and electricity supplies cut off. Residents told Amnesty researchers their children have become emaciated after months of a blockade by the Libyan National Army. Hafter’s proposed evacuation plan defines women, children, and the elderly as the only civilians remaining in Ganfouda and designates all males in the neighborhood as “fighters” who must be surrendered. “There might be Turkish, Qatari, Berber and African “families” in there,” said Ahmed Al-Masmari, a Libyan National Army spokesman, “and they are terrorists.”
In addition to pounding Ganfouda, Hafter’s forces have captured oil facilities along the coast and even made a push for the eastern fringes of Sirte, birthplace of former leader Moammar Gadhafi and until recently, the main Islamic State beachhead in Libya. After an initial condemnation by Western nations of Hafter’s deployment in September, his ability to secure the facilities and agreement to transfer proceeds to the country’s central bank has resulted in 100 percent rise in exports according to National Oil Company chairman Mustafa Sanalla.
The “Solid Structure” militia aligned with the Government of National Accord [GNA] is now vying with the Tobruk based Libyan National Army over which force will take credit for the final blow against the Islamic State in Sirte. “Solid Structure has split the Daesh [Islamic State] terrorists’ last enclave in Sirte’s Third District this weekend and now surround the 600 block area in the center,” militia spokesman Ali Almabrouk told The Media Line. The Hafter affiliated Libyan Forces’ Press Service claims it killed 80 Islamic State jihadists in the city of Sirte this week as its troops close in from the coastal road to Benghazi.
Both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are militarily backing Hafter while providing political support to the Tobruk based elected parliament in eastern Libya which they see as a counterweight to an Islamist orientation inside the UN supported GNA. “Hafter’s seizure of the oil ports was a strategic response to the GNA’s gains against Islamic State, said Ziad Akl, a researcher at Cairo’s Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
Migrants and Militias
As the two main factions struggle for dominance on land, more than five European navies have imposed a sea cordon off Libya’s coast with the aim of stopping the flow of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa who have benefited from the lack of effective border controls.
The International Migrants Organization says the effort has rescued more than twelve thousand Africans from dangerous boats on the Mediterranean this year.
EU member states Austria and Hungary have proposed paying Libya to establish “migrant cities” to prevent their arrival on the continent. “The crisis in our country makes these proposals unrealistic,” said Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala, claiming that handling hundreds of thousands of African asylum seekers is beyond the capacity of his government.
Siala points to the reality in Libya’s capital city.
Lawlessness and a breakdown in public services marks daily life in Tripoli with residents suffering from 9-hour power outages while witnessing an escalation of politically motivated kidnappings and factional turf wars between militias.“Clashes in Tripoli are a clear sign that GNA’s interim security arrangements have failed to deliver and militias continue to rule here,” said Mohamed Eljarh, a Libya analyst for the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Harri Center.
Six months after a highly publicized return to the capital, the GNA now holds its deliberations in Tunis with members of its executive body citing logistical issues and security considerations as obstacles to meeting in any Libyan city.
At Thursday’s meeting of the nine-man Presidential Council, its leader Fayez al-Sarraj acknowledged that the GNA’s ability to project power is compromised by its failure to operate in Tripoli.
“The current political standing will not accept the GNA’s presence abroad any further,” said Sarraj.
The GNA leader’s assessment is underscored by a report issued this week by the World Bank where officials are still looking at how to structure a loan to rebuild Libyan civil society.
“The Libyan economy is near collapse as political stalemate and civil conflict prevent it from fully exploiting its sole natural resource: oil,” warned the global lender. “The country needs humanitarian aid and specific programs to address the destruction and lack of basic services that a large part of the population faces.”
Zahi Mogherbi, a retired Benghazi University political science professor agrees with the grim description of the Libya’s turmoil but says foreign diplomats and international agencies are worsening the problem by trying to impose solutions.
‘‘There are differences in priorities between what Libyans want and what the international community wants,” Mogherbi said. “They [outside actors] prioritize fighting ISIS and illegal migration rather than issues such as general insecurity, kidnapping, high crime, and the militia control over Libyan society.”