Libya’s War Escalates as the Stakes Get Higher-By Steve Brown
Libya’s Government of National Accord has little time to sort out the mess it is in, with the Libyan National Army making some progress in Tripoli’s suburbs. LNA warlord Haftar’s strike on the Zawiya Oil installation near al Harsha in west Tripolitania on the 27th of December resulted in drastic damage to the facility causing Libya’s National Oil Company to warn about potential evacuation of offices nearby.*
The LNA’s decision to target the az Zawiya Oil installation may be seen as a proxy blow to Turkey’s interests in Libya, because Turkey purchases oil for as low as $10 per barrel from such terminals. Warlord Haftar does not suffer, because Cyrenaica oil is largely produced and processed in eastern Libya.
The Libyan National Army’s fortunes have improved recently with a new influx of weaponry and funds supplied by the United Arab Emirates. After setbacks in Gharayan the LNA has recovered due to weaponry, supplies, and mercenary air attacks on Misrata (mostly supported by the UAE) where Misrata provides most resistance to the LNA outside of Tripoli.** From December 21st, 2019, Haftar has mounted a particularly effective offensive around Tarhunah, driving the GNA back (nearly) to the suburbs of Tripoli itself.
The position of the United States is somewhat opaque regarding support for the Libya National Army, but indications are that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and Egypt were successful in convincing the US to allow Saudi and Egypt a free hand to back and arm Haftar. The Libyan National Army declared a no-fly zone over Tripoli in late November, which has proved effective, in support of LNA air strikes on the capital by mercenary pilots. Together, these events caused Haftar to once again demand that the GNA surrender, on December 30th, 2019.
As addressed in Erdogan Stirs the Pot Again the Libyan conflict’s alliances are as follows:
Government of National Accord’s (UN recognized government) major support:
Libyan National Army (not UN recognized) major support:
United Arab Emirates
Morocco (political support for GNA)
According to the Turkish leadership, the Government of National Accord has asked for its help to stabilize Tripolitania and resist the LNA offensive. The Turkish parliament is set to vote on military intervention on January 2nd. But even if the measure passes, there may not be enough time to stop Haftar’s advance.
According to the Libya Review Egypt has called for an emergency session of the Arab League to discuss Libya, however the details have not been verified (and occurrence of this session cannot be independently confirmed). Egypt has taken an interest in Cyrenaica and the conflict even before the LNA approached Egypt for help with developing the Sirte basin oil and gas fields, where most of Libya’s oil originates.
Warlord Haftar’s attempts to sell Sirte oil on the open market were resisted by UN sanction, so Haftar eventually backed down. If the LNA can shut down the National Oil Company of Libya, Haftar may gain enough leverage to force the issue because that’s a lot of oil and revenue for the GNA to lose every day. And such a closure would leave Turkey hanging in the wind, and possibly force the country back to Iran’s oil, in spite of US sanctions. The foregoing is surely what Egypt must hope for, too.
Reports of the Wagner Group operating on behalf of the LNA are murky, but probably correct. The Wagner Group is a mercenary force, for sale to any suitable bidder. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are certainly capable of doing that bidding. For now it appears that the Wagner Group is involved in LNA training and logistics — and to strike fear in the heart of the GNA. Although touted by the Neoliberal press as Russia taking part in fighting around Tripoli, there is no evidence in the form of Russian casualties or any other evidence that the Kremlin is involved with such a tragic opportunity leveraged by an essentially private mercenary group.
Regardless of the above political considerations, the shifting alliance around the 2011 US/NATO-created Libyan disaster is of most consequence. Speculation abounds about a potential alliance between Turkey, Tunisia, and Algeria, versus the LNA in Libya. Fathi Bashagha, the GNA’s interior minister, announced just such an alliance last Thursday, but his proposal was quickly debunked.
Yesterday Turkey and Algeria announced a joint naval effort to celebrate the historic Oruç Reis Hayreddin Barbarossa anniversary, with exercises to take place in January, 2020. This celebratory joint naval affair has led to much speculation regarding Turkey’s proposal for an alliance with Algeria, for intervention in Libya. Although there is historic friendship and cooperation between Algeria and Turkey, Algeria’s history and current political composition is such that an actual military alliance between Algeria and Turkey is exceedingly unlikely at this time. There are several reasons.
Besides the inherent risk of throwing military weight behind a potentially losing GNA regime, Algeria’s history of internecine conflict — especially with regard to implicit support of radical Islamist factions that the GNA has not fully denounced — would be 100% abhorrent to the Algerian military and to its people. As for Tunisia, Tunisia of course does as Algeria dictates. ***
Complicating the picture is Morocco. Morocco — an ally of Saudi Arabia — is typically at odds with Algeria which does not align with Saudi Arabia. Morocco’s closeness to Saudi Arabia is complicated by Saudi’s support for the LNA, where Morocco has expressed its support for the Government of National Accord on numerous occasions. The Skhirat Agreement was Morocco’s attempt to find a political solution to the violence in Libya, but the LNA’s April offensive ended those hopes. Since then Morocco has pursued a largely neutral position beyond public statements in favor of the GNA.
Another great unknown is how Washington will react when NATO ally Turkey deploys its military to Libya. That deployment could result in a military confrontation with France, another NATO ally, or Greece, also a NATO ally. And Washington’s unipolar moment is not just fading fast, it has ended. Washington quixotically lashes out to re-assert its global dominance versus imaginary adversaries and is only capable of creating new ones – and failed states. How Washington’s hubris might play out in a Syria-like war in Libya (where Washington caused the conflict in the first place as it did in Syria) is unclear.
Next, consider the Libyan National Army which is not in as good shape as the media tends to portray. There is dissension among the officer ranks. Haftar has suffered a shortage of skilled workers and soldiers. The LNA has suffered setbacks before, for example in Gharayan. And the Warlord is mainly reliant on aerial bombing and superior air power to defeat the GNA. Haftar has only a few days remaining before Turkey may deploy troops to Tripolitania, and if Turkey does so, the tide of this war will turn quickly.
Finally, United Nations talks on Libya might take place in January… or they might not. Because the precise date has not been verified. Whether those UN talks take place or not, hope for Libya’s relief seems forlorn with more aggression, death, and human flight being a certainty, and typical of the failed states US-State creates. It seems that the peace prospect for Libya is bleak, with the people of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica tearing themselves apart while the people of the south, the Fezzan, suffer even more.
*Somewhat surprisingly Libya’s NOC provides oil revenue funds to both sides in the conflict ie the Government of National Accord and to the Libyan National Army; for the NOC to cease operations would be a blow to both factions.
** Some Misrata rebel factions support the LNA, and a number of factions with various affiliations exist there and in Tripoli.
*** The subject of Alegria is an interesting one and will be addressed in a comprehensive upcoming article.