By Arnaud Delalande
Khalifa Haftar, head of the so called “Libyan National Army” — a top contender for control of Libya — has launched a retaliatory offensive targeting Sudanese and Chadian militias in the war-torn country’s south.
Libya’s civil war grows only more complex.
On Jan. 15, 2018 near the Jaghboub Oasis, close to the Egyptian border in Libya’s northeast, Sudanese Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) fighters killed six soldiers from the Libyan National Army’s 106th Infantry Brigade and the 501st Brigade. JEM captured one LNA soldier.
The 106th is a salafist unit led by Abdulrahman Hashim Al Kilani from the southern Kufrah region.
The 501st Brigade is a small reconnaissance unit that is normally responsible for protecting and securing of Tobruk International Airport and Gamal Abdel Nasser air base.
Three days after the ambush, the LNA launched Operation ‘Desert Fury‘. It began with air strikes targeting militia vehicles.
Brig. Gen. Al Mabrook Al Ghazwi, the acting mayor of Al Kufra in southeast Libya, said that some warplanes engaged in the operation flew from Al Kufra airport. But there’s reason to doubt his claim.
Satellite imagery dated Jan. 18 indicates no military activity at Al Kufra airport. It’s likely the Egyptian air force carried out the initial bombings in cooperation with the LNA.
Front pour l’Alternance et la Concorde au Tchad (FACT) fighters in Libya
Sudanese and Chadian armed groups have been in southern Libya since at least 2013.
Some of these militias support the Libyan National Army while others support the LNA’s rivals based in Misrata.
The pro-LNA Sudan Liberation Army deployed to Libya starting in March 2015. By March 2016, they had gained a measure of autonomy and played a key role in the LNA’s capture and protection of oil installations.
Meanwhile, the Chadian group Rassemblement des Forces Democratiques, or RFC, had started operating in the southeast of Libya by the end of 2015. It was allegedly involved in attacks against drug traffickers’ convoys.
The LNA had made overtures to the JEM, too, according to a June 2017 report from the U.N. Security Council’s Panel of Experts for Libya. But the JEM and the LNA ultimately came to blows.
In September 2016, JEM fighters reportedly kidnapped four Libyans near Jaghboub and demanded ransom. A month later, the LNA’s 106th Brigade kiled 13 JEM fighters.
The Chadian group Front pour l’Alternance et la Concorde au Tchad, or FACT, has been in Libya since 2014.
Misrata-allied forces recruited FACT fighters in 2017 following hard fighting in Sirte, Sabha, Al Jufra and Brak Al Shati.
FACT participated in the Benghazi Defend Brigade’s March 2017 attack on the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals.
On Jan. 22, 2018, the LNA claimed to have destroyed 18 Chadian militia vehicles out of a convoy of 25 in an ambush south of Al Kufra. And the Libyan war rages on.
Arnaud Delalande is a French analyst, author and journalist specialised in military aviation.