Last week marked an escalation in the ongoing conflict in Libya after the area of engagement broadened to Jufra and Misrata.
On 26 July, the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Volcano of Wrath operation published a statement claiming to have destroyed a hanger of drones and a cargo plane at the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) Jufra airbase and at a checkpoint on the Houn-Tripoli road.
The GNA claimed that the aerial attacks represent a “new phase of operations intensively prepared.”
Later the same day, the LNA claimed it had hit more than ten targets at the Misrata Air College, destroying an air defence system and Turkish Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) platforms.
It also claimed to have hit a military base in Sirte, but trusted local sources denied these claims.
The LNA’s airstrikes on Misrata were a direct response to the GNA’s attacks on Jufra airbase, which were in turn an attempt to undermine the LNA’s assault on Tripoli by cutting its supply lines.
Jufra airbase is known to be a critical supply and logistical base for the LNA which it has used to facilitate its attack on Tripoli.
It is likely that the conflict between the LNA and GNA-aligned forces will expand to the Oil Crescent region in the coming weeks, but that it will remain predominantly aerial in nature, at least in the short term.
The fighting in Tripoli will shortly enter its fifth month and nearly 1100 people have been killed so far, meaning both factions are likely to favour strategies that minimise further loss of life.
In addition, while forces on both sides have been supplied with arms and ammunition, the priority for both Turkey and the UAE appears to be increasing aerial and drone capacities rather than ground forces.
The LNA airstrikes on Misrata are also significant from an international perspective, because Italy, the UK and the US all have working counter-terror relationships with Misratan forces, and Italy (and possibly UK and US as well) has boots on the ground there too.
As a result, it is possible that continued airstrikes in Misrata will lead to more overt condemnation of the LNA from these nations or increased military support to Misrata and other GNA-aligned forces.
The expansion of the aerial conflict to the Oil Crescent is unlikely to lead to a significant shift in the military stalemate in Tripoli in the short term, but is likely to put ports and other critical infrastructure at increased risk of attack or collateral damage, and means the security situation could become increasingly volatile in this region.
HOR in US to push LNA’s “legitimacy” as divisions deepens within the HOR
On 24 July, a delegation from the pro-Libyan National Army (LNA) faction of the House of Representative (HoR) in eastern Libya was reported to be in Washington DC on a mission to gain US support for the LNA’s campaign to take control of Tripoli.
The delegation held a series of meeting with US State Department, Defence Department and White House officials.
The meetings reportedly involved the delegates promoting the LNA’s legitimacy by saying its actions in Tripoli have been sanctioned by the HoR, which they claim is a democratically elected political entity, unlike the Government of National Accord (GNA), which they deem illegitimate.
The HoR delegation is being assisted by Linden Government Solutions, a lobbying firm employed by LNA head Khalifa Haftar to lobby US officials on his behalf.
Meanwhile, on 26 July, another delegation from the HoR which is established in Tripoli undertook an ‘official’ visit to Moscow to meet with Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov to discuss the current state of affairs in Libya.
Bogdanov is reported to have reaffirmed Russia’s commitment to the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), and that there can be no military solution to the Libya crisis.
This meeting highlights the deepening of divisions within the HOR.
Indeed, when the LNA attacked Tripoli in April, the HoR membership split down pro-LNA/ anti-LNA lines, with a group of mainly western-based HoR members setting up breakaway entity in Tripoli in May.
As the US position on the conflict in Libya remains ambiguous, Libyan factions to lobby the country for support.
The internal division with the HoR is indicative of broader political fragmentation within Libya, with the polarisation increasingly going along east-west lines.
While the HoR has not been an effective or cohesive parliament and has frequently undermined or derailed previous political processes, this trend towards a formal division between Tubruq and Tripoli increases the threat of deeper de facto or even de jure political partition between the eastern and western regions in the longer term.