Libya Tribune

By Maryline Dumas & Mathieu Galtier

The stalemate of the Libyan conflict seems to discourage the international community, which remains passive in the face of continuing fighting.

Yet, the population pays the high price, with the massive commitment of drones. And the two protagonists rely on radical Islamist militias, accusing each other of “supporting terrorism”.

The Tripolitans expected this since the beginning of Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli on April 4, 2019, the sky finally falls on their heads five months later.

On October 14, three children died, buried under the rubble of a house razed by the bombing of a fighter plane of the self-proclaimed Libyan Arab National Army ( ANL ) of the former general of Gaddafi, in Furnaj, southeast of downtown. 

On 6 October, another ANL aircraft dropped four unguarded bombs that exploded in an equestrian center in Janzour, west of Tripoli, injuring several children.

AIR WAR

Five months ago, when Haftar’s men had been trying to penetrate Tripoli for two weeks in a cafe in the wealthy Ben Achour neighborhood of the city center, Moustapha, a university professor, prophesied: “Since 2011, we have been fighting especially by firing rockets a bit at random.

But if now, Haftar has sophisticated planes.. ” As a”  sophisticated aircraft  “, the Tripolitain was referring to Wing Loong drones of Chinese design, but from one of the main supporters of Haftar, the United Arab Emirates .

Opposite, the Government of National Unity ( GUN ) uses Bayraktar drones provided by their Turkish ally. 

Libya is ”  possibly the scene of the most important drone war in the world, ” Ghassan Salamé, the UN representative in the country , worried on September 25 . 

The Lebanese diplomat mentioned the figure of 900 operations involving drones in recent weeks on both sides. The ANL has used this technology the most, notably to try to render non-functional the Mitiga airport, which serves as a civilian airport, military base and HQ or the Rada armed force (” Deterrence “). , very powerful in Tripoli.

If the raids of October 6 and 14 involved conventional aircraft and not drones, on the ground, the feeling is the same. 

In April, a merchant from Ayn Zara, whose shop was a few dozen meters from the first military checkpoint held by GUN forces before the front line, explained that with a ground offensive, he could load a truck of goods before fleeing, but ”  if it is an attack by the air, I can die or see my store destroyed in a second  ” .

INTERNATIONAL POWERLESSNESS

The fear of the sky falling on the head is all the more exacerbated that the international community seems unable to react, imposing for example a prohibition of overflight on the part of the belligerents.

Only by publishing press releases, such as those of the UN , merely compiling tragedies and calling on member states and international institutions to put an end to these violations of humanitarian law. 

For a long time, the UN mission did not name a leader, sending back both sides, while the ANL, as an assailant, has most used air terror. A timid attitude that can be explained by the strong support of countries like the United States and France to Haftar, even if they say they have not been consulted directly for this offensive. 

The United States refused to directly name Haftar responsible for the attack of 14 October, preferring to mention ”  the forces besieging the capital  .”

”  The level of semantic acrobatics about what is really going on in Tripoli is becoming absurd,  ” says expert Mary Fitzgerald. As a result, Libya has become a ”  test laboratory for a new type of air warfare  ,” said defense and security analyst Arnaud Delalande in the latest issue of the professional magazine Air & Cosmos.

THE ” NARRATIVE REVIVAL ” OF MILITIAS

On the ground, on the contrary, nothing moves, or almost.

Since the military command of Tripoli – the union of the main militia of the city headed mainly by the Misrata brigades, reforming for the occasion the alliance of 2016 to chase the Islamic State of Sirte – has pushed Haftar out of his Back base of Gharyan, 100 km south of Tripoli in June, the front lines are more or less stable. 

In the south-east, fighting takes place in the district of Ayn Zara, about twenty kilometers from the center of Tripoli.

To the southwest, it is the old international airport located in Ben Gashir, 30 km from the Libyan capital. 

This remote seat allows a daily life to maintain more or less normally in Tripoli. 

Power cuts have become longer, rubbish is piling up on the streets and many schools have been turned into shelters for the displaced. Yet the stores continue to be supplied, avoiding a serious food crisis thanks to the port and the road between Tripoli and Misrata (the economic capital of the country) which remain open. 

It is on the terrain of manners that the situation gets worse.

Located in the commercial and upscale neighborhood of Al-Andalus, At Home is one of its many comfortable tea rooms where cakes are home and delicious coffee. And the mix allowed. 

A haven of peace for customers, mostly from affluent youth, especially in these uncertain times. But on October 9, armed men burst in, asking all couples for their marriage certificates. Unmarried couples must leave. 

The management of the tearoom apologized to customers on its Facebook page, but said that now ” unrecognized couples ” will no longer be accepted, causing an avalanche of comments, favorable or disapproving.

Who is behind this coup de force  ? The Rada force of Salafist tendency led by Abdelraouf Kara is immediately pointed out.It must be said that since the revolution, the group is used to this kind of actions. 

In 2012, they were accused of being behind the destruction of Sufi mausoleums. 

In 2017, the men of Kara put an end to the Comic Con – festival during which participants are disguised as cartoon characters, manga or hero of television series – considered contrary to the values ​​of Islam.

In this case, however, the spokesman of the group, Ahmed Ben Salem, denied being behind the event: ”  Mixed public cafés exist and do not offend public morality,  ” he told a chain of national television.

Where is the truth  ? Hard to say, but this renewed conservatism worries. “I do the work-home trip, that’s all. I go to friends from time to time. Because of the safety, but also the lead screed, I no longer go to the cafes,  ” laments a Tripolitania look somewhat”  Salafist compatible”.

“In an atmosphere of endless war, it is possible to carry out this type of” moral “operation without fearing too much rejection from the population,  ” says Jalel Harchaoui, a specialist in Libya at the Dutch institute. Clingendael. 

For the researcher, this incursion in the social field is also explained by a necessary “narrative renewal” on the part of the militias, whether by Rada or another tripolitanian group: ” After 28 weeks of siege, fatigue coupled with logistical and humanitarian crises such as internally displaced persons (IDPs) and growing garbage make many Tripolitans do not understand why the militias continue to prevail. 

A certain percentage of the population think that Haftar would manage the capital better than the militias.

DIPLOMATIC MANEUVERS

Paradoxically – but Libya post-2011 is no longer a paradox – the prolongation of the seat favors the attacker.

Khalifa Haftar realized that on the ground, his men are struggling to progress. But there was never any question of withdrawing: by prestige first, because the 75-year-old man is a military first and foremost. 

By strategy also towards the Tripolitains who could rally to the attacker, if only to finish the siege, as emphasized by Jalel Harchaoui, but also towards the international community. 

Haftar has every interest in letting this religious radicalism spread to scare the international community.

In an interview on 9 October in Sputnik, a media outlet of the Kremlin that supports Gaddafi’s former general, Khalifa Haftar once again portrayed the Tripoli militias as terrorists with whom one could not negotiate: “The truth is that Council 1 receives its instructions from these groups [Tripoli militias] and not the other way around […]. None of the members of the council, starting with the president, dare to contradict the instructions of these gangs of terrorists […]. The Council itself includes more than one member of these terrorist organizations.  ” 

An argument that does not lack irony, as the ANLis assisted by Salafist madkhalist 2 forces , but they work.

A few days before the opening of the United Nations National Assembly on 17 September 2019, Germany had proposed holding an international conference on Libya by the end of the year. 

A format that excludes Libyan actors to focus on ”  key international partners  “, without further clarification. Haftar’s military allies, United Arab Emirates and Russia – Thirty Russian fighters from the Wagner militia reportedly died last month in Tripoli fighting alongside the ANL- knew, with the complacency of the diplomatic support of Vladimir Putin (United States and France) to siphon this initiative, which is now unlikely to see the light of day. 

By then, the Tripolitans will continue to suffer wounds from heaven and earth.

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Maryline Dumas – Independent journalist based in Libya from 2012 to 2015. Since June 2015, she lives in Tunisia but continues to visit Libya regularly. She works for La Tribune de Genève and Le Figaro.

Mathieu Galtier – Independent journalist based in Libya since June 2012. He collaborates with Libération, Sud-Ouest and Associated Reporters abroad.

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