All sides have to take the blame for this bloody stalemate
By Ahmed Aboudouh
There are many reasons for both sides to feel responsible for the current situation, here are some of them.
Hundreds of Russian mercenaries have been evacuated from western Libya, with the US accusing the Moscow government of sending jets to the country via Syria to help general Khalifa Haftar.
Earlier this month a leaked UN report suggested hundreds of mercenaries from the Wagner Group are operating in Libya. Russia has not confirmed the presence of Wagner mercenaries and has denied any state involvement in the group.
Meanwhile, UN experts are reported to have told the body’s security council that Western mercenaries were sent on an aborted mission to help Haftar against the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) – according to a report in The New York Times.
With so many factors surrounding the conflict in Libya, I believe only a quick political settlement can help unite the country.
The Turkish military intervention to prop up the GNA has proved helpful against Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). By retaking al-Wattiya strategic airbase this month, the GNA may have won a battle, but in the process exposed how Libya got to this point of make or break.
Libya has become a jigsaw puzzle of competitions including tribal vs urban, Islamist vs secularist, revolutionary vs old-regime loyalist and regional players all ready to tear the whole country apart for their political and economic interests.
Now, after nine years of fighting, the two sides are defeated.
Haftar’s ability to resume his battle for Tripoli has gone for good, as he can no longer control the skies. At the same time, the GNA is overstretched and doesn’t have the numbers or military capabilities to go beyond its western comfort zone.
All eyes are now fixed on the city of Tarhouna – Haftar’s last stronghold in the west – where the war future, and indeed Haftar’s, will play out.
Both sides have committed a series of mistakes in the upheaval for this moment and both have shown little regard for what Libyans truly want.
The GNA lost its cause of existing in the eyes of its proponents because of the following reasons:
- Failing miserably to appeal to the tribes.
- Seeking to be the sole embodiment of the revolution against Gaddafi, while excluding others.
- Relying heavily on militias – with their own aims
- Failing to change their image of being a government imposed by the international community – as their foes see it.
- Dragging Turkey (a non-Arab state) into the conflict, a move which has unsettled Arab tribes.
- Not taking the initative in battle when it had it
- Excluding the east from the oil revenues, which attracted Hafatr, with tribal support, to cut off oil exports to the east.
- Tolerating extremists to lead the militias defending Tripoli.
- Turning the future of the Libyan war into a pawn in Turkey’s energy ambitions in the Mediterranean.
Meanwhile Haftar has made his own mistakes:
- Presenting himself as an old school warlord seeking to impose military rule over the country.
- Being an obstacle in the way of any political settlement and refusing vehemently to talk to the GNA.
- Maintaining a hostile attitude to democracy and cultivating a personality-cult rule in the areas controlled by the LNA.
- Losing the LNA’s dominance of the skies over Tripoli
- Depending almost wholly on military support from the UAE and Egypt, two powers seen to be revisionist and anti-change.
- His recent push against the Libyan Political Agreement (signed in 2015) burnt all the bridges with the international community.
- Alienating the elected parliament by trying to undermine its authority.
- Unsettling the US and Europe over the presence of Russian mercenaries in the country.
- Maintaining the fanciful hope for winning Trump’s support against the GNA.
None of the reasons above has been taken for the sake of the Libyan people. There are no good guys here. But this stalemate might create a window of opportunity for a quick political settlement.
None of this was ever conceivable as long as Haftar felt Tripoli could be easily taken. This is not to suggest that Turkey’s intervention is by any mean desirable.
Ironically, Turkey is in Libya to stay. While the UK and other western countries always defended the military power balancing between the warring parties as to be the first condition for a solution, Turkey might become the bump on the road.
Turkey’s agreement to boost the GNA is a geopolitical device that I believe helps them leverage its rivals in the race for gas discoveries in the Mediterranean, and until that happens, Turkey is almost unlikely to leave Libya.
The same goes for Russia too.
An immediate political settlement in Libya would not be in Turkey and Russia’s interests for now because reunifying Libya’s state institutions would mean less influence for both countries over their proxies.
There are many plans at work from so many factions – and all the while it is the Libyan citizenry that suffers.
Ahmed Aboudouh is a consultant editor at The Independent. He specialises in Middle East affairs.