Libya’s security situation to remain unstable through at least late October amid armed clashes and lack of unified security force.
The security situation in Libya will likely remain unstable through at least late October, primarily due to intermittent fighting and armed clashes between various rival militia groups across the country. Competing governmental institutions, as well as geopolitical rivalries, have profoundly complicated the security situation in Libya. Kidnapping incidents, political assassinations, criminal activity, and clashes between opposing militia groups are the most severe problems.
Beginning in October 2020, 75 delegates selected from a combination of Libyan social groups, nominated by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and representatives from the House of Representatives, engaged in a series of talks to establish a political roadmap aimed at holding credible and democratic national elections. Dubbed the Libya Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), the talks led to the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU), with Abdul Hamid Dbeibah serving as the country’s transitional prime minister.
UNSMIL’s goal is to bring about a consensus on a unified governance framework that can pave the way for national elections. Although presidential elections were initially slated for Dec. 24, 2021, the country’s High National Election Commission postponed the vote, and, to date, no serious progress has been achieved toward making elections a reality. Significant obstacles, including difficulties reaching a political arrangement among the rival political representatives, continue to impede agreement on a constitutional framework that lays out the functions of the future government.
Meanwhile, Libya’s parliament voted for a new government on March 1 despite the incumbent prime minister’s rejection of the vote. Fathi Bashagha emerged as prime minister along with a new government consisting of three deputy prime ministers, 29 ministers, and six ministers of state. Parliament’s vote highlights the continuing power struggle with interim Prime Minister Dbeibah.
So long as the status quo continues, the existence of two parallel and competing administrations is almost certain – a situation that will thwart UN efforts to ease political divisions. Previously, Libya was split between east- and west-based rival administrations supported by various militias and foreign actors. Bashagha’s new government risks triggering a new power struggle between the eastern-based assembly and Dbeibah’s western-based interim government.
Additionally, the absence of a cohesive governing body and unified security forces could enable militant organizations, including Islamic State (IS), to regain a foothold in the country. Despite being pushed out of its regional stronghold of Sirte in late 2016, IS still carries out attacks across Libya. Furthermore, large demonstrations occur frequently throughout Libya in response to socioeconomic and political issues; protests can turn violent.
Heavy fighting in the years following the 2011 uprising has taken a substantial toll on Libyan infrastructure. Electrical supply is frequently interrupted, and water outages are common; outages can last for several hours at a time, even in the capital. Rolling blackouts are common during the summer months as power demand increases. Armed groups often disrupt planned power outages by attacking power distribution stations and forcing staff to change the scheduled power loading cycle between districts. The Western Military command has increased security at such facilities, which may mitigate the impact of armed group activity.
Tripoli International Airport (TIP) remains closed after clashes between rival militias in 2014 destroyed most of the airport’s facilities. Most flights in Libya operate out of Mitiga International Airport (MJI) in Tripoli, although airports in Misrata (MRA) and Benghazi (BEN) also operate international flights.
Conflict and Political Disunity
Libya continues to suffer from a lack of unified political leadership. While Dbeibah serves as the country’s prime minister, the commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), Khalifa Haftar, and affiliated political figures based in eastern Libya continue to challenge Dbeibah’s legitimacy. The existence of disparate, competing governmental institutions has led to increased instability in the country and has complicated Libyan bureaucracy.
Despite the establishment of the GNU, fighting could persist between various factions until a comprehensive political settlement is achieved. Heightened security and transport and business disruptions are likely near Tripoli and its surrounding areas.
There is no unified, professional security force operating in Libya. Local militias – which often have conflicting and evolving allegiances and political and territorial objectives – are generally responsible for providing security. Clashes between heavily armed rival militias occasionally occur, even in the capital, and could result in casualties and property damage.
While Libyan forces mostly cleared IS militants from their stronghold in Sirte by late 2016, the group continues to conduct operations in the country. The group has a limited capacity. Since 2019, IS activity has mainly occurred in the southern region, with the latest attacks in June 2021 coming after a period of inactivity.
Several arrest and interdiction operations have also been reported against both IS and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the southern region, including around Obari to the west of Sabha and Qatrun and Umm Aranib, further degrading their operational capacity. However, IS still represents a threat in the country and can carry out unsophisticated suicide attacks at high-profile locations to maximize media coverage, as well as armed attacks against isolated locations in the south.
Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Libya maintain a presence near Benghazi, Derna, and the country’s southern border. The LNA remains focused on eradicating such groups from these regions and frequently carries out security operations to oust militants from these areas.
Civil unrest occurs often in Libya, especially in the form of labor strikes and protests. Demonstrations frequently take place in response to contentious social and political issues, including foreign intervention in Libya and ongoing currency and electricity shortages. In Tripoli, most rallies tend to take place in Martyrs’ Square. All protests have the potential to devolve into violence.
The inability of rival political factions to reconcile has compounded the volatile security situation. Furthermore, any political compromise that materializes will likely be tenuous, partly because of the multiple foreign countries supporting Libya’s competing factions.
Foreign fighters backed by Turkey and Russia, for example, have remained in the country. At the same time, Turkey has also remained intransigent on calls for the withdrawal of its national forces, which it argues are legally allowed under the security agreement between Turkey and the former Government of National Accord (GNA).
Until external stakeholders seriously commit to a peace agreement in Libya, prospects for peace and stability remain very limited. Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Russia back the LNA, while Turkey, Italy, and Qatar have provided support to the GNU.
These countries’ pursuit of divergent interests in Libya complicates efforts to arrive at a meaningful political settlement. Despite the creation of the GNU, the country remains split between east and west, with their respective international backers remaining largely unchanged.
- If in Libya, comply with the instructions of local authorities and security personnel.
- If possible, limit exposure to official buildings that may be targeted by armed groups, such as security checkpoints and local government offices.
- When exiting Libya, confirm with local contacts that border crossings and/or airports are operational and verify onward transportation before checking out of accommodations.
- Plan for possible clashes and significant travel disruptions if operating in southern and southwestern Libya.
- If fighting intensifies, remain sheltered in a secure location, preferably indoors and away from exterior walls and windows.
- Prepare for heightened security, including checkpoints.
- Carry official identification at all times.
- Remain calm and non confrontational and comply with authorities’ directions if confronted.
- Do not attempt to bypass security checkpoints; even an accidental breach of the security cordon near a checkpoint may prompt security forces to respond aggressively.