Mauro Indelicato

Today the general spends his days inside his headquarters in Al Rajma , not far from Benghazi . Here, in the perimeter of an old military base, he has set up his offices, his residence and his fort where he receives foreign guests, often with protocols reminiscent of state visits. 

Haftar has chosen this place as the headquarters of his activities and of his political and military micro cosmos, the pivot of all the events concerning eastern Libya.

But these were probably not the projects planned by the general ten years ago when, not too surprisingly, he launched the so-called Operation Dignity in Cyrenaica. An action presented by Haftar himself as one of liberation , aimed at eradicating the presence of Islamist cells from Benghazi itself and from the other large cities in eastern Libya . The latter attempt was successful, but the general wanted something else. In particular, he wanted to emulate his old friend who later became an arch enemy: like Gaddafi , Haftar for a long time dreamed of staying in Tripoli indefinitely and commanding the entire country from there. And, from this point of view, it can be said that the operation was a failure .

The failed attempts to unify Libya

For more than twenty years the general had a score to settle with Gaddafi . After having been his trusted military advisor, the defeat suffered by the Libyan army in Chad at the beginning of the 1990s irremediably damaged relations between the two. And in Libya there are often no half measures: either you are great friends or, on the contrary, you become great enemies. Haftar and Gaddafi have become sworn enemies.

The general, however, armed himself with patience and, from his house in Virginia (a few steps from the CIA headquarters), waited for something to change in Tripoli. History has proved him partially right: in 2011, in the wake of the Arab Spring, chaos broke out in Libya and Gaddafi was targeted first by groups of protesters and then by NATO. For Haftar, the long-awaited opportunity arrived from overseas and, within a few years, he put together his own army to take power.

His calculations were not wrong: with Libya in chaos, he could have presented himself domestically and abroad as the only one capable of restoring order and fighting the advance of ISIS and Islamists. Exact calculations, but poorly executed : in fact, Haftar has always been wrong about the timing. In 2014 he threatened a coup if the transitional government did not call new elections, but it was already too late to be able to take Tripoli without firing a shot.

In May of the same year, Operation Dignity aimed at Cyrenaica was launched. Here, albeit at the cost of time and victims (many), things went better: the general effectively took control of the entire east of Libya.

In 2018, courted by France, Italy and Russia , he perhaps thought he now had the keys to the country in his pocket. The following year, despite agreements mediated by his own allies, he took a gamble by launching his troops to attack Tripoli . But, even in this case, the timing was wrong: his attack was perceived as an aggression by the people of Tripoli themselves, not as a liberation.

Since then, Haftar has been holed up in Benghazi . He preferred to cultivate his little Cyrenaic garden, without making us forget by hook or by crook (see, for example, the kidnapping of Italian fishermen and the start of the immigration route based in Benghazi) that he is still alive and present. But he still failed: the idea of ​​being the new Libyan rais did not come to fruition.

Today, at 81, Haftar is probably thinking about a succession. However, he will not be able to leave the whole of Libya to his ambitious sons, already at the head of various local potentates. An epilogue, from his point of view, not so positive.

What remains of Operation Dignity

Something however, regarding legacy , remains. At least starting from the point of view of history and not just that of his family. With Operation Dignity, many Islamist groups were removed and today Cyrenaica, compared to the fragmented region of Tripolitania, appears almost completely unified . Furthermore, with that military action Haftar consolidated his area of ​​influence and this takes on important connotations also from a foreign policy perspective.

In fact, eastern Libya is a land disputed between the Russians, very close to the general and present here with the former Wagners since 2016, and the USA. Washington, in particular, would like to weigh the fact that Haftar is also a US citizen to remind the general not to remain tied to Moscow’s interests for a long time.

A war within a war, the one being fought between the White House and the Kremlin , a direct result of the operations of Haftar’s army throughout Cyrenaica. War which will probably remain a constant in Libyan daily life for a long time.


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