Why armed groups still dominate Libya, 13 years since the fall of Qaddafi

Analysis Why armed groups still dominate Libya, 13 years since the fall of Qaddafi
Four years after a UN- brokered ‘permanent ceasefire,’ violence between Libya’s various armed factions, main, below and bottom right, continues to undermine security. (AFP)
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Updated 15 May 2024
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Why armed groups still dominate Libya, 13 years since the fall of Qaddafi

Why armed groups still dominate Libya, 13 years since the fall of Qaddafi
  • Libya is divided between the UN-recognized government in Tripoli and the Haftar administration in the east
  • Hundreds of thousands of Libyans remain internally displaced or in need of humanitarian assistance

DUBAI: Muammar Qaddafi’s capture and killing by rebel fighters near his hometown of Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011, failed to usher in the era of stability and democracy that Libyans had hoped for when mass protests erupted earlier that year.

Instead, despite the best efforts of the UN Support Mission in Libya, the country remains deeply insecure, divided by two rival administrations, and fragmented among a plethora of armed groups vying for control.

“The fracturing of the Libyan body politic, with the emergence of dual governments and empowered militias, has posed perhaps the most significant challenge,” Hafed Al-Ghwell, a senior fellow and executive director of the North Africa Initiative at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, said in a recent op-ed for Arab News.




Efforts by the Arab League and African Union did little to help UNSMIL bring about elections and national reconciliation. (AFP/File)

“An enduring stalemate remains underpinned by a lack of consensus on constitutional and electoral frameworks, deepened by the entrenchment of local and international stakeholders in the status quo.”

Libya is split between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah based in Tripoli, which controls barely a third of the country, and the Government of National Stability of Gen. Khalifa Haftar based in Benghazi.

The latest effort to bridge this divide culminated in the creation of a joint committee by the House of Representatives and the Government of National Unity-aligned High State Council, which aimed to pave the way for national elections. These, however, are still yet to take place.

A meeting in Cairo under Arab League auspices in March and efforts by the African Union to organize a national reconciliation conference in early February also did little to help UNSMIL bring about elections and national reconciliation.

“Rapidly evolving from a need to stabilize post-revolution Libya into addressing deep-seated political divisions and external interference, (the UN’s) mandate has consistently proven ill-suited to the complexities of the Libyan context,” said Al-Ghwell.

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“It has devolved into merely managing failure, rather than being a well-orchestrated attempt at resurrecting democratic governance in a post-Gaddafi Libya.

“Its emphasis on mediation and political dialogue, while noble, has failed to account for the leverage that will be necessary to fully enforce ceasefires, manage the transition to governance or curb the influx of arms and mercenaries bolstered by self-interested external meddlers.”

On April 16, Senegalese diplomat Abdoulaye Bathily tendered his resignation as the UN’s special envoy for Libya, saying he was unable to support the country’s political transition while its leaders continued to put their own interests above finding a solution.




In western Libya, prominent militias engage in their own state-sanctioned activities. (AFP/File)

“Under the circumstances, there is no way the UN can operate successfully. There is no room for a solution in the future,” Bathily said in a statement at the time, announcing the delay of a national reconciliation conference originally scheduled for April 28.

“The selfish resolve of current leaders to maintain the status quo through delaying tactics and maneuvers at the expense of the Libyan people must stop.”

As the country’s finances are split between the two governing powers, which are backed by competing foreign players, the matter of their legitimacy in the eyes of Libyans and the international community remains an issue.

Foreign involvement is arguably the main reason why Libya has been unable to move on and establish a unified, stable administration. By sponsoring their preferred side in the conflict, experts say external actors have periodically added fuel to the fire.

Indeed, experts believe Libya has become little more than a playground for competing foreign interests, with the spoils of war — oil, arms contracts, and strategic influence — up for grabs.




Gen. Khalifa Haftar of Government of National Stability. (AFP/File)

To further these aims, various outside interests have sponsored militias inside Libya, thereby compounding and prolonging the fragmentation of the nation’s security apparatus.

Haftar commands the Libyan Arab Armed Forces, also known as the Libyan National Army. Although multiple armed groups serve under its banner, many operate under their own command structures and engage in their own raids and patrols across eastern Libya.

Meanwhile, in western Libya, prominent militias such as the Stability Support Apparatus, Misrata Counter Terrorism Force, Special Deterrence Forces (known as Radaa), 444 Brigade, 111 Brigade, Nawasi Brigade, and Joint Operations Force engage in their own state-sanctioned activities.

These include intelligence gathering and surveillance, street patrols, border security, and overseeing migrant camps.




Mohammed Younes Al-Manfi, the chairman of the Libya Presidential Council. (AFP/File)

“In today’s Libya, armed groups are the only entities capable of projecting power and maintaining territorial control,” Jalel Harchaoui, an associate fellow at the UK-based Royal United Services Institute, told Arab News.

“These groups lack a limpid chain of command and do not always follow the authority of the central state or manage their personnel in a clear and organized manner. They are inherently informal, often flawed, and dysfunctional.

“Despite their shortcomings, they are powerful when it comes to controlling territories and using force.”

Although these armed groups have been tasked with improving the nation’s overall security situation, they frequently clash with one another. This violence has shown little sign of abating, despite international efforts to establish a unified government and security apparatus.

Fifty-five people were killed in August 2023 when Radaa and the 444 Brigade engaged in running street battles in Tripoli. In February this year, at least 10 people, including members of the SSA, were shot dead in the city.

During this year’s Eid Al-Fitr celebrations, clashes broke out in the capital between the SSA and Radaa militias. Although this most recent bout of violence incurred no casualties, it raised fresh concerns about the country’s perilous security situation.

While the humanitarian situation in Libya has somewhat improved since the UN-facilitated ceasefire agreement of October 2020, civilians continue to bear the brunt of political and economic instability.




Libya is split between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli and the Government of National Stability of Gen. Khalifa Haftar based in Benghazi. (AFP/File)

Militia skirmishes have resulted in the internal displacement of some 135,000 people. Another 300,000 are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN reports from 2022.

The dire humanitarian situation was made worse by the devastating storm that pounded the Libyan coast in September last year. Storm Daniel burst two dams in the eastern city of Derna, with the resulting torrent of water flattening everything in its path.

The storm killed at least 5,900 people and displaced more than 44,000, according to the US Agency for International Development.

“Achieving stability in Libya requires a long-term strategy that would take many years and involve significant commitment from key foreign states,” said Harchoui.

“This would demand dedication and the willingness of countries like the US to challenge their regional partners, such as Turkiye, the UAE, and Egypt. It’s a major undertaking by all means.”

The SSA and Radaa are not under the direct authority of Libya’s interior or defense ministries. Nevertheless, they receive public funds and operate independently under a special status granted in 2021 by the prime minister and the presidential council.

Armed groups in Libya are often accused by the UN and human rights groups of committing war crimes with impunity. A report published by the UN last year found that these militias had engaged in murder, rape, arbitrary arrest, and slavery.

A 2023 report by Amnesty International also found that groups like the SSA, LAAF, and several others had committed acts of sexual violence, abductions, mock executions, and had restricted freedom of expression.

Libyan civilians have no power to hold these groups to account — particularly those backed and legitimized by the state.




Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah. (AFP/File)

An initial step toward achieving stability, Harchaoui believes, is recognizing that armed groups have infiltrated government institutions to become integral parts of the Libyan state and are “increasingly involved in corrupt and illegal activities.”

He said: “Tackling corruption should therefore be the initial focus, as this would slow the expansion of armed groups into areas beyond physical security, like government administration, finance, oil, and wealth extraction writ large.

“Once corruption is addressed, further steps can be considered.”

There are, however, multiple factors behind the Libyan military’s inability to rein in the country’s many armed groups.

Chief among these is that Libya’s “political leaders, economic institutions, and foreign states still need the protection of these armed groups for day-to-day operations,” said Harchaoui.

“This protection is needed for activities like oil production, diplomacy, contract signing, and counterterrorism intelligence gathering.”

These operations, he says, allow these groups to become more entrenched and powerful — and, in turn, make it more difficult to reduce their influence.

“This paradox means that continuing to rely on these groups for daily operations only strengthens them, preventing the ultimate goal of replacing them with formal forces some day in the future.”




Foreign involvement is arguably the main reason why Libya has been unable to move on and establish a unified, stable administration. (AFP/File)

There were some green shoots of change in July 2023 when the two rival administrations agreed to set up a committee to oversee the sharing of Libya’s significant oil revenues.

In a statement at the time, UNSMIL said it “welcomes the decision announced by the Presidential Council to establish a High Financial Oversight Committee to address fundamental issues of transparency in the spending of public funds and fair distribution of resources.”

Nevertheless, far from emerging from the Qaddafi era with greater openness, economic growth, and productive engagement with the international community, Libya continues to endure lawlessness and institutional collapse, becoming something close to a failed state.


UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza
Updated 5 sec ago
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UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza
  • Shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus

DUBAI: A UAE aid shipment carrying 252 tons of food arrived in Gaza bound for the north of the enclave, Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday.

The shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus. The delivery involved cooperation from the US, Cyprus, UK, EU and UN.

The supplies were unloaded at UN warehouses in Deir Al-Balah and are awaiting distribution to Palestinians in need.

Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al-Hashimy said that the food supplies will be delivered and distributed in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian organizations, as part of the UAE’s efforts to provide relief and address the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The UAE, in accordance with its historical commitment to the Palestinian people and under the guidance of its leadership, continues to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza, she added.

Since the war began in October, the UAE has delivered more than 32,000 tons of urgent humanitarian supplies, including food, relief and medical supplies, via 260 flights, 49 airdrops and 1,243 trucks.

The UAE delivery came as Israel closed the Rafah border crossing. The World Health Organization said on Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days.
 


Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev meet at the site of Qiz Qalasi.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev meet at the site of Qiz Qalasi.
Updated 59 min 27 sec ago
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Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev meet at the site of Qiz Qalasi.
  • IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials

DUBAI: A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister made a rough landing on Sunday as it was crossing a mountainous area in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to Azerbaijan, Iranian news agencies said.
The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported. The semi-official Fars news agency urged Iranians to pray for Raisi and state TV carried prayers for his safety.
IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials.
Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV only that one of the helicopters in a group of three had come down hard, and that authorities were awaiting further details.
Raisi, 63, was elected president at the second attempt in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.
In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.
But many see Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi's main policies.


Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved
Updated 19 May 2024
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Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved
  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses comments as "washed-up words"
  • Broad splits emerge in Israeli war cabinet as Hamas regroups in northern Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Saturday he would resign from the body unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.

“The war cabinet must formulate and approve by June 8 an action plan that will lead to the realization of six strategic goals of national importance.. (or) we will be forced to resign from the government,” Gantz said, referring to his party, in a televised address directed at Netanyahu.

Gantz said the six goals included toppling Hamas, ensuring Israeli security control over the Palestinian territory and returning Israeli hostages.

“Along with maintaining Israeli security control, establish an American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and lay the foundation for a future alternative that is not Hamas or (Mahmud) Abbas,” he said, referring to the president of the Palestinian Authority.

He also urged the normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia “as part of an overall move that will create an alliance with the free world and the Arab world against Iran and its affiliates.”

Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s threat on Saturday by slamming the minister’s demands as “washed-up words whose meaning is clear: the end of the war and a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months.

But broad splits have emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, an area where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized.

Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on October 7 on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 124 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.

Israel’s military retaliation against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.


US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation
Updated 19 May 2024
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US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation
  • Washington called on Tehran to rein in proxy forces
  • Officials sat in separate rooms with Omani intermediaries passing messages

LONDON: US and Iranian officials held talks in Oman last week aimed at reducing regional tensions, the New York Times reported.

Through intermediaries from Oman, Washington’s top Middle East official Brett McGurk and the deputy special envoy for Iran, Abram Paley, spoke with Iranian counterparts.

It was the first contact between the two countries in the wake of Iran’s retaliatory missile and drone attack on Israel in April.

The US officials, who communicated with their Iranian counterparts in a separate room — with Omani officials passing on messages — requested that Tehran rein in its proxy forces across the region.

The US has had no diplomatic contact with Iran since 1979, and communicates with the country using intermediaries and back channels.

Since the outbreak of the Gaza war last October, Iran-backed militias — including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and armed groups in Syria and Iraq — have ramped up attacks on Israeli and American targets.

But US officials have determined that neither Hezbollah nor Iran want an escalation and wider war.

After Israel struck Iran’s consulate in Damascus at the beginning of April, Tehran retaliated with hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones.

The attack — which was intercepted by air defense systems from Israel, the US and the UK, among others — was the first ever direct Iranian strike on Israel, which has for years targeted Iranian assets in Syria, whose government is a close ally of Tehran.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a news conference this week that the “Iranian threat” to Israel and US interests “is clear.”

He added: “We are working with Israel and other partners to protect against these threats and to prevent escalation into an all-out regional war through a calibrated combination of diplomacy, deterrence, force posture adjustments and use of force when necessary to protect our people and to defend our interests and our allies.”


Death toll from Israeli strike on Nuseirat rises to 31: Gaza officials

Death toll from Israeli strike on Nuseirat rises to 31: Gaza officials
Updated 19 May 2024
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Death toll from Israeli strike on Nuseirat rises to 31: Gaza officials

Death toll from Israeli strike on Nuseirat rises to 31: Gaza officials
  • Rescue workers continuing to search for missing people under the rubble
  • Heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported in the central Nuseirat camp

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Gaza’s civil defense agency said Sunday that an Israeli air strike targeting a house at a refugee camp in the center of the Palestinian territory killed at least 31 people, updating an earlier toll.

“The civil defense crew were able to recover 31 martyrs and 20 wounded from a house belonging to the Hassan family, which was targeted by the Israeli occupation forces in the Nuseirat camp,” Gaza civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told journalists.

He said rescue workers were continuing to search for missing people under the rubble.

Earlier on Sunday the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital had said it had received the bodies of 20 people killed in the strike which witnesses said occurred around 3:00 am local time.

The Israeli army when contacted by AFP asked for specific coordinates of the strike.

Palestinian official news agency Wafa reported that the wounded included several children.

Fierce battles and heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported in the central Nuseirat camp since the military launched a ground operation on the southern city of Rafah in early May.

Palestinian militants and Israeli troops have also clashed in north Gaza’s Jabalia camp for days now.

Witnesses said several other houses were targeted in air strikes during the night across Gaza, and that strikes and artillery shelling also hit parts of Rafah during the night.

The Israeli military said two more soldiers were killed in Gaza the previous day.

The military said 282 soldiers have been killed so far in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.