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The battle of Tripoli … and what is yet to come Neither Haftar has gained victory … nor has Al-Sarraj been defeated

مُتاح أيضًا بـ: The battle of Tripoli … and what is yet to come Neither Haftar has gained victory ... nor has Al-Sarraj been defeatedالعربية (Arabic)

The Government of Accord is a government derived from the Libyan political agreement signed in Skhirat of Morocco on December 17, 2015, and supervised by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya. On March 13, 2016, the governments of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States pledged to work with the government of National Accord proposed by the United Nations Mission in Libya, and considered it the only legitimate government in the country.

Since the beginning of April, military operations in Libya between the two conflicting parties took a new course as they were affected in one way or another by the political situation the country is experiencing in general, especially divisions that started to emerge within the Government of National Accord and its affiliated forces.

In March 2015, Lieutenant General Khalifa Haftar was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Arab Armed Forces. It is originally the most recurrent name for the forces under it. While the same name has become used for the forces of the internationally recognized Government of Accord.

The Government of National Accord has been searching for a space, which may allow them to take a move toward regaining back confidence to their fighters after Field Marshal Haftar has tightened his grasp on Tripoli. Field Marshal Haftar’s forces -The Arab Libyan Armed Forces- are depending on long term strategies of enemy attrition.  They are actually well experienced in that field, as they besieged areas around downtown of Benghazi for more than four years before, and they besieged the city of Derna for more than two years before eventually claiming victory and storming the city.

This battle-style approach is not familiar to the Government of National Accord forces for they are forces which depend on swift and fast styles of battle and ending matters in days or months whether through claiming victory or by being defeated. This fact is reflected clearly in the massive war that happened in the Western region in 2014 “Dawn of Libya” in which all formations located there participated and lasted only for two months and two weeks.

محافظ مصرف ليبيا المركزي
Omar Al-Kabeer - Governor of the Central Bank of Libya

In addition, there are clear cases of conflict of interests within the Government of National Accord Members as well as with their partners. Fayez Al-Sarraj stated that the Governor of the Central Bank of Libya, is not doing his job and is hindering the State’s flow of financial resources, which affects the Government’s work, whether in providing daily needs, facing the cash flow needed for facing Corona virus, or supporting the daily war efforts and needs. The Governor of the Central Bank of Libya or the “Great Friend” as named by Al-Sarraj and others, who are well informed about the Governor’s network and relationship with the Head of the Presidential Council, is communicating with all parties on the ground whether with military leaders, mayors, ministers and others, and that exactly is what annoys Al-Sarraj. In fact, the Governor is playing a very politically important role in the Western region beside his administrative one.

The aforementioned does not constitute the whole issue, as there are a few leading figures inside the city of Misrata who are considered the backbone of the military forces of the Government of National Accord. These figures do not fit into Al-Sarraj’s political and diplomatic course. Eventually, opposition grew more furious about the Government of National Accord’s structural imbalance as it might undermine the revolutionaries’ sacrifices and enable Field Marshal Haftar from controlling Tripoli. All that is happening amid continuous talks about suspicions of financial corruption related to Deputy Minister of Health at the Cabinet of the Government of National Accord.

More than forty municipalities in the Western region demanded the Head of the Presidential Council, Fayez Al-Sarraj, to take suitable measures toward these accusations, dismiss the Ministry of Health’s deputy, make changes in the government and put a new mechanism in dealing with the country’s affairs.

All these facts forced the Government of National Accord to face a real dilemma and thus, they were forced -as a first initial step- to try to change the course of battle and raise the morale of their forces.  Consequently, they resorted to bombing Field Marshal Haftar’s forces’ positions and supply lines West of Sirte city and South of Bani Walid city, which resulted in deaths and the destruction of several military vehicles. A military official source related to the Government of National Accord stated that 20 military armed personnel were killed in a bombardment by their aircraft, which targeted Haftar’s ammunition and military vehicles on the night of Thursday April 2. The Bombardment took place in two places (Al-Washka and Bouweyrat Al-Hassun) which are located between the two cities of Sirte and Misrata. He also added that these ammunition vehicles were on their way to support Haftar’s forces that are located in East Misrata. A highly ranked governmental source said that Haftar’s forces were killed in separate places in the site that was bombed by the Government of National Accord aircrafts at Al-Washka region West of Sirte city.

The Government of National Accord also declared that they targeted three tank cars, South Bani Walid city and Southeast Tripoli, and targeted an ammunition store and armed vehicles in the surroundings of Sirte city. They mentioned these details on their Facebook page using the “Volcano of Rage” operation title: “The Government of National Accord aircrafts targeted three tank vehicles South of Bani Walid city as they were on their way to support Haftar’s forces which are located south the capital. The Government of National Accord’s aircrafts targeted also ten armed vehicles which belonged to Haftar’s forces and an ammunition store South of Al-Washka region between Misrata and Sirte.”

This was only the beginning. The Government of National Accord forces launched a series of air strikes on the cities of Tarhouna and Bani-Walid throughout the first week of April in an attempt to undermine the movement of military supplies of Field Marshal Haftar’s forces in Tripoli. Haftar’s forces responded violently and bombed Mitiga International Airport with tons of missiles that reached more than 60 missiles in one day. This base is one of the largest military bases in North Africa in terms of geographical space on which The Government of National Accord totally rely with regard to aircrafts movement that are targeting Field Marshal Haftar’s forces.

During the second week of April, the Battle course in Tripoli witnessed a remarkable development. It was merely an attempt to change the course of the battle with the aim of achieving victories that might help regain confidence to the Government of National Accord and to prove that the Government is a political front that legitimately represents Libyans. Thus, The Government of National Accord announced they would move toward liberating (according to their terms) cities of Western Libya specifically, Sabrata, Sarman, Al-Augilat, Raqadleen, Al-Jamil and Zaltun and they announced that they succeeded in that mission only within 10 hours!! Originally, these cities were claimed by Haftar’s forces in march as a response to The Government of National Accord’s forces’ attempt to control the El-Watya Military base, a mission which was led by General Osama al-Juwali and utterly failed.

As a result, it can be said that Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter’s forces had no real control over these cities as he used to claim, neither can the claiming of the Government of National Accord of these cities be considered a great victory as it was publicized through mass media.

The most important areas liberated by the Government of Accord during the battle of Sorman

Sorman: a strategic city located on the coastal road linking the Libyan capital Tripoli with the Tunisian border. Its population is estimated at 40 thousand people. Its strategic importance lies in the fact that it was located in the front line between the militias of retired Major General Khalifa Haftar and National Accord Government’s forces in the city of Zawiya (50 km West of Tripoli), while Sorman is only 60 km from the capital, and with its fall the rest of the cities of Western Tripoli collapsed.

Sabratha: a city located about 70 km away from Tripoli, with a population of about 110 thousand people. It is among the largest cities in the West of the capital in terms of population. Is also located on the coastal road vital for commercial exchange and the movement of travelers to Tunisia or abroad. The terrorist organisation “ISIS” tried to take it as a base for training, but it was exterminated in 2017. Sabratha is considered one of the main cities that prevented Haftar forces between 2014 and 2016 from entering Tripoli, but in 2019 it opened its doors to its militias before retaking them a year later.

Al-Ajaylat: A city located 80 km from Tripoli, and inhabited by about 110 thousand people. Although it is not located on the coastal road, it is only a few kilometers away. It was one of the main strongholds of the Haftar militia, which sought to cut the coastal road and enter Tripoli from the West. but After the siding of Usama al-Juwaili, the leader of the Military Council of Zintan (170 km south of Tripoli), to the government of Accord, Al-Ajaylat became one of the oscillating cities, although Haftar was often inclined to it.

Gemayel: A city with a population of about 100,000 people. It is located 100 kilometers from Tripoli. Its is inhabited by Arab tribes, and it represents a human and geographical barrier between the Amazigh-Zwara coast and the Amazighs of the mountain, a military that was often associated to Haftar, although al-Juwaili, the commander of the Western region of the reconciliation forces, had some Influence in these areas, and Al-Wattia Air Force Base (140 km Southwest of Tripoli) is administratively affiliated to it.

Rikdalain: Its population is about 36 thousand people. It is 120 km away from Tripoli and it is only 10 km away from the coast of Zuwara. Its human and political composition resembles the city of Gemayel, as it was affiliated with the Arab tribes supporting Haftar, despite the presence of centers of influence of the Juwayli forces. Haftar took control of it again on March 25.

Zalatan: a small city, with a population of no more than 25,000 people. It is the last city on the coastal road not far from the Tunisian border, where it is 130 km from Tripoli, from the cities that supports the National Accord Government. However, Haftar’s militia took control of it on March 25, after the National Accord’s forces stormed the al-Watiyah air base, and captured 27 members.

Al-Asah: an area near the Tunisian border. It is located South of the Ras Jadir crossing with Tunisia, and belongs to the city of Rikdalin administratively. Its strategic importance lies in the presence of a border guard camp, charged with monitoring smuggling operations, as well as the movements of terrorists across the border with Tunisia. Since 2014, several parties have exchanged control of it because of its strategic importance. However, on March 25, Haftar militias stormed the camp after clashes with the Accord Government’s forces, due to its proximity to al-Wattia Air Force Base, the main stronghold of Haftar militias in the West of the country, as part of a retaliatory attack that included several cities in the Libyan West.

Melite: A low-population agricultural area that administratively follows the city of Al-Ajaylat, but gained strategic importance after an oil port and a gas complex were opened, and a gas pipeline linked Libya to Italy. All this turned it into an industrial area par excellence. But militarily, its importance lies in its occurrence on the coastal road and surrounded by three strong cities; Sabratha from the East, Zuwara from the West, and Al-Ajailat from the South. It has a permanent military roadblock on the road, and there has always been a point of conflict and clash between Haftar and his opponents, although it was often outside his control which changed just when he entered Sabratha

These zones have been semi-demilitarized since 2011, and these cities have not been able to obtain adequate armament compared to cities of Zawiya and Zouara, which are adjacent to them East and West. This justifies the existence of a popular base for General Khalifa Haftar, which created a welcoming environment for him there, especially as he took in all the former regime’s military generals, officers and soldiers. Therefore, many of the populations in these cities joined Field Marshal Haftar’s forces who in turn provided them with some military equipment. However, this equipment were not adequate to enable them to fight and defend their cities appropriately. He has not even attempted to aid them during this ten-hour battle nor was he willing to evacuate his front lines that were besieging Tripoli -a geographical area that extends more than 160 kilometers- to help them.

On Saturday, 18 April 2020, the Government of National Accord’s forces led a military operation against the city of Tarhouna, as it represents the front line base of Field Marhsal Khalifa Haftar’s forces. However, this operation -despite the fact that it was powerful as aircrafts were used and as it succeeded in claiming Terbouna city- failed as they could not claim the city. Actually, this was expected as the Seventh Brigade “AKA Al-Kanayat” is known for its defensive power and it defended the city with all its powers.

While general Haftar prevented the fall of his strong base in the West, the Government of National Accord forces did not withdraw completely from the city as the result of its besieging. They were only forced to return to the administrative borders of Tharouna city. Haftar’s forces continue trying to claim it since that date, as this city is of great importance. Haftar declared his intention to control the city before Ramadan, but that has not yet happened. 

معركة طرابلس وما بعدها: لا حفتر انتصر.. ولا السرّاج انهزم!

All the attempts made by the National Accord Government to reform internal affairs can be sensed in the words, which the Head of the Presidential Council stated in his delivered speech after controlling the aforementioned cities. He made some sharp statements against those whom he called “aggressors”, Al-Sarraj does not often use, or known to speak in such a tone.  This time, the speech seemed to be directed to the other side of the conflict. 

The attempts by which the Government of National Accord is trying to restore internal balance have effectively been put to a halt since the beginning of Tarhouna war. However, Field Marhsal Khalifa Haftar’s forces have a different vision, as they resorted to violent reactions, whether by intensive bombardment of Tripoli regions and districts or bombing the mountainous city of Jadwa for the first time since the war erupted in April 2019.  The city is considered the capital of Libya’s Amazigh in the Western mountain, who are unhostile towards Haftar since the beginning of the conflict for different reasons.

In the context of this battle, an important factor in this strategic change must also be recalled. This factor relates to the coherence existing between the Government of National Accord and its partners, as differences between them are becoming well known publicly, especially among some leaders of Misrata city, as some islamists are concerned about the rest of the leadres striking a deal with Haftar behind their backs. It should be noted that there are actually some open channels for communication between non-islamists leaders and Haftar, and that is exactly what islamists are worried about, as to them their dispute with Haftar is an existential one, especially in the light of Haftar having the full support of some countries.

This is why we can easily understand what was announced in April about talks to form a small war ministry affiliated to the Presidential Council to lead the war with new members. This suggestion came to avoid sharp conflicts that may arise within the Government of National Accord.

This suggestion was submitted before, after seven months of war, specifically in the last four months of 2019, to express a true intention to form a government separate from the presidential Council.  This is what many parties in the presidential Council are trying to stop.

Events in Libya headed for a different direction, when Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar declared accepting the authorization he got from the people as he termed it. The authorization, for which he asked Libyans in a short and brief speech, confirms that the political agreement and its consequences should be dropped and that a new authority should be enabled to run the country’s affairs

After 72 hours of delivering his first speech, without waiting for any reaction to his demanded authorization, Field Marhsal Haftar delivered another speech in which he accepted what he called “the people’s delegation” to the military establishment to take over the country. He suggested that he might announce a new constitutional document to govern the next stage.

Aguila Saleh was elected in August 2014 as Speaker of the Libyan Parliament in Tobruk following the legislative elections that took place on June 25, 2014. In November 2014, the Supreme Court in Libya legitimized the House of Representatives held in Tobruk in the East of the country and the decisions and institutions that resulted from it, including the Abdullah Al Thani government known as the “Interim Government”.

Although there were some tribes and regions in Libya, especially in the Eastern region that issued brief statement of support, this authorization did not lead to what people were expecting. This is clearly reflected in Aguila Saleh’s video, which was published and circulated on social media. In this video, Saleh was among a group of elders of Al-Obeidat tribe (Aguila saleh’s tribe) where he stated that “the international community and countries that support Field Marshal Haftar, specially Russia, only recognize the Government of National Accord as a representative of Libya, and that Al-Sikhairat Agreement is the frame that governs the political process in the country. A statement cannot overthrow the Agreement, and it seems that the military operation in Tripoli would not have succeeded, especially after the strong Turkish intervention, therefore, there was an essential need for an initiative to solve the crisis.

Therefore, Aguila Saleh has launched his own initiative to solve the crisis in Libya, but it was rejected by the Government of National Accord, as it included some controversial points, including granting Field Marshal Haftar the position of army commander, and giving the military immunity from any kind of interference. Aguila opposes the authorization, but despite this fact, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar still acts according to what he terms as the people’s authorization to the point that he is currently attempting to form new interim government.

Some observers contend that the situation has been different in the Western region of the country in favor of the Government of National Accord. The Government’s advance in Tarhouna’s war made the firm stand against Haftar’s campaign in 2019 as well as Gharyan’s military operation (an operation that occurred after two and a half months of facing Haftar’s attempts to storm the Capital on 4/4/2019) a real tactical and practical victory. This happened especially as the National Accord’s forces control now the Western region’s sky at Sirte’s borders, which is the entrance to the Eastern region “AKA the oil crescent”.

Haftar’s declaration in April 2020 of his rejection to Al-Sikhirat agreement, which is the political framework approved by the Security Council and dissolving, which chose Haftar himself as the Libyan army’s commander-in-chief five years ago, makes the Eastern region under his full control and separated from the rest of the country. This political move and the change of the conflict dynamics to a conflict about frames, systems and institutions are expected from Haftar, as this method will guarantee safe spaces for him whether he wins in the West or get defeated.

It should be noted, that Haftar’s move enraged many Members of the House of Representatives who represent the Eastern region, as they lost hope for finding a formula to solve the equation of having a constitutional framework and a Parliament on one hand, and a militaristic rule that rejects alternation of power, on the other.

As a result, many observers believe that Haftar, by taking this step, has given the Government of National Accord the opportunity to solve their differences, during a phase where they are trying to exploit military leaders as a political front for them. They are trying to give the impression of being irreplaceable to avoid the consequences of their military operations and international movements’ during the past period stagnation. These facts made them work rapidly on making militaristic changes to rebuild confidence, but Haftar offered them great help when he took this step as he reunified their lines and made all their steps look as if they were in the right direction.

 This imbalance of power restored the Government of National Accord’s ability to find a project that could constitute a new phase in the Libyan crisis. That was clearly reflected in the presidential Council statements that started with talking about “liberating all Libyan cities.” This discourse is unprecedented, as some military leading figures from East Libya who are fighting the Government of National Accord stated that the supreme command’s goal (the presidential Council) is to liberate Libya. They insist that operations should not stop in the Western region, and that they should head East to fight Haftar in order to maintain the national unity in Libya.

Currently, there are no suggested projects or plans. However, it seems that Haftar and his supporters’ weakness as well as their inability to stand firmly on the face of the successful Turkish planning that is organizing the National Accord’s lines has dragged attention to the Eastern region and that in itself is a great shift in the strategic battle and in the Libyan scene as a whole.

If the Government of National Accord can control the whole Western Libyan territory by controlling its base, the city of Tarhouna and Al-Watya Base, the whole scene will change East and everyone, whether local, regional or international powers will start searching for a narrative to transfer the conflict.

It should be signaled that the Government of National Accord’s military operations conduct moves toward controlling the two aforementioned areas by gradually isolating them and neutralizing Haftar’s air force.  It should be equally noted that the East is large and has diversified area as plains, valleys and mountains, and that the tribes in the East have been always part of the social and political scene since the very beginning.  Al-Awaqair tribe in Benghazi were the first to show support to Haftar, and Aguila Saleh of Al-Obideat tribe were among the first to give political support to him too as the Official Speaker of the House of Representatives in Tobruk. Aguila appointed Haftar on March 2 2015 the general commander of the Libyan army, despite the fact that the administrative system of the Libyan army does not have such a rank.

The Eastern region can be divided into several areas, Benghazi, Al-Marj where “al-Arafa tribes are located, Al-Bayda, Al-Kobba where Al-Baraesa tribes are located, Derna, the high areas of  Tobruk, where the rest of the tribes of Al-Obeidi tribes are located , and finally Tobruk region which is adjacent to the Egyptian borders in Mosaed area. 

Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, leaders of armed formations in Benghazi, and the tribes in Libya do not constitute a specific tribal system as in some Arab countries. They represent mostly a leadership system used by some leaders who are seeking power and spoils. Tribe and spoils mentalities consider this system an opportunity or a political space to utilize, especially with the military, political and financial support provided by the United Arab Emirates to Haftar.

In fact, what Haftar did will lead to dividing the Eastern region into multi-affiliations areas, as the region from Derna to Tobruk was always trying to maintain its own style and character and seeking to benefit from all political powers, whether Haftar’s or the Government of National Accord’s, so it is a weak spot.

Since Aguila Saleh belongs to this region, it is more likely to be divided internally. Eventually supporters of Aguila Saleh will find themselves facing a difficult situation if they supported Aguila to achieve political gains like the ones they had when he was the Official Speaker of the House of Representatives, they will suffer from Aguila’s weakness and lack of sufficient money and weapons to confront Haftar. This will make them seek a compromise with Khalifa Haftar, and it seems that Haftar consider them greedy tribes that seek power; he will try to strike balance that enables him to rule their regions and extend his authority over those areas.

On human rights level, the issue of enforced disappearances of many citizens still constitutes the main news titles especially in areas close to battles, fights and clashes. Tripoli and Karabouli region (a city near the Eastern outskirts of Tripoli) is one of the cities where the frequency of disappearances increases. These disappearances are mainly based on regional and affiliation reasons. It is a result of the continued social disintegration created by the ongoing war today, and there have been no accurate statistics of the numbers of citizens who have been made forcibly disappear so far.

مُتاح أيضًا بـ: The battle of Tripoli … and what is yet to come Neither Haftar has gained victory ... nor has Al-Sarraj been defeatedالعربية (Arabic)

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