GNA brokers local solution to east Tripoli tensions
On 6 January, a large military deployment by the Government of National Accord (GNA) GNA-affiliated ‘Kani brigade’ (also known as the GNA’s 7th Infantry Division) from Tarhouna took control of the Garabulli coastal checkpoint 40 km east of Tripoli. The kidnapping of two Kani members, and the killing of one, by a gunman from Garabulli is understood to have sparked the offensive. Tensions subsided after the Kani brigade pulled out later the same day. The Garabulli local mayor announced the handover of the checkpoint to local security, and said that it will be manned in conjunction with the GNA’s Central Security forces.
The move raised high tensions in Tripoli, in expectation that the assault was a precursor to a larger anti-GNA move by ex-Government of National Congress (GNC) hardliners who were evicted from Tripoli in September 2017. Although the Kani brigade is now affiliated with the GNA, until fairly recently they were aligned with the hardliner GNC alliance led by Khalifa al-Ghwell, and the militia itself is notorious for its brutality and the hardline Islamist ideologies of some of its leadership. It seems the Kani brigade accommodated Serraj in order to retain their power, which they appear to have done successfully.
Both this deployment and that of Usama Juwaili into the Zuwara region were conducted with minimal casualties and both produced (for now) new security arrangements, with mixed local and national army jurisdictions, where the main military forces withdrew leaving in place collocated forces. This means the GNA, headed by Fayez al-Serraj, has further consolidated its military control of the western region, as well as beginning to institutionalize local cooperation with its army units. However, in the case of the Kani operation it does not seem that this was a carefully planned, strategic operation, but rather a response to local rivalries. Nevertheless, the fact that a local security arrangement was agreed shortly after the incident highlights an apparent trend of brokering local solutions to conflict. However, the resilience of such arrangements in the current political ‘standstill’ plaguing the UN roadmap is to be tested.