Libya: The war nobody can win
As Haftar’s counter-offensive is still underway in Benghazi, the US, Italy, France, Germany and the UK issued on Saturday a new joint statement regarding latest developments in Libya. In it, Libya’s key Western partners vented their frustration for the lack of positive developments in the country and, most importantly, finally appeared to be taking a more critical stance towards the House of Representatives and the lack of inclusiveness and propensity to dialogue showed so far by its government.
We are also concerned by Khalifa Hifter’s attacks in Benghazi. We consider that Libya’s security challenges and the fight against terrorist organizations can only be sustainably addressed by regular armed forces under the control of a central authority which is accountable to a democratic and inclusive parliament.
(…) We agree that there is no military solution to the Libyan crisis. We are particularly dismayed that after meetings in Ghadames and Tripoli, parties have not respected calls for a ceasefire.
A more engaging approach towards the HoR and Thinni’s government from the international community could very well prove to be the event required to kick start a virtuous cycle inside Libya. Strong international pressure could in fact allow moderates from both camps to gain momentum to carry out a new set of negotiations within a more inclusive framework than the one employed for the Ghadames talks.
This could hold true especially in light of the widespread understanding that no coalition, let alone any single militia, has a shot at winning this military confrontation, even with substantial outside support. You can read my analysis of recent developments and the current outlook for Libya in a piece I wrote with Rhiannon Smith for Al-Jazeera:
None of Libya’s factions are strong enough to rule the whole country and it seems unlikely that any are deluded enough to think they can score a knockout blow, even if buttressed by outside help. (…) On October 15, Haftar renewed his offensive in Benghazi while Zintani forces in the west attempted to retake Kikla from Operation Dawn.
In recent months, both the Zintanis and Haftar’s forces have been overpowered by their Dawn opponents and this coordinated anti-Islamist offensive does not mean they suddenly believe they can beat the Islamists militarily, despite Haftar’s rhetoric. Rather, it is a move to strengthen their position before entering peace talks or before Haftar steps down leaving the way for more institutional actors. Indeed, during the offensive the Libyan Army announced it had adopted Haftar’s Operation Dignity campaign as its own, allowing the Tobruk administration to take credit for any military advances by Haftar’s campaign, while also making clear that the body is no more legitimate than its overtly militia-aligned adversary – Operation Dawn.
One group who has no stake in the success of a new round of negotiations and will surely try to derail the process is represented by the broad Salafi-Jihadist camp. As events in the past few months have made clear, even though Libya has not become a recipient of active foreign Jihadist fighters to the degree of Syria, groups like Ansar al-Shari’a and the Derna Shoura Council of Islamic Youth have greatly benefited from the widespread lawlessness marring the country since the fall of Qadhafi.
Furthermore, the tactics and antics recently employed by Libyan groups, starting with the campaigns of targeted killings up to the military strategies employed during the siege of Benina Airport, are a clear sign of the international connections and linkages between Libyan Salafi-Jihadist groups and the broad Jihadist movement active in the Middle East. You can hear my take on this as well as on the broader Libyan situation in my contribution to Radio France Internationale.