Militias in Tripoli, a Fragile Power Balance
Conflict has re-erupted in Tripoli threatening to unravel the fragile power balance holding the Government of National Accord (GNA) in power, together with affiliated forces on the ground.
The Kani militia (also known as the 7th ‘Liwa’) deployed unexpectedly from Tarhuna to south Tripoli on 26 August with a large contingent of force, taking over Gasr Ben Ghashir (where Tripoli international airport is located). The move provoked Tripoli armed groups, organised under the GNA’s Tripoli military zone led by Abdul Baset Marwan, to deploy reinforcements to these fronts. Several homes in various areas south of Tripoli have been damaged as a result of artillery fire, with reports of civilian deaths and many residents of these areas fleeing their homes. A truce has been reached after 2 days of fighting which resulted in 5 deaths and over 30 wounded. These clashes highlight the reality of militia rule in Tripoli and the inability of the GNA to control forces nominally under its control.
As tensions spread, the response of political institutions has appeared unclear and contradictory. On 27 August, the GNA’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj (who is out of the country), the GNA chief of staff and the commander of the western region military zone issued a statement condemning the assault of lawless militias on the capital, promising swift and decisive response. The same day, a Tarhuna tribal spokesperson made a TV statement, alongside tribal elders, criticising the GNA’s response to events, confirming that the 7th Liwa is a GNA-affiliated force of the national army, and calling for all tribal members in Tripoli to defect from Tripoli-based militias otherwise they would be considered legitimate targets.
This move by the Kani brigade could indicate an important political watershed whereby significant forces outside of Tripoli may be in the process of reshaping alliances and the balance of power in Tripoli. This anti-Tripoli militia trend has been strengthened due to the ossification of the political process and the expansion of the Tripoli ‘cartel’ of militias. If hardliners in Misrata consolidate alliances with Tarhouna and the Kani brigade, this could re-legitimise hard-line anti Haftar/LNA forces in the capital – they were evicted from the capital by Tripoli militias in 2017. Alternatively, this move could be the start of an attempt to reshape and consolidate pro-Haftar/LNA alliances in Tripoli using the tribal forces of Tarhuna, Bani Walid and others against the Tripoli based militias. Such a turn of events is likely to have a major impact on the political and security architecture in the capital