Shifting from a Political to a Military Approach in Libya
The dramatic gains by the Libyan National Army over the course of the last week of February have succeeded in effectively grinding the UN-mediated ‘Political Solution’ approach to a halt. Acknowledging this tectonic shift, international actors seem to be willing to support a coterie of militias all of whom have returned to the logic of the early days of the Tubroq-Tripoli split as they think they can conquer the whole country. In response, Western governments are coordinating with local power brokers to create coalitions to fight ISIS and other extremists.
Negotiations last week among Kobler, Serraj and Ageelah Saleh led to a proposal to hold a 130 member vote by the HoR on the Libyan Political Agreement rather than a given ministerial list. If this was voted upon in the affirmative it would automatically change the Libyan constitution taking sovereignty away from which ever body it is supposedly vested in and rooting it in the GNA. However, this promise to hold the vote was apparently also torpedoed in the last hours, with Saleh reportedly informing Kobler that no vote will be held on the 1st of March on the LPA.
For all intents and purposes, then, it seems that the UN political process is now completely derailed. Rather than facing this stark reality, the UN envoy seems to be insistent on patching up the UN process rather than seeking to adopt a more reasonable tack. HoR members in favour of the GNA are reportedly considering to establish a rival conference premises for the HoR in Al Jufra in South Libya. Kobler even publically declared his wish to travel to South Libya, explicitly calling GNC Tripoli authorities to facilitate this, in a clear indication of his extending a new olive branch to hardliners there to join a new process.
These UN machinations are being overtaken by events, local sources report of a plan underway to retake Sirte from IS, jointly led by Mahdi Al Barghathi (GNA proposed minister of Defense), Salem Juha (former high Misrata Military Commander) and Bashir Budhafira of Ajdabiya border guard, in addition to other fighters . It is likely that these forces will be jointly commanded and possibly even coordinated by US/UK special advisors if the Sirte offensive comes to fruition. These developments signal that the ‘military approach’ to countering IS in Libya is now trumping the UN’s completely failed ‘political approach’. And yet this ‘military approach’ is being stood up before a genuine anti-ISIS coalition is formed — therein lies the big pitfall as given actors may well use arms and training from Western actors against their traditional adversaries rather than fighting ISIS.