Libya: a regional battleground                   

As efforts continue to establish a single national government in Libya, a report by a UN panel of experts which was circulated last month provides some illuminating background:

Throughout most of 2015, conflicting regional interests further polarised the political scene. Support and statements by regional powers exacerbated the security situation. The political divide mirrored the two regional alliances. 

On the one hand, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates mainly supported the House of Representatives and its allies. Chad, mostly preoccupied by spillover insecurity, reinforced its ties with them. 

On the other hand, Qatar and Turkey maintained political relations with the General National Congress. Algeria, the Niger and the Sudan also maintained good relations with the Congress, but remained relatively uncommitted. Tunisia, fearing the security repercussions of breaking ties with the authorities in Tripoli, stayed on good terms with both Tripoli and Tubruq.

Libya has become increasingly attractive to foreign fighters. They mainly used the Sudan, Tunisia and Turkey as transit countries when travelling to Libya in 2014 and 2015. According to panel interviews with the Tunisian security authorities in December 2015, Tunisian and European fighters travelled to Libya from Tunisia. Extremists from Africa have transited through the Sudan to join Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Sirte and Benghazi. 

High-profile personalities in Tripoli and Misratah, including officials, have assisted in the arrival of extremist fighters in Libya. The fighters have been hosted in farms and camps in the Tripoli suburbs of Ayn Zarah and Qarahbulli, as well as in other western cities. Some were sent to fight in Benghazi.

On the side of LNA, General Khalifah Haftar threatened tribes of eastern Libya that he would replace them with African fighters (i.e. mercenaries) if they did not comply with his request to provide more fighters. Darfuri interviewees indicated that that might have happened. A significant number of Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi combatants were reported to be fighting around Kufrah. The panel has also received strong evidence that other Darfur-based armed groups have been approached by officials in Tripoli to reinforce Operation Fajr forces. 

The rise of ISIL in Libya is likely to increase the level of international and regional interference, which could provoke further polarisation if not coordinated. In anticipation, ISIL has been spreading a nationalistic narrative, portraying itself as the most important bulwark against foreign intervention. 

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Friday, 1 April 2016