On Sunday, September 11, General Khalifa Haftar’s Dignity Operation forces moved on the four key oil terminal ports in eastern Libya and seized control of them from the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) headed by Ibrahim Jodran. After some fighting, in which Jodran was wounded, General Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) took full control over the facilities at Ras Lanuf, Essidra, Brega, and al-Zueitina. As of this writing, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, which backs Haftar, has control over the vital petroleum ports of the east.
Haftar’s swift military operation was facilitated by air support provided both by Arab fighter planes, and by ground forces from the Sudanese rebel force Justice and Equality Movement, as well as troops from neighboring Chad.
While the United States has tried to play a balancing act by simultaneously supporting Haftar and the United Nations-installed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, the Obama Administration was swift to denounce the actions by Haftar. A joint statement was issued immediately after the oil port takeovers by the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. The Presidential Council of the GNA issued a similar statement, denouncing General Haftar’s actions, and Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj ordered his Minister of Defense, Mihdi al-Bargathi, to launch a counteroffensive to take back control of the oil ports.
The Tobruk government-in-internal-exile, which had been earlier recognized by most of the international community as the legitimately elected congress, only to be abandoned and replaced by the GNA, announced that they were promoting General Haftar to the position of Field Marshal, in recognition of his successful military operations at the four oil ports.
A week after the move on the eastern ports, Haftar issued a stinging denunciation of the entire United Nations intervention in Libya, accusing United Nations Special Envoy for Libya Martin Kobler of meddling in internal Libyan affairs. Haftar issued his denunciation in an exclusive interview with the Egypt’s al-Ahram on September 19. Three days earlier, an estimated 300,000 Libyans had participated in protest demonstrations around the country, supporting Haftar and his Libyan National Army, and denouncing the foreign interventions that were aimed at depriving Libya of its national sovereignty.
The political split between Tobruk and Tripoli has once again become a major fault line, despite the efforts of the United Nations, the United States, and the European Union to force the House of Representatives to accept the authority of the GNA and form a unity government. A National Reconciliation and Unity Conference, convened over the weekend of September 17-18, broke up on the first day, when the representative of the Tobruk House of Representatives, Bakr al-Ghazali, delivered a speech praising Haftar, provoking a walkout by many delegates.
One of the factors that provoked the resurgence of the simmering internal splits was the deployment of 200 Italian troops, along with a mobile military hospital, to Misrata, the center of the major militia backing the GNA. It was the Misrata militia that led the military campaign to drive the Islamic State (ISIL) out of its beachhead at Sirte.
The announcement of the arrival of the Italian troops was made on the anniversary of the hanging of Libyan national hero Omar al-Mukhtar, who was executed in 1931 by the occupying Italian forces of Mussolini.
The arrival of the Italian forces in Misrata has also raised the question of whether the militia there is going to launch an all-out battle against Haftar’s forces, on behalf of the GNA. One of the oil terminals seized by the LNA is at Essidra, which is close to Misrata.
UN Special Envoy Kobler is clearly running out of options to give credibility to the Government of National Accord, which has so far been unable to take any actions to either unify the country or improve the security and economic well-being of the Libyan people. On September 2, Kobler was in Moscow, where he met with Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who is also President Vladimir Putin’s personal envoy for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Kobler pitched the idea that Russia still maintains working relations with both the House of Representatives and Haftar on the one hand, and with al-Sarraj and the GNA on the other. There is no indication, however, since Kobler’s visit to Moscow, that Putin is interested in intervening into the Libyan quagmire.
If anything, the recent takeover of the four oil terminals is a setback for Libya’s efforts to resume oil exports, and this serves Russia’s short-term interests. Immediately following Haftar’s takeover of the four facilities, oil prices went up globally, even though Libya’s re-emergence as a significant petroleum exporter is still on track. Libya today produces 300,000 barrels a day, and had the deal between Tripoli and Tobruk been sustained, production for export could have gone up to 800,000 barrels per day over the remainder of the year. At its peak, Libya was capable of producing three million barrels a day, although peak exports were only 1.6 million.
Libya could be on the brink of a much more violent domestic civil war, which could spill over into a broader regional conflict, given the involvement of Egypt, Chad, and other neighboring states.
So long as Barack Obama remains in office in the United States, it is almost a sure bet that there will be no direct US military intervention in Libya. And the role of Great Britain and France is also under intense scrutiny, following the release last week of a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report on the original Libyan intervention in 2011. Former Prime Minister David Cameron was castigated so severely in the report that he was forced to resign from his seat in Parliament.
The Committee concluded that the humanitarian threat to the people of the Benghazi region had been resolved in the first 24 hours of the UN Security Council-sanctioned intervention, but the military actions continued until Qaddafi was removed from power. The authors of the report cited an April 14, 2011 New York Times op-ed, signed by Presidents Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Cameron, explicitly calling for Qaddafi’s permanent removal from power.
The report noted that, while Cameron and Sarkozy sought to get UNSC approval for a no-fly zone, President Obama insisted that there had to be a no-drive zone established as well, which meant carte blanche authority to conduct military operations all over the country. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates resigned in protest over the Libya adventure.
The still-ongoing chaos in Libya, now potentially on the brink of full-scale civil war, is the living consequence of US and European intervention, with no exit strategy and no plan for the stabilization of a post-Qaddafi Libya.