Musa Hilal: Darfur’s Most Wanted Man Loses Game of Dare with Khartoum… For Now

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, December 12, 2017

Khartoum is using an Arab paramilitary under the direct command of President Omar al-Bashir to clean up resistance to its rule amongst Darfur’s northern Rizayqat Arabs, once the core of the notorious Janajaweed militias that wreaked havoc on the region’s non-Arab population in the 2000s.

Shaykh Musa Hilal (Sudan Tribune)

The campaign has included the violent arrest of Shaykh Musa Hilal Abdalla, a member of the Um Jalul clan of the Mahamid Arabs. Hilal is the nazir (chief) of the Mahamid, a branch of the northern Rizayqat tribal group (the northern Rizayqat includes the Mahamid, Mahariya, and Ireiqat groups). Once the leader of the Janjaweed, Hilal was arrested on November 26, 2017 by the government’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF – al-Quwat al-Da’m al-Sari) after spending the last few years building a fiefdom in northern Darfur funded by illegal gold mining. Hilal remains subject to travel and financial sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council in 2006 in connection to his leadership of the Janjaweed.

Also arrested in the RSF raid were Hilal’s sons Habib, Fathi and Abd al-Basit, three brothers and a number of aides. At the time of the RSF’s arrival in his hometown of Mistiriyha, Hilal was still receiving condolences from visitors after the death of his mother (Radio Dabanga, November 27, 2017).

RSF Commander Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti” (Anadolu Agency)

Commanding the RSF forces was Hilal’s cousin, Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti,” a member of the Mahariya branch of the northern Rizayqat and Hilal’s former Janjaweed deputy. Daglo is leading the government’s six-month disarmament campaign in Darfur, intended to confiscate weapons held by civilians, rebel groups and government-controlled militias such as the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) and the Central Reserve Police (CRP).

The clashes began when a RSF disarmament unit was ambushed near Mistiriyha, killing nine. Hilal’s men then attacked and killed RSF Brigadier Abd al-Rahim Gumma when he arrived to investigate the ambush (Sudan Tribune, November 27, 2017). The RSF has deployed 10,000 men and an armored regiment in North Darfur to deal with the threat posed by Hilal and his followers (Sudan Tribune, November 5, 2017).

Terrible conditions were described in Mistiriyha after the raid, with mass arrests of male residents, the flight of women and children to barren hills nearby without water or food and bodies left to decompose in the streets (Sudan Tribune, November 29, 2017). Government sources admitted the loss of between nine-to thirteen men with 35 others wounded (Sudan Tribune, November 29). Reports of heavy civilian losses were denied by General ‘Ali Muhammad Salim, who claimed only a single child was hit by a stray bullet (Sudan News Agency, November 29, 2017).

The list of weapons seized from Hilal’s forces included 25 “technicals” (Land Cruisers mounted with heavy machine guns), a SAM-9 anti-aircraft system and a variety of “Dushkas” (the Russian-made DShK 108mm machine gun) and other automatic weapons commonly found in the region (Sudan Tribune, December 5, 2017).

Daglo insisted the arrest of an Algerian with “sophisticated communications equipment” and several other foreign nationals at Mistiriyha confirmed “the participation of foreign parties in destabilizing the security [of] Darfur” (Radio Dabanga, November 27, 2017; November 30, 2017; AFP, November 27, 2017).

Hilal was the official commander of the government’s Border Guard Force (BGF), once a small camel-mounted unit that was greatly expanded as a means of absorbing former Janjaweed into more tightly controlled government structures. Hilal spent several years in Khartoum as a senior government advisor before a dispute with the regime led to his return to Darfur in 2014. To further his own personal and tribal agenda, Hilal began to transform the BGF into the Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening (Sahwa) Council (SRAC). Composed largely of members of Hilal’s Mahamid clan, SRAC began to drive over-stretched government forces from northwest Darfur and established administrations in the region’s major centers and at the artisanal gold fields of Jabal Amer.

RSF Officers after a Raid on the Gold Mines at Jabal Amer (Radio Dabanga)

The Defense Ministry announced its intention to integrate the BGF into the RSF under Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) command in July 2017. The decision was immediately opposed by Hilal, who had no intention of serving under his former Janjaweed lieutenant and tribal inferior, General Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti.” [1]

A major quarrel broke out between Hilal and what he described as “these Nile Valley Arabs,” the Ja’ailin, Danagla and Sha’iqiya tribes that have controlled Sudan since independence. Hilal announced his refusal to cooperate with the government’s disarmament campaign and accused Daglo and his patron, Vice-President Hasabo Abd al-Rahman, of siphoning off millions of dollars intended for the Sudanese treasury in return for the deployment of RSF fighters in Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen (al-Jazeera, September 10, 2017). [2]

As commander of the Border Guards (part of the SAF), Musa Hilal was flown to Khartoum for questioning by military intelligence, to be followed by a military trial for turning Mistiriyha “into a hideout for fugitives and outlaws,” according to Minister of State for Defense General ‘Ali Muhammad Salim (AFP, November 29, 2017). Fifty Border Guards were taken prisoner, with 30 sent immediately to Khartoum and the remainder to follow (Sudan Tribune, November 30, 2017).

The Northern Rizayqat – Defections and More Arrests

Hilal’s detention followed the arrest earlier in November of former Border Guards Lieutenant Colonel ‘Ali Abdullah Rizqallah “Savanna.” Rizqallah (Mahamid clan of the Rizayqat) split from the Border Guards in August to form his own Sudan Army Movement – Revolutionary Forces (SAM-RF) after Khartoum declared its intention to merge the Border Guards into the RSF. The commander was arrested after two days of clashes with the RSF around Korma (12 km west of al-Fashir) and in the area south of Kutum (Radio Dabanga, November 10, 2017). Rizqallah was removed to Khartoum for questioning and may face charges carrying the death penalty (Anadolu Agency, November 12, 2017).

Lieutenant Colonel ‘Ali Abdullah Rizqallah “Savana” after his capture (Radio Dabanga)

The RSF claimed a week earlier that it had absorbed some 300 SAM-RF fighters after they defected from Rizqallah’s movement with their weapons and vehicles (Sudan Tribune, November 4, 2017; November 12, 2017; Radio Dabanga, November 5, 2017). Rizqallah is reported to have feuded with General Daglo’s Mahariya clan, responding to a 2016 ambush by Mahariya gunmen with an attack on the home of a Mahariya National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS) colonel and governor of East Darfur that killed two NISS agents. [3] More recently, the RSF claimed to have repelled a SAM-RF attack on the North Darfur city of Kutum (Sudan Tribune, November 4, 2017).

Three days after the RSF assault on Mistiriyha, Adam Khatir Yusuf, leader of the Awlad Eid clan of the Rizayqat, died in a medical facility belonging to Sudan’s security services. The tribal leader was wounded while in Mistiriyha to offer condolences to Musa Hilal and was seen in a poor and bloodied condition being taken off a plane in Khartoum. His family claimed that Adam Khatir died while undergoing torture by military intelligence (Radio Dabanga, November 29, 2017). RSF commander Daglo claimed Adam Khatir had deceived them regarding the possibility of acting as a mediator between the RSF and Hilal: “We thought he [could] serve as a good-faith mediator, but unfortunately we were surprised to see him carrying a gun and fighting with Musa Hilal” (Sudan Tribune, November 29, 2017).

On November 26, the RSF announced the capture of SRAC spokesman Harun Mahmud Madikheir south of Mistiriyha where he was reported to be on his way to Chad with his bodyguards (Radio Dabanga, November 27, 2017).

Government security forces have also raided camps for internally-displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur as part of the disarmament campaign. President al-Bashir (a Ja’alin Arab) has declared his intent to empty the camps over the objections of the UN and the African Union and Darfuri rebel groups claim the disarmament efforts are just a pretext to clear them of IDPs (AFP, November 21, 2017; Sudan Tribune, September 24, 2017).

Conclusion

Khartoum must still deal carefully with Hilal; there are many members of his Mahamid clan in the RSF who could turn against the government and he can describe the exact type and level of involvement of many leading Sudanese politicians and officials in the ethnic cleansing of Darfur. Al-Bashir himself is subject to International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants issued for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Hilal has been in contact with rebel movements looking to integrate Arab groups into the ongoing rebellion. The former Janjaweed leader may also be able to call on powerful friends beyond Darfur’s borders – Khartoum believes he has been in contact with the commander of Libya’s “Libyan National Army (LNA),” Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Hilal is as well the father-in-law of Chad’s Zaghawa president Idriss Déby Itno, a former foe of al-Bashir.

SLM/A-MM Rebel Commander Minni Minawi (Radio Dabanga)

Hilal’s arrest has also met with internal opposition. Old enemy Minni Minawi, leader of a largely Zaghawa rebel movement and current chairman of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebel coalition, denounced the government’s disarmament campaign for inciting a new round of violence in Darfur and called for the immediate release of Hilal and his sons.  He further described the alleged RSF killings of women and children in Mistiriyha as “a crime against humanity” (Sudan Tribune, November 29, 2017). The disarmament campaign has also been condemned as nothing but a new war in the name of disarmament by the Islamist opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) and the still-influential Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) (Radio Dabanga, November 29, 2017).

In Sudan, prosecutions and detentions depend a great deal upon the importance of the individual to the regime’s tribal relations, his own connections to leading members of the regime, or his future value to the regime. Hilal was previously imprisoned in 2002 on charges of inciting ethnic violence, but was released the nest year when the regime needed a leader for  an Arab supremacist militia that would punish Darfur’s non-Arabs for their resistance to the government – the Janjaweed. With few political cards to play in Darfur and influence with the region’s Arab tribes in a state of decline, Khartoum is likely to hang on to Hilal as a potential future asset, however uncomfortable his stay may be made in the meantime.

NOTES

  1. For a detailed account of Musa Hilal’s resistance to the disarmament campaign and conflict with the RSF, see: Andrew McGregor, “Why the Janjaweed Legacy Prevents Khartoum from Disarming Darfur,” AIS Special Report, October 15, 2017, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4027
  2. For the RSF’s campaign in Yemen, see: Nicholas A. Heras, “Sudan’s Controversial Rapid Support Forces Bolster Saudi Efforts in Yemen,” Terrorism Monitor, October 27, 2017, https://jamestown.org/program/sudans-controversial-rapid-support-forces-bolsters-saudi-efforts-yemen/
  3. Jérôme Tubiana, “Remote-Control Breakdown: Sudanese Paramilitary Forces and Pro-Government Militias,” Small Arms Survey, May 4, 2017, http://www.css.ethz.ch/en/services/digital-library/articles/article.html/571cdc5a-4b5b-417e-bd22-edb0e3050428

The Unlikely Rebel: A Profile of Darfur’s Zaghawa Rebel Leader Minni Minawi

Andrew McGregor

December 8, 2017

The career of Sulayman Arcua Minawi (better known as “Minni Minawi”) is the story of how a primary school teacher in a remote corner of northern Africa parlayed an ability to read and write and a previously hidden penchant for ruthlessness into his appointment in October 2017 as chairman of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (RSF), a coalition of Sudan’s armed opposition movements. Though widely disliked and lacking any semblance of the charisma usually found in revolutionary leaders, Minawi has nonetheless survived nearly two decades as a rebel leader in the brutal and unforgiving conflict being played out in Darfur.

SLM/A-MM Leader Minni Minawi (Middle East Observer)

Early Career

Born in or near the North Darfur town of Kutum on December 12, 1968, Minawi is a member of the Ila Digen clan of the Wogi sub-group of the Zaghawa, a desert-dwelling ethnic group speaking a Nilo-Saharan language but with broad knowledge of Arabic and French.

Prior to the opening of the Darfur rebellion, Minawi was a primary school teacher with a secondary school education but no political or military experience. [1] He spent much of the 1990s away from Darfur working as a trader in neighboring countries and learned English in Nigeria before returning home in 2001. After joining a Zaghawa self-defense militia, Minawi’s literacy helped a rapid ascent to important administrative positions, though a strong dislike for intellectuals and resentment of more experienced individuals has characterized much of his career. [2]

The Zaghawa

The Zaghawa, who call themselves “Beri,” are found in some of the most inhospitable regions of northern Sudan, northern Chad and southern Libya. Estimates of their total numbers range from 225,000 to 450,000, making them a small minority in each region.

The traditionally nomadic Zaghawa, divided by colonial borders imposed in the early 20th century, belong to one of three sub-groups; the Zaghawa Kobé, mostly in northern Chad with smaller numbers in northern Darfur; the Bideyat (close to the Tubu ethnic group) who are also found on both sides of the border, and the Zaghawa Wogi, most of whom live in northern Darfur. Each of these sub-groups is in turn divided in to a number of clans with little political cohesion. The broad range of northern territory inhabited by the Zaghawa is known as “Dar Zaghawa,” the Zaghawa homeland.

An early recognition of the value of education and success in commerce at home and in Libya and the Gulf region have given the Darfur Zaghawa an influence disproportionate to their numbers in Sudan, a development that has led some Arabs and other non-Zaghawa groups to fear the Zaghawa seek to create a “Greater Dar Zaghawa” (Dar Zaghawa al-kubra) at their expense. The recent geographical dispersal of the group and the establishment of powerful Zaghawa-led armed groups have only fueled these suspicions. [3]

Chad’s president since 1990, Idriss Déby Itno, is a Zaghawa of the Bilia clan of the Bideyat group and has played an influential role in the Zaghawa rebellion in Darfur. Many of Déby’s inner circle, as well as the leaders of the armed opposition, are Bideyat. In December 2010, Déby dismissed his half-brother Timan as sultan of the Bilia and assumed the post himself (Jeune Afrique, December 27, 2010).

The Darfur Zaghawa became increasingly militarized by their participation in Chad’s civil conflict in the 1980s and by their creation of self-defense militias during clashes with government supported Arab groups in northern Darfur in the 1990s and early 2000s. Weapons were frequently made available by their kinsmen in the Chadian and Libyan militaries.

The Sudan Liberation Front

In June 2002, Minawi became a founding member of the short-lived Darfur Revolutionary Front (DLF) led by Abd al-Wahid al-Nur, a Fur lawyer and former member of both the Communist Party of Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), a largely but not exclusively southern-based revolutionary movement determined to break the hold of Sudan’s Arab riverine tribes (the Sha’iqiya, the Danagla and the Ja’aliyin) over Sudan’s central government. The group’s first military action occurred in February 2003 when it temporarily seized the town of Gulu in the mountainous Jabal Marra region, homeland of the Fur.

Shortly afterward, al-Nur changed the name of the DLF to the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), adopting the dual political-military structure of the SPLM/A. The movement was composed mainly by the non-Arab Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit groups.

The SLM/A transformed a minor rebellion in an obscure region to front-page news with a spectacularly effective April 25, 2003 assault on the military airport at al-Fashir, the Darfur capital. The operation was carried out jointly with the Zaghawa-led Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a group with Islamist sympathies and a national focus.

On the same day as the airport attack, the SLM/A engaged Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) troops in Minawi’s hometown of Kutum, where they seized four tanks. Further engagements in Zaghawa territory followed, with the late May destruction of an SAF battalion at Kutum, a mid-July attack on Tine in Dar Zaghawa that killed 250 troops, and the capture of Kutum on August 1, 2003. [4] The Zaghawa initially benefited from their familiarity with the highly mobile tactics employed in Chad but a strong government counter-offensive sent Minawi fleeing for safety in Libya. His attempts to control the rebellion from abroad led to dissent within his own movement. [5]

As secretary-general of the SLM/A, Minawi released the group’s manifesto on March 14, 2003. The “Political Declaration” of the SLM/A called for a secular and “united democratic Sudan” with “full acknowledgement of Sudan’s ethnic, cultural, social and political diversity. [6] The similarity of the declaration to the principles of John Garang’s SPLM/A was no coincidence, as the document was largely written by SPLM advisors. [7]

Minawi and the Formation of the SLM/A-MM

Minawi attempted to seize control of the SLM/A at the rebels’ October 2005 Haskanita Conference. Methods that included having opponents beaten led to a split in the movement, with Minawi leading what came to be known as the SLM/A-Minni Minawi (SLM/A-MM).

Fighters of the SLM/A-MM (AFP)

Minawi also began to clash with JEM, which accused him of partnering with Khartoum and Idriss Déby’s Zaghawa-dominated government in Chad to eliminate JEM in return for cash, a leadership role in Darfur and a sultanate for his Ila Digen sub-clan. [8] The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) was largely Zaghawa Kobé while Minawi’s SLM/A-MM was largely Zaghawa Wogi. By this time the conflict in Darfur was becoming intertwined with the struggle for power between various Zaghawa clans in Chad.

Abuja Agreement and Government Member

The turning point in Minawi’s career was his decision to become the lone rebel commander to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA, also known as the “Abuja Agreement”) with the Khartoum government. When he signed the pact on May 5, 2006, he alienated not only other rebel commanders who refused to sign, but also many in his own movement.

Minawi, according to the agreement, was made special assistant to President Omar al-Bashir and chairperson of the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority on August 5, 2006. Many members of the SLM/A-MM began to abandon the movement for other rebel groups, reducing the movement mostly to members of Minawai’s Ila Digen clan. [9]

A month after signing the deal, Minawi returned to Darfur and began launching attacks on his former allies in the SLM/A-AW. Fifteen men of the latter group were kidnapped northwest of al-Fashir and were tortured by Minawi’s men for refusing to sign the peace agreement. Eleven were released and their signs of torture documented by AU peacekeepers. Among those held was the elderly Zaghawa humanitarian coordinator Sulayman Adam Jamous (Independent, June 7, 2006). As Minawi’s men began to gain a reputation for such excesses they became known to some Darfuris as “Janjaweed Two” (IRIN, August 4, 2006). The result was another wave of defections from Minawi’s movement, even including members of his Ila Digen clan. [10] Battlefield defeats followed, with the loss of many of the weapons supplied to Minawi’s fighters by the SAF.

In early July 2006, Minawi’s men were accused of mass murder and rape in the area around the town of Korma, with the attackers telling their victims they were being punished for opposing the DPA. The SLM/A-MM gunmen were allegedly supported by units of Janjaweed and the SAF. [11] Nonetheless, Minawi travelled to Washington for a meeting with President George W. Bush later that month (npr.org, July 28, 2006).

By September, there were reports of Zaghawa herdsmen attacking Fur villages supported by Minawi’s fighters. The attacks caused flight into IDP camps around AU bases where armed SLM/A-MM fighters extorted money and carried out kidnappings for ransom (IRIN, September 5, 2006). Representatives of the movement blamed UN reports of rape and executions on biased UN observers. [12]

While in Cairo in February 2009 for talks with President Mubarak and top Arab League officials, Minawi acknowledged the Abuja agreement had failed due to its failure to include all the rebel factions. Minawi also claimed to have asked for Egypt’s assistance as a mediator due to its knowledge of the Darfur situation, but his approach did not bear fruit (al-Ahram Weekly, February 19-25, 2009).

Genearl Ismat Abd al-Rahman Zine al-Abdin

The tensions between Minawi’s men and government security forces led by General Ismat Abd al-Rahman Zine al-Abdin exploded on March 28, 2007, when clashes broke out between the Darfuris and security forces surrounding the SLMA/A-MM office in Omdurman, leaving at least eight of Minawi’s men and two policemen dead. Over 90 of Minawi’s followers were arrested in the incident, during which the movement claimed government forces tore down the SLM/A-MM flag and confiscated computers and documents (Sudan Tribune, March 25, 2007).

Despite friction with the Khartoum government, Minawi was still regarded abroad as sufficiently influential to be invited to Cairo by the Arab League in February 2009, where he participated in talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, intelligence chief Major General Umar Sulayman, Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi and Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit. During his visit, Minawi met with U.S. diplomatic officials. The U.S. officials were unimpressed with Minawi, concluding that he “did not appear to have a vision for the future of Darfur, and was vague about the future of peace talks, his role in Sudan, the future of the GOS, and even the opening of a SLA office in Cairo.” [13]

In January 2009, Minawi’s forces were driven out of the South Darfur town of Muhajariya by their JEM rivals. Minawi had taken the town (largely Birgid) from JEM in 2005, when it became the largest settlement under Minawi’s control. The SLM/A-MM had held the town through repeated attacks by Birgid, Tunjur and Janjaweed fighters. [14] JEM’s re-conquest was short-lived, as Birgid and SAF forces arrived to expel the town’s transplanted Zaghawa population (IRIN, January 28, 2009; al-Jazeera, January 24, 2009; BBC, February 5, 2009; Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2009).

Leaving the Government of Sudan

In an interview at his Khartoum residence with American law professor Rebecca Hamilton three years after signing the DPA, Minawi confided, “I can see the president any time I want. But he doesn’t trust me – and after three years here, I don’t trust him.” [15]

Despite the election of several SLM-MM members in the April 2010 general elections, Minawi was dropped from his position as fourth vice-president. [16] Minawi resigned from the government, moved to Juba (capital of South Sudan) and returned to the armed opposition. The GoS declared that Minawi was now “an enemy” of the Sudanese state and launched a new campaign against Zaghawa fighters and civilians in which Birgid and Tunjur militias were recruited and armed by the state. The campaign soon degenerated into a brutal tribal conflict with little political direction (al-Jazeera, December 13, 2010). [17]

The SLM/A-MM was not a signatory to the Qatar-sponsored Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), signed July 14, 2011 by the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), a coalition of ten Darfur rebel movements. The agreement thus replicated the weakness of the earlier Abuja Agreement in not including all major rebel groups. Some Zaghawa Wogi abandoned the LJM to join Minawi’s movement or strike out on their own. [18]

By September 11, 2011, the SLM/A-MM was functioning as four separate units; one on the Sudan-Libya border, one in eastern Jabal Marra; one in northern Bahr al-Ghazal (South Sudan); and another in North Darfur. [19]

After his collaboration with the Khartoum government, Minawi had little credibility left in Darfur.  In the first months of 2014, a much-weakened SLM/A-MM came under heavy attacks from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a restructuring of the notorious Janjaweed intended to bring the Arab militias under the control of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service. [20]

The SLM/A-MM Goes Mercenary

Under relentless pressure from the RSF and SAF, Minawi’s movement split, with one group heading south to take refuge in South Sudan while the greater part (like JEM) headed north to Libya’s southern Fezzan region. Arriving in March 2015, they began to operate as mercenaries, working for Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) or rival Islamist militias based in Misrata according to who offered more cash or arms. On this basis Minawi’s fighters took part in the LNA campaign to take control of the Sidra and Ras Lanuf oil terminals on Libya’s Mediterranean coast.

In a March 2016 interview, Minawi claimed Islamic State forces were hosted by the Khartoum government in Kutum and South Darfur, where extremists had allegedly gathered from Mali, Chad, Libya, Egypt and the Central African Republic (CAR). He went on to claim, without evidence, that the Sudanese government was responsible for terrorism in Libya and had a hand in the creation of the Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and the Islamic Séléka movement in the CAR. [21]

Return to Darfur

By early 2017, many of Minawi’s commanders and fighters were drifting back to Darfur, complaining that the movement’s leadership was withholding payments. The rest of the movement followed in May, intending to link up with the allied SLM/A-Transitional Council (SLM/A-TC, led by Nimr Abd al-Rahman) and SLM/A-MM fighters returning to Darfur from South Sudan. The rendezvous was intercepted by RSF and SAF forces in the Kutum region and a fierce four-day battle followed in which the rebels were defeated. Nimr Abd al-Rahman, SLM/A-MM chief-of-staff Major General Juma Mundi Issa and Minawi’s military spokesman, Ahmad Hussein Mustafa, were captured. Other prisoners were reported to have been immediately executed by the NISS but this was denied by the RSF (Radio Dabanga, May 23; Sudan Tribune, May 23; Sudan Tribune, May 24;  Anadolu Agency, May 23). The RSF claimed to have pursued the rebels along the upper Wadi Howar into Chad while others were reported to have fled towards Libya (Sudan Tribune, May 29; Radio Dabanga, May 21).

Kutum, Darfur

After the confrontation, Minawi declared: “The brutal regime of the National Congress (Party), as usual, mobilized the Rapid Support Forces militias in a desperate attempt to hit the SLM in its strongholds and impose peace through the barrel of the gun.” He added that a “cessation of hostilities” was required to contain the humanitarian disaster caused by the regime’s aggression on unarmed civilians” (Middle East Observer, May 28, 2017).

Undeterred, Minawi’s unlikely progress through rebel ranks continued with his surprising election as chairman of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF- Al-Jabhat al-Thawriyat al-Sudan) on October 13, 2017. The SRF was formed in November 2011 as a coalition of Sudanese rebel movements. It was essentially a response to the July 2011 independence of South Sudan, which compelled a realignment of the remaining Sudanese opposition groups, including two divisions of the SPLA that continued to operate in (north) Sudan.

Conclusion

The battlefield defeat in May constituted a major setback for Minawi’s efforts to re-establish himself as a force in Darfur. Minawi’s movement continues to have little appeal beyond his Zaghawa Wogi base and his past behavior works against building a multi-tribal movement or effective leadership of the SRF. In fact, the record of assassinations, looting, theft of livestock and rape associated with the SLM/A-MM has succeeded in alienating Darfur’s Zaghawa population from their neighbors, who now regard Zaghawa migration from the deteriorating environmental conditions of their northern homeland with suspicion and resentment.

Notes

  1. “Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minawi (SLA-MM),” Small Arms Survey, September 6, 2011, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/facts-figures/sudan/darfur/armed-groups/opposition/HSBA-Armed-Groups-SLA-MM.pdf
  2. Julie Flint, “Darfur’s Armed Movements,” in: Alex de Waal (ed.), War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, Harvard, 2007, p.110.
  3. Jerome Tubiana, “Land and Power: the Case of the Zaghawa,” African Arguments, May 28, 2008, http://africanarguments.org/2008/05/28/land-and-power-the-case-of-the-zaghawa/
  4. Robert O. Collins, “Disaster in Darfur,” in: Samuel Totten and Eric Markusen (eds), Genocide in Darfur: Investigating the Atrocities in the Sudan, Routledge, 2006, pp. 9-10.
  5. Julie Flint, op cit, pp.154-155.
  6. Salah M. Hassan and Carina E. Ray (eds), Darfur and the Crisis of Governance in Sudan: A Critical Reader, Cornell University Press, 2009, Appendix B.
  7. Julie Flint and Alex de Waal: Darfur: A New History of a Long War, London, 2008, p.91.
  8. Roland Marchal, “The Unseen Regional Implications of the Crisis in Darfur,” in: Alex de Waal (ed.), War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, Harvard, 2007, p.193.
  9. Abdul-Jabbar Fadul and Victor Tanner: “Darfur after Abuja: A View from the Ground,” in: Alex de Waal (ed.), War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, Harvard, 2007, p.289; Jerome Tubiana, “Land and Power: the Case of the Zaghawa,” African Arguments, May 28, 2008, http://africanarguments.org/2008/05/28/land-and-power-the-case-of-the-zaghawa/
  10. Julie Flint, op cit, p.160.
  11. “Korma: Yet more attacks on civilians,” Amnesty International, July 30, 2006, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr54/026/2006/en/
  12. Wikileaks: “Darfur: Update on Korma Attacks and Rape Allegations,” U.S. State Department Cable 06KHARTOUM, July 11, 2006, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06KHARTOUM1637_a.html
  13. Wikileaks: “Darfur Leader Minni Minawi’s Visit to Cairo,” U.S. State Department Cable 09CAIRO339, February 24, 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/wikileaks-files/egypt-wikileaks-cables/8327046/DARFUR-LEADER-MINNI-MINAWIS-VISIT-TO-CAIRO.html
  14. Mutasim Bashir Ali Hadi, “Power-sharing in Southeast Darfur: Local Translations of an International Model,” in Travelling Models in African Conflict Management: Translating Technologies of Social Ordering, Brill, 2014, pp.131-33.
  15. Rebecca Hamilton: Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide, St. Martin’s Press, Feb 1, 2011, p.95.
  16. Small Arms Survey, op cit, September 6, 2011.
  17. A description of the conflict can be found in: Claudio Gramizzi and Jérôme Tubiana, “Forgotten Darfur: New Tactics and Old Players,” Small Arms Survey, 2012, p.15, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/HSBA-WP-28-Forgotten-Darfur.pdf
  18. Ibid, p.15.
  19. Small Arms Survey, op cit, September 6, 2011.
  20. For the RSF, see: Andrew McGregor, “Khartoum Struggles to Control its Controversial “Rapid Support Forces,” Terrorism Monitor, May 30, 2014, https://jamestown.org/brief/briefs-43/
  21. Anadolu Agency Video, March 22, 2016, https://www.facebook.com/14310874716/videos/10154053104449717/

Will Khartoum’s Appeal to Putin for Arms and Protection Bring Russian Naval Bases to the Red Sea?

Andrew McGregor

Eurasia Daily Monitor 14(158)

December 6, 2017

Though Sudan’s national economy is near collapse, the November 23 visit of Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir to Russia’s top leadership in Sochi was dominated by expensive arms purchases and Sudan’s appeal to Russia for “protection from aggressive actions by the United States” (TASS, November 23; see EDM, November 29). A suggestion that Khartoum was ready to host Russian military bases took most Sudanese by surprise, given that Washington lifted 20-year-old economic sanctions against Sudan in October and relations with the US finally seemed to be improving.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (AFP/Ashraf Shazly)

Al-Bashir expressed Sudan’s interest in purchasing the highly maneuverable Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 and Su-35 fighter jets during the Sochi visit. And in fact, an unknown number of Su-35s were reportedly delivered days ahead of al-Bashir’s visit, making Sudan the first Arab country to have the aircraft (RIA Novosti, November 25; al-Arabiya, November 20).

Khartoum announced its intention to replace its Chinese and Soviet-era aircraft in March, when Air Force chief Salahuddin Abd al-Khaliq Said declared Sudan would henceforth be “fully dependent on Russia for its air armament” (Defenceweb, November 29).

Sudan’s Red Sea Coast

The Su-35, deployed in Syria by the Russian Air Force, is one of the best non-stealth fighters and missile-delivery platforms available, but at an export price of as much as $80 million each, cash-strapped Khartoum may have to provide other forms of compensation. It may have been no surprise then that Sudan’s delegation in Sochi expressed willingness to host Russian naval bases along its 420-mile Red Sea coastline (Sputnik News, November 28). However, there are few suitable places for such bases on the coast, where transportation infrastructure is poor.

The Old Coral City of Suakin

Suakin, the coast’s historic port, was replaced in 1909 by the newly built Port Sudan, able to accommodate the large steamers Suakin could not. Otherwise the coastline has only a handful of small harbors (sharm-s) suitable only for dhows and fishing boats. Sailors must cope with coral reefs, shoals and numerous islets. Gaps in the large reef that runs parallel to the coast determined the location of both Suakin and Port Sudan. The entire coast is notoriously short of fresh water, a problem that must be accounted for before the construction of any large facilities. Though Egypt’s own military ties with Russia are growing, Cairo is unlikely to welcome a Russian naval base on the Red Sea coast, where Egypt currently contests possession of the Hala’ib Triangle with Sudan. [1]

Djibouti, with its vast harbor and strategic location on the Bab al-Mandab strait would make a far better base for Russian naval operations in the Red Sea. Russian Cossacks first tried to seize the region in 1889, but now existing US, French and Chinese military bases there (along with an incoming Saudi base) make such a proposition unlikely. Russian naval ships on anti-piracy operations in the Red Sea have used Djibouti for resupply and maintenance.

Moscow is also providing Khartoum with 170 T-72 main battle tanks under a 2016 deal; and the latter has expressed interest in buying the Russian S-300 air-defense system as well as minesweepers and missile boats (Xinhua, November 25). Though Sudan still uses a great deal of military equipment of Chinese and Iranian origin, al-Bashir opened the possibility of hosting Russian military personnel when he claimed, “All of our equipment is Russian, so we need advisors in this area” (RIA Novosti, November 25). The BBC’s Russian service has reported unconfirmed rumors of Russian mercenaries operating in Sudan or South Sudan (BBC News—Russian service, December 4).

Two other factors weigh in on Khartoum’s improving relations with Russia:

Gold: President Putin was reported to have confirmed Russia’s continuing support in preventing US- and British-backed United Nations Security Council sanctions on exports of Sudanese gold due to irregularities in Sudan’s mostly artisanal gold industry in Darfur (SUNA, November 23). Since Sudan’s loss of oil revenues with the 2011 separation of South Sudan, gold has become Sudan’s largest source of hard currency, but Khartoum’s inability to control extraction has led to huge losses in tax revenues and has helped fund regime opponents in Darfur (Aberfoylesecurity.com, October 15). Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour explained that it was in this context that al-Bashir’s remarks regarding “Russian protection” were made (Sudan Tribune, November 25).

War Crimes: Al-Bashir recently learned that Washington does not want to see him seek another term as president in the 2020 elections (Sudan Tribune, November 27). The 73-year-old has ruled Sudan since 1989, but retirement seems elusive—al-Bashir’s best defense against being tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Darfur is to remain president. Russia withdrew from the ICC in November 2016, calling it “one-sided and inefficient” (BBC News, November 16, 2016).

Khartoum’s request for Russian “protection” was best explained by Sudanese Deputy Prime Minister Mubarak Fadl al-Mahdi, who said the outreach to Moscow was intended to create a new balance: “We can at least limit American pressure, which cannot be confronted without international support… But with Russia’s support at international forums and the Security Council, American demands will be reasonable and help in accelerating normalization of ties” (Asharq al-Awsat, December 3).

However, the Sudanese regime’s nervousness over how this abrupt turn in foreign policy will be received at home was reflected in a wave of confiscations by the security services of Sudanese newspapers that had covered al-Bashir’s discussions in Sochi (Radio Dabanga, November 30).

Jibril Ibrahim, the leader of Darfur’s rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), insisted that al-Bashir’s request for Russian protection and willingness to accommodate Russian military bases had destroyed attempts to normalize relations with the US and was an opening to bring down the Khartoum regime (Sudan Tribune, November 27).

Is Sudan playing a double game here? Foreign Minister Ghandour claims “there is nothing to prevent Sudan from cooperating with the United States while at the same time pursuing strategic relations with China and Russia” (Sudan Tribune, November 25). Nonetheless, al-Bashir has so far avoided becoming anyone’s client and is likely aware that pursuing this new relationship with Russia to the point of welcoming Russian military bases could be his undoing as he seeks to reaffirm his rule over a restless nation in 2020. For this reason, Russian military bases on the barren and furnace-like Sudanese Red Sea coast seem unlikely for now.

Note

  1. For a detailed map of Sudan’s Red Sea coast, see: https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/map_2990.pdf

Europe’s True Southern Frontier: The General, the Jihadis, and the High-Stakes Contest for Libya’s Fezzan Region

November 27, 2017

Andrew McGregor

AbstractLibya’s relentless post-revolution conflict appears to be heading for a military rather than a civil conclusion. The finale to this struggle may come with an offensive against the United Nations-recognized government in Tripoli by forces led by Libya’s ambitious strongman, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. However, the conflict will continue if Haftar is unable to consolidate control of the southern Fezzan region, the source of much of the oil and water Libya’s coastal majority needs to survive. Contesting control of this vital region is an aggressive assortment of well-armed jihadis, tribal militias, African mercenaries, and neo-Qaddafists. Most importantly, controlling Fezzan means securing 2,500 miles of Libya’s porous southern desert borders, a haven for militants, smugglers, and traffickers. The outcome of this struggle is of enormous importance to the nations of the European Union, who have come to realize Europe’s southern borders lie not at the Mediterranean coast, but in Libya’s southern frontier. 

Libya (Rowan Technology)

As the territory controlled by Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tripoli and its backers shrinks into a coastal enclave, the struggle for Libya appears to be entering into a decisive phase. Libyan strongman Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar claims his forces are now in control of 1,730,000 square kilometers out of Libya’s total of 1,760,000 square kilometers.1 However, to control Tripoli and achieve legitimacy, Haftar must first control its southern approaches through the Fezzan region. Europe and the United Nations recognize the Tripoli-based Presidential Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA) as the official government of Libya, but recognition has done nothing to limit migrant flows to Europe. Whoever can control these flows will be the beneficiary of European gratitude and diplomatic approval.

Securing Tripoli means preventing armed elements supporting the PC/GNA from fleeing into the southern desert. Haftar must control water pipelines (the “Man-Made River Project”) and oil pipelines from the south, secure the borders, and prevent Islamic State fighters, pro-Qaddafists, Islamist militias, and foreign mercenaries from turning Fezzan into a generator for continued instability in Libya.

Fezzan is a massive area of over 212,000 square miles with a mostly tribal population of less than 500,000 living in isolated oases or wadi-s (dry riverbeds, often with subsurface water). Hidden by sand seas and rocky desert are the assets that make Fezzan so strategically desirable: vital oil fields, access to massive subterranean freshwater aquifers, and a number of important Qaddafi-era military airbases. A principal concern is the ability of radical Islamists to exploit Fezzan’s lack of security to further aims such as territorial control of areas of the Sahara/Sahel region or the facilitation of potential terrorist strikes on continental Europe. Many European states are closely watching the outcome of this competition due to the political impact of the large number of sub-Saharan African migrants passing through Fezzan’s unsecured borders on their way to eventual refugee claims in Europe.

Competing Governments, Competing Armies 

The security situation in Fezzan and most other parts of Libya became impossibly complicated by the absence of any unifying ideology other than anti-Qaddafism during the 2011 Libyan revolution. Every attempt to create a government of national unity since has been an abject failure.

At the core of this political chaos is the United Nations-brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) of December 17, 2015, which called for a tripartite government consisting of a nine-member Presidency Council (PC) to oversee the functions of head-of-state, a Government of National Accord (GNA) as the executive authority, and a House of Representatives (HoR) as the legislative authority with a High Council of State as a consultative body. In practice, most of these bodies are in conflict with each other or enduring high levels of internal dissension, leaving the nation haphazardly governed by scores of well-armed ethnic, tribal, and religious militias, often grouped into unstable coalitions. Contributing to the disorder is Khalifa Ghwell’s Government of National Salvation (GNS), which claims to be the legitimate successor of Libya’s General National Congress government (2014-2016) and makes periodic attempts to seize power in Tripoli, most recently in July 2017.2

The most powerful of the military coalitions is the ambitiously named Libyan National Army (LNA), a coalition of militias nominally under the Tobruk-based HoR and commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Cyrenaïcan strongman who lived in Virginia after turning against Qaddafi but is now supported largely by Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is this author’s observation that Haftar has a habit of speaking for the HoR rather than taking direction from it.

The Tripoli-based PC, which has military authority under the LPA, is still trying to organize a national army. In the meantime, it is backed by various militias based in Misrata and Tripoli. Together with the GNA, it forms the internationally recognized government of Libya but still requires a majority vote from the Tobruk-based HoR to be fully legitimate under the terms of the LPA. There are even divisions within the seven-member PC, with three members now opposing PC chairman Fayez Serraj and supporting the HoR and Haftar.3

Fezzan’s Tribal Context 

Fezzan’s human dimension consists of a patchwork of often-overlapping tribal and ethnic entities prone to feuds and shifting alliances. These might broadly be said to belong to one of four groups:

  • Arab and Arab-Berber, consisting of the Awlad Buseif, Hasawna, Magarha, Mahamid, Awlad Sulayman, Qaddadfa, and Warfalla groups. The last three include migrants from the Sahel, descendants of tribal members who fled Ottoman or Italian rule and returned after independence. These are known collectively as Aïdoun (“returnees”);4
  • Berber Tuareg, being the Ajjar Tuareg (a Libyan-Algerian cross-border confederation) and Sahelian Tuareg (typically migrants from Mali and Niger who arrived in the Qaddafi era);
  • Nilo-Saharan Tubu, formed by the indigenous Teda Tubu, with smaller numbers of migrant Teda and Daza Tubu from Chad and Niger. These two main Tubu groups are distinguished by dialect;
  • Arabized sub-Saharans known as Ahali, descendants of slaves brought to Libya with little political influence.

The LNA’s Campaign in Jufra District

The turning point of Haftar’s attempt to bring Libya under his control came with his takeover of the Jufra district of northern Fezzan, a region approximately 300 miles south of Tripoli with three important towns in its northern sector (Hun, Sokna, and Waddan), as well as the Jufra Airbase, possession of which brings Tripoli within easy range of LNA warplanes.

Al-Wahat Hotel in Hun after LNA airstrikes (Libya Observer)

The campaign began with a series of airstrikes by LNA and Egyptian aircraft in May 2017 on targets in Hun and Waddan belonging to Abd al-Rahman Bashir’s 613th Tagreft Brigade (composed of Misratans who had fought the Islamic State in Sirte as part of the Bunyan al-Marsous [“Solid Structure”] coalition)5 and the Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB),a the latter allegedly supported by a group of Chadian mercenaries. In early June 2017, the LNA’s 12th Brigade swept into the Jufra airbase with the help of local tribal leaders.6 Opposition was slight after the Misratan 13th Brigade and the BDB pulled out toward Misrata.

This allowed the LNA to take the town of Bani Walid, an important center in Libya’s human trafficking network strategically located 100 kilometers southwest of Misrata and 120 kilometers southeast of Tripoli. The site offers access by road to both cities and will be home to the new 27th Light Infantry Brigade commanded by Abdullah al-Warfali (a member of the Warfala tribe) as part of the LNA’s Gulf of Sidra military zone under General Muhammad Bin Nayel.7 Possession of Bani Walid could allow the LNA to separate the GNA government in Tripoli from its strongest military supporters in Misrata.

An Opening for Islamist Extremists

North African jihadis are likely to use the political chaos in Fezzan to establish strategic depth for operations in Algeria, Niger, and Mali. Those militants loyal to al-Qa`ida united in the Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa’l-Muslimin (JNIM) on March 2, 2017, as a merger of Ansar al-Din, al-Mourabitoun, the Macina Liberation Front, and the Saharan branch of al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The group’s Tuareg leader, Iyad ag Ghali, will look to exploit Libyan connections in Fezzan already established by al-Mourabitoun chief Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who mounted his attack on Algeria’s In Amenas gas plant in 2013 from a base near al-‘Uwaynat in Fezzan.b For now, it appears Ag Ghali can count on only minimal support from the Sahelian Tuareg community in Fezzan, which largely favors Qaddafism over jihadism.c

The rival Islamic State announced the establishment of the wilaya (province) of Fezzan as part of its “caliphate” in November 2014.d Since their expulsion from Sirte last December by al-Bunyan al-Marsous and intensive U.S. airstrikes, Islamic State fighters now range the rough terrain south of the coast, presenting an elusive menace.8 Following the interrogation of a large number of Islamic State detainees, the Attorney General’s office in Tripoli announced that Libyans were a minority in the group, with the largest number having come from Sudan, while others came from Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, Chad, and Algeria.9

Masa’ad al-Sidairah (Sudan Tribune)

Some Sudanese Islamic State fighters are disciples of Sudanese preacher Masa’ad al-Sidairah, whose Jama’at al-I’tisam bil-Quran wa’l-Sunna (Group of Devotion to the Quran and Sunna) publicly supported the Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi until a wave of arrests forced it to pledge to abandon Islamic State recruitment in Sudan for the Libyan and Syrian battlefields.10 Sudanese authorities state that at least 20 Sudanese Islamic State recruits have been killed in Libya.11 Many of these entered Libya via the smugglers’ route passing Jabal ‘Uwaynat at the meeting point of Egypt, Sudan, and Libya.12

Other Islamic State fighters fleeing Sirte headed into Fezzan, where they were reported to have concentrated at the town of al-‘Uwaynat, just north of Ghat and close to the Algerian border. This group was believed responsible for the February 2017 attacks on Great Man-Made River facilities and electricity infrastructure, including the destruction of almost 100 miles of electricity pylons between Jufra and Sabha.13 e On May 6, 2017, Islamic State militants mounted an ambush on a Misratan Third Force convoy on the road between Jufra and Sirte, killing two and wounding three.14 Libyan investigators claim the Islamic State has rebuilt a “desert army” of three brigades under the command of Libyan Islamist al-Mahdi Salem Dangou (aka Abu Barakat).15

Islamic State fighters shattered any thought their Sirte defeat left the group in Libya incapable of mounting operations on August 23, 2017 with an attack on the LNA’s 121st Infantry Battalion at the Fugha oasis (Jufra District). Nine soldiers and two civilians were apparently killed after capture by close range shots to the head or by having their throats slit. Most of the soldiers were former members of Qaddafi’s elite 32nd Mechanized Brigade from Surman and may have been targeted due to the role of Surmani troops in wiping out Islamic State terrorists who had briefly occupied the town of Sabratha, in between Tripoli and the border with Tunisia, in February 2016.16

Securing the Southern Borders

Control of the trade routes entering Fezzan was based on the midi-midi (friend-friend) truce of 1893, which gave the Tuareg exclusive control of all routes entering Fezzan west of the Salvador Pass (on the western side of Niger’s Mangueni plateau), while the Tubu controlled all routes from Niger and Chad east of the Toumou Pass on the eastern side of the plateau.17 The long-standing agreement collapsed during the Tubu-Tuareg struggles of 2014, fueled by clashes over control of smuggling operations and the popular perception of the Tuareg as opponents of the Libyan revolution.

Today, both passes are monitored by American drones operating out of a base north of Niamey and by French Foreign Legion patrols operating from a revived colonial-era fort at Madama, 60 miles south of Toummo.18 Chad closed its portion of the border with Libya in early January 2017 to prevent Islamic State militants fleeing Sirte from infiltrating into north Chad, but has since opened a single crossing.19

On a September 2017 visit to Rome, Haftar insisted the international arms embargo on Libya must be lifted for the LNA, adding that he could provide the manpower to secure Libya’s southern border, but needed to be supplied with “drones, helicopters, night vision goggles, [and] vehicles.”20 Haftar said earlier that preventing illegal migrants from crossing the 2,500-mile southern border would cost $20 billion.21

Some southern militias have proven effective at ‘policing’ the border when it is in their own interest; a recent fuel shortage in southern Fezzan was remedied when the Tubu Sukour al-Shara (“Desert Eagles”) militia, which is based in Qatrun some 200 kilometers south of Sabha, closed the borders with Chad and Niger on September 7, 2017, and began intercepting scores of tanker trucks smuggling fuel and other goods across the border into Niger, where they had been fetching greater prices, but leaving Fezzan with shortages and soaring prices.22

Sukour al-Sahra leader Barka Shedemi

Sukour al-Sahra is led by a veteran Tubu warrior from Niger, Barka Shedemi, and has support from the HoR.23 Equipped with some 200 vehicles ranging over 400 miles of the southern borders, Shedemi is said to have strong animosity toward the Qaddadfa tribe after he was captured by them in the 1980s and turned over to the Qaddafi regime, which punished him as a common brigand by cutting off a hand and a leg.24 Shedemi has reportedly asked for a meeting with Frederica Mogherini, the European Union’s top diplomat, to discuss compensation for his brigade in exchange for halting migrant flows across Libya’s southern border.25

Foreign Fighters in Fezzan 

Since the revolution, there has been a steady stream of reports concerning the presence of Chadian and Darfuri fighters in Libya, especially those belonging to Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). JEM leaders were once harbored by Qaddafi in their struggle against Khartoum, and took refuge in Libya after the revolution as pressure from the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) forced the rebels across the border. Khartoum backs the PC/GNA and has complained of JEM’s presence in Libya to the United Nations’ Libyan envoy.26

Haftar sees the hand of Qatar behind the influx of foreign fighters: “The Libyan army has recorded the arrival in Libya of citizens from Chad, Sudan, and other African and Arab states. They got into Libya because of the lack of border controls. They received money from Qatar, as well as other countries and terrorist groups.”27 Haftar’s statement reflects the deteriorating relations between Qatar and much of the rest of the Arab world as well as Haftar’s own indebtedness to his anti-Qatar sponsors in Egypt and the UAE. Haftar and HoR spokesmen have also claimed Qatar was supporting what it called terrorist groups (including the Muslim Brotherhood, Ansar al-Sharia, and the defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) and carrying out a campaign of assassinations that included an unsuccessful attempt on Haftar’s life.28 f

Notwithstanding his complaints about JEM and other foreign fighters, Haftar is accused of employing JEM and Darfuri rebels of the Zaghawa-led Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minnawi (SLA-MM), which arrived in Fezzan in 2015. Acting as mercenaries, these fighters participated in LNA campaigns in Benghazi and the oil crescent alongside members of SLA-Unity and the SLA-Abd al-Wahid, largely composed of members of the Fur ethnic group for which Darfur is named.29 When the SLA-MM returned to Darfur in May 2017, they were badly defeated by the RSF.30

Foreign fighters are alleged to have played a part in the June 2017 Brak al-Shatti airbase massacre of 140 LNA soldiers and civilians by the BDB and their Hasawna tribal allies, with a spokesman for the LNA’s 166th Brigade asserting the presence of “al-Qa`ida associated” Chadian and Sudanese rebels with the BDB.31 In the days after the Brak al-Shatti combat, the LNA’s 12th Brigade spokesman claimed that his unit had captured Palestinian, Chadian, and Malian al-Qa`ida members, adding that 70 percent of the fighters they had killed or taken prisoner were foreign.32 The claims cannot be verified, but many BDB commanders have ties to factions of al-Qa`ida and/or the Islamic State.

While Arab rivals of the Tubu in southern Libya often delegitimize local Tubu fighters by referring to them as “Chadian mercenaries,” there are actual Tubu fighters from Chad and Niger operating in various parts of Libya. Fezzan’s Tubu and Tuareg ethnic groups often take advantage of their ability to call upon their cross-border kinsmen when needed.33 Tubu leaders in Niger’s Kawar region complain that most of their young men have moved to Libya since 2011.34

Chadian rebels opposing the regime of President Idriss Déby Itno have established themselves near the Fezzan capital of Sabha as they build sufficient strength to operate within Chad.35 In mid-June 2017, artillery of the LNA’s 116th Infantry Battalion shelled Chadian camps outside Sabha (including those belonging to Mahamat Mahdi Ali’s Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad [FACT]) after accusing them of fighting on behalf of the PC/GNA. A U.N. report suggests that FACT fought alongside the BDB during the latter’s operations in the Libyan oil crescent in March 2017, losing a prominent commander in the process.36 A FACT splinter group, the Conseil de Commandement Militaire Pour le Salut de la Republique (CCMSR), also has a base near Sabha, which was attacked by LNA aircraft in April 2016.37

Efforts to Restore Border Security in Fezzan 

Alarmed by the rising numbers of migrants trying to reach Europe from Libya and Libya’s inability to police its own borders, Italy and Germany called in May for the establishment of an E.U. mission to patrol the Libya-Niger border “as quickly as possible.”38 Ignoring its colonial reputation in Libya, Rome suggested deploying the Italian Carabinieri (a national police force under Italy’s Defense Ministry) to train southern security forces and help secure the region from Islamic State terrorists fleeing to Libya from northern Iraq.39

European intervention of this type is a non-starter for the PC/GNA government, which has made it plain it also does not see Libya as a potential holding tank for illegal migrants or have interest in any plan involving their settlement in Libya.40

In Fezzan, migrants are smuggled by traffickers across the southern border and on to towns such as Sabha and to its south Murzuq, ‘Ubari, and Qatrun in return for cash payments to the Tubu and Tuareg armed groups who control these passages. In 2017, the largest groups of migrants were from Nigeria, Bangladesh, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire.41 The main center of the trade is Sabha, where members of the Awlad Sulayman are heavily involved in human smuggling.42 The Tubu and Tuareg also run profitable but dangerous operations smuggling narcotics, tobacco, alcohol, stolen vehicles, state-subsidized products, and other materials across Libya’s borders. Street battles in Sabha are common between competing factions of traffickers.43

Italy has signed a military cooperation agreement with Niger that will allow it to deploy alongside Sahel Group of Five (SG5) forces (an anti-terrorist and economic development coalition of five Sahel nations with support from France and other nations) and French and German contingents with the objective of establishing control over the border with Libya.g On the Fezzan side of the border, Italy will support a border guard composed of Tubu, Tuareg, and Awlad Sulayman tribesmen as called for in a deal negotiated in Rome last April.44 Rome will, in turn, fund development projects in the region. Local leaders in Fezzan complain national leaders have been more interested in border security than the lack of development that fuels border insecurity, not realizing the two go hand-in-hand.45 Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti noted his conviction that “the southern border of Libya is crucial for the southern border of Europe as a whole. So we have built a relationship with the tribes of southern Sahara. They are fundamental to the south, the guardians of the southern border.”46

A Failed Experiment

Proof that the migrant crisis cannot be solved on Libya’s coast came in September/October 2017 in the form of a 15-day battle in the port city of Sabratha (78 kilometers west of Tripoli) that killed 39 and wounded 300. The battle marked the collapse of an Italian experiment in paying militias to prevent migrants from boarding boats for Italy.47

Fighting in Sabratha, September 2017 (Libya Observer)

The Italian decision to select the GNA-aligned Martyr Anas Dibbashi Brigade (aka 48th Infantry Brigade) to cut off migrant flows from Sabratha (which it did with some success) angered the Wadi Brigade (salafist followers of Saudi shaykh Rabi’ bin Hadi al-Madkhali who are aligned with the LNA)48 and the (anti) Islamic State-Fighting Operations Room (IFOR, consisting of pro-GNA former army officers, though some have ties to the Wadi Brigade). Like the Anas Dibbashi Brigade, both groups had made great sums of cash from human trafficking. With the southern border still unsecured, migrants continued to pour into Sabratha but could not be sent on to Europe, creating a trafficking bottleneck.49 Suddenly, only Anas Dibbashi was making money (in the form of millions of Euro from Italy),50 leading to a fratricidal struggle to restore the old order as members of Sabratha’s extensive Dibbashi clan fought on both sides of the conflict.h Both LNA and GNA forces claimed victory over the Anas Dibbashi Brigade, with Haftar claiming IFOR was aligned with his LNA.51 Following the battle, migrant flows resumed while Haftar warned his forces in Sabratha to be ready for an advance on Tripoli.52

The Fezzan Qaddafists 

A challenge to Haftar’s efforts (and one he has tried to co-opt) is the strong current of Qaddafism (i.e., support of the Jamahiriya political philosophy conceived by Muammar Qaddafi) in Fezzan, the last loyalist area to be overrun in the 2011 revolution. Support for Qaddafi was especially strong in the Sahelian Tuareg, Qaddadfa, and parts of the Awlad Sulayman communities.

Fezzan’s Qaddafists were no doubt inspired by the release of Saif al-Islam al-Qaddafi in early June 2017 after six years of detention.53 Saif, however, is far from being in the clear; he remains subject to a 2015 death sentence issued in absentia in Tripoli and is still wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes committed in 2011.54 On October 17, 2017, the Qaddafi family lawyer announced Saif was already visiting tribal elders as he began his return to politics.55 The announcement followed a statement from the United Nations Special Envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salamé, that Libyan elections must be open to all, including Saif and other unreformed Qaddafists.56

General Ali Kanna Sulayman, a Tuareg Qaddafi loyalist, fled to Niger after the fall of Tripoli in 2011, but was reported to have returned to Fezzan in 2013.57 His former comrade, Qaddafi-era Air Force commander Ali Sharif al-Rifi, also returned from Niger to his Fezzan home of Waddan in June 2017.58 Thirty Qaddafi-era prisoners, mostly military officers, were released in early June 2017 by the Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigade (TRG) under orders from the HoR.59

General Ali Kanna took control of the massive Sharara oil field in Fezzan after the Misratan 13th Brigade pulled out in the last week of May 2017. As leader of a neo-Qaddafist militia, Ali Kanna has spent his time trying to unite local forces in a “Fezzan Army” that would acknowledge the legitimacy of the Qaddafist Jamahariya.60 In October 2016, there were reports that former Qaddafist officers had appointed Ali Kanna as the leader of the “Libyan Armed Forces in Southern Libya,” a structure apparently independent of both the GNA and Haftar’s LNA.61

The effort to promote armed Qaddafism in Fezzan has faltered under pressure from the LNA’s General Muhammad Bin Nayel.62 LNA spokesman Colonel Ahmad al-Mismari downplayed the threat posed by Ali Kanna, claiming his “pro-Qaddafi” southern army is composed mostly of foreign mercenaries with few professional military officers.63

In mid-October, an armed group of Qaddafists (allegedly including 120 members of the Darfuri JEM) attempted to take control of the major routes in and out of Tripoli before clashing with Islamist Abd al-Rauf’s Rada (Deterrence) force, a semi-autonomous police force operating nominally under the GNA’s Ministry of the Interior.64

Two alleged leaders of the Qaddafist group, Libyan Mabruk Juma Sultan Ahnish (aka Alwadi) and Sudanese Rifqa al-Sudani, were captured and detained by Rada forces.65 Ahnish is a member of the Magraha tribe from Brak al-Shatti, while Rifqa (aka Imam Daoud Muhammad al-Faki) is supposedly a Sudanese member of JEM, though other accounts claim he may be Libyan.66 According to Rada, the rest of the JEM group refused to surrender and presumably remains at large. It was claimed the Darfuri mercenaries were working on behalf of exiled Qaddafists belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Libya (PFLL).67 i

The fragility of Tripoli’s water supply became apparent on October 19, 2017, when Mabruk Ahnish’s brother, Khalifa Ahnish, made good on his threat to turn off the Great Man-Made River if Mabruk was not released within 72 hours. Khalifa also threatened “kidnapping and murder,” cutting the Sabha-Tripoli road, and blowing up the southern gas pipeline leading to Italy via the Greenstream pipeline.68 Khalifa claimed to be working under the command of General Ali Kanna, though the general denied having anything to do with Khalifa or his brother.69

Conclusion 

Haftar’s apparent military strategy is to secure the desert airbases south of Tripoli and insert LNA forces on the coast west of Tripoli, cornering his opponents in the capital and Misrata before mounting an air-supported offensive, similar to the tactics that enabled the capture of Jufra.j Haftar is trying to sell the conquest of Tripoli as a necessary (and desirable) step in ending illegal migration from Libyan ports to Europe.70 The strategy has political support; HoR Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has consistently rejected international proposals for a mediated settlement to the Libyan crisis, insisting, as a former professional soldier, that only a military effort can unite the country.71

The LNA’s prolonged effort to take and secure Benghazi points to both the difficulty of urban warfare and the weakness of the LNA relative to its ambition to bring Libya’s largest cities under its control. The pullback of the PC/GNA-allied Misratan militias from Jufra may be preparation for a consolidated stand against Haftar, but it also weakens security in the south, offering room for new actors. Fezzan remains an attractive and long-term target for regional jihadis who may find opportunities to exploit or even hijack the direction of a protracted resistance in Fezzan to the imposition of rule by a new Libyan strongman. With no single group strong enough to resist Haftar’s LNA (whose ultimate victory is by no means certain), all kinds of anti-Haftar alliances are possible between Qaddafists, Islamists, Misratans, and even jihadis, with the added possibility of eventual foreign intervention by the West or Haftar’s assertive Middle Eastern or Russian partners.

In a study of the 2014-2016 fighting in ‘Ubari (a town in between Sabha and al-‘Uwaynat) released earlier this year, Rebecca Murray noted her Tuareg and Tubu sources “overwhelmingly dismissed the possibility that radical IS [Islamic State] ideology could take root in their communities, which they described as traditional, less religiously conservative, rooted in local culture, and loyal to strong tribal leaders.”72

The perspective of her sources might be optimistic. Unfortunately, the situation strongly resembles that which existed in northern Mali before well-armed Islamist extremists began moving in on existing smuggling networks, using the existence of “militarized, unemployed and marginalized youths” (as Murray describes their Libyan counterparts) to create new networks under their control while simultaneously undermining traditional community and religious leadership. While tribal leaders may still command a certain degree of loyalty, they are nonetheless unable to provide social services, employment, reliable security, or economic infrastructure to their communities, leaving them susceptible to those who claim they can, whether religious radicals or would-be strongmen.     CTC

Dr. Andrew McGregor is the director of Aberfoyle International Security, a Toronto-based agency specializing in the analysis of security issues in Africa and the Islamic world.

Substantive Notes

[a] The BDB is a coalition of Islamists and former Qaddafi-era army officers, which includes some fighters who were in the now largely defunct Ansar al-Sharia group. See Andrew McGregor, “Libya’s Military Wild Card: The Benghazi Defense Brigades and the Massacre at Brak al-Shatti,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor 15:11 (2017).

[b] The town of al-‘Uwaynat in southwest Fezzan is not to be confused with Jabal ‘Uwaynat, a mountain in southeast Cyrenaïca. According to Malian and Mauritanian security sources, Belmokhtar was replaced in early May 2017 by his Algerian deputy, Abd al-Rahman al-Sanhaji, whose name suggests he is a Berber. Belmokhtar’s presence in southern Libya, far away from operations in Mali, was cited as a major reason for the change. Malek Bachir, “Exclusive: Notorious leader of Saharan al-Qaeda group loses power,” Middle East Eye, May 9, 2017.

[c] The ‘Ubari-based Maghawir Brigade, created from Sahelian Tuareg as a Libyan Army unit in 2004, split during the revolution with those favoring the revolution forming the new Ténéré (Tamasheq – “desert”) Brigade, while the Qaddafi loyalists were forced to flee to Mali and Niger. Many of the latter returned after the collapse of the Azawad rebellion in northern Mali (2012-2103) and regrouped around Tuareg General Ali Kanna Sulayman as the Tendé Brigade, though others rallied around Ag Ghali’s cousin, Ahmad Omar al-Ansari, in the Border Guards 315 Brigade. Mathieu Galtier, “Southern borders wide open,” Libya Herald, September 20, 2013; Rebecca Murray, “In a Southern Libya Oasis, a Proxy War Engulfs Two Tribes,” Vice News, June 7, 2015; Nicholas A. Heras, “New Salafist Commander Omar al-Ansari Emerges in Southwest Libya,” Jamestown Foundation Militant Leadership Monitor 5:12 (2014); Rebecca Murray “Southern Libya Destabilized: The Case of Ubari,” Small Arms Survey Briefing Paper, April 2017, fn. 23.

[d] The Islamic State declared the division of Libya into three provinces of its self-proclaimed caliphate on November 10, 2014, based on the pre-2007 administrative divisions of Libya: Wilayah Barqa (Cyrenaïca), Wilayah Tarabulus (Tripolitania), and Wilayah Fezzan. See Geoff D. Porter, “How Realistic Is Libya as an Islamic State ‘Fallback’?” CTC Sentinel 9:3 (2016).

[e] The Great Man-Made River is a Qaddafi-era water project that taps enormous aquifers under the Sahara to supply fresh-water to the cities of the Libyan coast. Cutting the pipelines is a relatively cheap and efficient way of applying pressure to the urban areas on the coast where most of the Libyan population lives.

[f] Military sources in the UAE claimed on October 23, 2017, that Qatar was assisting hundreds of defeated Islamic State fighters to leave Iraq and Syria for Fezzan, where they would create a new base to threaten the security of Europe, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. However, this alarming news must be tempered by recognition of the ongoing propaganda war being waged on Qatar by the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Amal Abdullah, “Hamdeen Organization moves hundreds of armed ‘Daesh’ to Libyan territory,” Al-Ittihad, October 22, 2017.

[g] The SG5 is a multilateral response to terrorism and other security issues in the Sahel region. Created in 2014 but only activated in February 2017, the SG5 consists of military and civil forces from Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso, with logistical and financial assistance from France and other Western partners.

[h] The Italian government maintains that the estimated €5 million payment was issued only to the GNA government or Sabratha’s local council and not directly to a militia. However, the route payments took is largely irrelevant to the outcome. Patrick Wintour, “Italy’s Deal to Stem Flow of People from Libya in Danger of Collapse,” Guardian, October 3, 2017.

[i] The founding declaration of the PFLL declares its intent is to build a sovereign state and “liberate the country from the control of terrorist organizations that use religion as a cover and are funded by foreign agencies.” “Founding Declaration of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Libya,” Jamahiriya News Agency, December 25, 2016.

[j] Of concern to Tripoli are reports that Haftar forces have repeatedly struck civilian targets (especially in Hun) as displayed in the LNA’s Jufra air offensive. Abdullah Ben Ibrahim, “A night of airstrikes in Hun town,” Libya Observer, May 24, 2017.

Citations

[1] “Majority of Libya now under national army control, says Haftar,” Al Arabiya, October 14, 2017.

[2] “Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade controls Garabulli after three days of clashes,” Libyan Express, July 11, 2017; Waleed Abdullah, “Cautious calm east of Tripoli after clashes: Official,” Anadolu Agency, July 10, 2017; “Pro-Ghwell forces halt advance on Tripoli after Serraj calls for international allies to attack,” Libya Herald, July 7, 2017.

[3] “Former PC loyalist Majbri joins Gatrani and Aswad in fresh challenge to Serraj,” Libya Herald, September 3, 2017.

[4] Wolfram Lacher, “Libya’s Fractious South and Regional Instability,” Small Arms Survey Dispatch no. 3, February 2014.

[5] “Brigade 613 calls for response to Dignity Operation airstrikes in central Libya,” Libya Observer, May 23, 2017; “A night of airstrikes in Hun town,” Libya Observer, May 24, 2017; “Haftar’s warplanes conduct airstrikes on Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous locations in central Libya,” Libyan Express, May 24, 2017.

[6] “Haftar forces capture strategic Libya airbase after ‘secret deals,’” The New Arab, June 4, 2017; “Operation Dignity seizes Jufra airbase in central Libya,” Libyan Express, June 3, 2017; “Haftar’s forces seize Hun town in Jufra, a dozen killed,” Libyan Express, June 3, 2017; Jamie Prentis, “Waddan taken by LNA in fierce fighting,” Libya Herald, June 2, 2017; “Clashes in Waddan town leave a dozen killed,” Libya Observer, June 3, 2017.

[7] “LNA sets up new force in Bani Walid,” Libya Herald, October 19, 2017.

[8] Lamine Ghanmi, “ISIS regroups in Libya amid jihadist infighting,” Middle East Online, October 15, 2017.

[9] “Islamic State set up Libyan desert army after losing Sirte – prosecutor,” Reuters, September 28, 2017; “IS cameraman involved in 2015 Sirte massacre of Egyptian Christians in custody says Assour,” Libya Herald, September 28, 2017.

[10] “Sudanese Jihadist killed in eastern Libya,” Sudan Tribune, February 10, 2016; “Sudanese security releases three ISIS sympathizers,” Sudan Tribune, January 1, 2016.

[11] “Sudanese twin sisters arrested in Libya over ISIS connections,” Sudan Tribune, February 7, 2017.

[12] “9 Sudanese migrants found dead near Libyan border, 319 rescued: SAF,” Sudan Tribune, May 1, 2014; Andrew McGregor, “Jabal ‘Uwaynat: Mysterious Mountain Becomes a Three Border Security Flashpoint,” AIS Special Report, June 13, 2017.

[13] Aidan Lewis, “Islamic State shifts to Libya’s desert valleys after Sirte defeat,” Reuters, February 10, 2017; John Pearson, “Libya sees new threat from ISIL after defeat at Sirte,” National [Abu Dhabi], February 10, 2017.

[14] “IS slays two in ambush on Third Force convoy,” Libya Herald, May 8, 2017; “Libyan Rivals Rumored to Meet Again in Cairo This Week,” Geopoliticsalert.com, May 10, 2017.

[15] Ahmed Elumami, “Islamic State set up Libyan desert army after losing Sirte – prosecutor,” Reuters, September 28, 2017; “Libya Dismantles Network Involved in Beheading of Copts,” Al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 29, 2017.

[16] See Andrew McGregor, “Islamic State Announces Libyan Return with Slaughter of LNA Personnel in Jufra,” AIS Special Report, August 24, 2017.

[17] Hsain Ilahiane, Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen), 2nd ed., (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), pp. 146-147.

[18] Nick Turse, “The US Is Building a $100 Million Drone Base in Africa,” Intercept, September 29, 2016; “France: The Saharan Policeman,” BBC, March 19, 2015.

[19] “Chad shuts border with Libya, deploys troops amid security concerns,” Reuters, January 5, 2017.

[20] Lorenzo Cremonesi, “Migranti, Haftar: Vi aiutiamo a fermarli, dateci gli elicotteri,” Corriere della Sera, September 28, 2017.

[21] Lorenzo Cremonesi, “Haftar e le minacce alle navi italiane: ‘Senza il nostro accordo, è un’invasione,’” Corriere della Sera, August 11, 2017.

[22] Jamal Adel and Hadi Fornaji, “Massive rise in petrol prices in south, but convoys of tankers from Misrata expected to start rolling this weekend,” Libya Herald, September 23, 2017.

[23] Jamal Adel, “Qatrun Tebu brigade clamps down on southern border smuggling,” Libya Herald, September 11, 2017.

[24] “Southern border reported blockaded as Qatrun leader confirms ‘big’ drop in migrants coming from Niger,” Libya Herald, September 7, 2017.

[25] “Barka Shedemi crée la panique à Niamey et maitrise la frontière,” Tchad Convergence/Le Tchadanthropus-Tribune, October 23, 2017.

[26] Jamie Prentis, “Sudan reiterates support for Presidency Council but concerned about Darfuri rebels in Libya,” Libya Herald, May 1, 2017.

[27] “Hafter praises the PC and says Qatar is arming Libyan terrorists,” Libya Herald, May 30, 2017.

[28] “Libya Army Spokesman Says Qatar Involved in Number of Assassinations,” Asharq al-Awsat, June 8, 2017; “Libyan army reveals documents proving Qatar’s interference in Libya,” Al Arabiya, June 8, 2017; “Libyan diplomat reveals Qatari ‘involvement’ in attempt to kill General Haftar,” Al Arabiya, June 6, 2017; “Haftar accuses Qatar of supporting terrorism in Libya,” Al Arabiya, May 29, 2017.

[29] “Sudanese rebel group acknowledges fighting for Khalifa Haftar’s forces in Libya,” Libya Observer, October 10, 2016; “Intelligence Report: Darfur Mercenaries Pose Threat on Peace in the Region,” Sudan Media Center, May 22, 2017; “Darfur Groups Control Oilfields in Libya,” Global Media Services-Sudan, July 27, 2016.

[30] “Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), S/2017/466,” June 1, 2017, p. 115; “Sudan: Rebel Commander Killed, Chief Captured in Darfur Battles,” Radio Dabanga, May 23, 2017; “Sudan, rebels resume heavy fighting in North Darfur,” Sudan Tribune, May 29, 2017.

[31] “East-based Libyan army says al-Qaeda attacked airbase,” Channel TV [Amman], May 22, 2017.

[32] Maha Elwatti, “LNA claims many Brak al-Shatti attackers were foreign, says it is fighting al-Qaeda,” Libya Herald, May 20, 2017.

[33] “Letter Dated 4 March 2016 from the Panel of Experts on Libya Established Pursuant to Resolution 1973 (2011), Addressed to the President of the Security Council,’” S/2016/209, United Nations Security Council, March 9, 2016; Rebecca Murray “Southern Libya Destabilized: The Case of Ubari,” Small Arms Survey Briefing Paper, April 2017, fn. 57.

[34] Lacher.

[35] “Libya militia to halt attack on Chadian fighters in south,” Facebook via BBC Monitoring, June 15, 2017; Célian Macé, “Mahamat Mahad Ali, la rose et le glaive,” Libération, May 29, 2017.

[36] “Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), S/2017/466,” June 1, 2017, p. 18. See also Andrew McGregor, “Rebel or Mercenary? A Profile of Chad’s General Mahamat Mahdi Ali,” Jamestown Foundation Militant Leadership Monitor, September 2017.

[37] “Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), S/2017/466,” June 1, 2017, p. 116.

[38] Beata Stur, “Germany, Italy propose EU patrols along Libya’s border with Niger,” New Europe, May 15, 2017; May 15, 2017; “Italy and Germany call for EU mission on Libyan border,” AFP, May 14, 2017.

[39] Paolo Mastrolilli, “A Plan for Carabinieri in Mosul After Caliph’s Militiamen Take Flight,” La Stampa [Turin], April 21, 2017.

[40] Sami Zaptia, “Libya refused international requests to strike migrant smuggling militias: GNA Foreign Minister Siala,” Libya Herald, April 29, 2017.

[41] Gabriel Harrison, “EU parliament head says Libya should be paid €6 billion to stop migrants,” Libya Herald, August 28, 2017.

[42] “Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), S/2017/466,” June 1, 2017, p. 63.

[43] Jamie Prentis, “LNA airstrikes again hit Tamenhint and Jufra,” Libya Herald, April 29, 2017; “Deadly Clashes in Sebha over Car Robbery,” Libya Herald, May 5, 2017.

[44] Francesco Grignetti, “L’Italia studia una missione in Niger per controllare la frontiera con la Libia,” La Stampa [Turin], October 15, 2017.

[45] “Tebu, Tuareg and Awlad Suleiman make peace in Rome,” Libya Herald, March 30, 2017.

[46] Patrick Wintour, “Italian minister defends methods that led to 87% drop in migrants from Libya,” Guardian, September 7, 2017.

[47] “Salafists loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar control Sabratha, declare war on Tripoli,” Libyan Express, October 6, 2017; “Libya pro-GNA force drives rival out of Sabratha,” AFP, October 7, 2017.

[48] Abdullah Ben Ibrahim, “Khalifa Haftar: Libyan Army is launching legitimate war in Sabratha,” Libya Observer, October 3, 2017. See also Andrew McGregor, “Radical Loyalty and the Libyan Crisis: A Profile of Salafist Shaykh Rabi’ bin Hadi al-Madkhali,” Jamestown Foundation Militant Leadership Monitor, January 2017.

[49] “ISIS Fighting Operation Room declares victory in Sabratha,” Libya Observer, October 6, 2017.

[50] Francesca Mannocchi, “Guerra di milizie a Sabratha, ecco perché dalla città libica riparte il traffico dei migrant,” L’Espresso, September 19, 2017; Nello Scavo, “Tripoli. Accordo Italia-Libia, è giallo sui fondi per aiutare il Paese,” Avvenire, September 1, 2017.

[51] Khalid Mahmoud, “Libya: Serraj, Haftar Share the ‘Liberation’ of Sabratha,” Asharq al-Awsat, October 7, 2017.

[52] Cremonesi, “Migranti, Haftar: Vi aiutiamo a fermarli, dateci gli elicotteri;” “Salafists loyal to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar control Sabratha, declare war on Tripoli.”

[53] “Saif al-Islam Gaddafi freed from Zintan, arrives in eastern Libya,” Libyan Express, June 10, 2017; Jamie Prentis, “ICC chief prosecutor demands handover of Saif Al-Islam,” Libya Herald, June 14, 2017.

[54] Chris Stephen, “Gaddafi son Saif al-Islam ‘freed after death sentence quashed,” Guardian, July 7, 2016; Raf Sanchez, “Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam at large in Libya after being released from death row, lawyer says,” Telegraph, July 7, 2016.

[55] AMN al-Masdar News, October 18, 2017.

[56] Marc Perelman, “Ghassan Salamé: le processus politique en Libye est ouvert ‘à tout le monde sans exception,’” France 24, September 23, 2017.

[57] Lacher. For General Kanna, see Andrew McGregor, “General Ali Kanna Sulayman and Libya’s Qaddafist Revival,” AIS Special Report, August 8, 2017.

[58] “Qaddafi’s air force chief flies home from exile: report,” Libya Herald, June 18, 2017.

[59] “Tajouri releases Qaddafi people imprisoned for six years,” Libya Herald, June 11, 2017.

[60] Mathieu Galtier, “Libya: Why the Gaddafi loyalists are back,” Middle East Eye, November 11, 2016; Vijay Prashad, “Don’t Look Now, But Gaddafi’s Political Movement could be Making a Comeback in Libya,” AlterNet.org, December 29, 2016; François de Labarre, “Libye, le general Ali Kana veut unifier les tribus du Sud,” Paris Match, May 22, 2016.

[61] Ken Hanly, “Southern army leaders try to change leaders unsuccessfully,” Digital Journal, October 9, 2016; Abdullah Ben Ibrahim, “Armed groups in southern Libya abandon Dignity Operation,” Libya Observer, October 9, 2016.

[62] Jamie Prentis, “LNA resumes airstrikes on Tamenhint as Misratans target Brak Al-Shatti: report,” Libya Herald, April 13, 2017.

[63] “’We are the LNA, we are everywhere in Libya’ says LNA spokesman,” Libya Herald, February 2017.

[64] “Tripoli-based Special Deterrent Force apprehends Gaddafi-loyal armed group,” Libya Observer, October 16, 2017.

[65] “Libya on brink of water crisis as armed group closes main source,” Libyan Express, October 23, 2017; “Water stops in Tripoli as Qaddafi militants now threaten to blow up gas pipeline,” Libya Herald, October 19, 2017.

[66] Hadi Fornaji, “Now Tripoli port as well as Mitiga airport closed as Ghararat fighting continues,” Libya Herald, October 17, 2017.

[67] “Tripoli-based Special Deterrent Force apprehends Gaddafi-loyal armed group;” “Rada says it has broken up Tripoli attack plot,” Libya Herald, October 16, 2017.

[68] “Gunmen block Tripoli-Sebha road in new bid to force release of Mabrouk Ahnish,” Libya Herald, October 23, 2017.

[69] “Armed Group Threatens to Blow Up Pipeline that Transmits Libya’s Gas to Italy,” Asharq al-Awsat, October 19, 2017; “Gaddafis threaten Tripoli residents with water cut,” Libya Observer, October 17, 2017; “Water stops in Tripoli as Qaddafi militants now threaten to blow up gas pipeline.”

[70] “Eastern forces already devised plan to control Tripoli, says spokesman,” Libyan Express, July 11, 2017.

[71] Hadi Fornaji, “Thinni spurns calls for political dialogue, says ‘military solution’ is only answer to Libya crisis,” Libya Herald, April 8, 2017.

[72] Rebecca Murray, “Southern Libya Destabilized: The Case of Ubari,” Small Arms Survey Briefing Paper, April 2017.

 

Attempt to Expel Khalifa Haftar from Benghazi is Just Latest Challenge for Libya’s “Field Marshal”

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, November 14, 2017

The leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, is suddenly finding his presumed path to becoming Libya’s latest strongman ruler blocked by various hurdles in the form of war crimes accusations, tribal conflict, internal dissent and allegations of corruption and nepotism. While Haftar’s LNA (actually a coalition of militias rather than a “national army”) remains Libyan’s most potent military force, it is not as strong nor does it control as much territory as the Field Marshal and his supporters would have the international community believe.

Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar (Libyan Express)

Haftar is the leader of the military arm of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) parliament, which claims to be the legitimate government of Libya rather than the rival Tripoli-based Presidency Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA), which is recognized by the United Nations as Libya’s legitimate government. In reality, both factions are different arms of a tripartite national government formed by the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). In Libya’s political confusion, even this rivalry is not set in stone; some members of the PC/GNA support the HoR and some members of the PC/GNA support the HoR. A political resolution of Libya’s civil conflict is impossible without the different arms of government uniting in a common purpose. Khalifa Haftar, however, shows every sign of intending to become a new Qaddafi-style strongman while giving lip-service to the provisions of the LPA.

Opposition from the Awaqir

Friction between Haftar’s camp (supported by members of his Furjan tribe) and the Awaqir Arabs of eastern Libya dates back to the January 2016 appointment of Awaqir member al-Mahdi al-Barghathi as the GNA’s Minister of Defense. Up to that point, al-Barghathi had served under Haftar as commander of the LNA’s 204th Tank Brigade. His defection to the rival GNA government in Tripoli was roundly denounced by Haftar and his lieutenants. Haftar soon distanced himself from two Awaqir armed groups formerly under his command, Faraj Egaim’s “Special Tasks Forces” and Salah Bulghaib’s “Military Intelligence” militia.

Awaqir Tribal Leader Braik al-Lwati

The dispute reached the point of no return when Awaqir tribal leader Braik al-Lwati and five other tribesmen were killed by a car bomber while leaving a mosque in Suluq (southeast of Benghazi) in May 2017.[1] Haftar was widely suspected of ordering this and other assassinations of Awaqir figures as the tribe began shifting its loyalties from Haftar to the PC/GNA. This was an intolerable situation for Haftar, who regards Benghazi as LNA turf. The PC/GNA Defense Minister al-Barghathi survived a Benghazi car-bomb attack in July 2016.

The conflict intensified when the Presidency Council appointed Awaqir tribesman Faraj Egaim the new Deputy Minister of the Interior on August 31. Haftar quickly denounced the move, calling it a “threat to national security,” while blaming “the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist groups” of being behind the appointment.[2] Egaim was targeted by a car-bomb in Benghazi days later but survived.

Faraj Egaim and Members of the Interior Ministry (Marsad Libya)

A second unsuccessful car-bomb attack on Egaim occurred on November 5, 2017 after he opened an investigation into LNA involvement in a massacre of prisoners outside Benghazi. Five days later, Egaim told the Jordan-based 218 News TV on that he blamed Haftar for orchestrating the latest car-bomb attempt on his life and for ordering a mortar attack earlier that day (November 10) on the Interior Ministry base in Benghazi’s Budzira district that killed three members of his command. With audible anger, Egaim gave the “troublemaker” Haftar, his sons and followers 48 hours to quit Benghazi and turn the city over to the Sa’iqa Special Forces Brigade commander Wanis al-Bukhamada, adding “We declare war on the traitor [Haftar] and his camp…”[3] Egaim also accused Haftar’s followers of committing all the abductions and murders in Benghazi since 2014 during a second November 10 interview on the Libya 218 TV channel.[4]

The next morning (November 11), LNA troops stormed Egaim’s Benghazi headquarters. There were no deaths in the attack and no report of prisoners, though the assailants reported seizing all the Interior Ministry vehicles.[5]

Other LNA units, including the 106th Brigade commanded by Haftar’s son Saddam, moved on the predominantly Awaqir town of Bersis, 60 km east of Benghazi, where Egaim kept a second headquarters.[6] Egaim’s HQ there was taken on the 12th and his home destroyed by heavy artillery.[7]

Initial reports that Egaim had been taken prisoner in Marj shortly after the assault on his Bersis HQ proved false.[8] Haftar issued an arrest warrant for Egaim and ordered all security checkpoints in eastern Libya to watch for the fugitive commander.[9] The Field Marshal then left the search to his subordinates, taking an unscheduled trip to Dubai, purportedly to watch an Air Show.[10] Meanwhile, members of the Awaqir tribe took to social media to issue threats to Haftar’s Furjan tribe.[11] With Egaib on the run, the LNA ordered the absorption of Salah Bulghaib’s largely Awaqir “Military Intelligence” unit into the LNA’s main intelligence group.

Accusations from Haftar’s Former Spokesman

Colonel Muhammad al-Hijazi, a former officer in Qaddafi’s army, quit as spokesman of Haftar’s Operation Dignity (the name for Haftar’s anti-Islamist offensive) in January 2016, accusing him of war crimes in Benghazi and a desire to become a new Qaddafi: “We cannot be silent anymore about his killings, kidnappings, destruction and forced disappearances.” He also accused Haftar of illegally transferring military funds to his sons in Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan.[12]

Colonel Muhammad al-Hijazi (Libya Observer)

Al-Hijazi returned to the attack on November 4, accusing Haftar of destroying Libya’s social fabric and authorizing a wave of assassinations in eastern Libya: “We were deceived when he said he did not want any position of power, then he raised his own status and gave his sons, who are civilians, military ranks and now he is seeking a mandate to rule all of Libya.” Al-Hijazi claimed many officers wanted to quit Haftar’s LNA, but feared torture and assassination at the hands of Haftar loyalists.[13]

The former LNA commander alleged that the “assassinations, political killings [and] secret prisons” were the work of the Salafist fighters under Haftar’s command. These fighters are influenced by Saudi cleric Osama al-‘Utaibi and the anti-Sufi and anti-Muslim Brotherhood Madkhalist ideology, which has gained traction in the LNA leadership.[14] Al-‘Utaibi was invited by Haftar to conduct a speaking tour of eastern Libya in January and February 2017.[15] Unprecedented restrictions imposed soon after ‘Utaibi’s visit by LNA chief-of-staff Major General Abd al-Razzaq al-Nazhuri on women travelling without male companions were viewed as an example of the cleric’s growing influence.[16]

Al-Hijazi also singled out certain Haftar loyalists as responsible for the “massacre” of civilians by airstrikes on the Islamist stronghold of Derna, namely LNA spokesman Colonel Ahmad al-Mismari, LNA chief of staff al-Nazhuri and LNA air force chief Saqr al-Jarushi.[17] Al-Jarushi is known for his May 2015 televised threats to Libyan troops who had failed to join Haftar’s forces, saying that if they failed to join by the end of the month, they were “traitors who have to be slaughtered and their wives must be raped before their eyes.”[18] 

War Crimes Allegations

Haftar ignored demands last week from the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to turn over a commander in the LNA’s Sa’iqa Special Forces Brigade who is wanted for personally executing 33 prisoners in a series of seven videotaped killings. An ICC arrest warrant was issued in August for the commander, Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Warfali. Al-Warfali submitted his resignation last May, but it was refused by Sa’iqa chief Wanis al-Bukhamada. In June, al-Warfali was accused by the UN Panel of Experts on Libya of running a number of secret and illegal prisons.[19] Haftar’s response to the ICC’s extradition demand was to ask: “There are crimes being committed in Libya every day, so why are you focusing only on Warfali?”[20]

  1. Commander Mahmoud al-Warfali

As if to answer the Field Marshal’s question, the ICC may be about to expand their focus to Haftar himself. New allegations of LNA war crimes emerged with the October discovery of 36 bodies found in a quarry in al-Abyar, southeast of Benghazi. The bodies were bound and blindfolded and showed signs of torture and bullets fired into their heads at short-range. According to local witnesses, the victims had been arrested by the LNA months ago and included not only political opponents but LNA members who disagreed with Haftar’s methods. Some security sources implicated Mahmoud al-Warfali and Saddam Haftar.[21]

In Europe, a group of civil rights lawyers is pressing the ICC to prosecute Khalifa Haftar, insisting that he must take ultimate responsibility for the actions of his troops: “Hundreds of civilians have been deliberately targeted by those forces resulting in their murder, torture, and displacement.”[22]

The Field Marshal is also under attack on a new and unexpected front – Washington. Libyan human rights activist Emadeddin Zahri Muntasser has met with US government officials in Washington and requested an investigation into war crimes and financial malfeasance allegedly committed by Khalifa Haftar and his sons Saddam, Khalid and al-Saddiq, all US citizens. Muntasser’s 300 page complaint claims the Haftars have violated the US Neutrality Act by enlisting in foreign service as officers as well as other acts prohibiting war crimes, genocide and torture.[23]

Several other Libyan groups are reported to be preparing lawsuits against Haftar timed to be introduced during Haftar’s upcoming visit to the US to attend the wedding of his son Uqba Haftar.[24] The multiple complaints and lawsuits may prove embarrassing in the US, where Haftar was closely associated with American intelligence services for two decades.

In an effort to ward off the mounting complaints against him, Haftar authorized his son Khalid to retain the Washington lobbying firm Grassroots Political Consulting (GPC). The firm will advocate on Haftar’s behalf in Congress and provide political and strategic advice. The six-month contract is for $120,000.[25] Though this effort may bear some fruit with poorly informed politicians, other elements of the international community will be sure to note the continuing resistance within Libya to acceptance of the Field Marshal as Libya’s new strongman.

NOTES

[1] Libya Observer, May 19, 2017

[2] Libya Observer, September 2, 2017.

[3] Libya Observer, November 10, 2017.

[4] Libyan Express, November 10, 2017.

[5] Xinhua, November 11, 2017; Libya Herald, November 11, 2017.

[6] Libya Herald, November 11, 2017.  Bersis is the site of an Interior Ministry prison where detainees are held without charge and allegedly tortured by prison personnel. See Libya: Widespread Torture in Detention: Government Should End Arbitrary Detentions, Ill-Treatment in Eastern Libya, Human Rights Watch, June 15, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/06/17/libya-widespread-torture-detention

[7] Xinhua, November 12, 2017.

[8] Libyan Express, November 11, 2017.

[9] Asharq al-Awsat, November 13, 2017.

[10] Libya Herald, November 13, 2017.

[11] Libya Herald, November 10, 2017.

[12] Libya Observer, January 22, 2017.

[13] Libya Observer, November 5, 2017.

[14] For the Madkhalists in Libya, see: Andrew McGregor, “Radical Loyalty and the Libyan Crisis: A Profile of Salafist Shaykh Rabi’ bin Hadi al-Madkhali,”January 19, 2017, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3840

[15] Libya Observer, November 5, 2017; Libya Herald, February 7, 2017.

[16] Libya Herald, February 19, 2017.

[17] Libya Observer, November 5, 2017.

[18] Awalan TV, May 19, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgWbYsEX5dI

[19] Libyan Express, November 8, 2017.

[20] Asharq al-Aswat, November 8, 2017.

[21] Al-Jazeera, October 29, 2017; AP, October 29, 2017; Libyan Express, October 28, 2017.

[22] Libya Herald, November 13, 2017.

[23] Libya Observer, October 17, 2017.

[24] Middle East Monitor, November 6, 2017.

[25] Odwyerpr.com, November 7, 2017, http://www.odwyerpr.com/story/public/9698/2017-11-07/rogue-libyan-general-retains-dc-lobbyists.html

The Missing Military: Options for a New National Libyan Army

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, November 10, 2017

NATO’s concentrated airstrikes destroyed Muammar Qaddafi’s Libyan Army in 2011 and paved the way to victory for an assortment of untrained and inexperienced Islamist and tribal militias. With no other unifying ideology other than overthrowing Qaddafi, these militias not only staked out their own share of power in the collapsed state, but began to expand, bringing in recruits who had done nothing during the revolution but were now willing to pose, bully and extort the civilian population. Many veterans of Qaddafi’s army fled into exile or remained to find themselves imprisoned or at the receiving end of an assassin’s bullet. Such was the end of Libya’s professional army.

The United Nations and most parties in Libya agree that the formation of a new national army is essential to escape the rule by militia that is preventing Libyan reconstruction. Lack of coordination between armed groups allows space for Islamic State militants, human traffickers and smugglers to operate with impunity.

To understand the competition to form a national Libya army, it is necessary to first understand the rivalry between the different arms of the tripartite government called for in the UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) of 2015. The functions of head-of-state (including the authority to form a military) are carried out by a fractious nine-member Presidency Council (PC) based in the national capital of Tripoli and led by its chairman, Fayez Serraj. Also based in the capital is the executive authority, the Government of National Accord (GNA), which generally works in concert with the PC. The parliament, the House of Representatives (HoR), is based in the eastern city of Tobruk and competes with the PC/GNA, which needs the approval of the HoR to assume its full powers and legitimacy. An advisory body, the High Council of State, tends to side with the HoR. Making matters worse is the existence of another would-be government, Khalifa Ghwell’s Government of National Salvation (GNS), which consists largely of members of the pre-agreement General National Congress (GNC) government who failed to be elected into the new government bodies and frequently attempt to restore the old order through violent incursions into the capital.

The question of legitimacy is inextricably tied to the ability to purchase arms on the international market through an exemption to the UN Security Council’s international arms embargo. Experienced officers and soldiers are awaiting the emergence of a unified military to which they can offer their services. In the meantime they have the choice of isolated aloofness, patient exile or participation in local, highly politicized militias that actually impede the creation of a national force.

At the moment, there are basically five contestants jockeying to compose the core of a national military. These might be split into two groups; the contenders and the pretenders:

The Contenders:  

1/ The “Libyan National Army (LNA),” actually a coalition of mostly eastern militias led by “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar and tied to the House of Representatives (HoR) government in Tobruk.

2/ “Bunyan al-Marsous (BaM)” (The Solid Structure), a coalition of mainly Islamist militias, most hailing from the Western city of Misrata.

The Pretenders:

1/ The “Libyan Army,” a national army still in formation under Major General Abd al-Rahman al-Tawil and authorized by the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

2/ The “Presidential Guard,” led by Colonel Najmi al-Nakua and nominally under the GNA’s Presidency Council (PC).

3/ The “Libyan National Guard” (LNG), based in Tripoli and led by Brigadier General Mahmoud al-Zigal. The LNG is tied to the rival Government of National Salvation (GNS).

The Libyan National Army (LNA)

The LNA is a coalition of mostly eastern (or Cyrenaïcan) militias led by “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar and tied to the HoR parliament in Tobruk. Major General Abd al-Razzaq al-Nazhuri is the LNA’s chief of staff.

Many of Haftar’s closest aides and bodyguards are drawn from his own Furjan tribe. His sons Khalid and Saddam have been made leading officers in Haftar’s LNA despite lacking any military training or experience.[1] The influential Cyrenaïcan Awaqir tribe has complained strongly of nepotism in the command structure, such as Saddam Haftar being given command of Benghazi’s 106th Brigade.[2]

Saddam and Khalid Haftar (Libya Observer)

Though the LNA professes to be politically secular rather than Islamist, its ranks include units from the Saudi-inspired Salafist Madkhali movement as well as large numbers of mercenaries from Chad and Darfur.[3]

An American citizen, Haftar was once a powerful colonel in Qaddafi’s regular army but his capture by Chadian forces in the disastrous 1987 battle at Ouadi Doum led to Qaddafi’s refusal to arrange for his repatriation or even acknowledge his existence. Cast adrift from Libya, Haftar and many fellow Libyan prisoners were extracted from Africa by the CIA to form the nucleus of a never-used force for use in an anti-Qaddafi uprising. After two decades’ residence close to CIA headquarters in Arlington Virginia, Haftar returned to Libya in 2011 to join the revolution. Ambitious and frustrated at failing to achieve a consensus that he deserved to be the new Libyan ruler, Haftar mounted a failed coup in February 2014. Haftar still managed to consolidate his control in 2014 over the “Libyan National Army” (as approved by the HoR, which does not have authority over military matters).  As the United States backed away from involvement in Libyan political affairs following the 2012 Benghazi affair, Haftar sought out new support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and, to a more limited extent, France. On April 19, 2017 Russia’s deputy envoy to the UN told the Security Council that Haftar’s LNA must form “the nucleus of the Libyan armed forces in the future.”[4]

Egypt declared on September 19, 2017 that it would take a leading role in the reorganization of the Libya Army around Haftar’s LNA.[5] Chairing a Cairo meeting between Egyptian military officials and officers of the LNA was the former Egyptian chief-of-staff Lieutenant General Mahmoud Ibrahim Hegazy (replaced as chief-of-staff by Lieutenant General Muhammad Farid Hegazy on October 29, partly due to Mahmoud’s inability to secure Egypt’s border with Libya). After the declaration, an LNA officer said the LNA was “open to discussion with all parties excluding terrorist organizations,” but as Haftar refers to all his opponents as “terrorists,” this was not the opening it might appear.[6]

In order to coordinate LNA activities, Haftar created a central operations room in Benghazi on October 11, 2017 under the command of Major General Wanis Bukhamada (Magharba tribe), leader of the Sa’iqa (“Lightning”) Special Forces and a capable veteran of Qaddafi’s regular army.

Almost before he could begin his new duties, Bukhamada became involved in the investigation of the torture and murder of 36 men found dead on October 26 in Abyar, east of Benghazi. Allegations that the dead had been held in LNA military prisons and the possibility of war crimes charges from the ICC have unnerved the LNA leadership, already under pressure from International Criminal Court (ICC) war crimes charges against Mahmoud al-Warfalli, a Sa’iqa commander videotaped executing dozens of unarmed prisoners in a series of incidents.[7] The newly appointed Deputy Minister of the Interior for the PC/GNA, Faraj Egaim, opened his own investigation of the Abyar incident and was subsequently targeted by a car bomb in Benghazi on November 5, 2017.[8]

Faraj Egaim (Libya Observer)

Egaim’s appointment was part of a shift by his Cyrenaïcan Awaqir tribe from Khalifa Haftar’s anti-Islamist “Operation Dignity” to the PC/GNA in Tripoli. The shift was prompted by Awaqir claims that Bukhamada’s Sa’iqa force had provided a safe corridor for Islamic State militants to escape Benghazi and a series of car bomb attacks against leading Awaqir members in Benghazi the tribe blames on Haftar and his supporters.[9] Targets included tribal leader Braik al-Lwati, who was killed in May 2017, while Awaqir PC/GNA Defense Minister al-Mahdi al-Barghathi survived a July 2016 car-bomb. Egaim, whose defection to the PC/GNA was not well received in the Haftar camp, survived an earlier car bomb in September 2017. Egaim had been the commander of the LNA’s Special Tasks Force when he led Aqaqir tribesmen in a June 2017 attack on Benghazi’s Kofiya Prison to free Nuri Bu Fannarah, an Awaqir tribal leader who claimed he had evidence to prove Haftar had ordered the assassination of Braik al-Lwati.[10]

On October 1, 2017, the HoR and the High Council of State issued a joint statement declaring a former Libyan Army officer in the Qaddafi era turned revolutionary, Salim Juha, the new chief-of-staff under Khalifa Haftar as commander-in-chief.[11]  It was not clear whether this marked a change in loyalties by Juha or if this meant General al-Nazhuri had been replaced or dismissed. Juha had previously been named chief-of-staff of the Libyan Army by PC deputy Fathi Majbri in late 2016 while Majbri was acting PC chairman during Serraj’s absence at a family wedding. This appointment (and several others suddenly made by Majbri) was overturned when Serraj returned.[12]

Bunyan al-Marsous (BaM – “The Solid Structure”)

Bunyan al-Marsous is a coalition of mainly Islamist militias, most of which originate in the Western city of Misrata. The coalition is led by General Bashir al-Qadi.

General Bashir al-Qadi

BaM was formed in emergency circumstances when Islamic State fighters launched a surprise offensive towards Misrata from their base in Sirte in April 2016. BaM has pledged allegiance to the United Nations backed PC/GNA government in Tripoli, though it frequently complains of a lack of support from that administration. BaM has campaigned to have itself recognized by the PC/GNA as the national army of Libya and is now patrolling south of Sirte after repeated reports of Islamic State activity in the area.

BaM defeated strong Islamic State forces in Sirte after an eight-month campaign assisted by 495 American air strikes on Islamic State targets (Operation Odyssey Lightning) and a minor but separate contribution from the LNA. Eight hundred BaM fighters, mostly Misratans, were killed in the campaign to eliminate the Islamic State terrorists.[13]

In October 2016, after some 200 American airstrikes on Sirte (largely from USS Wasp, a multi-purpose amphibious assault ship), the American air campaign came under surprising criticism from BaM’s Brigadier Ibrahim Bait, who claimed (with little merit) that the US airstrikes had been less effective than the sorties carried out by Misratan aircraft and had made no difference to BaM’s attempts to retake Sirte.[14]

Rivalry between the LNA and BaM erupted soon after the collapse of the Islamic State occupation of Sirte. The LNA’s small air-force bombed BaM targets in the Jufra District city of Hun in northern Fezzan on December 26, 2016. The attack on BaM positions by their alleged allies in the Battle for Sirte took the coalition off-guard but left them angry, as spelt out by a BaM spokesman who reminded all of the coalition’s costly campaign against IS terrorists: “We warn the party that carried out today’s airstrikes on the brigade in Hun, Jufra, today against ever repeating such a criminal act, or else the GNA forces shall respond very strongly to any violations or targeting of its forces.”[15] LNA aircraft again attacked BaM targets in the Hun and Sokna towns of Jufra District in May 2017, this time describing those killed in the attacks as “terrorists.”[16]

The inclination of BaM’s leaders to conduct their own foreign policy has repeatedly placed them at odds with the PC/GNA politicians responsible for such matters. Several leading Misratan members of BaM visited Grozny and Moscow in April 2017, where they were urged (unsuccessfully) to reconcile with Khalifa Haftar, who is favored by the Russians.

BaM infuriated the PC/GNA by undertaking a visit by 15 BaM officials to Qatar on its own initiative in mid-August 2017 without the prior consent of the PC or the GNA’s Defense Ministry. The delegation included BaM commander Bashir al-Gadi and former BaM spokesman Muhammad al-Ghusri (who left the coalition to act as spokesman for the PC/GNA defense ministry in January 2017 but still joined the BaM delegation).[17] The BaM delegation was received as an official visit by Qatar’s ruler. Nonetheless, the visit was unpopular in both Tripolia and Misrata. Hamid Aisa Khadr and Hamza Treiki, two Misratan commanders who took part in the BaM offensive on Sirte, called for the prosecution of al-Gadi and al-Ghusri after their visit to Doha.[18]

PC chairman Fayez Serraj forbade further such meetings and warned of courts martial for future offenders.[19] After Serraj’s response, BaM Colonel Ali Rafideh accused the PC of failing to provide salaries, logistical support and treatment for wounded BaM fighters after the victory in Sirte.[20]

Brigadier Muhammad Gnaidi

The growing gulf between BaM and the PC was recently illustrated by threats made by BaM Brigadier Muhammad Gnaidi against Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE on Libya’s Islamist Tanasuh TV. Gnaidi’s threats to attack the nations supporting Haftar’s LNA (and, in the case of Egypt and the UAE, participating in air attacks) followed LNA air strikes on the besieged Islamist stronghold of Derna that killed 15 civilians, mostly children. PC chairman Fayez Serraj’s call for an investigation of the “irresponsible” remarks was met by Gnaidi with the remark that unless Serraj took firm action against the three nations, he should leave Libya “on board the vessel that brought him to Tripoli.”[21] In the face of this insubordination Serraj dismissed Gnaidi from the Military Intelligence Directorate and the leadership of the GNA’s Libyan Army. Gnaidi promptly announced a new allegiance to the military arm of the Government of National Salvation.[22]

After an apparently unplanned clash between BaM and LNA forces both hunting Islamic State fighters south of Sirte in early July 2017, Sa’iqa Special Forces commander Wanis Bukhamada spoke highly of BaM’s performance in Sirte and said the LNA would welcome any regular forces that fought terrorism into its fold.[23] BaM issued a stiff rebuke to Bukhamada’s invitation to join the LNA, stating there was “currently no army in Libya” to join, while adding the Libyan people were in need of a “capable military force.”[24]

The Libyan Army

The “Libyan Army” authorized by the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli is intended to be a national army under the command of Major General Abd al-Rahman al-Tawil.

Major General Abd al-Rahman al-Tawil

General al-Tawil was appointed by the PC as the chief-of-staff of the Libyan Army on September 1, 2017. The problem with his appointment was that there were no forces to place under his command other than the Presidential Guard, which appears to have remained under the direct command of PC chairman Fayez Serraj and will not become part of the planned national army.[25] The appointment still angered HoR interim PM Abdallah al-Thinni and Khalifa Haftar, with the latter announcing he was breaking off all lines of communication with the PC/GNA.[26]

Three of the seven members of the PC (Ali al-Gotrani, Fathi al-Mijibri and Omar al-Aswad) responded to al-Tawil’s appointment by rejecting Serraj’s authority and declaring Khalifa Hatar and the LNA chief-of-staff to be the sole military leaders of the Libyan nation.[27]

Speaking for many, but not all, of the Misratan armed groups, the Misratan Military Council (MMC) announced on January 31, 2017 that all the brigades under its control would join the incipient “Libyan Army” loyal to the PC/GNA and in opposition to the “rogue general” Khalifa Haftar (Digital Journal, January 31, 2017).

The Presidential Guard

Led by Brigadier Najmi Ramadan Khari al-Nakua and his deputies, Ibrahim Bilad and Abu Lagri, the Tripoli-based Presidential Guard is intended to draw upon security personnel from across Libya, but from the start there has been pressure from Misrata to go with a Misratan majority.[28]

Brigadier Najmi Ramadan Khari al-Nakua (Libya Observer)

The Presidential Guard was created under the authority of the PC/GNA in May 2016, with an initial base of 500 fighters recruited from various militias given the task of protecting Tripoli’s international airport.

Despite the unit’s name, the Presidential Guard’s loyalty appears to be somewhat capricious: when armed groups supporting Khalifa Ghwell’s Government of National Salvation (GNS) attacked Tripoli in an October 2016 coup attempt, the Presidential Guard abandoned the PC, invaded the offices of the High Council of State and announced the installation of the GNS as Libya’s legitimate government.[29] The Guard’s change of allegiance appears to have been provoked by unpaid salaries, though Ghwell was unlikely to make good on these as his coup quickly collapsed due to a lack of broad support from Tripoli’s militias.[30] The Guard’s commander, Ali Ramali, who was alleged to have taken control of the unit’s payment system to reward those loyal to himself and deprive others, was subsequently dismissed for refusing to obey orders from the PC/GNA.[31]

In June 2017, the Presidential Guard made an unsuccessful bid for an exemption from the UN Security Council’s arms embargo on Libya.[32] In the next month the Presidential Guard announced a plan to prohibit the possession of arms by “unauthorized individuals” in Tripoli as well as a ban on the entry of light, medium and heavy weapons to the capital, though progress on this file is so far difficult to discern.[33]

Fending off critics such as Haftar who claim the Presidential Guard aspired to form a new national army, the Guard has stated that it is not to be viewed as a substitute for the army or as an obstacle to its reconstruction, while describing itself as a “disciplined force” loyal to the PC and without any allegiance to political parties, cities or tribes.[34] The Guard has pledged to restrict itself to duties involving border control and protection of state facilities, government members and visiting dignitaries.[35]

The Guard runs training facilities in Tripoli, Misrata and Gharian where recruits receive three months of basic training, followed by specialty training such as mechanical support, communications and Special Forces tactics.[36] According to al-Nakua, Algeria has agreed to send gendarmes to train the Presidential Guard.[37]

Italian general Paolo Serra, the military advisor of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), urged the PC to hasten the full establishment of the Presidential Guard in September, along with developing a program to disarm the militias.[38] Al-Nakua has outlined plans for an ambitious expansion of the unit, adding six additional brigades in western Libya to the one already operating in Tripoli.[39]

The Libyan National Guard (LNG)

Based in Tripoli and led by Brigadier General Mahmoud al-Zigal, the LNG was formed in February 2017 by supporters of Khalifa Ghwell’s Government of National Salvation (GNS) who had fought against the Islamic State in the Battle of Sirte.[40] Zigal insisted the LNG had no ties to political parties and would avoid entanglement in regional or tribal disputes.[41]

Brigadier Mahmoud al-Zigal (Libya Observer)

The GNA described the National Guard as “outlaws” determined to “form a parallel body to the Presidential Guard” in order to “lead the capital into bloody armed conflict.”[42] The PC quickly declared the LNG illegal, but did not have sufficient power to shut it down.[43]

Following the National Guard’s February 10, 2017 parade of military vehicles and weapons in Tripoli, the US State Department issued a warning that the introduction of a new unit with such a significant quantity of weaponry would further destabilize the fragile security situation in Tripoli.[44]

Shortly after the LNG’s creation, clashes broke out in Tripoli between Haithem Tajouri’s Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade (TRB) and Misratan fighters led by Tripoli-based Misratan militia leader Mahmud Baiyu (a.k.a. Sharikan). Biayu was closely tied to many of those who had joined the LNG, but was disappointed when the newly-formed National Guard failed to support him, possibly the result of strong American criticism of the new force.[45]

In April 2017, the National Guard announced it was sending units south to join the Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB) and the Misratan Third Force (lately renamed the 13th Brigade) in fighting against the LNA’s 12th Brigade around Tamenhint airbase (northwest of Sabha).[46] Al-Zigal urged all forces based in southern Libya to fight “the idiot war criminal Khalifa Haftar.”[47] If LNG units did reach the south, they do not appear to have played any significant role in the fighting, which ultimately went against the BDB and their Misratan allies. The many ex-soldiers of the BDB have made clear they will never agree to Khalifa Haftars rule and refuse to even consider laying down their arms until the “war criminal” is no longer a candidate for national leadership.

Signs of Cooperation?

A rare joint operation by LNA and PC forces occurred from November 2 to November 8, 2017, when the LNA-affiliated Special Operations Forces commanded by Major Imad Trabulsi and pro-PC forces commanded by Major General Osama Juwaili (commander of the PC/GNA western military region and a former officer in the Qaddafi-era Libyan Army) mounted a joint attack in the Wirshefana district (southwest of Tripoli) on the local 4th Brigade commanded by Omar Tantoush. Trabulsi and Juwaili are both from the western city of Zintan, where many powerful militias exist as rivals to similarly powerful rivals in Misrata. A loyalist general in Qaddafi’s Libyan Army during the 2011 revolution, Tantoush was released from prison in 2015 to serve in Khalifa Haftar’s LNA but left a year later. He was replaced by Trabulsi.[48]

Major General Osama Juwaili (Middle East Monitor)

Tantoush’s 4th Brigade was accused by Trabulsi of harboring an armed group (including 120 mercenaries from Darfur) belonging to the pro-Qaddafist Popular Front for the Liberation of Libya (PFLL) who attempted to take control of the main routes in and out of Tripoli in mid-October. Apparently there were fears that the Qaddafists had lost faith in the leadership of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi (said to be in Wirshefana and afflicted with depression) and were preparing to join Haftar’s LNA.[49] Oddly, both the PC and the LNA denied authorizing the operation, effectively depriving it of any significance as an example of possible cooperation.

Conclusion

There are elements of the LNA that support the PC/GNA and elements of BaM that support Khalifa Haftar. Though BaM and the LNA profess to have a common enemy in the Islamic State, there is little coordination between the two and incidents such as a July clash between BaM and LNA units that allowed Islamic State fighters to escape are not unheard of.[50]

BaM has expressed its willingness to cooperate with any group to destroy the Islamic State in Libya, which they fear will begin recruiting amongst illegal migrants unable to get to Europe but unwilling to return home.[51]  However, as seen above, this willingness to cooperate does not appear to include entertaining overtures from the LNA. There are suspicions in Libya that both BaM and the LNA have a certain degree of tolerance for Islamic State activities in the hope that the extremists will attack their rivals.[52]

At the moment, Khalifa Haftar’s LNA is the strongest military grouping in the country. BaM has significant internal divisions and resents the PC/GNA for failing to provide it with the support it expected during the battle for Sirte and afterwards. The PC/GNA’s “Libyan Army” does not yet exist, the loyalties of the Presidential Guard appear somewhat flexible, and the National Guard is simply the armed wing of a pretend government.

Though the LNA may be the leading contender to form a national army, there is still widespread and determined opposition to Haftar’s play for power in Libya; the leader of Libya’s High State Council, Abd al-Rahman Swehli, recently told Reuters that the LNA was an “armed organization outside the state” and rebuked Haftar for seeking a return to authoritarian rule: “The majority of Libyans will not accept the return of dictatorship or the militarization of the country once again… We will not accept another dictatorship in Libya under any circumstances.”[53]

A successful advance on Tripoli by Haftar later this year or in 2018 may render the question of who will form Libya’s national army moot, but it will raise new questions about the military structure of an extended and expected armed resistance to the Field Marshal’s rule.

Notes

[1] Libya Observer, December 26, 2016

[2] Libya Observer, June 7, 2017

[3] See “Radical Loyalty and the Libyan Crisis: A Profile of Salafist Shaykh Rabi’ bin Hadi al-Madkhali,” Militant Leadership Monitor, January 19, 2017, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3840

[4] Libya Herald, April 19, 2017

[5] Ahram OnlineSeptember 19, 2017

[6] AP, September 19, 2017

[7] Libya Herald, October 28; ICC, August 15, 2017

[8] Libya Observer, November 5, 2017

[9] Libya Observer, May 26, 2017

[10] Libya Observer, June 6, 2017

[11] Libyan Express, October 1, 2017

[12] Libya Herald, January 13, 2017

[13] Digital Journal, January 31, 2017

[14] Libya Herald, October 6, 2017

[15] Libyan Express, December 26, 2016

[16] Libyan Express, May 23, 2017

[17] Libyan Express, August 13, 2017

[18] Libya Herald, August 15, 2017

[19] Libya Herald, August 16, 2017

[20] Libya Herald, September 3, 2017

[21] Libya Herald, November 3, 2017

[22] Libya Herald, November 6, 2017

[23] Libya Herald, July 6, 2017

[24] Libya Observer, July 6, 2017

[25] Libya Herald, September 1, 2017

[26] Al-Ahram Weekly, September 7-13, 2017

[27] Libya Observer, September 4, 2017

[28] Digital Journal, September 1, 2016

[29] Libyan Express, October 16, 2016

[30] Jeune Afrique, October 16, 2016

[31] Gulf News, November 17, 2017

[32] Xinhua, June 19, 2017

[33] Libyan Express, July 24, 2017

[34] Libya Observer, June 21, 2017

[35] Xinhua, June 19, 2017

[36] AFP, July 14, 2017

[37] Libya Observer, August 21, 2017

[38] Libya Herald, September 27, 2017

[39] Xinhua, June 19, 2017

[40] Al-Araby, February 12, 2017

[41] Libya Observer, February 13, 2017

[42] Al-Araby, February 12, 2017

[43] Libya Herald, February 12, 2017

[44] Libyan Express, February 11, 2017

[45] Libya Herald, February 11, 2017, February 12, 2017; Digital Journal, February 12, 2017

[46] Libya Herald, April 16, 2017

[47] Libya Observer, April 16, 2017

[48] Xinhua, November 2, 2017; Libya Herald, November 2, 2017; Middle East Monitor, June 5, 2017

[49] Libya Herald, November 8, 2017

[50] Libya Herald, July 6, 2017

[51] Libya Observer, September 11, 2017

[52] Middle East Eye, September 5, 2017

[53] Reuters, November 9, 2017

How Kenya’s Failure to Contain an Islamist Insurgency is Threatening Regional Prosperity

Andrew McGregor

October 27, 2017

Life in parts of Kenya’s traditionally Muslim coastal region has become a nightmare of beheadings and midnight raids by masked assailants, compounded by the ineptitude of local security forces. In Lamu County, an historic center of Swahili culture, growing ethnic and religious tensions have proved fertile ground for the spread of a Kenyan offshoot of Somalia’s al-Shabaab terrorist group. The struggle for Lamu is not an unfortunate but obscure episode in the war on terror however; it is a battleground for the economic prosperity of East Africa.

Lamu County (Somaliupdate.com)

Lamu County is the planned site of one of the most ambitious economic initiatives attempted in Africa – the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport Corridor (LAPSSET), a $24.5 billion project creating a network of roads, rail-lines and pipelines connecting South Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, with the additional construction of three resort cities and a modern port and refinery at Lamu.

The county faces the Indian Ocean. It is culturally and religiously distinct from most of inland Kenya and traditionally Sunni Muslim, with an emphasis on Sufism. The county is divided into two parts – the mainland sector, and a region of 65 islands once prosperous from the trade in slaves and other products of the African interior. The largest economic activity is tourism, mostly restricted to the centuries-old Swahili trading ports on the islands. On the mainland, locals rely on agriculture, fishing and mining.

The local population consists of Swahilis, the dominant culture formed by a mixture of Bantu peoples with Arab and Persian traders that began in the 9th century; Orma, related to the Oromo of Ethiopia, Somalia and northern Kenya; Bajuni islanders; and the Aweer and Watta, both traditional hunter-gatherer groups.

Politically uninfluential and subject to ethnic and political violence in recent years, the region has been designated an operational security area since September 15, 2015. Social services such as healthcare and education are lacking, fresh water is scarce, food supplies are insecure and unemployment is high. [1]

Much of the region’s violence is the result of a strategy by al-Shabaab to punish Kenya on its own soil for initiating an operation by the Kenya Defense Force (KDF) – named Linda Nichi (Swahili for “Protect the Country”) – against al-Shabaab within Somalia in October 2011. The operation’s declared intent was to stifle cross-border incursions by Somali militants. In practice, however, the deployment has created a Kenyan-controlled buffer zone known as Jubaland in southern Somalia.

The Mpeketoni Massacre

On June 15, 2014 al-Shabaab struck Lamu County, massacring 65 men, mostly Kikuyu Christian migrants from inland Kenya. The local police station offered no resistance and was quickly overrun, the police fleeing, leaving behind their weapons, which were collected by the attackers. Despite the presence of nearby police and military installations, the attack continued for ten hours without interference from security forces, who were apparently watching a broadcast of a FIFA World Cup soccer match.

Al-Shabaab claimed the massacre was in response to the “Kenyan government’s brutal oppression of Muslims in Kenya through coercion, intimidation and extrajudicial killings of Muslim scholars” (Daily Nation [Nairobi], June 16, 2014).

Rather than address the al-Shabaab threat, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikiyu, attempted to shift blame for the attack to opposition politicians, claiming the massacre had nothing to do with al-Shabaab, despite al-Shabaab claiming responsibility for the attack on its official Twitter account earlier the same day (Reuters, June 16, 2014; Daily Nation [Nairobi], June 16, 2014). Kenyatta also claimed that local police had received advance warning of the attack but ignored the warning (BBC, June 18, 2014).

Ethnicity is a relevant factor here. During the 1952-1960 colonial-era Mau Mau rebellion, British administrators used the Mpeketoni region for the resettlement of Kikiyu from Kenya’s Central Highlands where the rebellion was concentrated. Mpeketoni was later used as a resettlement site for Kikiyu farmers who had returned to Kenya from Tanzania in the 1970s. These transfers of members of Kenya’s largest and most powerful ethnic group created a lasting turbulence over land ownership issues and turned the Muslim Swahili community into a religious and ethnic minority in their traditional homeland. [2]

Typical of more recent attacks in Lamu County was one conducted on the evening of September 5-6, when terrorists in military gear struck two villages in the Hindi district of Lamu. Calling residents out by name, the gunmen beheaded four individuals in front of their wives and children before fleeing into the Boni Forest. Protests the next day over the security forces’ inefficiency were broken up by riot police (The Standard [Nairobi], September 6). The Hindi police chief was later suspended for sleeping on the job (Daily Nation [Nairobi], September 11).

Operation Linda Boni: Security Failure in Lamu County

Kenya’s counter-insurgency effort in the region, Operation Linda Boni, began in September 2015 and was expected to last 90 days (Daily Nation [Nairobi], November 16, 2015). Operation Linda Boni is now in its third year, despite repeated pronouncements that all its objectives have been achieved. The operation involves a number of security agencies, including the KDF, the National Police Service, the Administration Police and the National Intelligence Service (NIS). Agents of the latter infiltrate the villages to identify supposed terrorist collaborators.

Despite the operation’s massive expense, the Boni Forest, used as a base by Islamist militants, is still far from secured even though US special forces reportedly provide logistical and training support to Kenyan troops operating there (The Star [Nairobi], February 10; Daily Beast, August 2). The multi-agency operation suffers from infighting, poor coordination and inappropriate equipment. Mounting casualties have demoralized police and soldiers who have little to show for their efforts, and the increasing tempo of attacks in Lamu County has alarmed Kenyan security officials.

Coast regional coordinator Nelson Marwa, an outspoken security hardliner, made some pointed criticisms of the Operation Linda Boni: “We have the Operation Linda Boni in place. It is now almost two years and the way things are, it’s like we haven’t achieved the objective of flushing out criminals inside the forest… How do al-Shabaab find their way past our forces … to get into villages, kill people and go back into the same forest or cross the same borders where our KDF soldiers are? We have enough airplanes and I wonder why most of them are just lying in the bases instead of being put out there to patrol these places. People must be [held] responsible…” (The Nation [Nairobi], September 10).

Lamu County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo responded by claiming, without documentation, that the operation had reduced al-Shabaab’s capacity to mount attacks by 80 percent (Daily Nation [Nairobi],

September 20). On October 5, Operation Linda Boni director Joseph Kanyiri announced the al-Shabaab presence in Lamu County was “almost at zero level” (The Star [Nairobi], October 6).

LAPSSET: East Africa’s Economic Hope

In a region already beset by land ownership disputes, the LAPSSET project has led to rampant speculation and fraudulent land transactions. The project is being implemented without consultation with the local community and is expected to bring an influx of one million migrants to the region, few if any of them Muslims. It will be a massive and irreversible demographic shift that al-Shabab’s Jaysh Ayman unit is already exploiting to recruit local Muslims.

Despite government promises, local benefits of LAPSSET are already proving illusory. A presidential directive to LAPSSET to provide 1,000 scholarships worth $550,000 to train local youth on the technical aspects of port operations was ignored by the agency, which provided only ten scholarships worth $17,000 to non-locals (Business Daily [Nairobi], September 17).

The construction of Kenya’s pipeline to Lamu from the oilfields in Turkana County is also now in jeopardy after its budget was cut by 70 percent to help pay for a court-ordered repeat of the fraud-plagued presidential election on October 26, and the failure to pass the 2015 Petroleum Bill after President Kenyatta attempted to cut local communities’ revenue shares in half (Business Daily [Nairobi], October 8).

Al-Shabaab’s Kenyan Affiliate

Though directed by Somalia’s al-Shabaab movement, Jaysh Ayman (“Army of the Faithful”) presents itself as a local movement defending Swahili Muslims while fighting a corrupt Kenyan government and pursuing the creation of a caliphate on the Kenyan coast. As well as night attacks on settlements, Jaysh Ayman has struck power infrastructure and frequently ambushes cars, passenger buses and trucks on highways running through Lamu County (The Star [Nairobi], August 8; Standard [Nairobi], August 2; The Star [Nairobi], August 7). Security on the main roads has grown so bad that vehicles can only move safely in police-escorted convoys.

Mallik Alim Jones (il Giournale.it)

As well as hundreds of Kenyan Muslims, Jaysh Ayman includes foreign fighters. Maalik Alim Jones, a Maryland native and Jaysh Ayman volunteer, was arrested in December 2015 while trying to board a boat from Somalia to Yemen. A convicted child abuser who abandoned his family in the US to join al-Shabaab, Jones pleaded guilty to various terrorism-related charges on September 8 (Baltimore Sun, January 18, 2016; September 8).

Andreas Martin Muller (left) and Thomas Evans

Jones was a suspect in the Mpeketoni massacre and appeared in an al-Shabaab propaganda video before joining an unsuccessful June 14, 2015 attack on a KDF camp in Lamu County (Daily Nation [Nairobi], January 12, 2016). Also prominent in the video was a 25-year-old English al-Shabaab volunteer and convert to Islam, Thomas Evans (aka Abd al-Hakim, or “the White Beast”), who was killed in the attack. [3] Evans, who married a 13-year-old Somali girl and gained a reputation for beheading Christians, is seen in the video greeting a German fellow convert and al-Shabaab fighter, Andreas Martin Muller, (aka Abu Nusaybah, or Ahmad Khalid) (Express [London], June 25, 2015; Telegraph, October 11, 2015). Eleven other Jaysh Ayman members were killed in the firefight, including Luqman Osman Issa (aka Shirwa), who is believed to have directed the Mpeketoni massacre (Reuters [Nairobi], June 15, 2015).

Weak Security Response

A particularly effective al-Shabaab tactic involves ambushing rescuers after a poorly protected armored personnel carrier (APC) has struck a mine. As anger over poor equipment grows in the ranks, the government has promised to purchase and deploy mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) APCs.

The militants make extensive use of roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to dissuade security forces from patrolling. The bombs take a steady toll on security personnel who remain helpless against an invisible enemy. The Chinese-made VN-4 “Rhinoceros” multi-role light APCs, in use by government forces, protect only against small arms fire. In addition, they are poorly ventilated, making them unsuitable for use in the hot and humid conditions of the coast. The only other export customer for the VN-4 is Venezuela, which has used them extensively against civilian protesters but not in combat situations.

Thirty of the VN-4 APCs were purchased in February 2016 after widespread criticism of the capabilities of Serbian, Chinese and South African-made APCs obtained through a corruption-plagued procurement system (The Standard [Nairobi], June 1, 2017; Defence Web, June 26, 2014). The VN-4s are deployed by the General Service Unit (GSU), a paramilitary unit within Kenya’s national police that dates back to the Mau Mau uprising. Many GSU members have received Israeli training, while some officers have been trained in the UK.

In partial fulfillment of the government’s promise, 35 CS/VP3 “Bigfoot” APCs were delivered to the government by China’s Poly Technologies in January 2017 (Daily Nation [Nairobi], June 11). Classed as MRAP and already in use in Nigeria and Uganda, the APCs were sent to the Rural Border Patrol Unit, established in 2008 after multiple disturbances along the Somali border. The border patrol unit is part of the Administration Police (AP), a paramilitary police force responsible for guarding public buildings and providing a rapid deployment unit for emergency use.

Kenyan officials and security experts have suggested al-Shabaab is being provided with local intelligence by elements within Kenya (Sunday Nation [Nairobi], June 4). This gives the militants an edge over police forces, which are often drawn from Christian inland communities and view the Muslim communities of the Coast with suspicion and distrust at best. The heavy hand of the KDF and other security forces in terms of torture, disappearances and the unsolved murders of dozens of Kenyan Muslim leaders in recent years continues to work against the development of an effective intelligence network in Lamu County. [4]

Sacrificing Boni Forest

An investigation by a Nairobi daily found a number of security agents asserting that intelligence reports from 2012 that described how al-Shabaab was establishing bases in the 517 square mile Boni National Reserve were ignored. The reports detailed how al-Shabaab was bringing in equipment including GPS trackers and night-vision goggles. According to one agent: “We alerted local police to be aware and watch over these dense forests. No one cared” (Daily Nation [Nairobi], July 20).

The Boni Forest canopy is dense, restricting aerial surveillance, and roads are few, limiting the mobility of security forces. Al-Shabaab’s strategic placement of mines and IEDs complicates the efforts of security forces to infiltrate the forest.

Coast Regional Coordinator Nelson Marwa (left) with Coast Regional Police Commandant Larry Kieng (Kevin Odit/Nation Media Group)

Marwa, the Coast regional coordinator, has insisted on the necessity of bombing “that forest completely,” adding in bombastic fashion that he “will enter the forest if others fear going there … I am ready to die while fighting al-Shabaab in the forefront as the commander” (The Star [Nairobi], June 29).

Bombing the Boni Forest, however, poses a risk to its native inhabitants, the Aweer (or Boni), a group of 3,000 indigenous hunter-gatherers whose traditional lifestyle has already been challenged by forced resettlement and a government ban on hunting. The Aweer are now forbidden to enter the forest during military operations, but have not been provided with food aid since last year (Standard [Nairobi], June 18). The forest is also home to several rare endangered species.

Joseph Kanyiri, the director of Operation Linda Boni, has struck back at environmentalist critics of the bombing: “I cannot comprehend why someone feels this way when a number of trees are destroyed in order to save a thousand lives … This is serious business and that’s why I am asking activists and conservationists to stick their necks elsewhere. We are here to protect lives and end terrorism and that will happen at any cost. The Aweer community remains intact and their lives go on. After all, the bombing is happening thousands of miles away from their habitats” (The Star [Nairobi], August 25).

In reality, the Boni Forest measures roughly 25 miles by 25 miles and the bombing has made it impossible for the Aweer to forage for food or to obtain food from traders who are now afraid to venture into the region.

Putting Pressure on the Government

Al-Shabaab and its Jaysh Ayman offshoot share a determination to expose the weaknesses of Kenya’s security forces, terrorize Christian migrants to the region and inhibit the tourism industry. It seeks to put pressure on the government by creating a general state of insecurity in a part of the country where, as a result of LAPSSET, the administration now has a substantial interest.

On the government side, there is a pattern of corruption constraining action by the security forces, while intelligence is being collected but not acted on. This appears to be a result of lassitude on the part of the security forces and a belief among government officials that the blame for poor performance can be quickly and easily shifted to others.

Even though al-Shabaab’s radical Salafism has little appeal in a region traditionally influenced by Sufist Sunni Islam, the movement is trying to exploit Muslim alienation from the central government and the bitter land issues that are at the core of much of the violence in Lamu County. It is unlikely that al-Shabaab actually believes there is an opportunity to create a caliphate on the Kenyan coast. Instead their real goal is to hold the LAPSSET development hostage and encourage local and regional pressure on Nairobi to abandon the KDF’s deployment in southern Somalia.

Notes

  1. M. Bradbury and M. Kleinman, “Winning Hearts and Minds? Examining the Relationship between Aid and Security in Kenya,” Feinstein International Center, 2010, http://fic.tufts.edu/assets/WinningHearts-in-Kenya.pdf
  2. Herman Butime, “Unpacking the Anatomy of the Mpeketoni Attacks in Kenya,” Small Wars Journal, September 23, 2014, http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/unpacking-the-anatomy-of-the-mpeketoni-attacks-in-kenya
  3. Captured al-Shabaab video of the dawn firefight is available here.
  4. Michael Nyongesa, “Are Land Disputes Responsible for Terrorism in Kenya? Evidence from Mpeketoni Attacks,” Journal of African Democracy and Development 1(2), pp. 33-51

This article first appeared in the October 27, 2017 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

 

Why the Janjaweed Legacy Prevents Khartoum from Disarming Darfur

Andrew McGregor

AIS Special Report, October 15, 2017

Ten thousand members of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF – al-Quwat al-Da’m al-Sari) have been transferred from Kordofan to North Darfur to help implement a mandatory disarmament campaign in the region. Almost exclusively Arab in composition, the RSF will attempt to disarm not only non-Arab rebel forces still in the field, but also Arab elements of the government’s Border Guard Force (BGF) that are in near rebellion and nomadic tribesmen who rely on their weapons to protect their herds from thieves and predators.

Sudan Armed Forces Armor in Darfur (Nuba Reports)

Both the RSF and the BGF are products of Khartoum’s efforts to make the infamous and internationally reviled “Janjaweed” disappear. Absorbing these ill-disciplined Arab militias into better defined government formations helped support a government narrative that the Janjaweed were not government-backed marauders, but rather unaffiliated bandits that had been removed from Darfur through the efforts of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). In theory, transforming these militias into salaried employees of the state would bring them under tighter state control at a time when many Janjaweed and their commanders were beginning to have second thoughts about having sacrificed their reputation in return for empty promises from Khartoum. In practice, the RSF has transformed itself into a border control force reducing migration flows to Europe with ample funding from the European Union, while the BGF has evolved into a new formation, the Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening (“Sahwa”) Council (SRAC), which has slipped from government control with the help of enormous profits from its domination of artisanal gold mining in northwestern Darfur.

Both RSF and BGF are composed of members of the semi-nomadic Abbala (camel-raising) tribes of northern Darfur, the main source of Janjaweed manpower after the ongoing Darfur rebellion began in 2003. Some of the Abbala tribes, including the northern Rizayqat, had not been allotted specific lands for their use by the old Fur Sultanate (c. 1600-1916) or the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium administration (1916-1956).

Darfur (Human Rights Watch)

While customary arrangements between the semi-nomadic Arabs and sedentary non-Arab groups regarding land-use and migration routes continued into the independence period, these accommodations began to fall apart in the 1980s as drought and an encroaching desert placed new pressures on traditional systems. Possessing useful pastures became essential for the pastoralist Arabs, but after centuries of land allotments by Fur Sultans (the feudal hakura system) and their colonial successors, there was no unclaimed land to be had; dispossessing others was the only means of establishing a new dar, or tribal homeland.

The Baqqara (cattle-raising) Arabs of southern Darfur, whose dar-s were legally and traditionally defined, had little involvement with the depredations of the Janjaweed. Unfortunately for the Baqqara, this distinction is little understood outside of Sudan. It is also important to note that not all the Abbala tribes were involved with the Janjaweed; the Janjaweed was primarily drawn from sections of the northern Rizayqat (who were much affected by lack of land-title) and elements of Arab groups from Chad and Niger who had migrated to Darfur with the encouragement of the Khartoum regime, which suggested they carve out their own land-holdings from territory belonging to non-Arab tribes the regime viewed as supporters of the rebellion.

The progress of Khartoum’s disarmament campaign will have important consequences for the future of the Darfur rebellion, the regime’s continuing efforts to centralize power in Sudan and even the European Union’s campaign to reduce illegal migration into Europe.

Musa Hilal: From Janjaweed to Border Guard

With the possible exception of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes in Darfur, no individual is more closely associated with the deeds of the Janjaweed than Shaykh Musa Hilal Abdalla, a member of the Um Jalul clan of the Mahamid Arabs.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir (center) with Musa Hilal (right of of al-Bashir)      (al-Jazeera)

Hilal is the nazir (chief) of the Mahamid, a branch of the northern Rizayqat tribal group (the northern Rizayqat includes the Mahamid, Mahariya, and Ireiqat groups. The southern Rizayqat are baqqara with little involvement in the Janjaweed). From his home village of Misteriya, Hilal became involved in the 1990s with the Arab Gathering (Tajamu al-Arabi), an Arab supremacist group following an ideology developed by Mu’ammar Qaddafi and the leaders of Libya’s Islamic Legion (Failaq al-Islamiya) in the 1980s. The Um Jalul began to clash with non-Arab Fur and Zaghawa tribesmen in the 1990s, leading to Hilal’s eventual arrest and imprisonment in Port Sudan in 2002 on charges of inciting ethnic violence.

Hilal’s prison term was brought to an abrupt end by the shocking April 2003 raid on Darfur’s al-Fashir military airbase by Fur and Zaghawa rebels retaliating against growing waves of government backed Arab violence against non-Arab communities. An unnerved government realized the SAF might not be capable of containing the mobile hit-and-run tactics of the rebels developed during fighting in Chad in the 1980s. After deciding to turn to local tribal militias to carry the counterinsurgency campaign, suddenly Shaykh Musa was just what the regime needed. Consequently, Hilal was released in June 2003 to organize a counterinsurgent force infused with pro-Arab ideology and armed, supplied and directed by SAF intelligence units. This was the “Janjaweed.” [1]

The strategy employed to hobble the militarily powerful insurgent forces was to cripple their support base and supply system through the destruction of defenseless Fur and Zaghawa villages. Tactics typically involved an initial bombardment by the Sudanese Air Force (usually crude “barrel-bombs” rolled out from Russian-built Antonov transport aircraft), followed by waves of horse and camel-borne Janjaweed and a final “mopping-up” force of Sudanese regulars and intelligence agents. Murder, torture, rape and looting were all part of a process intended to punish relatives of insurgents and even those with no connection to the rebels other than a shared ethnic or tribal background. Incitement of ethnic hatred, promises of immunity and a license to loot freely helped give free rein to the basest instincts of the Janjaweed; those reluctant to join in such activities were subject to imprisonment and the collective punishment of their families.

One of Hilal’s leading lieutenants during the 2003-2005 period of the worst Janjaweed abuses was Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti,” from the Awlad Mansur clan of the Mahariya branch of the northern Rizayqat, though by this time the Awlad Mansur were resident in South Darfur, having moved there in the 1980s where they seized Fur lands in the southern Jabal Marra region.

Hilal’s notoriety brought largely meaningless sanctions from the UN Security Council in April 2006. Instead of ostracism, Hilal was brought to Khartoum, where he was integrated into the government as a special advisor to the Ministry of Federal Affairs and a member of parliament in the ruling National Congress Party (Hilal later repudiated his membership in the NCP).

By 2005 the government’s campaign in Darfur had begun to attract unwanted international attention, including ill-informed but nonetheless damaging accusations of “genocide” from various media sources and celebrity activists. However useful to the regime, the “Janjaweed” had to go. The solution was integration into the Border Guards, previously a small and little known camel-mounted unit. Arab tribesmen serving in the Janjaweed for loot were now given salaries and government ID cards which helped shield the new Border Guards from prosecution for war crimes while bringing them under tighter regime control. Musa Hilal was made a top commander in the expanded BGF.

The Return of Musa Hilal

Following a dispute with the government, Musa Hilal returned to northwest Darfur in January 2014, where, despite remaining commander of the BFG, he established the 8,000 strong Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening (Sahwa) Council (SRAC) as a vehicle for his personal and tribal political agenda. By March 2014 he had brought the northwestern Darfur districts of, Kutum, Kebkabiya, al-Waha and Saraf Omra under SRAC’s administrative control by the exclusion of government forces. Clashes between Hilal’s mostly Mahamid followers and government security forces began to occur with regularity.

Musa Hilal’s SRAC is also involved in a struggle with the RSF over control of Jabal Amer (northwest of Kabkabiya), where gold was discovered in 2012. The SAF withdrew from the area in 2013 under pressure from Hilal’s forces, which then defeated the rival Bani Hussein Arabs in a bloody struggle for control of the region. In 2016, the UN Panel of Experts on Sudan reported that Hilal was making approximately $54 million per year from SRAC’s control of the artisanal gold mining at Jabal Amer, though the report was not publicly released due to Russian objections. Gold is now the largest source of revenue in Sudan since South Sudan and its oil fields separated in 2011, though much of it is smuggled out of the country to markets in the Gulf States (Radio Tamazuj, April 27, 2016; Radio Dabanga, April 5, 2016).

In May 2017, SRAC spokesman Ahmad Muhammad Abakr called for “all Arab tribes in Darfur, Kordofan, and Blue Nile state to disobey the government’s military orders and refrain from participating in its war convoys.” Suggesting their cause had been “stolen by the government,” Abakr declared:

The ongoing wars are now fabricated for the purpose of a divide-and-rule policy of which the ruling elite in Khartoum is the ultimate beneficiary rather than the people of Sudan… If there is a need for war, we ask you to point weapons against those who employ you to fight on their behalf in order to take your political, economic and military rights instead of fighting a proxy war (Radio Dabanga, May 31, 2017).

The Rapid Support Forces

Prior to Hilal’s return to Darfur, Khartoum had detached the BGF’s Fut-8 Battalion (based in Nyala, South Darfur and commanded by Muhammad Hamdan Daglo) from the rest of the force and used it as the core of a new paramilitary, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The move was partly a response to internal tensions in the BGF between Fut-8 and the Hilal-commanded Fut-7 Battalion, which claimed Fut-8 was favored by Khartoum in terms of supplies of weaponry, vehicles and supplies. [2] At the same time, Daglo and his followers complained that Hilal was not distributing BGF resources fairly, especially the all-important Land Cruisers. [3]

RSF Troops, Darfur

The RSF came under the direct authority of the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS – Jihaz al-Amn al-Watani wa’l-Mukhabarat) and continues to enjoy the patronage of Second Vice President Hassabo Muhammad Abd al-Rahman, a Rizayqat. [4]

The RSF was integrated into the SAF in 2016, but with an unusual semi-autonomous status under the direct command of President Bashir (a Nile Valley or “riverine” Ja’alin Arab). Saying that the establishment of the RSF was the best decision he had ever made as president, Bashir recently told a graduating group of 1450 RSF recruits in Khartoum that their aim must be to “show force and terrorize the enemies” (Sudan Tribune, May 14, 2017).

Despite government claims that Darfur was stabilized, the RSF took a leading role in May 2017 alongside the SAF in a bitter four day battle around Ayn Siro in the Kutum district of North Darfur last May against the Zaghawa-led Sudan Liberation Movement – Minni Minawi (SLM-MM) and the allied Sudan Liberation Movement/Army – Transitional Council (SLM/A-TC), led by Nimr Abd al-Rahman. [5]

Several leading prisoners, including veteran rebel Muhammad Abd al-Salim “Tarada,” military commander of the Sudan Liberation Movement – Abd al-Wahid (SLM-AW) until June 2014 and then a commander in the SLM/A-TC, were reported to have been killed by NISS agents following their capture. The defeated rebels fled westward along the Upper Wadi Howar into Chad, though they later issued a joint communiqué making an unlikely claim to have driven off the government forces. The heavy losses suffered by the SLM/A-MM marked a disappointing return to Darfur after the movement had spent nearly two years fighting as mercenaries in Libya (Sudan Tribune, May 29, 2017; May 23, 2017; Sudan Vision, May 22, 2017; Radio Dabanga, May 23, 2017; IRIN, August 2, 2017).

RSF Commander Muhammad Hamdan Daglo “Hemetti”

RSF commander Daglo claimed the Darfur rebels were aided at Ayn Siro and Wadi Howar by Chadian opposition fighters (who have also been fighting as mercenaries in Libya) [6] and insinuated that the Chadians were harbored and supported logistically by Musa Hilal, though he did not elaborate on the reasons for this new support by Hilal for Darfur’s non-Arab rebels (Sudan Tribune, June 4, 2017).

By January 8, 2017, the RSF announced the capture of over 1500 illegal migrants in the last seven months following the interception of 115 migrants several days earlier (Sudan Tribune, January 9, 2017). RSF activity along the Libyan border is intended to intercept traffickers in humans and narcotics and to demonstrate Sudan’s commitment to reducing flows of illegal migrants after the European Union made a grant to Sudan of €100 million to deal with the issue.

Most of the illegal migrants making their way through Sudan to Libya and on into Europe hail from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Yemen. The EU is funding the construction of two RSF camps equipped with modern surveillance equipment and electronics for intercepting and detaining illegal migrants. [7]

Rejecting Integration

Defence Minister Lieutenant General Ahmad Awad Bin Auf announced a reorganization of the SAF’s “supporting forces” on July 19, 2017. A central part of the reorganization was the planned integration of the BGF into the RSF. Within days, SRAC spokesman Haroun Medeikher announced the BGF would refuse to allow its integration, saying the decision was “ill-considered and unwise” and had been taken without consulting the BGF leadership (Radio Dabanga, July 23, 2017).

On news of the refusal, one of Hilal’s old opponents, Abd al-Wahid al-Nur (leader of the largely Fur SLM-AW), used radio to reach out to the Arab militia leader, stating that while Musa Hilal’s “awakening conscience may be belated,” it was “time for all the Sudanese people to stand united against the regime” (Radio Afia Darfur, via Sudan Tribune, August 20, 2017). Abd al-Wahid has always been the rebel commander most likely to seek terms with Darfur’s Arab community, recognizing the symbiotic relationship between pastoralists and farmers as well as the existence of a common enemy in the Khartoum regime.

Hilal has also stepped up his anti-government rhetoric, urging his tribesmen not to volunteer for the SAF’s campaign in Yemen, claiming Vice-President Abd al-Rahman and General Daglo have stolen millions of dollars given to Sudan by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in return for their participation in the intervention against the Zaydi Shiite Houthis in Yemen’s ongoing civil war (al-Jazeera, September 10, 2017).

Turmoil on the Libyan Border

On September 22, 2017 the RSF claimed to have killed 17 human traffickers a day earlier with a loss of two RSF men. The encounter took place in the Jabal ‘Uwaynat region where the Sudanese, Libyan and Egyptian borders meet. [8] An RSF field commander, Lieutenant Colonel Hassan Abdallah, described the intercepted group as “the largest armed gang operating in human trafficking and illegal immigration” on the Libyan-Sudanese border. The RSF also claimed to have detained 48 illegal migrants being shipped to Libya (Radio Dabanga, September 24, 2017).

A SRAC spokesman insisted those killed were SRAC members involved in trading but not trafficking, adding that the men had initially only been detained by the RSF, but were killed after three days of negotiations failed to reach an agreement on a ransom  (Radio Dabanga, September 25, 2017). One of those killed was a Hilal bodyguard, Sulayman Daoud. Leading SRAC member Ali Majok al-Momin counter-charged the RSF with “trading and smuggling vehicles over the borders with Chad and Libya” (Radio Dabanga, September 25, 2017).

The incident was not the first involving the RSF and SRAC on the Libyan border. Seven SRAC members, including leading member Omar Saga and Muhammad al-Rayes, another of Musa Hilal’s bodyguards, were arrested near the border by the RSF on their return from Libya on August 11, 2017.

Behind the RSF’s vigilance against Hilal supporters on the Libyan border is Khartoum’s fear that Hilal is establishing cross-border contacts with “Field Marshal” Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA – actually a strong coalition of militias under Haftar’s command that oppose the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli). Hilal also has important ties to militarily powerful Chad, whose president, Idriss Déby Itno (a Zaghawa), is Hilal’s son-in-law. Further complicating matters for the government is the high probability that many Mahamid and other Arab members of the RSF could defect to the BGF in the event of a full-scale conflict between the two.

Musa Hilal reportedly sent 200 vehicles full of armed fighters to besiege the RSF camp until those RSF members involved in the September 22 killings were turned over to the BGF (Sudan Tribune, September 26, 2017). A battle between the BGF and the RSF was averted when the two sides agreed to third-party mediation. The process favored the BGF, with the RSF making concessions over control of the gold workings at Jabal Amer and handing over vehicles, military equipment and BGF members detained in the attack (Radio Dabanga, September 29, 2017).

SRAC claimed on October 7, 2017 that two columns of armed RSF Land Cruisers, one from Ayn Siro and one from Kabkabiya, had been sent to “punish Hilal” by defeating his forces and bringing him in to Khartoum “dead or alive” (Radio Dabanga, October 9, 2017; Sudan Tribune, October 8, 2017). The accusation was not new; Shaykh Musa has claimed for years that Khartoum is intent on his assassination.

Conclusion

According to SRAC spokesman Haroun Medeikhir, Musa Hilal met in August with BGF commanders and traditional leaders across Darfur to discuss what he termed Khartoum’s attempt to “dismantle the Arab tribes” (Sudan Tribune, August 14, 2017). Key to bringing the Arab tribes to heel would be disarmament. It was no surprise then that the tribes were alarmed when Vice-President Abd al-Rahman announced a new six-month campaign to disarm Darfur’s militias beginning on October 15.

The SAF and RSF are also taking over 11 military bases being abandoned by the United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). [9] The world’s second-largest peacekeeping force is in the first phase of a withdrawal prompted largely by international exhaustion with the complex Darfur issue and UNAMID’s annual budget of $1.35 billion. Khartoum, which never wanted the mission in the first place, began to push for an early UNAMID exit after the mission called for an investigation of the mass rape of 221 women and underage girls by SAF troops in the Fur village of Tabit in October 2014. [10] Khartoum maintains that Darfur has been stabilized and rebel fighters either expelled or neutralized.

Khartoum’s new effort to consolidate its power in Darfur raises renewed possibilities of an alliance of Arabs and non-Arabs against Khartoum, but the events of the last three decades have left a massive and deeply ingrained distrust between the two. Arab and non-Arab rebel groups in Darfur have toyed with the idea of an alliance against the center since 2007, when some Arab factions began to realize their international reputation had been irreversibly stained from manipulation by an insincere Khartoum regime that never had their interests in mind. [11] In addition, the services and development programs promised to the Arabs for their participation in the Janjaweed campaigns never materialized, leaving the Darfur Arabs no better off than they had been in 2003. Tension between the Darfur Arabs and the riverine Arab groups that control the government (the Ja’ailin, the Danagla and the Sha’iqiya) tend to bring out the strong prejudices that exist between the two Arab groups. The riverine Arabs regard the Darfur Abbala and Baqqara as backwards and “Africanized.” The Darfur Arabs, however, claim descent from the great Juhayna tribe of Arabia; some extremists seeking to shed the control of the riverine Arabs have described the latter as “half-caste Nubians.” [12]

Even Musa Hilal has at times demonstrated a broader understanding of Darfur’s ethnic make-up and the methods used by Khartoum to create and exploit racial and ethnic divisions. In 2008, Hilal told a gathering of Baqqara and Abbala tribal leaders that all Darfuris were “Africans” of mixed Arab and African origin who needed to work on restoring their traditionally cooperative social fabric. [13] In a private meeting with U.S. diplomats that followed, Hilal said “We found out that we have more in common with the Africans of Darfur than with these Nile Valley Arabs,” and even made a surprising recantation of the Arab supremacist philosophy he had followed for decades, suggesting that, based on their better education and moderation, “the Fur should lead” in Darfur, a return to the leadership structure of the old Fur Sultanate. [14]

Complete faith in Daglo’s loyalty does not exist in Khartoum, where conciliation is common when it is in the regime’s interests but indiscretions are never completely forgotten. In this case the issue is Daglo’s mutiny against the government in 2007 over RSF salaries, land and a dispute with Musa Hilal. Unable to assert its authority in Darfur and unwilling to see large numbers of armed Arabs join the rebels, the regime was forced to make major concessions to keep Daglo’s forces onside. When the salaries still went unpaid, Daglo threatened to storm Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. Money and arms eventually brought an end to the mutiny, but not the suspicion. [15]

While some Arabs and non-Arabs may discover they have a common enemy in Khartoum, they are still far from having common goals. In recent years, Khartoum has shown little interest in mediating disputes between Arab groups in Darfur that leave these groups weak, preoccupied and unable to unite against the center, especially at a time when budget cuts related to the loss of oil-rich South Sudan make it difficult for the regime to buy cooperation. The consequent environment of perpetual tension and suspicion does not bode well for the success of a campaign to seize the weapons of Darfur’s armed factions by force. In making the attempt the regime will encounter the consequences of its long-standing cynicism and duplicity on the Darfur file and a divide-and-rule policy that has left it with fewer friends in the region than when the rebellion and counter-insurgency began in 2003.

NOTES

  1. The term “Janjaweed,” which predates the counter-insurgency, was used colloquially in reference to armed bandits. The term was not used by the Arab militias themselves or the government.
  2. “Border Intelligence Brigade (Al Istikhbarat al Hudud) (AKA Border Guards)” Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA), Small Arms Survey, Geneva, November 2010, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/facts-figures/sudan/darfur/armed-groups/saf-and-allied-forces/HSBA-Armed-Groups-Border-Guards.pdf
  3. Julie Flint, “Beyond ‘Janjaweed’: Understanding the Militias of Darfur,” Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2009, fn.78, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/HSBA-WP-17-Beyond-Janjaweed.pdf
  4. For the RSF, see, “Khartoum Struggles to Control its Controversial ‘Rapid Support Forces’,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, May 30, 2014, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=852
  5. The SLM-MM is named for its Zaghawa commander, Minni Minawi (a.k.a. Sulayman Arcua Minawi). Like Hilal, Minawi joined the government in Khartoum from 2006 to 2010 as Senior Assistant to the President of the Sudan before returning to the rebellion in Darfur. Nimr Abd al-Rahman was captured by government forces in the battle and replaced as SLM-TC head by al-Hadi Idriss Yahya.
  6. See Jérôme Tubiana and Claudio Gramizzi, “Tubu Trouble: State and Statelessness in the Chad-Sudan-Libya Triangle,” Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2017, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/SAS-CAR-WP43-Chad-Sudan-Libya.pdf; “Rebel or Mercenary? A Profile of Chad’s General Mahamat Mahdi Ali,” Militant Leadership Monitor, September 7, 2017, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=4010 .
  7. See Suliman Baldo, “Border Control from Hell: How the EU’s migration partnership legitimizes Sudan’s ‘militia state’,” Enough Project, April 2017, https://enoughproject.org/files/BorderControl_April2017_Enough_Finals.pdf
  8. For Jabal ‘Uwaynat and RSF activity in the area, see: “Jabal ‘Uwaynat: Mysterious Desert Mountain Becomes a Three-Border Security Flashpoint,” AIS Special Report, June 13, 2017, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=3930
  9. The UNAMID bases are located at Eid al-Fursan, Tullus, Muhajiriya, al-Malha, Mellit, Um Kedada, Abu Shouk, Zamzam, al-Tine, Habila and Foro Baranga.
  10. “Mass Rape in North Darfur: Sudanese Army Attacks against Civilians in Tabit,” Human Rights Watch, February 11, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/02/11/mass-rape-north-darfur/sudanese-army-attacks-against-civilians-tabit
  11. See Andrew McGregor: “Darfur’s Arabs Taking Arms against Khartoum,” Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies Commentary (November 2007), http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=559
  12. Julie Flint and Alex de Waal: Darfur: A New History of a Long War, Zed Books, London, 2008.
  13. “Iftar with the ‘Janjaweed’,” U.S. Department of State Cable 08KHARTOUM1450_a, September 25, 2008, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08KHARTOUM1450_a.html
  14. Ibid.
  15. “Border Intelligence Brigade (Al Istikhbarat al Hudud) (AKA Border Guards)” Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA), Small Arms Survey, Geneva, November 2010, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/facts-figures/sudan/darfur/armed-groups/saf-and-allied-forces/HSBA-Armed-Groups-Border-Guards.pdf; Julie Flint, op cit, 2009, pp.34-36, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/HSBA-WP-17-Beyond-Janjaweed.pdf

“Biafra or Death”: Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and the Struggle for Biafran Independence

Andrew McGregor

October 10, 2017

Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the founder and leader of a Biafran separatist movement known as the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), has been missing since a raid by Nigerian security forces on his Abia State compound on September 14. Rumors abound regarding Kanu’s fate or location: some say he sustained gunshot wounds in the raid and is in serious condition but unable to seek medical help for fear of arrest; others say he was killed and his body taken away or that he was arrested after the raid and hustled off in an unmarked vehicle, or even that he escaped to the United Kingdom (UK) via Malaysia (This Day [Lagos], September 24; Vanguard [Lagos], October 2).

Mazi Nnamdi Kanu

Nigeria’s government, fearing the growth of a southern version of the northern Boko Haram insurgency, declared IPOB a “terrorist organization” the day after the raid. Given that over one million Nigerians died during the unsuccessful 1967-1970 war for Biafran independence, Kanu’s efforts to inflame separatist sentiments in Biafra and their consequences for Nigeria’s stability and oil revenues are being taken seriously.

IPOB, claiming two million members mostly from the Igbo ethnic group, says it is in a struggle with Hausa-Fulani security forces from the Muslim north. Kanu has been accused of creating a secret armed group to combat them. Kanu, a dual British-Nigerian citizen, was out on bail on treason charges that followed his 2015 arrest at the time of his disappearance. The separatist leader promised before the raid: “If I’m re-arrested, this country will burn, I assure you” (Sun News [Lagos], September 2). Kanu’s promise to cut off vital oil revenues from the south has hardly endeared him to the rest of the country and he is opposed even by some fellow Biafran separatists.

(History Today)

The government’s decision to declare IPOB a terrorist group and the army’s ongoing Operation Python Dance II has pre-empted any mass insurrection, but tension in Nigeria’s South-East region is growing.

Early Life

Kanu was born in Nigeria’s Abia State in 1967, the first year of independence for the short-lived Republic of Biafra. A Christian of the Igbo ethnic group (one of Nigeria’s largest, with 33 million people), Nnamdi Kanu is the son of HRM Eze (an Igbo royal title) Israel Okwu Kanu, a traditional ruler based in Isiama Afara, a town in Umuahia, Abia State (Nigerianbiography.com, December 19, 2015). As the son of an Igbo traditional ruler, Nnamdi Kanu is sometimes referred to by his followers as “prince.”

Kanu attended the University of Nigeria, Nnsuka in Enugu State, where strikes interrupted his progress, before further studies at London’s Guildhall University (NigerianMonitor.com, n.d.).

According to his father, Kanu was originally a member of a major Biafran independence group, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), but a rift began with MASSOB leader Chief Ralph Uwazuruike over the distribution of party funds. A permanent split occurred after Uwazuruike arrived at Kanu’s wedding with ten buses of angry supporters. The wedding was disrupted and Kanu badly beaten (Punch [Lagos], February 14, 2016). At that point, Kanu decided to lead his own independence movement.

Radio Biafra

 Radio Biafra first operated as the “Broadcasting Corporation of Biafra” during the Nigerian Civil War. The station was revived by Kanu as a London-based shortwave and internet broadcaster in 2009. [1]

According to Kanu, “Radio Biafra programs were designed to wake up the public from their slumber and address the issues of the time, which [were] youth unemployment, lack of infrastructural provisions, poor electricity, an absence of rural development, and conspicuous absence of respect for human rights” (Facebook, December 31, 2015).

In practice, Kanu and his radio associates became known for inflammatory and insulting commentary. Beginning in 2013, Kanu used his broadcasts to claim that Igbo politicians were controlled by northern Muslim Hausa-Fulani “godfathers” who were working toward the Islamization of Nigeria’s southeastern states (Sahara Reporters, March 25, 2014). In a statement written after his 2015 arrest, Kanu apologized for referring to President Buhari on Radio Biafra as “evil, a terrorist and a pedophile,” and for uncomplimentary comments about President Goodluck Jonathan and Igbo elders: “All I was trying to do is draw attention to the problems afflicting society and what society is doing about it” (Facebook, December 31, 2015).

In one of his most disturbing statements, Kanu promised chaotic bloodshed if he failed to get his way:

If they fail to give us Biafra, Somalia will look like a paradise compared to what will happen to that zoo. It is a promise, it is a pledge and it is also a threat to them. If they do not give us Biafra, there will be nothing living in that very zoo they call Nigeria; nothing will survive there, I can assure you…  I do not believe in peaceful actualization or whatever rubbish it is called. I have never seen where you become free by peaceful means (Sahara Reporters, March 25, 2014).

Arrest and Trial

 Kanu was arrested at a Lagos hotel by the Department of State Services (DSS – Nigeria’s secret police) on October 14, 2015 during a visit home. He was charged by the DSS with “criminal conspiracy, intimidation and membership of an illegal organization.” The arrest generated protests outside the Abuja courtroom and across much of southwestern Nigeria. Despite being granted bail on October 19, 2015, Kanu remained in detention over the protests of his lawyers.

Nigerian authorities were no doubt alarmed by an address given by Kanu at the World Igbo Congress in Los Angeles on September 5, 2015 in which Kanu said the independence movement needed “guns and bullets.” Kanu tried to walk back his comments in a June 2017 interview, insisting the Igbo only needed weapons for self-defense against marauding Fulani herdsmen, but the damage was done (Daily Post [Lagos], June 27).

Inspired by Donald Trump’s support for Brexit, Kanu wrote the president-elect from prison in November 2016 to remind him that his electoral victory placed upon him a “historic and moral burden to liberate enslaved nations in Africa… It is imperative to draw historical parallels between your victory and that of the great Dwight Eisenhower, a fellow Republican, who was instrumental in the dismantling of European colonialism in Africa” (Herald [Lagos], November 11, 2016).

Nnamdi Kanu with supporters (Naij.com)

During new bail hearings in early 2017, Kanu often appeared in court wearing a Jewish yarmulke and tallit [prayer shawl], signs of his newly professed adherence to Judaism and the belief that the Igbo are a lost tribe of Israelites. [2] Some followers protesting for his release outside the court appeared in similar garb.

The court granted Kanu bail on April 25 on condition that he refrain from public speaking, giving interviews or joining a gathering of ten or more people. He was due back in court on October 17, 2017. One of the three individuals who stood as sureties for Kanu’s bail was Nigerian Chief Rabbi Immanuel Shalum Okabemadu.

After his release, Kanu attempted to clarify his position on Biafran independence:

An independent Biafra means going back to where we were before the White man came. I am talking about total independence from Nigeria. Nothing can ever happen to make me change my mind about this [direction] of independence for Biafra. It is either Biafra or death. I will not go to war because truth is a far more potent and deadlier weapon than bullet and mortars. I have absolutely ruled out war from the struggle. When I say Biafra or death, I mean I will keep pushing; either I am alive or dead in the process, I won’t stop (Daily Post [Lagos], July 6).

Nnamdi Kanu and the Hebrew Igbo

Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency was greeted with street celebrations by IPOB members who believed he would reverse President Obama’s support for the Buhari administration. Many of the pro-Biafran celebrants wore yarmulkes and tallitot. Some of the self-declared Jewish Biafran separatists believe the president’s strong support for Israel will translate into support for an independent pro-Israel Biafran state (Forward.com, February 6).

Pro-Trump Rally, Port Harcourt (The Forward)

The similarity of some Igbo customs to Jewish customs was first noted in the 1789 autobiography of a freed slave, Olaudah Equiano. [3] These similarities were expanded upon by Christian missionaries, but the identification by an Igbo minority with Judaism and Israel is of much more recent vintage. Nonetheless, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that “there are no historical, halachic or national grounds to view the members of the Igbo tribe as Jews,” and all Igbo attempts to migrate to Israel under the Law of Return have resulted in deportation (Forward.com, January 24, 2016). Efforts to establish a link by DNA testing have proven controversial rather than conclusive (Times of Israel, August 11). Though the “Jewish Igbo” remain a highly vocal and visible minority, out of some 33 million Nigerian Igbo, only 3,000 to 30,000 practice a form of Judaism.

Benjamin Onwuka

A rival Biafran independence movement is known as the “Biafran Zionists’ Federation” (BZF, a break-away group from MASSOB).  Pro-U.S. and pro-Israel, the BZF is led by barrister Benjamin Onwuka, who declared the independence of Biafra with himself as “interim president” on July 31 (Pulse.ng, August 1). Onwuka announced Israelis would have important cabinet appointments in his new administration and (falsely) that the new nation had “been recognized by the U.S.” (Daily Post [Lagos], July 31; This Day [Lagos], September 13).

The Biafran National Guard

An armed group closely associated with Kanu is the Biafran National Guard (BNG), a group of militants led by “General” Innocent Orji, who claims to have received his appointment from the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, president of Biafra during its brief independence (1967-1970). (Daily Post [Lagos], September 5).

The BNG says it works in cooperation with IPOB but ultimately takes orders from “Supreme Allied Commander Prince Nnamdi Kanu.” The group claims to have large numbers of Biafran-origin veterans of the U.S. military services and is seeking to recruit more. [4] In a statement released on September 18, the BNG declared that they were not a new group (as claimed by the Nigerian Army) but were an independent organization that did not subscribe to the “peaceful strategy of IPOB,” adding the Nigerian military “can go to hell” (Daily Post [Lagos], September 18). One of their odder beliefs is that President Buhari is dead and has been replaced by an imposter who is the product of plastic surgery and determined to “crush” Biafrans (Daily Post [Lagos], September 5).

A November 2016 Amnesty International report appeared to confirm IPOB and BNG claims of incidents of extreme violence against Biafran secessionists by the Nigerian Army, police and DSS, including widespread torture and the deaths of at least 150 pro-Biafra protesters between August 2015 and August 2016. [5] The army, in turn, cited IPOB attacks against non-Igbo ethnic groups and security services and claimed that IPOB’s “unjustifiable violence… threatens national security” and has produced “unimaginable atrocities to unhinge the reign of peace, security and stability in several parts of South East Nigeria” (Premium Times [Abuja], November 24, 2016).

The Raid on Nnamdi Kanu’s Compound

Abia State’s police commissioner declared that the Ariara police station was attacked repeatedly between September 10 and 14 by IPOB members using petrol bombs. The station was destroyed, with one policeman killed and three pump action shotguns stolen. The commissioner also outlined disturbances in Umuahia, where IPOB members allegedly attacked soldiers as well as the residences of military and police officers. Sixty members of IPOB were arrested and charged with offenses including terrorism and attempted murder (Guardian [Lagos], September 17; The Nation [Lagos], September 25; Premium Times [Abuja], September 25).

With tensions rising in Umuahia, a serious clash occurred on September 10 between security forces and followers of Kanu staying at his family compound. Kanu claimed troops had attacked the compound and injured occupants in an attempt to kill him; his lawyer added that “about five of his family members were brutally wounded and some unfortunately killed” (Premium Times [Abuja], September 10).

The police and the Army’s 14th Brigade gave varying descriptions of the incident, but both agreed there was no attack on Kanu’s compound, but rather that suspected IPOB militants had attacked soldiers on patrol and an armored personnel carrier (APC) on a test run with stones, broken bottles and machetes (Sahara Reporters, September 10; Leaders.ng, September 18). The military released a video supporting their version of events, including troops firing in the air but not at the demonstrators.

Four days later security forces were back with the clear purpose of seizing the compound and those within. Gunfire within the compound was reported for over an hour. IPOB claims that the Nigerian army removed 22 bodies and 38 arrested members from Kanu’s compound, none of whom have been heard from since (Daily Post [Lagos], September 18; This Day [Lagos], September 24). Among the missing were Kanu and his parents.

IPOB Declared a Terrorist Group

IPOB’s classification as a terrorist organization began a day later on September 15, when Nigerian Defense Headquarters confirmed that IPOB was “a militant terrorist organization.” Though the military backed off slightly a few days later, calling their announcement a “pronouncement” rather than a “declaration,” IPOB’s new status quickly received government backing (Africa News, September 19). An application by the attorney-general and justice minister to declare IPOB a terrorist organization was given judicial approval by the Federal High Court in Abuja on September 20 (Punch [Lagos], September 22; Sahara Reporters, September 24).

The U.S. Embassy in Abuja declared that IPOB “is not a terrorist organization under U.S. law” (Sahara Reporters, September 24). However, a special adviser to President Buhari insisted that recognition of IPOB as a terrorist group by foreign nations was “inconsequential”: “This is a group that was burning police stations; killing police officers, throwing bombs at military convoys, threatening to make the country ungovernable…” (Daily Post [Lagos], September 25).

Biafran Independence Protest

The “IPOB Intelligence Unit” claimed to have discovered a plot by “Hausa-Fulani Islamic extremists” in the security services to kill condemned prisoners in Nigerian military uniforms and then blame the killings on IPOB militants, justifying the planned extermination of thousands of Biafran “terrorist” youths (Daily Post [Lagos], September 22). No evidence was provided of this planned attempt to exploit the terrorist designation, which is somewhat typical of IPOB’s hyperbolic rhetoric that portrays the Biafran independence struggle as a war between the Igbo and the “British-supported Muslim Hausa-Fulani oligarchy” (Daily Post [Lagos], March 23). However, Nigeria has tried, unsuccessfully, to use the terrorist designation to compel the UK government to shut down Radio Biafra (The Nation [Lagos], September 22).

Conclusion

The Biafran secession movement is badly organized, and its failure to develop an encompassing strategic plan has left it open to charges that it is little more than an excuse for mindless street violence. These weaknesses are now being exploited by the state. IPOB’s threats of military activity to defend itself cannot be taken seriously, though at its present level of organization it is capable of terrorist activities, sabotage, vandalism and low-level militancy. Unfortunately, in Nigeria’s current highly agitated political atmosphere, this might be enough to ignite new waves of ethnic violence similar to those that sparked the first war for Biafran independence. Nigeria’s military is not taking chances — Operation Python Dance II may be viewed as a pre-emptive occupation intended to squelch the development of an armed insurgency, though there is a danger that it might also be seen as more of an act of intimidation than a measured response to a poorly-armed and rag-tag group of militants that one Nigerian commentator described as “looking in need of a good home meal” (Sahara Reporters, September 16).

There are many non-Igbo minorities within the borders of “Biafra” that have not been consulted by the Igbo secessionists, and Kanu’s approach is opposed even by other secessionists, including his rivals in MASSOB. The example of South Sudan’s 2011 secession from Sudan does not hold out hope for the success of an independent Biafra. President Buhari has been unequivocal in his opposition to Biafran independence: “We will not let that happen. For Nigeria to divide now, it is better for all of us to jump into the sea and get drowned” (Sun News [Lagos], May 10, 2016).

Though Nnamdi Kanu has been able to use his “royal” lineage to establish local credibility, his record does not suggest he can be taken seriously as the type of thoughtful, patient and responsible leader needed to bring any new nation into being. His haste, posturing and provocative behavior may have cost him his life; at best they have dealt a serious blow to the long-term success of the Biafran independence movement.

NOTES

[1] http://www.liveonlineradio.net/english/radio-biafra.htm

[2] Nigerian lawyer Remy C. Ilona is one of the most vocal proponents of the Igbo-Jewish identification and his 2014 work The Igbos and Israel: An Inter-cultural Study of the Oldest and Largest Jewish Diaspora is often cited in this context (Street to Street Epic Publications, 2014). More balanced accounts of the issue can be found in: Daniel Lis: Jewish Identity Among the Igbo of Nigeria: Israel’s “Lost Tribe” and the Question of Belonging in the Jewish State, Africa World Press, Trenton, 2014 and Johannes Harnischfeger, “Igbo Nationalism and Jewish Identities,” in: Edith Bruder and Tudor Parfitt (eds.), African Zion: Studies in Black Judaism, Cambridge, 2012, pp. 65-86.

[3] Published as The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.

[4] See https://biafran.org/2015/07/25/mission-of-biafran-national-guard-bng/[

5] “’Bullets Were Raining Everywhere’: Deadly Repression of Pro-Biafra Activists,” Amnesty International, November 22, 2016, https://www.amnestyusa.org/reports/bullets-were-raining-everywhere-deadly-repression-of-pro-biafra-activists/

This article first appeared in the October 10, 2017 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Rebel or Mercenary? A Profile of Chad’s General Mahamat Mahdi Ali

Andrew McGregor

September 7, 2017

In April 2017, the foreign minister of Libya’s Tripoli-based Presidency Council estimated the number of Chadian mercenaries operating in Libya to be 18,000, with another 6,000 hailing from Sudan (Libya Herald, August 23). The numbers emphasized the growing problem of mercenary activity in Libya as well as other parts of Africa.

FACT commander Mahamat Mahdi Ali (Taha Jawashi/Libération).

The first of the Chadian armed groups began operations in Libya’s lawless southern Fezzan region in 2014. Though most of these groups presented themselves as rebels opposing the regime of Chadian president Idriss Déby Itno (who himself took power in a 1990 coup), they shared the common inability to take on Chad’s formidable military. In the meantime, these groups have obtained arms and funding by renting themselves out as mercenaries in Libya’s internal conflict as well as trafficking in people and narcotics through their knowledge of border smuggling routes.

In 2016, Chadian dissident General Mahamat Mahdi Ali gathered many of these groups together under his leadership in the Front pour l’alternance et la concorde au Tchad (FACT – Front for Alternation and Concord in Chad). Operating out of bases south of the Fezzan capital of Sabha, FACT became allied to the powerful Misratan “Third Force militia” (recently renamed the “13th Brigade”), an Islamist group supporting the UN-recognized Presidency Council/Government of National Accord (PC/GNA) administration in Tripoli. In this capacity, FACT became the enemy of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), a coalition of militias supporting the rival House of Representatives (HoR) government in Tripoli. Despite Haftar’s steady stream of anti-mercenary invective directed at the GNA, most of the Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries in Libya operate alongside forces under his command.

Early Career

The 48-year-old Mahamat Mahdi is a Daza Tubu of the Kecherda sub-group from the Bahr-el-Ghazal region of northern Chad. The Tubu are a nomadic group of roughly 550,000 black Africans speaking a Nilo-Saharan language and sharing cultural similarities with their Tuareg neighbors to the west. The Muslim Tubu are divided into two main groups according to dialect — the northern Teda found in southern Libya, northern Chad and Niger, and the much larger Daza group (also known by their Arabic name, Gura’an) found in Chad and Niger. Clan rivalries have traditionally played a negative role in Tubu attempts at political unification.

The Teda Tubu (Joshua Project)

Mahamat Mahdi was a leading member of the rebel Mouvement pour la Democratie et la Justice au Tchad (MDJT – Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad), which operated in Tibesti and other parts of the northern Borku-Ennedi-Tibesti (BET) region of Chad from 1998 to 2003. A ceasefire agreement with N’Djamena provided for positions within the government for leading rebels, and Mahamat Mahdi was accordingly made Inspector of the Ministry of Infrastructure. However, he thought better of remaining in N’Djamena when a wave of assassinations began to strike Déby’s political opponents and joined General Mahamat Nouri’s Sudanese-backed Union des Forces pour la Démocratie et le Developpement (UFDD – Union of Forces for Democracy and Development) (Libération, May 29; PANA, December 16, 2003; Le Visionnaire, June 28, 2016).

The Daza Tubu (Joshua Project)

Nouri, a Daza Tubu of the Anakaza sub-group was the defense minister in the government of President Hissène Habré, a fellow Anakaza who ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990 before being deposed by General Déby (from the Zaghawa, a group closely related to the Tubu). [1] In 2009, Mahamat Mahdi became secretary-general of the group, mainly composed of Daza Tubu from the Tibesti Mountains, with the Anakaza sub-group as Nouri’s core supporters. [2]

In February 2008, the UFDD reached the Chadian capital of N’Djamena from its bases across the border in Darfur, but was repelled in violent street fighting by forces personally led by President Déby, a reminder that political life had not dulled the ex-general’s tactical edge (TchadActuel, February 17, 2008; Jeune Afrique, February 11, 2008; Le Nouvel Observateur, March 6, 2008).

A 2010 rapprochement between Chad and Sudan put an end to their mutual support for cross-border rebel groups such as the UFDD. Mahamat Mahdi eventually joined Mahamat Nouri in French exile (Chad is a former French colony), but Nouri ordered him to Libya in 2015 in an attempt to revive the UFDD.

The Creation of FACT

Most of the prospective fighters for the revived group came from the Kreda and Kecherda sub-groups of the Daza Tubu. Mahamat Mahdi used his influence, particularly among his fellow Kecherda, to bring these fighters under his personal control rather than that of Mahamat Nouri, who could exert little control over the process from his Paris exile. [3] Following a clash between Mahamat Mahdi’s supporters and Nouri’s Anakaza supporters that left 20 of the latter dead, Mahamat Mahdi declared the formation of a new rebel movement, FACT, in March 2016 (VOA/AFP, April 8, 2016). The movement established an operational base inside Chad at Tanoua, a region close to the Libyan border.

Now with a movement of his own behind him, Mahamat Mahdi pointed to the Chadian elections that followed a few weeks later as proof that political change in Chad was impossible through the ballot box:

At the beginning, we hoped that there would be a political change at the end of the presidential election. But it was well known that Déby would not give up power. We saw the result: the real winner was robbed of his victory, the ballot boxes were stuffed, the opposition activists were intimidated… The regime has also tried to divide our movement. Only force will make Déby leave, it is our conviction. Slowly but surely, we are preparing to reach our goal… to put an end to this anarchic regime dominated by a small group of men. We have no personal ambitions. We will not fight to retain power. It is no longer possible nowadays to take power with some 4x4s [as Déby did in 1990] and to keep it (Jeune Afrique, December 21, 2016). [4]

Mercenary Activities

FACT quickly split in June 2016, when its Kreda clan fighters followed former UFDD spokesman Mahamat Hassani Bulmay into a new group, the Conseil de Commandement Militaire pour le Salut de la République (CCMSR – Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic), which later allied itself with the Islamist Libyan militant group Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB).

FACT Fighters in Libya (Tchad Convergence)

Unlike the Chadian armed groups that sold their services to Haftar’s LNA, FACT’s alliance with the Misratan Third Force and the BDB brought it unwanted attention from the LNA air force. The group’s base at Doualki, near Sabha, was attacked by LNA aircraft on April 14, 2016. [5] FACT’s rear base at Jabal Saoudah near the Chadian border was attacked by LNA aircraft in mid-December 2016, a strike the movement blamed on collusion between the HoR government in Tobruk and the administration in N’Djamena (Tchadconvergance/AFP, December 13, 2016).

LNA warplanes also bombed FACT positions in Jufra. Mahamat Mahdi claimed the attack took him by surprise: “We thought it was an error at first, until Haftar’s entourage asserted that the purpose was to annihilate any rebellion that might destabilize a neighboring state” (Jeune Afrique, December 21, 2016).

According to the UN, FACT participated in the BDB’s March 2017 attack on the LNA-held Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil facilities on the Mediterranean coast, losing a senior commander in the process. [6] FACT was also reported to be involved in clashes with the LNA around the important Tamenhint airbase northeast of the Fezzan capital of Sahba in mid-April, though Mahamat Mahdi denied involvement (RFI, April 16). In retaliation, the LNA’s 116th Battalion shelled the Chadian camps south of Sabha in June after driving the Misratans from Tamenhint (Facebook in Arabic, June 15, via BBC Monitoring).

Despite much evidence of involvement, General Mahamat Mahdi maintains that FACT has a neutral stance in the Libyan conflict: “It is a position of principle and common sense: we are Chadian rebels, we have no reason to interfere with the Libyan problems” (Jeune Afrique, December 21, 2016). The General claims Haftar is colluding with Déby against him.

Chad closed its border with Libya in early January, fearing infiltration of its borders by Tubu rebels and Libyan Islamic State (IS) fighters fleeing northern Libya after the loss of their stronghold at Sirte (Reuters, January 5). France also imposed financial sanctions on Mahamat Mahdi Ali and his rival Mahamat Nouri on January 19. Nonetheless, Mahamat Mahdi claims that FACT has actually helped prevent the southwards penetration of IS fighters: “We oppose groups like the Islamic State that deny human rights. Our presence is a bulwark to their advance towards Libyan south” (Jeune Afrique, December 21, 2016). Two months later, he emphasized: “Today the only concern is how to contain the Islamic State” (RFI, February 27, 2016).

Chadian Mercenaries and Qatar’s Diplomatic Crisis

Chad announced on August 23 that it was suspending diplomatic relations with Qatar over “the continued involvement of the state of Qatar in attempts to destabilize Chad from Libya” (La Tribune Afrique, August 23; Reuters, August 23). N’Djamena insists it has “irrefutable proof” that Qatar supports and finances Chadian opposition groups based in Libya, despite denials from Doha (RFI, August 26). Chadian Foreign Minister Hissein Brahim Taha stressed that his government’s dispute with Qatar is strictly a bilateral issue and “not the continuation of the diplomatic crisis” in the Gulf region (La Tribune Afrique, August 24).

N’Djamena claims the Qatari financing is funnelled through long-time Chadian rebel leader Timan Erdimi, who has made Doha his home since 2009. (RFI, August 26). [7] Chad has sought Erdimi’s extradition for several months (La Tribune Afrique, August 24). Erdimi is Déby’s nephew and leader of the Union des forces de la résistance (UFR), a Libyan-based Chadian rebel movement that has provided mercenary support for Haftar’s LNA in the battle for Benghazi and was attacked by the Subul al-Salam Brigade for its involvement in criminal activities around Kufra. Subul al-Salam is a Salafist unit affiliated with Haftar’s LNA and composed largely of Zuwaya Arabs, the dominant Arab group in the Kufra region.

A Libyan-based Chadian rebel group was reported to have crossed the border on the weekend of August 19-20, killing a number of Chadian government troops in a surprise attack. UFR spokesman Yusuf Hamid insists his group was not responsible for the attack: “I categorically deny the accusations of the Chadian government. We did not get anything from Qatar, not a single penny, not a small piece of equipment. Nothing.” (RFI, August 24). If true, this leaves the possibility that the strike was undertaken by Mahamat Mahdi’s larger FACT movement (though there remains a chance it could have been the work of one of the lesser Chadian armed groups active in southern Libya).

Two members of the Kufra-based Subul al-Salam Battalion in southeastern Libya were killed during a clash with Chadian gunmen on August 26. The clash occurred in the Hanagar region some 300 kilometers southwest of Kufra, where the same two groups battled last February. Subul al-Salam claimed to have killed seven Chadians, whose identity cards suggested they were mercenaries working for the LNA-affiliated Ali al-Thumin Brigade (Libya Herald, August 26; Libya Observer, August 26; Libya Observer, February 2; Libyan Express, August 26). The Battalion has also engaged several times in the last few years with Darfur rebels now operating in the region as mercenaries or highwaymen.

Conclusion

Mahamat Mahdi Ali is a strong irritation for the Déby regime in Chad but a constant source of destabilization in Libya. Despite Mahamat Mahdi’s frequent assertions that times have changed, it seems difficult to identify any other plan for him to achieve regime change in N’Djamena other than “to take power with some 4x4s.” Beyond his core group of up to 1500 fighters (some of whom may be in it strictly for the money), there is little evidence of popular support for Mahamat Mahdi’s movement within Chad, where both government and opposition continue to be dominated by the Tubu and related groups, a tiny minority of Chad’s total population. In addition, President Déby’s authoritarianism is overlooked by France and the United States, which value him as a partner in the War on Terrorism. Mahamat Mahdi Ali is thus an important example of a new type of African mercenary ready and willing to exploit regional conflicts for profit while using the cover of legitimate political resistance.

Notes

[1] After a long legal odyssey, Habré was sentenced to life in prison on May 30, 2016 by a Special African Tribunal in Senegal for mass-torture, rape and the murder of 40,000 Chadians during his time as president.

[2] Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), United Nations Security Council, S/2017/466, June 1, 2017, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/N1711623.pdf

[3] Jérôme Tubiana and Claudio Gramizzi, “Tubu Trouble: State and Statelessness in the Chad-Sudan-Libya Triangle,” Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2017, http://www.smallarmssurveysudan.org/fileadmin/docs/working-papers/SAS-CAR-WP43-Chad-Sudan-Libya.pdf

[4] The tactics of using 4×4 trucks equipped with anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns were perfected by General Hassan Djamous (Bidayat) during the 1987 “Toyota War” between Chad and Libya and have been used in a variety of military campaigns in the Sahara/Sahel region since.

[5] Final Report, op cit.

[6] Ibid.

[7] For a profile of Timan Erdimi, see “A Family Affair: The Erdimi Twins and the Zaghawa Battle for Chad,” Militant Leadership Monitor, July 30, 2010, http://www.aberfoylesecurity.com/?p=2263

This article first appeared in the September 7, 2017 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.