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