Will Haftar’s Libyan advance finally bring peace?


The long-expected military showdown in the Libyan capital Tripoli has begun.

General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) is closing in on the city on three fronts. The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) has vowed to defend itself with what its leader Faiez Serraj called a “Volcano of Rage”.

However, the reality is that the GNA has no forces directly under its command. It has been forming a Presidential Guard for two years. Commanders have been appointed, arms and equipment sourced and a few ordinary soldiers recruited. But their pay and conditions simply do not compare to what can be earned in the militias. Besides being paid by the government, these gangs pull in substantially more cash through fuel and people smuggling, blackmail, extortion and robbery.

These then are the “forces” that are supposed to resist a larger, better-trained and generally more cohesive LNA. One of the capital’s key militia leaders, Abdul Rauf Kara has thus far kept his RADA force sitting on the sidelines. Most of the armed gangs which have been parading noisily through the streets in their armed trucks are aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood. Particularly conspicuous is Mustafa Sharksi’s Benghazi Defense Brigade which in the past has allied itself with both Al-Qaeda and Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS).

Sharksi, a Misratan leader during the 2011 anti-Gaddafi rebellion, thereafter fell out with other local militias. The role of coastal Misrata, Libya’s third city and once main commercial center will be crucial for Haftar’s drive to take Tripoli. It was Misratan forces that finally drove Daesh terrorists out of Sirte two years ago. On Sunday, one Misratan militia was heading the 210 kilometers down the road to the capital. But it is unclear if other battle-hardened fighters will follow. The Misratans do not like Haftar even though a number of important Misratan families settled in Benghazi, the LNA’s power base.

However, after five years of bloodshed and anarchy, there is a massive desire for peace throughout the country. Serraj is right to speak of a “Volcano of Rage” but it better describes the fury of ordinary citizens in the west of Libya at the chaos caused by the militias. These thugs have held the real power since the 2014 Muslim Brotherhood revolt drove out the elected parliament, the House of Representatives (HoR), to the safety of Tobruk in the east.

It is possible the Tripoli gangs may fight to protect their lucrative fiefdoms. But it is equally likely their warlord leaders will try and parlay themselves a role in a Haftar-run Libya. It has been notable in the last two years that many people in the country’s western region of Tripolitania have been messaging on social media that they miss the Gaddafi dictatorship. Though it was vicious and corrupt, at least people knew where they stood. There was stability of a sort.

The international community has been calling for a ceasefire but has also vowed not to intervene. The US has even evacuated a small military contingent protecting a foreign compound just outside Tripoli. What war-weary Libyans desperately need is an end to the violence. Regardless of what they feel about Haftar, if he is wise in his dealing with opponents, he appears to many to promise the best chance of a lasting peace.