On April 26, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar's plane landed at Benina airport, which ended speculation about his very poor health or death after his hospitalization in Paris for two weeks. At 75, Marshal Haftar is considered the strongman of eastern Libya. He is at the head of the so-called Libyan National Army. This army is actually a group of militias rotating around a regular army nucleus representing a force of about 25,000 men. It is not a solid and coherent block. Each militia has its own agenda and its ambitions. It is not uncommon for LNA units to clash with each other for various reasons (land holdings, arrest of one or more of their members, smuggling, etc.). The cohesion of the whole is so fragile that events such as the recent hospitalization of Marshal Haftar in Paris and uncertainty about his state of health threaten at any time to violently split this army apart.
The "regular" Libyan National Army
Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s regular ground forces are composed of several dozen units – two mechanized infantry brigades, one tank brigade, three artillery brigades, one special forces brigade, two "Rada Deterrent Forces" grouping several brigades and about a hundred larger or smaller units of brigade type, infantry battalions, light battalions, border guards, security forces – with a total of about 7,000 members. In September 2017, the President of the House of Representatives, Ageela Saleh, ordered the creation of four military zones covering the central part and most of the west coast of Libya. These are: the military zone of the Gulf of Sirte, with its headquarters in Ajdabiya; the military zone of Misrata, with headquarters in Khoms; the military zone of Tripoli, with headquarters in Suq Al-Khamis; the military zone of Zawia, with headquarters in Sabratha. This announcement was quite symbolic since only part of the first, the area of the Gulf of Sirte, is in the hands of the LNA. It extends from Sirte in the west to Sidi Abdelati, about sixty kilometers north of Ajdabiya. Its southern limit is Zillah. There are two other military zones, one extending from the south of the central zone (Gulf of Sirte) to the southern borders of the country and the eastern zone from Benghazi to Tobruk.
Marshal Haftar can also count on some 12,000 auxiliary militia members, including several Sudanese units from Darfur, and Chad militias. The deployment of Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi (ALS/MM) armed groups began in March 2015 in the Ubari, al-Waw and al-Wig areas. In March 2016, they gained their autonomy and played a key role in the capture and protection of oil installations by the LNA. The Sudan Liberation Army/Al-Nur is also engaged alongside the LNA with 1,500 fighters by mid-2016. The Chadian group “Rassemblement des Forces pour le Changement” (RFC) began operating in southeast Libya at the end of 2015. It was deployed in the oil crescent alongside the LNA. The Libyan National Army can also count on about 500 members of the Al-Furjan clan, as well as an indeterminate number of Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) dissatisfied with the replacement at their head of Ibrahim Jadhran by the new commander Idris Saleh Abu Khamada.
The forces of the western city of Zintan played a crucial role during the 2011 war, and were deployed in both Tripoli and the southern region of Fezzan. Expelled from both areas in 2014, they built a well-trained and equipped force, with around 2,500 soldiers, and control a former Gaddafi airbase at Al Watiya. The Zintanis are grouped mainly in the Jabal Nafusah mountains and in the Jafarah coastal plain. They have had a tense relationship with Marshal Haftar since 2012, although formally part of the LNA. The Zintan Military Council is neither an active opponent nor a close ally of Marshal Khalifa Haftar, but has benefited from the LNA's logistics network and arms procurement efforts.
Tribal armed groups
After the 2011 revolution, the Awlad Sulayman tribal group took advantage of changes in the local tribal power structure to take over Sebha's security services and regional traffic activities. This led the group to conflict with the Toubou and Tuareg, who traditionally controlled cross-border smuggling routes. The result was an open war in Sebha in 2012 and 2014. One of the main commanders of Awlad Sulayman at the time was Ahmad al-Utaybi. In May 2016, the Awlad Sulayman brigade (now called the 6th Brigade) was engaged in the battle of Sirte alongside the militias of al-Bunyan al-Marsous. On February 20, 2018, al-Utaybi opposed the integration of the 6th Brigade to the LNA as desired by Marshal Haftar, declaring that the loyalty of his brigade went to the Ministry of Defense of the Government of Tripoli. A few days later, he was replaced by LNA Brigadier General Khalifa Abdulhafith Khalifa.
The LNA Air Force
The Libyan National Army Air Force has potentially twenty seven fighter-bombers in its fleet (eighteen MiG-21s, four MiG-23s, three Su-22s and two Mirage F1s), seven Mi-24/35 gunships, fourteen various Mi-8/14/17 transport helicopters and a few transport cargos (an Il-76 and a C-130 overhauled thanks to foreign technicians). Less than half of this fleet were aircraft and helicopters of the former Libyan Arab Air Force (LAAF), the most part was provided by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates between October 2014 and June 2015: eight MiG-21MFs, about sixteen helicopters, spare parts and technical support. In 2015, the UAE has also donated two of its Schiebel S-100 Camcopters UAV operating from Benina airbase. With the exception of the MiG-23s, which are all engaged in the fighting, and the Mirage F1s and Su-22s used for reconnaissance missions in western Libya, only a handful of MiG-21s is operational. As for helicopters, it is difficult to know their availability rate because many of them no longer have an identification number in order to mask their quantity. Haftar can only rely on around ten aircraft to carry out his "anti-terrorist operations". Since the Russian aircraft carrier Kuznetsov’s visit and the meeting with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the head of Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov in January 2017, Field Marshal Haftar could count on increasing Russian technical support with the delivery of former Russian MiG-23 spare parts the following weeks at al-Abraq airbase. In the same period, the LNA also took delivery of former Sudanese MiG-23 spare parts.
United Arab Emirates aerial support
Between May and June 2016, the United Arab Emirates deployed six IOMAX AT-802U Air Tractors and three Wing Loong II drones at Al-Khadim air field in al-Marj in eastern Libya. The first engagements of this fleet were performed the following weeks against the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC). Emirati aircraft were fully engaged in support of LNA ground forces in Benghazi. Between September and November 2016, the BRSC claimed that Air Tractors and Wing Loong drones were involved in about a hundred bombing missions. By summer 2016, extension work started on the airbase to increase its capacity. The existing parking area was equipped with a dozen hangars, half of them used to house aircraft and drones and a second parking area was under construction in the base’s southeast corner. A dozen large hangars were built and half of the new tarmac was completed on February 2017. It was fully completed in December after a six-month work break. The size of these infrastructures is large enough to accommodate fighter jets like F-16s, Mirage 2000s or even Rafales. Work was temporally stopped following the end of the battle for the liberation of Benghazi and it is unclear if the UAE fleet is still in Libya or not.
Egypt Air Force support
Although Egypt had already performed airstrikes in Libya in February 2015 against ISIS in Derna in retaliation for the killing of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian migrant workers, aerial support for Field Marshal Haftar's forces almost became official in March and May 2017 with the retaking of the oil infrastructure by the Benghazi Defend Brigade (BDB) and especially with the supposed retaliation strikes against the alleged perpetrator of the monastery attack in Egypt’s Minya province claimed by ISIS. In fact, the Egyptian Air Force carried out air raids against BDB militants in Hun and Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC). The latest attacks by ISIS militants in a Sufi mosque in Bir al-Abed in northern Sinai that killed 305 people will certainly compel the Egyptians to reduce their support for the LNA to focus their forces against Sinai-based Islamist militants.
To date, the Libyan National Army has still not managed to secure Benghazi although the city was announced as being released several months ago. To this must be added the regular IS attacks in Ajdabiya, the threat that still hangs over the oil terminals and the retaking of the beleaguered city of Derna which is still waiting. This was a disappointment for all Haftar supporters, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and even France, which no longer considers Haftar as a privileged interlocutor and also rely on the GNA.