In early April 2019, General Khalifa Haftar instructed the Libyan National Army (LNA) to take Tripoli by force, initiating Libya’s Second War of Post-Qadhafi Succession. Drawing upon the Libya-Analysis proprietary real time militia mapping project, this paper examines the main armed groups involved in the war: ascertaining their strengths, weaknesses, command and control structures, motivations, alliances, military capacities, and financing. It illustrates how all armed groups in Libya exploit the country’s dysfunctional war economy.
On 6 April the US temporarily pulled out its forces from Libya following the offensive on Tripoli launched by the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar, a military operation that has plunged the North African country into a new phase of the civil war.
On April 14th the ‘National Conference’, a much-vaunted event in Libya’s political calendar and arguably over three years in the making, was due to begin. The brain child of the UN’s latest special-representative to the troubled country, Dr. Ghassan Salamé, it was designed to break the political stagnation entrenching since the last UN initiative the ‘Libyan Political Agreement’ (LPA) had been signed in 2015. The LPA birthed a transitional system of governance that was dead-on-delivery with rival institutions unwilling to cooperate.
After seven years, stability in Libya remains a chimera. The country’s regions, the west, east and south are more and more divided, while different groups of militias fight each other for predominance. It is the law of the jungle. But in spite of the chaos on the ground and the complete disorganization of the Libyan State, the most recent dilemma is whether or not elections should be held.
The campaign carried out by the government of eastern Libya and by military forces associated with it (the Libyan National Army or LNA) since 2014 has been mainly finalized towards capturing Benghazi and Derna from the local municipalities. By July 2017 Benghazi was captured, or, to quote eastern Libyan pundits, "liberated" (although, contrary to the LNA reports, the situation in the city is still far from stable), and the siege of Derna began.
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.
As negotiations between Libya’s primary political factions take place in Tunisia, leaders and international advisors are debating potential governing models for Libya. For now – amid deep disagreements about basic constitutional concerns – the process remains stalled.
Libya is walking a tight rope. Dozens of stakeholders jockey for power and opportunists spoil political progress, making for an uncertain trajectory in the conflict. The fourth United Nations Special Envoy Ghassan Salamè is dwindling in popularity but could make a lasting impact if any of his initiatives are realized.