The Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), supported by the UN and in control of the capital city of Tripoli, has been fighting the rival Libyan National Army (LNA) on the city’s outskirts for the past two weeks since the LNA declared an offensive to take Tripoli in early April. According to Al-Jazeera, GNA officials stated that at least 227 people have been killed and over 1000 others have been injured due to the violence that surrounds Tripoli. Missile attacks and air strikes have targeted military bases, but civilian lives have been lost as well, as the two groups have been caught up fighting on the city’s southern outskirts. Thousands of Libyans protested the ongoing violence in Tripoli last Friday, specifically protesting the LNA’s aggression and calling for an end to the fighting.
The World Health Organization reports that over 30 000 people have fled Tripoli since the attacks have started, the hardest hit being detained refugees and migrants locked up in Libyan detention centers, fearful of being sitting ducks if, or when, the violence spreads. The UNHCR reported Friday that over 3000 migrants remain directly threatened and detained in areas within the reach of the conflict. The LNA leader, General Khalifa Haftar, has claimed that the military campaign was an anti-terrorism mission, and a phone call between Haftar and U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly involved Trump congratulating the general. A White House statement said that Trump, in the call, “recognised Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources,” but foreign policy observers have pointed out that this directly contradicts the U.S.’s earlier policy on the conflict. The U.S. State Department, as well as Vice President Mike Pompeo, have issued statements denouncing the conflict, a policy contradiction with concrete consequences for the prospect of peace. Libyan protesters called for an end to these attacks and condemned the U.S.’s support of Haftar, with Al-Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed reporting that “people are very angry, thousands of people have come out here on the main streets and squares especially in Tripoli and they are calling on the international community to stop the military aggression by Haftar forces.”
Libya has seen continuous cycles of violence and political instability since the end of Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule in 2011, and this latest flare-up has many Libyans fearful of an all-out civil war. The influx of refugees into and through states around the Mediterranean has also hit Libya hard, as it has found itself as a major destination for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a jumping-off point for attempts to migrate into Europe.
This newest iteration in the cycle of violence continues certain previous trends, as detained refugees are continuously threatened. The lack of a single political authority in Libya is a major driving factor of violence and instability, and other states have been slow to respond, unsure of the best course of action. Trump’s support of Haftar, and thus implicitly of the continuation of violence, is particularly egregious, considering the U.S.’s role in the destabilization of Libya. While Libya under Muammar Gaddafi was certainly no paragon of non-violence and political representation, the lack of a central political authority after his fall, complicated further by the migrant crisis, shows that the U.S.’s deposition of the repressive leader is very much insufficient if the goal is to foster peace and political freedom. The latest attacks threaten Libyan citizens as well as detained migrants, and the protesters have sent a clear anti-violence message that is also a rebuke of Trump’s particularly irresponsible interventionism.