Libya’s self-styled marshall, Khalifa Haftar, has uploaded a video calling upon his forces to take the capital, Tripoli, and teach government forces an “even harder lesson”. Tripoli, and the surrounding region of Libya’s northwest, have been experiencing heavy fighting since the assault began on 4 April. Forces were warned by Haftar that in the event of a retreat they must “wipe out” the enemy. Though Haftar urged his soldiers in the same video to respect the lives of civilians and their goods, his forces have been using Grad missiles, artillery, rockets, and air strikes in their attacks, with little consideration for residential areas.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned that the attacks on civilians in Libya could equate to war crimes, as United Nations statistics indicate that the fighting in Libya has resulted in over 400 deaths, 2000 wounded, and close to 50,000 displaced. Reports from the United Nations indicate attacks on marked ambulances, and one report from Amnesty International has described an attack on a refugee centre by Haftar’s forces. Several sources in southern Tripoli claim that the price of food has almost doubled, leaving many to survive on one meagre meal a day. Craig Kenzie of Médecins Sans Frontières explained that food has become a “chronic issue” for aid providers. Though the United Nations has mobilized aid to thousands, the increasing scale and frequency of attacks could lead to chaos.
The current situation is immensely concerning, as citizens have little protection, little assurance of adequate nutrition, and are quite literally under fire. Haftar has refused permission for the media to embed journalists within his forces, leaving many concerned about their aims, actions, and what measures (if any) he has taken to protect Libyan civilians. Ongoing frictions are siphoning resources away from nation-building activities, and the risk of refugees flooding into Italy and France should violence continue in Tripoli will only grow.
These events take place eight years after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s government. Libya has been the setting of a protracted civil war between the east and the west. The west is held by the Government of National Accord (a creation of 2015 peace talks), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Haftar’s forces, the Libyan National Army, are sweeping up from the southeast in a bid to seize control of the capital and (some argue) the Libyan government.
Residents in Tripoli remain extremely concerned about hardship during the month of Ramadan. With food available inconsistently at best, they remain quite reliant on aid agencies, whose access could be further limited if attacks in Tripoli continue. Clean water is also a major concern, with many reporting cases of tuberculosis and chronic diarrhoea. It remains to be seen whether the actions of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations will be sufficient to prevent citizens from being cut off from vital resources. This will depend upon the degree of intervention from the U.S. and Russia, as well as whether increasing support for Haftar from the U.A.E. and Egypt can be offset by peacekeeping actions. We can only hope that the United Nations Security Council’s call for a week long ceasefire will be a move towards peace, and not a chance for Haftar to consolidate his positions and re-group for a renewed attack.