Libyan Conflict Drawing International Attention As Troops Prepare Assault On The City Of Sirte

On Saturday the 18th of July, it was widely reported that Libya’s internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) had moved fighters closer to the city of Sirte, currently occupied by the Libyan National Army (LNA). GNA military commanders and witnesses have said that a column of approximately 200 vehicles has been moving eastwards along the Mediterranean coast in recent days, in preparation for a major offensive to recapture the opening to Libya’s main oil terminals. This move comes amidst wider international tension concerning the ongoing civil war, including condemnation from the leaders of France, Italy, and Germany.

The Tripoli-based GNA has been in conflict with the Tobruk-based LNA for several years, in the North African nation’s second civil war since the ousting of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. At present, the LNA has managed to gain control over much of the nation’s east, and there had been a campaign to try and wrest control of Tripoli. However, as of last month, the GNA has launched a counteroffensive, aiming to recapture Sirte and assert control over the city and a nearby airbase. Both sides in the civil war are being assisted by international powers, including Turkey, Egypt, and even Russia (a claimed denied by both Moscow and the LNA). This international military assistance, which has seen the Libyan conflict turned into a proxy war, is taking place in direct violation of a United Nations-sanctioned arms embargo.

On Saturday, the leaders of France, Italy, and Germany issued a joint statement in which they outlined a willingness to impose sanctions on nations who violated the UN-imposed arms embargo in Libya. “We … urge all foreign actors to end their increasing interference and to fully respect the arms embargo established by the United Nations Security Council,” the statement said. “We are ready to consider the possible use of sanctions should breaches to the embargo at sea, on land or in the air continue.” Calling on the EU High Representative/Vice President to make proposals, the leaders noted their “grave concerns” over increased military tensions in Libya and urged “all Libyan parties and their foreign supporters for an immediate cessation of fighting and for a stop of the ongoing military build-up throughout the country”. The statement did not name specific nations, and it remains to be seen what the European response will be.

The current situation in Libya should be considered an international tragedy. Much like the ongoing situation in Syria, a hopeful revolution born of 2011’s ‘Arab Spring’ has stagnated into a near-decade of civil conflict, marked by constant military action and the emergence of extremist Islamist groups. Ever since the LNA started its Tripoli offensive in April 2019, civilian casualties have been mounting – recent reports indicated the LNA themselves are responsible for many of the civilian deaths. This new offensive by the GNA is likely to lead to more. At the same time, the conflict has fuelled a humanitarian crisis which sees over 900,000 people in need of assistance. Ongoing international efforts to mediate the crisis have failed, and the violation of arms embargoes by certain nations has fuelled the conflict.

The international community must step up and enforce the ongoing embargo, with serious punishment imposed on nations or groups who seek to violate this. Peace talks between the GNA and LNA must also be resumed, in order to restore some semblance of stability to the war-torn nation. Ongoing violence must be halted, lest the humanitarian crisis worsen.