Since the death of Qaddafi in 2011 Libya has been a wasteland of tribal warfare, all vying for control of the country’s government and their vast oil reserves. The internationally recognized government also known as the Government of National Accord (GNA) have been particularly at odds with Khalifa Haftar and the army of 25,000 that he has been able to muster. Haftar, a previous ally of Qaddafi, had been living in exile in America until the Arab Spring ran across the north of Africa with many corrupt leaders being ousted. While Qaddafi was far from an exceptional leader, he was at least able to maintain a somewhat stable regime, which is why when the Arab Spring hit Libya it could have been predicted that a vast power vacuum would appear in the wake of Qaddafi’s regime. Of the tribes that have been pursuing power perhaps the most threatening coalition is Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) which stands with just 7,000 fewer soldiers than the GNA’s army.
With their headquarters in Tobruk, located in eastern Libya, Haftar and the LNA have been anything but content with sole control of the eastern region; they want to take command of the government and build Libya in their image. However, this conflict is not as black and white as a civil war where Haftar is the dissident trying to subvert the already established government. There are far more actors at play in Libya. Backing Haftar and the LNA are states such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia; and on the other side Turkey and Qatar are supporting the GNA, the United Nations has recognized the GNA as the legitimate government, and Italy has vested interest in the oil deposits in Libya and the Mediterranean.
With the military assistance of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Haftar was able to launch a campaign to seize control of Tripoli, the capital of Libya, which Haftar claimed would take only a couple days. The campaign began in April of 2019 and is still ongoing today. Despite not having captured Tripoli, Haftar and the LNA have gained territory along the Mediterranean coast: their campaign gaining control of Sirte and the strategically located al-Jufra airbase.
Recognizing the GNA’s loss of these territories, Turkey released a statement this past week stating that if the truce – that many have been seeking – were to be signed now, it would not be in the GNA’s favour. Instead it would be far more beneficial to the LNA, Al Jazeera writes. While Turkey may be correct in this analysis of how the landscape of Libya has changed in the last year, this does not mean that a truce would be detrimental to those in Libya. Turkey seems to be appealing to their own selfish interests in regard to the oil deposits, located in continental Libya as well as in the Mediterranean, that they would have immense access to should the GNA be able to defeat the LNA with Turkish support. However, with the current amount of control the LNA has in Libya, Turkey would be severely limited in their drilling, which lends some perspective on why they may now be opposed to a ceasefire.
Given that the LNA has reached relative parity with the GNA, an option that could end violence between the two armies would be to create separate Libyas. In a piece done by Sandra Gathmann for Al Jazeera, she explains that the LNA already recognizes a different government, that government is the House of Representatives located in Tobruk. With these already fundamental differences a separated Libya could be the most peaceful option going forward and be the stop to nine years of incessant violence. Whilst this was done in Sudan and South Sudan, the latter is far from a prospering country. It seems that Haftar’s main goal in trying to seize Tripoli is to transform Libya into a Sunni dominated theocratic state.
If allowed to keep the territory that he has already captured, Haftar may be able to create his own state and end the violence. While this must be put to vote and residents must be able to choose which Libya they would want to be a part of, this may be the best option going forward, considering all other options have been exhausted. Regardless of what path they choose to pursue, one thing is clear, the nine years of violence must come to an end.