Conflict Alerts # 109, 10 June 2020
In the news
The UN-backed GNA forces have successfully pushed Haftar's troops to the pre-April 2019 positions after a month-long campaign against them with the help of Turkish military. The city of Tarhuna was the last stronghold of Haftar troops in the western territories of Libya which was swept by the GNA troops on 5 June, proclaiming the recapture of greater Tripoli area in its entirety. The Libyan based Government of National Accord (GNA) has also taken the control of the Tripoli airport that was overrun by the Libyan National Army last year thereby making significant victories over the week. Earlier this week there were reports of Russia deploying mercenaries in Libyan soil to support the Libyan National Army (LNA) of the renegade commander Khalifa Haftar. The US Africa Command, AFRICOM released images of Russian fighter jets, MiG-29s and Su-24s in Libya and claimed that the jets are sent to provide assistance to Russia's private military contractor, Wagner group in fighting Tripoli-based GNA troops.
Issues at large
First, the international support for the rival troops. The oil-rich state, Libya, plunged into years of conflict since the demise of the popular leader Mummad Gadaffi in 2011. In April 2019 the renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, proclaimed himself as the potential leader to unite Libya and launched an offensive to siege the capital city Tripoli. The Tripoli-based government led by Fayez-al-Sarraj is backed by the UN and the US, Turkey, Italy, and Qatar. However, the Tripoli government is seen as a terrorist supporter by the LNA forces that is based on Tobruk an eastern city which is supported by UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordon, and Russia.
Second, the pandemic tilted the stakes towards GNA. In the wake of the pandemic and the Islamic holy month of Ramadan the Haftar troops announced ceasefire and retreated from fighting in the western fronts. Following this, with the combined involvement of the Turkish troops the GNA forces have made significant gains in the conflict and tilted the power in favour of the Tripoli-based government.
First, the series of setbacks faced by the LNA troops halted the operation to siege the capital city after the involvement of Turkey in the fighting theatres.
Second, a serious disadvantage to Haftar's forces is that the troops have relied only on foreign aids. The key supporters of Haftar have also released a joint statement for all parties' political talks to resolve issues in Libya. This has further weakened Haftar's ambitions to capture Libya.
Last, Haftar is unlikely to give up his ambition for power in Libya. Though GNA forces have forced the LNA troops to retreat, the force of Haftar also possess capable weapons to resume a fight and hold the largest Libyan territory in compared to the Government of National Accord. Thus, the territorial gains and international pressure for peace talks do not communicate a message of the ending of the conflict. But to sustain as the warlord, Haftar could reconsider his decision to engage in political reformation talks rather than continuing a war.
Harini Sha is a research intern at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)