It is likely that Saudi Arabia sees Libya’s Khalifa Haftar as a means of beating down the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a notoriously hostile relationship with the Wahhabi kingdom.
TRIPOLI, LIBYA — Libyan strongman and former CIA asset Khalifa Haftar’s blitzkrieg on the capital, Tripoli, has stalled for now as forces loyal to the internationally-recognized government have hamstrung his offensive in the suburbs. But the consequences of the operation are already unfolding, as Haftar’s international backers are being revealed and hardcore jihadists gain a foothold.
Haftar launched the offensive on April 4, promising to rid the capital of terrorists allied with the UN-recognized government. Peace talks scheduled by the UN for this week have been delayed as fighting continues. So far, more than 150 people — mostly fighters, but also civilians — have been killed around Tripoli, while nearly 600 have been wounded.
While the internationally recognized government led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj lacks a formal fighting force, “armed groups” have rushed to its aid, lending credence to Haftar’s claim that he is fighting off jihadists. One “diplomatic source” from France told Reuters:
There is an oversimplification. It is not just Haftar the baddy against the goodies in Tripoli and Misrata. There are groups that are at the end of the day allied to al Qaeda on the other side.”
One of them is Salah Badi, a commander from nearby Misrata port who has Islamist ties and possible ambitions himself to take Tripoli. In videos from the front line, Badi has been seen directing men as well as a U.N.-sanctioned people trafficker.
Some hardcore Islamists, previously affiliated to Ansar Sharia, have also popped up in the fighting, according to the videos. That group was blamed by Washington for the 2012 storming of a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.”
Another report from Reuters notes that Haftar’s renewal of hostilities “threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration to Europe, let Islamist militants exploit the chaos, and worsen Libyans’ suffering.”
Already, some 13,600 people have fled their homes.
“Diplomats” tell Reuters that “Haftar for now will face no pressure from backers including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France, who still see him as the best bet to end the chaos and divisions since the [NATO-backed] ousting of [Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi in 2011.”
Getting by with a little help from his friends
Haftar met with Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Sunday as fighting slowed, though forces loyal to al-Serraj downed a plane operated by Haftar’s forces.
Egypt said in a statement that it “support[s] efforts to combat terrorism and extremist groups and militias in order to achieve security and stability for the Libyan citizen,” and released photos showing Haftar sitting with el-Sisi and his head of intelligence, Abbas Kamel.
Egypt is likely not Haftar’s biggest Arab state backer, however. The Wall Street Journal recently revealed:
Days before Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital and attempt to unite the divided country under his rule, Saudi Arabia promised tens of millions of dollars to help pay for the operation, according to senior advisers to the Saudi government.”
It is likely that Saudi Arabia sees Haftar as a means of beating down the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a notoriously hostile relationship with the Wahhabi kingdom.
Defense One summarizes Haftar’s international support as follows:
Also supporting Haftar: The United Arab Emirates and Egypt with air power; and Russia has allegedly provided weapons and military advisers, according to the U.S. Not to be forgotten: ‘In 2016, France sent special forces to fight Islamist militants around the city of Benghazi in cooperation with Mr. Haftar’s troops.’” (Emphasis added.)
ISIS gains a foothold
The so-called Islamic State launched a nighttime attack on the town of Al-Fuqaha, located in central Libya. “Dozens” of ISIS fighters were reportedly ushered in inside of 13 vehicles, then executed two police officers before executing the chief of police in his home and burning it to the ground. As townspeople fled, ISIS fighters kidnapped “a dozen people,” al-Masdar News reports.
ISIS’ official media operation released grisly photos of several men holding their hands behind their heads, kneeling against walls, and even one as he is being executed with a bag over his head and his hands tied behind his back.
Top photo | Khalifa Hifter, Libya’s top army chief, points at a map in his office during an interview with the Associated Press in al-Marj, Libya, March 18, 2015. Libya has been plunged into chaos again, with forces loyal to a polarizing military commander marching on the capital and trading fire with militias aligned with a weak U.N.-backed government. Mohammed El-Sheikhy | AP
Alexander Rubinstein is a staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He reports on police, prisons and protests in the United States and the United States’ policing of the world. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.