Libya’s ceasefire provided a bright point in an otherwise dark 2020, Haftar risks a renewal of hostilities in the new year
Rabat – Khalifa Haftar is promising to “carry weapons” as long as Turkish troops continue to “desecrate” Libya. Haftar is the Libyan-American leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA) that has fought a years-long bloody struggle for control with Libya’s UN-recognized government. That struggle suddenly saw a ceasefire this year, providing one of the few positive surprises in 2020.
On Thursday this week, Ahmed al-Mesmary, spokesman for Haftar’s military forces, accused the national government of mobilizing “thousands of militants and foreign mercenaries.” These forces, equipped with Turkish arms, are amassing in eastern Misrate in preparation for an attack on Sirte, the LNA estimates.
In any other country, the national government would be free to send its military forces wherever it pleases. But the continuing presence of Haftar’s LNA means that troop movements are still seen as potentially hostile acts.
Sirte has emerged as the location for a potential stand-off between Haftar’s forces and the Turkish-backed national government. An embargo on arms sales to the region has for years been a laughing stock, with both factions having publicly boasted about their expanding military capabilities. The apparent conclusion to the conflict in 2020 has seen Turkish influence grow in Tripoli, but the LNA continues to see Turkey as an “invading occupier.”
The emerging war drums mean the progress made in 2020 could unfortunately be overturned in 2021. Turkey has supported the Tripoli government that is now attempting to consolidate power over the country. The Turkish press last week accused Haftar of mobilizing mercenaries from Syria in preparation of yet another resumption of hostilities in war-torn Libya.
Yesterday, Libya celebrated its independence from Italian colonial rule on December 24, 1951. Haftar marked the day at his base in Benghazi, where he made comments that could threaten the national peace process.
“There will be no security or peace as long as the boots of the Turkish military are desecrating our immaculate soil,” Haftar stated. “We will carry weapons to bring about peace with our own hands and our free will.” Haftar’s rhetoric this week resembles his war-time speeches in which he eagerly declared himself the “people’s choice” to rule Libya.
Haftar notably called on his loyalists to “drive out” Turkish-backed forces. In essence, Haftar’s Independence Day speech readily comes across as a renewed call to overthrow the national government in Tripoli. “Officers and soldiers, get ready,” Haftar said.
While Haftar offers little to Libya except a resumption of warfare that could potentially lead to his authoritarian rule, the government in Tripoli is not offering many attractive alternatives either. The UN-recognized government continues to be dominated by factionalism and petty politicking, exemplified by each ministry having its own armed militia.
Since the ceasefire brought a relative state of peace to Libya, protests have emerged across the country. Angry citizens demanded better living conditions, jobs and a solution for endemic corruption. But protesters’ legitimate demands were answered only by violence from local authorities, and silence from the government in Tripoli.
Yet most people in Libya will agree with former US president Benjamin Franklin that “there never was a good war, or a bad peace.” For most Libyans, the absence of war over the last few months has been a victory for the country. Libya’s oil production is again surpassing 1 million barrels per month, resulting in revenue streaming into government coffers.
If Libya aims for recovery and peace in 2021, it will likely depend on whether those funds will be used to improve the lives of Libyans, or disappear in the deep pockets of corrupt government officials and revered militia chiefs.