Prime Minister Fayez Serraj of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) claimed that the government was uniting its various militia and that its own forces would be able to eradicate the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) on its own without the help of foreign troops. While there are a number of militia that for now appear to be loyal to the GNA, the main armed forces of the Libyan National Army associated with Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) headed by Abdullah Al-Thinni, have not united under the GNA central command.
The Al-Thinni government does not recognize the GNA. Commander in chief of the Libyan National Army(LNA), Khalifa Haftar, opposes the GNA. He launched his own attack against the Islamic State weeks ago but has yet to have had a single clash with them.
Instead the eastern front attacks were launched by his opponents the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) and their head Ibrahim Jodhran. They are advancing towards the town of Harawa only 50 kilometers from Sirte after capturing two towns about 130 kilometers from the IS stronghold.
While the forces of the GNA, from what is called the Solid Structure operations room, are cooperating with those of the PFG there is no unified command. While the PFG support the GNA the group is also interested in increased autonomy for the western part of Libya, Cyrenaica. Serraj said that no one, not even General Haftar, would be excluded from the national army as long as he submitted to central authority.
Haftar has made it abundantly clear that he has not intention of unifying with the GNA forces until all their militias are disbanded. Many of them he considers his enemies, and the feeling is mutual. In fact the militia who are fighting on the western front from Misrata, Haftar opposes.
He is willing to sit back and watch one group of his Islamist enemies fight another group. He is busy attacking another group of Islamists in Derna who had just been instrumental in clearing IS out of the city and surroundings. There is little likelihood that Haftar will be willing to join any unified GNA command. However, it appears that even the forces that are fighting IS now may be capable of defeating them, especially if they receive more weapons and other equipment from the west. Special forces from several countries including the UK are already helping out on the western front against IS.
Serraj played down fears that the two competing campaigns would revive conflict between eastern and western factions. The only clash so far was with troops loyal to Haftar and some militia from Misrata near Zillah in the south. However, it remains to be seen if Haftar will stand by while his opponents occupy former IS territory while he will get none of it. Serraj said he had great hope that the two sides will be united but there appears little hope of that happening for the present.
He claimed that it was too early to talk about a time frame for the battle of Sirte. However, the battle appears to be well under way. There has been shelling of parts of the city and GNA forces claim to have captured a key airbase near the city. As a recent tweet reports: "#Libya-Capturing Ghardabiya Air Base will enable Misrata to encircle Isia in Sirte, cut off supply and fend off attacks from multiple fronts."
The HoR is to be the legislature of the GNA according to the terms of the Libya Political Agreement(LPA). The LPA also requires a vote of confidence in the GNA but that has not yet happened.
A number of meetings have been held but have either lacked a quorum or been disrupted. An alleged majority of the HoR have signed a letter saying they support the GNA at least in principle. They want section 8 that gives the job of Khalifa Haftar to the Presidential Council of the GNA to be deleted. It is not clear, how the vote would do anything but transfer conflict to within the GNA government itself. Serraj says he is pushing for a HoR vote perhaps in another city. Kobler had already been trying this. He was planning a meeting in Ghadames but it didn't work out.
The UN through the GNA will try to convene all those who want to vote for the GNA apart from opponents and without the blessing of the speaker of the HoR, Ageela Saleh. Serraj said: "I'm trying to stress to them and convince them that they should hold a session in the near future – in any place – just to take their responsibility to make the right decision about many issues." Even if they do finally meet they might not make the "right decision" as Faiez sees it, to approve the GNA.
The armed men who had been protesting outside the HoR actually tried to storm the building, firing shots into the air, and shouting demands that al-Thinni resign. The government spokesperson said that the men were financed by "corrupted political financiers" linked to powerful local tribal leaders. He did not elaborate or give any more specific information. The session was postponed until next week.
Earlier on local TV, Faraj Akhatabia, a member of the dominant Obiedi tribe in Tobruk, threatened Al-Thinni: “This prime minister must resign, if he doesn’t I will smash his head. Either he leaves or we won’t let the house of representatives stay in Tobruk.” An anonymous security adviser to the government linked the threat to Hassan Tatanaki, a prominent businessman and oil magnate who also belongs to the Obiedi tribe and owns the TV station on which Ahkatabia made the threat. Apparently, Tatanaki wanted to be appointed foreign minister but so far Al-Thinni has not done so. The Tobruk government faces threats not just from the Islamic State and its rivals in the GNC but from local tribes who are unhappy with its performance and are demanding a greater share of power.
Recently, when the UN peace envoy Bernardino Leon arrived in Tobruk to hold talks with the speaker of the HoR, he was unable to exit the airport due to protesters and his plane left again.
The continued fighting between the military forces of each rival government and Haftar's open dismissal of dialogue and deliberate attacks before and during the UN dialogue show that a negotiated solution is unlikely. The long silence about the progress of the talks by the UN is also an ominous sign. We will see soon see if there is any hope after the new talks get underway.
Obama has just announced that he will provide Egypt with the $1.3 billion in military aid that had been suspended. He is providing it to Egypt so that it can fight against terrorism. Egyptian president el-Sisi is a great supporter of Haftar. One can expect that US arms from Egypt will be used not only to fight the Islamic State in Libya but also help Haftar in the fight against Libya Dawn and the Tripoli government. No word the last few days about any further progress in the peace talks. Libya Dawn has agreed to withdraw from positions it used to attack the eastern oil ports and the Tripoli government has sacked their prime minister partly because he was allegedly blocking the peace process.
However, al-Thinni can publicly support military action against Tripoli while the peace talks are going on and Haftar can snub his nose at the UN, but the international community which supposedly supports the dialogue and a unity government is hardly critical at all.
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Ken is a retired philosophy professor living in the boondocks of Manitoba, Canada, with his Filipina wife. He enjoys reading the news and writing articles. Politically Ken is on the far left of the political spectrum on many issues.
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