In the latest chapter in Libya’s continuing civil war, March saw the rebel army of General Khalifa Haftar move from its bases in Tobruk and Benghazi in eastern Libya all the way into the suburbs of the capital Tripoli. Neighbouring militia then mobilised to support the United Nations-backed Tripoli government and by mid-April Haftar’s offensive into Tripoli had started to grind to a halt. Reports of airstrikes and the arrival of armed patrol boats indicate the foreign backers of both Libyan armies are trying to break the present impasse.
Haftar’s main supporters are Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Egypt, determined to secure its eastern border from militant Islamicist groups in Libya, has supported militia like Haftar to, first, drive out bands allied to the Islamic State and, second, undermine a Tripoli regime they see as too close to Islamicist groups. The UAE, which has set up a small air base near Benghazi, is using light attack aircraft and drones to support Haftar’s advance and is known to have shipped helicopters and light armoured vehicles to Tobruk. These three Arab countries believe the Tripoli government’s weakness and Qatar’s involvement is why the Islamic State, the Muslim Brotherhood and other militant groups have been able to set up shop in Libya.
The rebel army, itself largely a conglomerate of militia, is seen as too weak to be able to conquer Tripoli outright. The expectation is that the Tripoli regime’s external supporters will step in to hold up the regime. Turkish president, Recep Erdogan, publicly said his country would act to safeguard the Tripoli regime. Qatar is believed to be providing financial support.
Attempts at the United Nations to broker a ceasefire between the warring groups have so far floundered. The United States and Russia are providing Haftar diplomatic support and have blocked measures by the Western European powers to criticize his military activities. Curiously, amid all this turmoil, Libyan oil exports actually increased. The rebel army controls the National Oil Company’s terminals even while the firm’s head office is in Tripoli. So far, the company has been able to maintain a position of neutrality in the civil war and both sides have refrained from carrying out attacks on oil facilities.
Libya: Tripoli hit by airstrikes
Erdogan: Turkey will do everything in its power to save Libya from becoming another Syria
Libya’s Islamists And Their Qatari Backers Under The Gun
April 30, 2019