General Haftar Goes to Tripoli

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

Insiders Insight: Haftar overplays his hand in Libya


April 30, 2019

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About the Author

Pramit Pal Chaudhury

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Foreign Editor, Hindustan Times, and Distinguished Fellow & Head, Strategic Affairs, Ananta Aspen Centre

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri writes on political, security, and economic issues. He previously wrote for the Statesman and the Telegraph in Calcutta. He served on the National Security Advisory Board of the Indian government from 2011-2015. Among other affiliations, he is a member of the Asia Society Global Council, the Aspen Institute Italia, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and the Mont Pelerin Society. Pramit is also a senior associate of Rhodium Group, New York City, advisor to the Bower Group Asia in India, a member of the Council on Emerging Markets, Washington, DC, and a delegate for the Confederation of Indian Industry-Aspen Strategy Group Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue and the Ananta Aspen Strategic Dialogues with Japan, China and Israel. Born in 1964, he has visited over fifty countries on five continents. Mr. Pal Chaudhuri is a history graduate from Cornell University.