Haftar says he will not work with unity gov’t until militias disbanded
By Reuters - May 21,2016 -
Libyan pro-government forces celebrate in front of the commercial bank on Wednesday in Abu Grein, south of Libya’s third city Misrata, a day after Libya’s unity government recaptured the area from the Daesh terror group (AFP photo)
PARIS — It would be “unthinkable” for eastern Libyan forces to join a UN-backed unity government until militias aligned to it have been disbanded, General Khalifa Haftar, who heads up troops in the east, said in an interview broadcast on Friday.
A December unity deal was meant to end the divide between rival governments in the capital Tripoli and the east who have vied for control over the country and its oil resources since 2014, backed by competing factions, who helped oust Muammar Qadhafi five years ago.
But in an ominous early sign of a possible new showdown, eastern and western factions have sent separate armoured columns towards Qadhdafi’s home town Sirte, now in the hands of fighters from Daesh.
Western powers see Fayaz Seraj, the head of the Government of National Accord, as the best hope of unifying political and armed factions to take on Daesh. The government arrived in Tripoli in late March and is still trying to establish its authority.
He urged the east last week to join a unified military command centre to coordinate efforts against Daesh and asked major powers to ease a United Nations Security Council arms embargo for his administration.
“Firstly, We have no links with Mr Seraj and the Presidential Council which he leads is not recognised by the parliament [in the east],” Haftar told i-Tele news channel in an interview in Libya.
“Secondly, on this unified command centre, I would like to stress that Mr Seraj relies on militia and we refuse them. An army cannot unify with militias so they must be dismantled. It’s unthinkable to work with these armed factions.”
Haftar leads the Libyan national army, but his role in any national military force as a possible defence minister or army chief has become one of the most divisive problems in unifying the two sides.
For two years Haftar has been waging a campaign, primarily in Benghazi, the biggest city of the east, against Islamist militants and other former rebels who view him as an Egyptian-backed relic of the old regime with presidential ambitions.
“Daesh does not have the capacity to face the Libyan armed forces, but the battle could take time,” Haftar said, using the Arabic acronym for Daesh.
“If the international community supports us, and I ask it to do so by lifting the embargo on weapons, then we could eliminate Daesh in Libya definitively and quickly,” he said.
Daesh gained control over Sirte last year and has built up its most important base outside Syria and Iraq in the Libyan coastal city. However, it has struggled to hold on to territory elsewhere in Libya.
US Special Forces In Libya To Fight the ISIS Problem They Created
May 18, 2016
In 2011 NATO rained bombs on Libya to remove the Gaddafi government from power. Openly backing (the opposition) in their push to oust Gaddafi, the NATO powers, led by Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy, ended up supporting, fostering and equipping battle-hardened jihadis that they then sent off as a proxy army to begin the destabilization of Syria. But now that proxy army is coming home to roost, with recent reports claiming as many as 6,500 Islamic State fighters are operating in Libya.
So of course the US has responded to this mess in the only way it knows how: sending more troops. Well, to be more accurate, the troops have been there for half a year, but the government is just now getting around to announcing their presence…via an anonymous leak in the Washington Post, that is.
That’s right, since late last year a team of US Special Operations commandos have been stationed in Libya in an attempt to “sort through the various factions and identify the potential recipients of American support in the future.” In other words, the same US government that knowingly backed the crazy jihadis in the first place are now there to vet which groups to back in their fight against the crazy jihadis.
Appalled yet? Well the worst part isn’t the special forces on the ground at the moment. It’s not even the obligatory “regional powers”conference going on in Vienna that is likely to see thousands more troops sent to re-invade the country. Or even the fact that the US is now planning to break the UN’s own embargo against sending arms to Libya as long as they double-dog swear the arms are only used for fighting ISIS.
No, the worst part is that there is arguably no “Libya” left to save even if the NATO vultures withdrew their talons and flew back to their cave. Since the murder of Gaddafi the country has descended into utter chaos. The “government” in Tripoli is a “government” in name only. In truth, it barely governs Tripoli, and the areas in the east are for all intents and purposes a separate country. This fundamental divide is perhaps best exemplified by the absolute insanity taking place at the country’s central bank.
You might remember that one of the very first things the NATO-backed terrorists in Libya did after the fighting broke out was to found their own central bank in Benghazi. You might also know that the battle for control of the “legitimate” central bank and its $100 billion dollars in reserves has been one of the main struggles between the many warring factions in post-Gaddafi Libya, with rebel groups having seized the Benghazi branch early last year.
Well that struggle has descended into a complete farce, with the central bank’s chief not having access to the bank’s funds or even its own vault. The bank, headquartered in the east of the country, is not entirely trusted by the Tripoli-based government, and for good reason: the bank has provided funds to some of the very groups that are waging war with the nominal government. So the government in Tripoli has been sending the central bank a stipend of $23.5 million a month for its operating expenses (a fraction of the $257 million the bank claims to need). The central bank’s vault contains an estimated $187 million in gold and silver which the bank says it desperately needs, but there’s a catch; there is a five digit access code to enter the vault and the Tripoli government won’t share it with the bank’s own governor. So the bank has taken matters into its own hands: it has brought in a pair of safe crackers to help break into the bank’s own vault.
This farce is illustrative of the utter breakdown of Libya as a whole. Any pretense that Libya cohered as a single country was shattered along with the government that was bombed off the face of the earth in 2011. That country may never exist again as anything other than the state-in-name-only that it has become in recent years.
But one thing is for certain: if Libya does survive and its people can once again find a way to live together it won’t be due to the efforts of the US Special Forces or the powers-that-shouldn’t-be and their Vienna conference or an agreement to end the arms embargo on the country. Outside interference caused the problem; it won’t help to fix it.
U.S. prepares to send troops to Libya. Will Canada follow?
David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen More from David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen
Published on: May 21, 2016
In 2011 the Canadian government and military joined with other nations to overthrow Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
The Canadian government and military played key roles in overthrowing Gadhafi and highlighted those efforts as a significant victory both for Libya and Canadians.
At the time then Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird reinforced Canada’s support for the rebel groups fighting Gadhafi, pointing out they had a well developed plan that would transform the country into a democracy. “The one thing we can say categorically is that they couldn’t be any worse than Col. Gadhafi,” said Baird.
But there was no plan. In fact, Canada and other nations who took part in the Libya war ignored intelligence that among the freedom-loving “rebels” were Islamic extremists.
The country promptly fell apart into a new civil war. The Islamic State has carved out portions of Libya for its staging and training areas. Other Islamic extremists have their portions of the country.
In September 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended Canada’s role in Libya, suggesting that neither it nor NATO can be held responsible for the chaos that has since engulfed that country.
Now it seems the U.S. military is getting ready to send troops back to Libya. The Canadian government has suggested it could follow.
Here is some background reading on the developing situation. The two articles below were written by the Associated Press:
The number of Islamic State militants in Libya has doubled in the last year or so to as many as 6,000 fighters, with aspirations to conduct attacks against the U.S. and other nations in the West, says the top U.S. commander for Africa.
Army Gen. David Rodriguez, head of U.S. Africa Command, said that local Libya militias have had some success in trying to stop the Islamic State from growing in Benghazi and are battling the group in Sabratha. But he said that decisions to provide more military assistance to the Libyans await a working national government.
The latest numbers for IS in Libya make it the largest Islamic State branch of eight that the militant group operates outside Iraq and Syria, according to U.S. defense officials. The officials were not authorized to provide details of the group and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. has conducted two airstrikes in Libya in recent months targeting Islamic State fighters and leaders, but Rodriguez said that those are limited to militants that pose an “imminent” threat to U.S. interests. He said it’s possible the U.S. could do more as the government there takes shape.
The U.S. and its allies are hoping that a U.N.-brokered unity government will be able to bring the warring factions together and end the chaos there, which has helped fuel the growth of the Islamic State. The U.S. and European allies would like the new government to eventually work with them against IS.
The U.S., France and other European nations have sent special operations forces to work with Libyan officials and help the militias fight. In February, American airstrikes hit an Islamic State training camp in rural Libya near the Tunisian border, killing more than 40 militants. And last November, a U.S. airstrike killed top Islamic State leader Abu Nabil in Libya. He was a longtime al-Qaida operative and the senior Islamic State leader in Libya.
Rodriguez said, however, that it will be a challenge for the Islamic State to become as big a threat as it is in Iraq and Syria because of resistance from local Libyan fighters and the population, which is wary of outside groups.
He said the militias in Libya have fought Islamic State militants in Benghazi and Derna with some success, and fought hard in Sabratha with more limited gains. Efforts to battle the group in Sirte have not worked as well, he said. Their biggest problem, he said, is that often the militias fight among themselves.
“It’s uneven and it’s not consistent across the board,” Rodriguez told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. “We’ll have to see how the situation develops, but they are contesting the growth of ISIS in several areas across Libya, not all of it.”
Asked if waiting for the new government to form will allow the Islamic State more time to gather momentum, Rodriguez downplayed the risk.
“It’s going to be a challenge for them to get to that point because of the Libyan population, people and militias that are out there,” he said. “It could be a bigger fight and everything. But again, we’re watching that very carefully and taking action as we see those threats develop.”
SECOND ASSOCIATED PRESS ARTICLE
In a move fraught with risk, the United States and other world powers said they would supply Libya’s internationally recognized government with weapons to counter the Islamic State and other militant groups gaining footholds in the chaos-wracked country’s lawless regions.
Aiming at once to shore up the fragile government, and prevent Islamic State fighters and rival militias from further gains, the U.S., the four other permanent U.N. Security Council members and more than 15 other nations said they would approve exemptions to a United Nations arms embargo to allow military sales and aid to Libya’s so-called “Government of National Accord.”
In a joint communique, the nations said that while the broader embargo will remain in place, they are “ready to respond to the Libyan government’s requests for training and equipping” government forces.
“We will fully support these efforts while continuing to reinforce the UN arms embargo,” the communique said.
With support from all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the plan is unlikely to face significant opposition from any quarter.
The communique was issued at the end of the talks that gathered U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and top officials from more than 20 other nations to discuss ways to strengthen Libya’s fledgling government. The aim is to give the internationally recognized administration more muscle in fighting Islamic State radicals and end its rivalry with a group to the east claiming legitimacy.
The step will boost the government’s efforts to consolidate power and regain control over Libyan state institutions like the central bank and national oil company. However, it also comes with risks, not least of which is that the arms may be captured or otherwise taken by the Islamic State or other groups.
Kerry called the plan “a delicate balance.”
“But we are all of us here today supportive of the fact that if you have a legitimate government and that legitimate government is fighting terrorism, that legitimate government should not be victimized by (the embargo),” he told reporters.
Libyan Premier Fayez al-Sarraj said his government would soon submit a weapons wish list to the Security Council for approval.
“We have a major challenge ahead of us,” in fighting extremists, he said. “We urge the international community to assist us.”
Before the meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier outlined the high stakes at hand.
“The key question is whether Libya remains a place where terrorism, criminal human smuggling and instability continue to expand, or if we are able, together with the government of national unity to recover stability,” he told reporters.
The challenges are daunting.
Libya descended into chaos after the toppling and death of Moammar Gaddafi five years ago and soon turned into a battleground of rival militias battling for powers. More recently, the power vacuum has allowed Islamic State radicals to expand their presence, giving them a potential base in a country separated from Europe only by a relatively small stretch of the Mediterranean Sea.
Also worrying for Europe is the potential threat of a mass influx of refugees amassing in Libya, now that the earlier route from Turkey into Greece has been essentially shut down. British Foreign Secretary David Hammond said his government had received a request from the Libyan government to bolster its Coast Guard — a project “which will address Libyan concerns about smuggling and insecurity on their border but will also address European concerns about illegal migration.”
In Libya, meanwhile, the U.N.-established presidency council on Monday effectively gave the go-ahead for 18 government ministers to start work, even though they have not received backing from the parliament.
The council was created under a U.N.-brokered unity deal struck in December to reconcile Libya’s many political divisions. It won the support of a former powerbase in the country’s capital, Tripoli, but failed to secure a vote of confidence by the country’s internationally recognized parliament, based in Tobruk, a city in eastern Libya.
The U.N. deal also created the internationally recognized government, through a de facto Cabinet to administer the country under Prime Minister-designate Fayez Serraj and the 18 ministers will answer to him.
Divisions in the Tobruk parliament between boycotters and supporters of the new government have prevented the house from reaching a quorum to endorse the council.