Libya’s current situation – additional comments

The current situation is fighting continues outside of Tripoli.   Haftar’s army is meeting with strong resistance by the Tripoli government.

Libya’s situation is complex.  You can read about it, or listen to it.

For the latter, I suggest spending just 24 minutes to listen to the  panel discussion on the Libya’s current situation, as moderated by Folly Bah Thibault,  is available in the link below:

Are foreign powers worsening the conflict in Libya?

The UN passed a resolution to block foreign powers from supplying weapons to one side or the other.  Haftar’s way around this, was to insist on military weapons to fight against Islamic extremists, including ISIS.  But of course he wanted military equipment to wage war against the Tripoli government.

The panelists seemed to agree that the foreign powers were worsening the conflict,  Oliver Miles tempered his remarks by saying this was a war among Libyan, not outsiders.  But, Anas El Gomati, I think, got it right, in that the effect of Saudi Arabia and UAE assistance to Haftar, increases his confidence that he can win easier on the battlefield (where he’s used to fighting) than at the negotiating table.   The panelists also firmly said France has been involved in backing Haftar,  not necessarily with military equipment, but with creating a legitimacy for his government.

The next question was great.  Suppose Haftar succeeds, what happens next?   The name Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi did not come up, but could someone reign in Hafter, to make him more “presidential” rather than a military leader.   Anas El Gomati got it 100% right, with his statement:

“He [Haftar} has a 50 year legacy of deception and defection.”

Haftar only has Haftar’s interests in mind.  Gomati characterization of Haftar starts  about 22:00 minutes into the panel discussion.  At the end, Gomati concludes that no one could “reign in” someone who is so dishonest.    He briefly mentions that Haftar “allegedly” worked for the CIA, but it might have been a lot shorter time than the two decades in my blog.   He obviously could boast of his high level Libyan contacts, in working for and against Gaddafi.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

Presenter: Folly Bah Thibault

Guests:
Anas El Gomati – director of the Tripoli-based Sadeq Institute
Francesco Galietti – head of political risk consultancy Policy Sonar
Oliver Miles – a former British Ambassador to Libya

General Kalifa Haftar and his successor (Part 3)

 

General Kalifa Haftar, born in Libya  in  1943.  He is now at  center of attention in the Libyan conflict.  He is shown above with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz on his visit to Riyadh on March 27, 2019.

This is a short biographical summary of Haftar.    Wikipedia has provided an excellent biography, with extensive internet links as provided at the end of this blog.

Based on education and experience, Kalifa Haftar is a military expert.  He graduated from the Benghazi Military University, and received additional training in Russia and Egypt.  By age 26, he had the right military training to support Gaddafi in the overthrow of King Irdis.  As a commander in Libya’s military,  Haftar supported Gaddafi for 18 years before turning against him, including plotting his downfall.  With the help of the US, Haftar  join the CIA, living in Virginia for two decades.  He is a US citizen and speaks his native Arabic language, plus Russian, Italian, English  and is conversational in French.

I have broken down Haftar’s career into 4 phases:

(1)  1969 – 1987,  Military leader and close ally of Gaddafi,   (~18 years)
(2)  1987-1990,  Prisoner of war in Chad during the “Toyota wars”, where he formed an army to oppose Gaddafi,
(3)  1990 – 2011 Worked for the CIA in Virginia, USA (21 years!)
(4)  2011 – present:  Leader in the first civil war against Gaddafi, then broke with the General National Unity (GNU) agreement and united militia forces against the Tripoli government.

Haftar in 1969 help lead the rebellion that lead to Gaddafi’s overthrow of Libya’s King Irdis.  Libya had been a colony of Italy before the defeat of Benito Mussolini during World War II.  King Irdis had ruled Libya for 18 years from 1951 to 1969.  The country was divided into three provinces,  Cyrenaica,  Tripolitania and Fezzan.  The country was never fully united as Benghazi was the capital of Cyrenaica and Tripoli was the capital of Tripolitania.  As stated in Wikipedia:

This constitutional framework left Libya with a weak central government and strong provincial autonomy.[36] The governments of successive Prime Ministers tried to push through economic policies but found them hampered by the differing provinces.[37] There remained a persistent distrust between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania.[25] Benghazi and Tripoli were appointed as joint capital cities, with the country’s parliament moving between the two.[38] The city of Bayda also became a de facto summer capital as Idris moved there.[38]

Haftar  was part of Libya’s contingent in the 1973 attack against  Israel.  Beginning in 1978,  Gaddafi began supplying arms to Chad in support of their civil war (see link).  But he wanted to occupy the northern Chad, as a measure to defend against Libya’s “soft underbelly.”  Wikipedia states:

In 1987, he became a prisoner of war during the war against Chad after being lulled into a trap and captured, then a major embarrassment for Gaddafi and represented a major blow to Gaddafi’s ambitions in Chad. While held prisoner, he and his fellow officers formed a group hoping to overthrow Gaddafi. He was released around 1990 in a deal with the United States government and spent nearly two decades in Langley, Virginia, in the US, gaining U.S. citizenship.[4]

Wikipedia states, “Another possible reason given for Gaddafi’s abandonment of Haftar was the potential that Haftar might return to Libya as a hero and thus pose a threat to Gaddafi’s rule itself.[12]”

I could not find much information on the 21 years Haftar spent at the CIA (1990 to 2011).  This would be from age 47 to 67, around half of his working career.   According to Wikipedia,

“From there, and mostly through his close contacts within the American intelligence community, he consistently supported several attempts to topple and assassinate Gaddafi.[24]”

The arrangement to bring Haftar to the US was likely done under the Reagan administration.   There were plans to support the  300 members  of Haftar’s exiled army against Gaddafi under the refugee act, but that never was completed.   He worked for  the CIA or related intelligence agencies, during the H.W.  Bush, Clinton, W. Bush and Obama administration.

A major turning point in US policy towards Libya came in December 2003, when Gaddafi announced that Libya would destroy all weapons of mass destruction,  This included stockpiles of nuclear materials (yellow cake), biological and chemical  weapons.  I believe Western countries and the US began seeing Gaddafi as much less of a threat, because his autocratic rule brought some stability to the country and could help in the fight against al-Qaeda.  From the Independent:

 In 2004 the British Prime Minister emerged from the tent in Sirte to say how struck he was that Col Gaddafi wanted to make “common cause with us against al-Qaeda, extremists and terrorism.”

Certainly, from 2004 forward,  the US was looking to improve relations with Libya and at the same time, make sure he continue to be in compliance with WMD disarmament agreements.

However,  Haftar returned back to Libya to join the rebellion against Gaddafi.   Now, he is the leader in the second civil war, which is beginning to look more like the Cyreniaca v. Tripolitania during King Irdis’ era.  And Cyrenaica (Eastern Libya) is winning again, yet it is unlikely to really unite the country.  Per Wikipedia:

Haftar has been described as “Libya’s most potent warlord”, having fought “with and against nearly every significant faction” in Libya’s conflicts, and as having a “reputation for unrivaled military experience”

Haftar’s health has been questioned.  According to Wikipedia:  On 12 April 2018, it was reported that Haftar was in a coma after suffering a stroke and was hospitalized under intensive care in Paris.

So, under the scenario of Haftar succeeding, and taking over, who would take over from Haftar.  One  possibility is Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who might see a necessity to re-arm Libya even if it is necessary to violate the WMD accord.

This would go far beyond a reversal of Arab Spring, but a return to conditions before December 2003, the date when Libya agreed to disarm.

What ever the outcome, the major outside players will be Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Russia – all autocracies.   I wish the EU and the US could play a more decisive role in uniting the country.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Note the NYT spells Haftar as Hifter.

Wikipedia:  Khalifa Haftar

Guardian:  Khalifia Haltar: Renagade General

The Unravelling,  In a failing state, an anti-Islamist general mounts a divisive campaign.

Disarmament of Libya 

Idris of Libya

Independent: Tony Blair and Colonel Gaddafi 

 

Libya’s Current Situation (Part 2)

The prior blog provides background, and explains in part why Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia would support General Hafter.  I also mention that had traveled to Libya.  I was there during a peaceful period, in mid 2013.  I was staying very near Martyr’s square, and I saw the coffins set up on one side.  Each has a picture of a person who died in the civil war.  They were empty coffins, but this display spoke volumes.  Liberty came at a steep price to Libya.  I am very afraid of what was gained in the short 9 months of 2011, will be lost.

 

 

Haftar captured three key cities:  Gharyon, Surman and Aziziya approximately 20 to 50 miles outside of Tripoli.  He has stated that he intends to take the only functioning airport, Mitigi Airport,  in Tripoli.  He launch an air strike on Mitigi on April 4, 2019.    He has taken control of the principal oil fields.  He now has control of much of the country. See New York Times link. As I stated in the prior blog, he is funded by Saudi Arabia and other countries.

The UN condemned the airstrike as Mitigi airport is not a military base but a civilian airport.  Haftar responded that the intended targets were Russian Mig fighter parked at the airport.    For the immediate future, the war between Haftar and Tripoli will be waged in the air.

Tripoli is the big prize.  But if Haftar sends his forces into Tripoli, it will be extremely bloody.  The first civil war ended without serious fighting within the capital.  Gadaffi was not allow to use his air force to defend his country, as a result of the UN Resolution 1973.  This time is different.  General Haftar  is willing to reduce Tripoli to rubble so that he can rule Libya, which is the only option he has left now anyway, according to an expert on the Libyan conflict (see NYT article).

The UN has called for an immediate ceasefire.  The US has done the same, but this doesn’t seem likely.  The US has evacuated its embassy in Tripoli.  United Nations canceled a long-planned peace conference scheduled for later this month.

Neither General Haftar nor the Tripoli government have a single united military.  Both depend on small militia groups, which have banded together.  The New York Times article points out that the militias attract “thugs and extremists” to defend Tripoli.   According to the New York Times,

All four of the Tripoli militias have profited by extorting protection money from banks and government ministries, according to United Nations experts and an authoritative study by Wolfram Lacher of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

It doesn’t seem there is any outcome to this second civil war that leads to a stable government.  What is amazing to me, is that the oil keeps flowing and being exported.  Apparently, according to the New York Times,  the Tripoli government is still in charge of the lifting of oil (actual pick up by tankers) at the port cities.  But there are payments back to the Tobruk government.  Tripoli is also continuing to pay the salaries of the military under Hafter’s command according to the NYT.

Once Haftar is in command of Tripoli, he will seek recognition from the other countries, as the legitimate government.  This will be necessary to continue the contracts for oil exports.

The best sources of information are the New York Times and Al Jazeera.   I note that the Times spells the General’s name as Kifter while Al Jazeera spells it as Kaftar.   The same spelling differences frequently occur in the spelling of names of cities.

I fear a complete reversal of the Arab Spring in Libya.  It is difficult to see any progress in democracy after the rebellion in Egypt, and I fear Libya is on course to reverse the gains made during Arab Spring.  In my next blog,  I will explore the background of General Kaftar, including his long stint working for the CIA and the fact that he is an American citizen.  It will be interesting.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

Link:

Al Jazeera:  Saudi’s gave Libya Hafter military millions of dollars before the attack.

New York Times Tripoli’s Last Civilian Airport Reopens after Militias Mobilizes against Hifter 

New York Times, Thugs and Extremists join the battle for Tripoli 

Libya and the reversal of Arab Spring (Part 1)

kaftar 1

A lot of people think international relations is like a game of chess.”  But, it’s not a game of chess, where people sit quietly, thinking out their strategy, taking their time between moves.  It’s more like a game of billiards with a bunch of balls clustered together.”

Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State

The analogy to billiards applies very much to the current state of civil war in Libya.  The balance of power between the eastern faction, or “Tobruk government” and the western faction, or “Tripoli government” is one,  seems based more on military strength than popular support.  Military strength comes from external funding, so the civil war looks more like a proxy war.

Libya’s only international airport,  may be captured any moment by a military force lead by General Haftar,  representing the government established on the eastern side of Libya.  He has the support of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and for the most part Russia.

In the years following the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, the sequence of events seemed to follow the unpredictability of billiards,  Yet, I believe in this case, one can argue that the table is larger than anyone could imagine, and there are many balls on the table that may not be as visible, but strongly influence the game.

I note that  Trump seems to believe international relations is a game of one on one poker and plays by a series of threats and  bluffs.   He couldn’t be further off the mark and the US has lost its role as a negotiator  in resolving crises.  He also seems intent on reversing as many Obama era policies, even ones that were working.     He is a strong believer in nationalism, but then feels he can bully around lesser countries, such as Guatemala and Honduras.

A bit of background to the first civil war (2011) and second civil war (2014- present)

The spark that set off Arab Spring was the death of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia on January 4, 2011.

The catalyst for the escalation of protests was the self-immolation of Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi. Unable to find work and selling fruit at a roadside stand, Bouazizi had his wares confiscated by a municipal inspector on 17 December 2010. An hour later he doused himself with gasoline and set himself afire. His death on 4 January 2011[78] brought together various groups dissatisfied with the existing system, including many unemployed, political and human rights activists, labor, trade unionists, students, professors, lawyers, and others to begin the Tunisian Revolution.[70]

The rapid spread of  rebellions during Arab Spring was really incredible.  It seemed in early 2011,  a new spirit of change toward honest and open government  had swept through the Middle East.  The common people were in the streets, directly confronting their leaders first in Tunisia, then in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.  The list of grievances were hardly new – lack of democratic process,  government officials who were stealing from the people and anyone who protested would be thrown in prison.  Fear was the driving force.   All these countries were run by a single strong dictator, but no one could match the erratic, flamboyant and egotistical  Muamar Ghadaffi, leader of Libya.  He compared protesters to cockroaches, and proudly waved the “green book” during speeches, saying that the protesters were traitors, punishable by death.  Arab Spring was a battle of the people against autocracy, which is defined as follows:

An autocracy is a system of government in which supreme power is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of a coup d’état or mass insurrection).[1] Absolute monarchies (such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Brunei and Swaziland) and dictatorships (such as Turkmenistan and North Korea) are the main modern-day forms of autocracy.

We have for decades simultaneously rallied against autocracies, and maintain friendly relations with their leaders.  This includes both Republican and Democrat administrations.   When the US has intervened, such as in Libya Afghanistan,  and Iraq, they were based on national security issues, principally that these countries would be a danger to other countries or support radical groups in the future.   We intervened in Libya, through NATO bombings to opponents of Gadaffi   However,  we never sent troops to Libya.   Our Libyan intervention was supported by the UN Resolution 1973 passed 10-0 in March 2011.

This is somewhat personal, as I was in Libya in the early part of the Arab Spring in 2011 and ultimately had to be evacuated along with a large number of expats by a British frigate.    I went back in 2013, at a period of relative calm.  There was a lot of optimism for a  new Libya.

It was clear to me by  June 2017 that the long road to re-unify Libya might end in disaster, because key players, including Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, were quietly backing their man (General Haftar)  to the east of Libya.  I wrote the following in my blog of June 26, 2017:

“The only path forward is re-unification through UN Negotiations.   On the Tobruk side, Chief of the Army, Haftar must not be allowed to purchase arms and escalate the war.    The conflict in Libya will only become worse if the US turns a blind eye towards the arming of the Tobruk government by the Saudi supporters.  Washington and the EU need to work jointly on the  the massive refugee problem.  This is a rapidly developing story.   To follow it, it is best to do a Google search on the news.   The latest story to appear, is the release of Saif al-Islam Gadaffi and   some discussion that he could play a some leadership role.  I have very serious doubts.   The areas under control by the various rival groups seems to change regularly.  The New York Times, The Guardian and Al Jazeera seem to be the best sources of information.”

I post a  three part blog, posted on June 25 to 26, 2017.  To explain recent events, it was really necessary to give some recent historical facts on the situation.  I began with a simple statement, “Nothing is normal in Libya. At least, in the last 3 years, what happens doesn’t seem normal or logical to outsiders.”   The three  key outside players in Libya are  Saudi Arabia, Egypt and UAE.  There is a major rift between the public policy (UN negotiated re-unification)  and their actions – namely military and financial support to the Tobruk side.    The players back the strong man, not because his policies will lead to a more stable country, but because they perceive him as the likely winner in the conflict.

I began the series with an observation, that the Tobruk administration had announced it was cutting off diplomatic relations with Qatar  This was very weird because there was never the normal recognition of the eastern government as being the legitimate government of Libya.  But, it made sense in terms of regional politics, as Haftar was just aligning himself on the side of the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (Mohammed bin Salman) and other members of the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC), in particular the UAE,

To gain control of Libya,  military success is more  important than diplomatic success 

The civil war in Libya is not about ideology.  It is all about getting outside support to buy military equipment.  Simply put, Money rules.

General Haftar need Russia on his side.  Russia seemed to be hedging its position, but I think at this point, it is firmly supporting General Haftar, because his success at capturing the oil fields held by the Tripoli government.  I said in 2017, that Qaddafi’s son,  Saif al-Islam would play some role on the side of General Haftar.   He has been busy lining up Russian support for the General’s plan to take over the country by force, since it can’t be won in the UN negotiations.

In early April, 2019, a window of opportunity opened for General Haftar.  The Tripoli government lost one of its  key supporters.  The 82 year old president of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika,  stepped down amid widespread protests in the streets of Algiers.   Protesters are now attacking  his replacement either, so Algeria is in chaos right now.

While losing one key supporter,  General Haftar’s efforts were paying off  gaining another, much more important ally – Saudi Arabia.   To understand this relation, it is necessary to understand Hafter shares with Saudi Arabia a a deep animosity towards the Muslim Brotherhood, because this has become an international political organization.  It was instrumental in electing Mohammed Morsi to replace Hosni Mubarek in Egypt after his fall in 2011.

So these are some of the factors which lead to General Haftar’s success.  Next blog, I will focus more on the current situation.

Links:

Could Libya be Russia’s new Syria

Saudis gave Libya Haftar millions of dollars before the offensive

Fighting echoes through Tripoli as thousands continue to flee
WHO says it fears the outbreak of infectious diseases among the thousands of families fleeing their homes in Tripoli.

As events have unfolded in the past week, the Al Jazeera news reporting has been excellent.  See https://www.aljazeera.com

Wikipedia: Muslim Brotherhood

Wikipedia: Second Civil War (2014 – 

Arab Spring

US-North Korea Summit Cancelation

Trump may uncancel the Summit.   But when he did cancel it, he wanted to make sure to point the blame at North Korea.  At least, that is what President Trump wanted to hear from other world leaders.   And of course, none of them are saying this.

President Moon of South Korea, said the cancellation of the Summit was regrettable.  Others have said leaders in Seoul are perplexed.

It was Churchill’s famous quote,  “To jaw-jaw is always  better than war-war.”  If history has shown us anything, it is that long term enemies can first learn to co-exist, and then become friends.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  Animosity doesn’t have to end in bloodshed.

Nobody really knew how the planned summit was going to turn out.    Many experts on North Korea seemed surprised at Kim Jong Un  sudden  willingness to seek some kind of discussion on nuclear disarmament and reconciliation with South Korea after showing so much hostility and threats mainly to the US.    From their perspective,  they were achieving parity with South Korea, which they consider to be a nuclear power, given the strong military  support from the US.

Certainly,  much of the credit for bringing North Korea  leader to the summit goes to  the  newly elected South Korean President Moon Joe-in.    The invitation by President Moon to the Olympic games was the first real diplomatic outreach.   This was followed by the inter-Korean summit, in April 27, 2018, which was the first summit in eleven years, and the first time President Moon and Chairman Kim have met in person.

The cancellation seems outright weird and dumb.   Weird is the right word, because it has to do with an exchange of words between Vice President Pence that North Korea could end up like Libya (North Korea could follow the Libyan model)  really made no sense.    This weird Libyan comment started with John Bolton, then Donald Trump and then Pence said the same thing.    The leader of Libya was killed in 2011 by his own people in the city of Sirte,  during the Libyan civil war.   However, there was covert aerial support by NATO including the US  in spotting the convoy that Qaddafi was in.

The actions taken by the US and our European allies, in support of the Libyan civil war, have nothing in common with nuclear disarmament.    Qaddafi had already given up his nuclear program and dismantled terrorist training sites in 2003.  The Bush administration took Libya off of the list of  state sponsored supporters of terrorism.   This was an enormous help to the Qaddafi regime.  Many (including myself) believe Qaddafi did this for economic reasons.    I also believed he was becoming more worried about unrest in eastern part of the country, centered around Benghazi, as a potential future threat.  Benghazi is where the first hostilities broke out in 2011.

The intervention in Libya occurred after UN Resolution 1973 (17-Mar-2011) during the Obama administration, was presumably to protect civilian lives.  At the time, it was highly likely that Qaddafi would have bombed Benghazi and other cities which were rebelling against his authority.   If he had bombed Benghazi, a city with a population of over 600,000 inhabitants, the death toll would have been enormous.  Putin and others were highly critical of the US implementation of the Resolution, as we used it as a rationale to bomb Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, late in 2011.

Many consider Hillary Clinton’s support of the intervention in Libya, and demonstrations against Putin in Moscow 2011 as the reason for Russia’s interference in US elections in 2016.   The Arab Spring uprisings were against many autocratic regimes, including the Russian government.

The aftermath of the civil war and  Libya’s “Arab Spring” rebellion, is a long drawn out disaster, and none of relates to North Korea.   I think the only fair take away message from Libya, is that the outcome of intervention, can be very unpredictable.

Perhaps what is so obvious to the North Korean regime, is the “Iran Model”  where the US unilaterally pulled out of a nuclear disarmament deal, even though Iran was in compliance.

The day the talks were cancelled, the New York Times printed a story, about how China would likely be the greatest beneficiary as more acceptance of North Korea with other countries, is not in their game plan.

Diplomacy requires careful driving, and a clear focus on acceptable outcomes.   Mike Pence following John Bolton’s inflammatory rhetoric is the quickest way to veer off the road and slam into a telephone pole.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

 

 

Terrorism

I’ve been working on a blog on Hezbollah.   It’s a very hot button issue.  Israel  consider Hezbollah as one of the worst terrorist groups.  The US also condemns Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.  Other countries do not and in particular Lebanon has been trying to co-exist with the presence of Hezbollah.   The US accuses Iran of supporting Hezbollah.  Hezbollah militia fought against ISIS in Syria in the destruction of Raqqa.   But,  I’m really jumping ahead in this blog.

It is tempting to lump all groups with an extensive cache of arms as terrorist organizations.  I would more likely term such organizations as collectives of angry people who are contemplating acts of violence.   Even in the US, there are organizations which purchase and store arms as they believe they are part of a larger resistance movement their rights as citizens.  It is in fact, their constitutional right to store arms in defense of their home.

On the Wikipedia site,  it is stated no single accepted definition of terrorism.  I’ve provided two links on this subject.  However, Wikipedia provides one “broad” definition as follows:

Terrorism is, in the broadest sense, the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror, or fear, to achieve a political, religious or ideological aim.  It is used in this regard primarily to refer to violence against peacetime targets or in war against non-combatants.  The terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” originated during the French Revolution of the late 18th century but gained mainstream popularity during the U.S. Presidency of Ronald Reagan (1981–89) after the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings and again after the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. in September 2001 and on Bali in October 2002.

The September 2001 is obviously the “9/11” attack on the US by Al-Qaeda, and it was indiscriminate as the action targeted anyone who was in the buildings at the time.  I would include in the definition that terrorist organizations plan violent acts  intended to cause large scale loss of human life.  The broad definition would include both non-state and state organized terrorists.

Further, Wikipedia states their definition is hardly rigorous or universally accepted as follows:

There is no commonly accepted definition of “terrorism”.[7][8] Being a charged term, with the connotation of something “morally wrong”, it is often used, both by governments and non-state groups, to abuse or denounce opposing groups.[9][10][4][11][8] Broad categories of political organisations have been claimed to have been involved in terrorism to further their objectives, including right-wing and left-wing political organisations, nationalist groups, religious groups, revolutionaries and ruling governments.[12] Terrorism-related legislation has been adopted in various states, regarding “terrorism” as a crime.[13][14] There is no universal agreement as to whether or not “terrorism”, in some definition, should be regarded as a war crime.[14][15]

Regardless of how one wishes to define terrorism, the horrific actions of ISIS, Boko Haram and  Al-Shabaab, clearly make them the worst terrorist groups.   All countries repudiate the actions of these organizations.   Similarly, the actions of Al-Qaeda and affiliated groups are repudiated by all countries.  For these groups, the “I know it when I see it” (Potter, 1964, US Supreme Court)  test works well for these groups, but it doesn’t help in many other cases.  This is exactly the point made in the Wikipedia’s summary.

Political groups and individuals within many Arab countries and Iran, may be extremely anti-American, but this can be simply rhetoric and  does not mean they support terrorism.  Further complications come into play when there are groups of extremist groups within a country, and governments for political reasons, are not making a priority to arrest or otherwise destroy extremist groups.  Wealthy individuals may support ISIS or al-Qaeda groups within many countries.  Should the governments be held responsible?  They may allow individuals accused of terrorist activities to live within their country.  Is that mean the country is complicit in terrorism?

Fethullah Gulen has been accused of acts of  terrorism by the Turkish government.   He lives in Pennsylvania and the Turkish government wants him deported to stand trial.  The US has demanded the evidence against Gulen before extraditing him.   He is 76 years old and in fact has denounced terrorism as a violation of his faith as follows:

Gülen has condemned terrorism.[135] He warns against the phenomenon of arbitrary violence and aggression against civilians and said that it “has no place in Islam”. He wrote a condemnation article in the Washington Post on September 12, 2001, one day after the September 11 attacks, and stated that “A Muslim can not be a terrorist, nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim.”[136][137] Gülen lamented the “hijacking of Islam” by terrorists.[78]

The extradition of Fethullah  Gulen for terrorism is weak, and the US so far has taken no action, except to request more evidence.

As I was completing this blog,  President Erdogan invoked the terrorist label, on condemning Israel, in response to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as its capital, as follows:

“Israel is a state of occupation and a terror state,” Erdoğan said in a speech in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas on Dec. 10, vowing that Turkey “will not leave Jerusalem to the consciousness of a child-killer state.”

The west bank and Gaza strip are areas that Israel took by force during the Six Day war in 1967.

During the Syrian civil war,  President Bashir Assad would claim that the US and other European countries were assisting terrorist, as we were training and providing arms to groups against the Assad regime.  However, the US was also fighting against ISIS in Syria,  with the support of Syrian government.    So what were we to Assad – enemy or friend?

When there is a rebellion within a country,  immediately the leader of the country will denounce the rebel groups as traitors, or agents of foreign governments.  This is exactly what the President Gaddafi did in 2011 during the Libyan civil war.  The US  and NATO supported the rebel group with air support.

The Yemen civil war is a clash between the Houthi rebels and the Yemen government.   By their rhetoric and slogans, the Houthi would seem just as radical as Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Written in Arabic on their flag:

“The God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam”

However, the Houthi appear to simply want to take over Yemen, not wreck havoc in the western world.    The Houthi’s gained control in 2014 to 2015, through a coup d’etat.  What sparked the uprising in 2014, was an end to government subsidies on fuel.

The Houthi have committed acts of indiscriminate violence, hence it would be easy to call them terrorists by the broad definition.  Yet the coalition of countries fighting against the Houthi, with air strikes conducted by Saudi Arabia, has acted equally brutal bombing a Doctors without Frontiers hospital (October 13, 2016) and other civilian targets.

Since the Saudi-led coalition began military operations against Ansar Allah on 26 March 2015, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes unlawfully struck hospitals and other facilities run by aid organizations, according to Human Rights Watch.[352] Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical facilities in Yemen were attacked four times in three months.[353] On 26 October 2015, HRW documented six Saudi-led airstrikes which bombed a MSF hospital in Haydan district (Sa’dah Governorate), wounding two patients.[352][353][354] An Saudi-led coalition airstrike then hit a MSF mobile clinic on 2 December 2015, in Al Houban district (Taizz). Eight people were wounded, including two MSF staff members, and one other civilian nearby was killed. On 10 January 2016, six people were killed and seven wounded when a hospital in Sa’ada was hit by a projectile.[352][353] MSF said it could not confirm whether the hospital was hit in an air strike by warplanes of the Saudi-led coalition, or by a rocket fired from the ground, and at least one other landed nearby.[352][355] On 21 January 2016, an MSF ambulance was hit by an airstrike. Seven people were killed and dozens were wounded.[352][353]
MSF’s director of operations Raquel Ayora said: “The way war is being waged in Yemen is causing enormous suffering and shows that the warring parties do not recognise or respect the protected status of hospitals and medical facilities. We witness the devastating consequences of this on people trapped in conflict zones on a daily basis. Nothing has been spared – not even hospitals, even though medical facilities are explicitly protected by international humanitarian law.”[353]

Iran is accused of supporting the Houthi,  which  Iran denies.   Iran was instrumental in the formation of Hezbollah, which they consider is a group defending the borders of Lebanon and Syria from Israeli aggression.   Yet Iran joined with others in the  war against ISIS.    Both Hezbollah and the Houthi’s are Shi’a organization, so they would never align themselves with ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

Just yesterday,  UN Ambassador Nikki Haley stood in front of parts of a recovered missile from Yemen,  claiming this was hard evidence that Iran had supported Houthi rebels in direct violation of an UN resolutions.  While it was great for the media,  the problem was that it could have been supplied to the Houthi’s before the UN Resolution.   Further, it was apparent to experts, that the missile could not carry a nuclear warhead (a violation of another UN resolution).   There are various links on the internet, and I just posted the one from the NYT.

You see how complicated the label “terrorist organization” has become when it is extended beyond ISIS and Al-Qaeda.   I will explore more the Hezbollah group in a future blog.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links

Terrorism

Definition of Terrorism

NYT: U.S. Accuses Iran of U.N. Violation, but Evidence Falls Short

Six Day War

Hezbollah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trial of Ahmed Khattala

The trial of Ahmed Abu Khattala is proceeding in Washington, DC.  He is accused of being the mastermind of the attack in Benghazi in September 2012.    Why did it take so long to arrest Khattala and bring him to stand trial in the US?  It is because the FBI  and the Department of Justice wanted to build a  rock solid case against  Khattala and any of his associates involved in the attack on the US diplomatic mission and CIA compound in Benghazi.   They are going after the top dog who planned the attack, and not the many followers.   Excellent!

It really looks like the time was well spent.  The New York Times  reports the prosecution is presenting a strong case against Khattala in federal court.  They must show that Khattala was more than just a leader of a group who hated Americans and Western influence in the country.   They have to show he was part of the attack.

The case relies on the testimony of two  Libyan who provided damaging details about Mr. Khattala before and after the attack.  The really critical details comes from a third Libyan, who befriended Khatttala in 2012, with the objective of collecting damning evidence to be used against Khattala.   It was a very slow process to gain Khattala’s trust.  Any slip up by this informant would have meant certain death for him and likely his family.  He testified on Tuesday, November 7 under the pseudonym of Ali Majrisi.

Khattala slowly opened up to Majrisi on the attack.   Khattala revealed one critical element – he had planned to attack and  kill the American rescue team.  His words, recalled by Majrisi  were, “I intended then to kill everyone there – even those who were at the airport.”    There was no saving the two Americans who died at the diplomatic mission; they died of smoke inhalation approximately 15 minutes after the attack.   The rescue mission would have been directed at saving lives at the CIA mission, in which two Americans died.  The Republicans have been making a case that not enough was done to save lives at Benghazi.  The reality is that the delay at the Benghazi airport was likely a fortuitous event, as many more would have been in harm’s way had a rescue attempt been made.

Majrisi was able to provide the vital evidence to link Khattala to the attack, and also a second leader, Mustafa al-Iman.   Iman appeared on surveillance videotape on the night of the attack.  The attack was well planned.  It was not a spontaneous angry  reaction to a video about the Prophet Mohammed, as originally speculated by National Security Adviser Susan Rice.   The Obama administration quickly backed off from this assertion, but it was later reported that the leaders were able to recruit others for the attack, because of the anger generated by the release of the video.   Hopefully the trial may clarify this issue.

Over the years,  Majrisi was well paid for his services, up to 7 million dollars.   This fact is being used now to discredit Majrisi’s testimony as being financially motivated.  In my opinion, it was  money well worth it, as nothing could be worse than being unable to make a case against Khattala for lack of evidence.  Hopefully both Khattala and Iman will be convicted.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations deserve credit for what appears to be a highly successful investigation.   It is extremely difficult for the FBI or the CIA to conduct an investigation without total cooperation of the Libyan government, or at least the part of the government now controlling Benghazi.  The credit goes to the Department of Justice and the FBI.  During most of this investigation,  Director James Comey was in charge of the FBI, and there was never a single leak to the media.  It would have been devastating to the investigation if Khattala knew he was being spied on.

The Libya witnesses who came forward, provided the real hard evidence and are my heroes.    I am hoping for life sentences for Khattal and Iman.   Up until President Trump took office, the people of Benghazi were extremely grateful for the support of the US, as we helped them in 2011, when Qaddafi was certainly going to bomb their city.   Obama was able to push through UN Resolution 1973, essentially grounding Qaddafi’s air force.  Now,  I think this support is being lost as Trump includes Libya as one of the countries in his travel ban.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Link:

New York Times story

I really hate this headline, as the print version has the headline “Libyan Informant Describes His Role in the Benghazi Suspect’s Capture.”   I believe the trials of Khattala and Iman will provide new details on what was transpiring outside the compounds, for a long time prior to the attacks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Awful Libyan Mess – Part 1

  • East and west government centers (Tobruk and Tripoli)

In preparation for the posting on the isolation of  Qatar,  I found one news item particularly bizarre- the “eastern government”  of Libya  based in Tobruk,  had gone along with Saudi Arabia, and cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar.    There is no eastern Libya, but the eastern part of Libya is being administered by a government in Tobruk.   Normally, there is  only one internationally recognized head of state and legislative body.    Why would a small break away capital, like Tobruk even want to get involved in the isolation of Qatar led by the Saudis?   I think I have the answer.

 

A general view of the Dar al Salam, a five-star hotel being used by members of the House of Representatives, in Tobruk September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

Nothing is normal in Libya.  At least, in the last 3 years, what happens doesn’t seem normal or  logical to outsiders.  The civil war was fought, presumably, to allow for the Libyans to form a democratically elected government.     Since June 2014, two Libyan capitals exist – the east side  (Tobruk)  and west side (Tripoli) governments.  Many consider there are now three governmental authorities, two in Tripoli, (GNC and GNA) and one in Tobruk.   This is not counting many militant groups, including ISIS which control parts of Libya.

The UN through its special envoy to unite the country.  Some countries recognize Tobruk as the legitimate government of Libya, while others recognize Tripoli.  A link is provided below from Wikipedia providing a very good summary of the breakup of Libya and the recognition of various countries.    There has been no formal division of the country.  As one can see from the map below, Tobruk borders Egypt.  On the  western side, Tunisia is on the border, with Algeria further to the south.

 

 

  • Unrest and infighting leading to civil war (Nov/2011 to 2014)

There was a tremendous celebration of the new freedoms which came at the end of the Libyan Civil War.  The first Civil War lasted 9 months, and ended in October 2011 with the death of Gaddafi.  However, it was far easier to make war against the Gaddafi regime, than to create a new government among the various rivals.   This is a period of failed opportunity to create a unified government, and a return to open civil war in Libya.  It is a pattern often seen when an all controlling tyrannical regime is forced out of office.

Pro-Gaddafi support contributed to the unrest in parts of Libya.  In reaction, Libya government enacted harsh measures against pro-Gaddafi loyalists.  Per Wikipedia:

Gaddafi loyalism after the Libyan Civil War refers to sympathetic sentiment towards the overthrown government of Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed in October 2011. It has been responsible for some of the ongoing postwar violence in Libya, though the degree of its involvement has been disputed in a number of instances. Sympathy for Gaddafi and his fallen government is viewed highly negatively by current Libyan authorities—both the legal government and extralegal militias—and parts of general society in postwar Libya, and even accusations of it can provoke harsh responses. In May 2012, the democratically elected postwar government passed legislation imposing severe penalties for anyone giving favourable publicity to Gaddafi, his family, their regime or ideas, as well as anything denigrating the new government and its institutions or otherwise judged to be damaging to public morale. Derisively called tahloob (“algae”) by anti-Gaddafi Libyans,  suspected loyalists have faced strong persecution following the war. Perhaps 7,000 loyalist soldiers, as well as civilians accused of support for Gaddafi are being held in government prisons. Amnesty International has reported large scale torture and other mistreatment and executions, of those perceived as enemies of the new government.

Reports and rumours of organised pro-Gaddafi activity have persisted since the war’s end. The Libyan Popular National Movement was organised in exile on 15 February 2012 (the first anniversary of the protests that led to the civil war) by former officials in the Gaddafi government. The party, banned from participating in Libyan elections, may have also cultivated links with armed pro-Gaddafi groups in Libya. Statements from the party sometimes appear on websites affiliated with the so-called “Green Resistance” (after the sole colour of Gaddafi’s flag), a term sometimes used by sympathisers to refer to supposed pro-Gaddafi militant groups.

The anticipated  steps to transition to a democratic government are discussed in Wikipedia:

  On July 7, 2012, the National Transitional Council, in power since the Libyan Civil War, supervised democratic elections for a 200-member General National Congress to replace the Council.[1] The assembly was to choose a prime minister and organize parliamentary elections in 2013.  A process to write a constitution was also to be determined. Unrest driven by armed militias, ethnic minority and radical groups undermined the process and the government for the years following the overthrowing of Muammar Gaddafi. While internal apathy towards democratic reforms slowed the process, external bodies such as the European Union were still pressing for the establishment of a national dialogue to build consensus for the drafting of a new constitution to take place before the end of 2014. Parliamentary elections were scheduled to be held on June 25, 2014 in a move aimed at stabilizing the country and quelling the unrest.

The transition to a unified government based in Tripoli, certainly looked like it was succeeding in 2012-2013.   However,  outside players were quickly gaining a foothold in the new Tripoli government:

The current crisis [as of Oct 2014] was triggered when Islamists lost the elections in June, and militias from Misrata and other towns moved in to besiege the capital. The old parliament says it refuses to recognise the new one because there’s been no formal hand-over ceremony. But with Tripoli and Benghazi controlled by the militias, a hand-over’s hardly possible.Some militias fight largely for the interests of their own town or region. But some are allied to Islamist political groups including the Muslim Brotherhood. “Everybody sang the values of the revolution, but no-one ever sat down and discussed what these values were, and I think this is where we lost a trick,” the new MP Salah Sohbi says. “Some countries backed the Muslim Brotherhood because they thought these guys are OK, they’re Islamists but they are moderate Islamists who have shown a clear distance from the Jihadists. And that is where the mistake happened.”

Per Wikipedia:

The second Libyan Civil War is an ongoing conflict among rival groups seeking control of the territory of Libya. The conflict has been mostly between the government of the House of Representatives (HoR) that was elected democratically in 2014, also known as the “Tobruk government” and internationally recognized as the “Libyan government”; and the rival General National Congress (GNC) endorsed government, also called the “National Salvation Government”, based in the capital Tripoli established after Operation Libya Dawn.

This short blog will not attempt to identify all the rival groups  seeking to control Libya.   It is a case of every group financial backing, and control of the oil shipment ports.    The Petroleum Facility Guard has become a private army, according to the National Oil Company, based in Tripoli:

The PFG has become a “private army” for its head, Ibrahim Jadran, according to Mustafa Sanalla, chairman of NOC, which is based in Tripoli. “They have tried to sell oil themselves and then they failed to protect the places they were meant to,” he told The Independent. “We estimate that the activities of the PFG has adversely affected 70 per cent of oil production,” he said. “We are an autonomous body serving Libya rather than either of the governments. The PFG are also meant to be like that, but their only loyalty is to making money.”

The PFG has been blamed for the establishment of ISIL, or at least the damage done to oil storage facilities in Misrata.    Now ISIL has occupied parts of Libya, and is a threat to both Tobrok and Tripoli governments.

A listing of the various rival groups now occupying Libya is provided in the Links section below.

Links:

Wikipedia:  Libyan Civil War

Wikipedia: Libya

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

The Awful Libya Mess, Recent Events – Part 3

Control of Libya requires securing its export ports, as shown below:

 

Production prior to 2011 was 1,650,000  barrels of oil per day.   In 2016, it was 500,000 barrels per day. There is an enormous wealth created by the export of oil.     With 46 billion barrels of oil, these assets will create income for decades to come.

In late 2016, it looked like the beginnings of a re-unified Libya could become a reality, under the UN Peace Accords.  In concept the accords were to create a new government, the GNA government, based on the Tobruk and Tripoli based governments.    However, this could only become a reality if the Tobruk government,  principally Khalfa Haftar, believed he could not conquer the rest of Libya, and was content with sharing power with the GNA  government in Tripoli.   So, peace depends on Haftar diminished capacity to extend his reach to the west, making peace the best option.

Saudi Arabia swung open its doors to Donald Trump knowing exactly what would appeal to him- deals for more goods and services.  His ego and naivete were on full display, as he took credit for the blockade of Qatar as an extension of this anti-terrorist policies  in his tweets.  It is now spilling over to the Libyan conflict.  The Chairman of the Libyan National Oil Company, in an OpEd article in the New York Times, wrote:

The latest incident was triggered by the recent, sudden souring of relations between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain on the other. One of the several groups that purport to be Libya’s rightful government is using that dispute as a pretext to seize control of the country’s oil and gas exports: It has accused the National Oil Corporation, the internationally recognized body responsible for managing these resources, of working in the service of Qatar by diverting oil revenues to it via an N.O.C. customer.  I am the N.O.C.’s chairman, and these allegations are false. But they shine a bright light on Libya’s current tragedy. Since the revolution of 2011, the country’s oil and gas resources have been held hostage to both its fractious politics and power struggles in the Middle East.

It is not explicitly stated, but this is a reference to the Tobruk based government.     The Chairman goes on to suggest Libya’s National Oil Company be given more authority to protect it from being involved in the political infighting.

The Tobruk government did not have complete control of Benghazi.  The UAE, in violation of the UN Peace Accords, has supplied Haftar with military equipment to defeat Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB).   One can see why the UAE would want to shut down Al Jazeera, as they seem to be the only ones with correspondents on the ground to observe the fighting in Benghazi.  According to the article (see links below):

The UN’s Libya Sanctions Committee report, released on Friday [23-Jun-17} , reveals the UAE has supplied attack helicopters and other military aircraft to Haftar’s forces. “The United Arab Emirates have been providing both material support and direct support to LNA, which have significantly increased the air support available to LNA,” said the report by a UN panel of experts.  The report provides rare insight into foreign funding of armed groups in Libya, which many say has exacerbated the conflict.

The US and the EU countries have pledged support to eventual re-unification through the UN efforts.  The selection of an impartial and highly experienced UN Special Envoy to Libya, is typically done through discussions among representatives of the Security Council, and then announced by the Secretary General, after everyone is in agreement.   Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, rejected the selection of special envoy based on nationality, as she stated on February 11, 2017:

“For too long the U.N. has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel,” Haley said.

It was a very strange and antagonistic statement.   But, Trump was scheduled to meet with Israel PM Netanyahu at the White House on the following day.    The Secretary-General quickly responded, stating they were interested in the best negotiator for the conflict, irrespective of their country, and neither the Israels nor the Palestinians had any participation in the talks.  Fortunately, another very qualified  special envoy has been selected.   It seemed like Washington politics had meddled in what should have been a routine appointment.  That’s just my opinion.

If the conflict in Libya is seen, not just as the Tobruk-based east government, verses GNA/GNC west side government, but as a larger conflict of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and others verses Qatar, Iran, Turkey and Russia,  where does this leave the US and our allies?

— Human Suffering

The administrative breakdown in Libya has created enormous human suffering.    During Gaddafi’s era,   immigrants received work visas as applied by their sponsors, with set wages  and approved by the government.  This system has broken down, and employers are now taking advantage of workers, charging them for expenses, equal to their wages.

Also, migrants are being lured across the Libyan sounthern boundary  with the false promise of being able to migrate to Europe, only to be sold as slaves or ransomed.   See  BBC link.

— The Path Forward

The only path forward is re-unification through UN Negotiations.   On the Tobruk side, Chief of the Army, Haftar must not be allowed to purchase arms and escalate the war.    The conflict in Libya will only become worse if the US turns a blind eye towards the arming of the Tobruk government by the Saudi supporters.  Washington and the EU need to work jointly on the  the massive refugee problem.

This is a rapidly developing story.   To follow it, it is best to do a Google search on the news.   The latest story to appear, is the release of Saif al-Islam Gadaffi and   some discussion that he could play a some leadership role.  I have very serious doubts.   The areas under control by the various rival groups seems to change regularly.  The New York Times, The Guardian and Al Jazeera seem to be the best sources of information.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

June 24, 2017: Haftar’s forces make gains in Libya’s Benghazi

New York Times: How to Save Libya From Itself? Protect Its Oil From Its Politics, Mustafa Sanalla, Chairman of the Libyan National Oil Company

BBC- I thought I was going to die

TheHill.com Nikki  Haley Rips UN for Picking a Palestinian as Envoy