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. The governments of successive Prime Ministers tried to push through economic policies but found them hampered by the differing provinces. There remained a persistent distrust between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. Benghazi and Tripoli were appointed as joint capital cities, with the country’s parliament moving between the two. The city of Bayda also became a de facto summer capital as Idris moved there.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Note the NYT spells Haftar as Hifter.