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 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

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