The chaos in Libya goes from bad to worse, notwithstanding the strenuous efforts US President Barack Obama has been making with the aid of French President Francois Hollande, UK Premier David Cameron and UAE ruler Sheikh Muhammed bin Zayed.
They have sought to bring a measure of stability to central government in Tripoli, by ending the sway of violently squabbling militias and restoring the normal functions of Libyan government and parliament – so far, to no effect.
Libya’s embattled parliament has fled the civil war to the small eastern town of Tobruk, the last seat of Libyan sovereign power before the Egyptian border.
The lawmakers fled after the Islamist Libya Dawn militia and its allies seized control of Tripoli and most of Libya’s second city Benghazi. Without the means for a counterattack or international support, the lawmakers remain in Tobruk, having chartered the Greek liner, Elyros, as a floating hotel or haven. Monday, Sept. 8, the parliament hired a car ferry. They are surrounded by troops in US-made Humvees.
The capital survives between power and water cuts, the burning of buildings and attacks on ethnic minorities and journalists.
The coastal town of Derna was this week declared an Islamic caliphate, armed with anti-aircraft guns on pickup trucks.
Libyan General Hiftar’s stubborn fight to rid Tripoli of Islamists
Yet when UN envoy Bernard Leon arrived in Libya Monday, Sept. 8 for his first visit, he said he was optimistic. “This is a country, a society, which is fed up with conflict,’ he said. “We are going to spend the week developing contacts with the stakeholders.”
One of those stakeholders, former Gen. Khalifa Hiftar, is leading the broadest national grouping – a hodgepodge of loyal militias, former army units and air force remnants – in battle against the Islamist and extremist fighters controlling Benghazi, including the Al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Shari militia.
Gen. Hiftar is ready to continue fighting the radical armed groups in other parts of Libya as well.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration chose Hiftar as the man to save Libya and supplied him with arms and generous funding. But now, Washington has begun distancing itself from the veteran Libyan general, having given up faith in his leadership, after years living in America, for bringing calm and stability to the turbulent country.
Egypt and Dubai have also lost their belief in Hiftar, after backing him with weapons. In August, the Emirati and Egyptian air forces launched combined attacks against the Islamist militias ruling Tripoli.
US, Egypt and UAE advise pacts with militias instead of combat
At a secret conference in Cairo this week, the US, Egypt and the UAE decided to advise Gen. Hiftar to reverse his tactics and,instead of fighting the warring militias, sign cooperation pacts with them.
Since it is customary in Libya for pacts between parties to depend on the amount of cash on the table and the amount of weapons promised to the opposite side, the three powers presumed that by handing over enough funds and weapons, they could bring the militias to heel.
At the same time, there is one militia, Hiftar’s largest and most powerful adversary, which can’t be reined in by cash or weapons bribes. And that is the Misratan Union of Revolutionaries, a federation of 200 militias comprising 40,000 members under arms.
Along with some “unregulated brigades,” the Mistratan federation of militias is thought to possess more than 800 tanks and at least 2,000 vehicles mounted with machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons.
Washington is urging Gen. Hiftar to try and reach terms with the Misratans. In case this doesn’t work out, the Obama administration along with Cairo and Dubai are getting set to launch a heavy aerial offensive to force them to give up and surrender.