International Policy Digest

Xinhua
World News /11 Jun 2020
06.11.20

A New Phase in Libya?

What is the best way to describe this phase of the conflict in Libya? Is it a civil war between competing factions? Or has the conflict in fact morphed into a proxy war where there are several competing agendas at work?

We all know the sordid history that has taken place in the country since the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi. The collapse of the central authority resulted in Libya becoming a safe haven for not only terrorists but also human traffickers who were taking advantage of Africans seeking a better life in Europe. The last few years have seen most of the fighting taking place between two factions from different parts of the country.

The UN has attempted to broker various power-sharing agreements with various militia groups that are consolidated around Tripoli. This group is commonly referred to as the GNA (Government of National Accord). The group that is opposing them is the LNA (Libyan National Army). What is interesting is that the Benghazi government is the last attempt at a functioning government before the UN-backed government gained power in Tripoli back in 2015.

The situation currently within Libya continues to ebb and flow. In recent months it appeared that the LNA was on the verge of victory. Their forces had Tripoli under siege as the GNA appeared to be on the ropes while searching for assistance. In a surprise to some analysts, the GNA signed a deal with Turkey to provide military assistance in an effort to drive the LNA away from the capital. There are reports that Turkey will support the efforts of the GNA in its effort to govern the whole country. This includes Turkey hiring thousands of fighters from Syria to travel to Libya and fight for the GNA.

This does not mean that the LNA has not been able to recruit its own foreign supporters either. One of the major supporters of the LNA has been Russia. For a while, the Russian PMC (private military company), Wagner Group, has a presence on the ground. Another Russian company, the Kalishnikov Group, also reportedly has a presence in the country as well. In late May 2020, the GNA/Turkish offensive began to gather steam. This effort in fact led to reports of thousands of Wagner fighters fleeing from western Libya. Recent reporting also shows that there was a presence of South Africans in support of Haftar’s forces as well which was financed by the United Arab Emirates.

Has the initiative changed in Libya? Or has the fighting entered a new phase? These are the obvious questions that are to be determined. It appears that this conflict can be described as a civil war fought by proxy. It appears that whenever foreign elements either arrive or depart from the scene the ensuing movement does have an impact on the momentum of the conflict. It happened when Russia and the UAE decided to support the LNA prior to the offensive on Tripoli and now the effort by Turkey to assist the GNA is currently having a similar impact.

One thing is for certain. This does not appear to be the endgame of conflict in Libya. Are Russia and Turkey the only foreign actors that will actively take part in this conflict? The answer is probably no. Before the GNA offensive began to drive the LNA away from Tripoli the situation began to concern both Algeria and Tunisia. It appears that the LNA has a pipeline into both Sudan and Chad to recruit fighters if the need persists.

No matter how one looks at this, the fighting will continue for some time….