Find a Security Clearance Job!


Libya - International Intervention - 2020

Growing foreign involvement in Libya must be stopped as the toll of civilian casualties rises and diplomats race against time to convene an international conference as a bridge to intra-Libyan talks, reach a peaceful solution and spare many lives, the Secretary-Generals Special Representative told the Security Council 18 November 2019. Once invited in, foreign intervention is the guest that settles and seizes control of the house, warned Ghassan Salam, who is also Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

The ongoing conflict between the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord [GNA] and the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA) for control over Libyas government, territory and resources reflects the long standing division of Libya between these two regions. The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Fayez Sarraj, arrived and took office in Tripoli in March 2016. Other competing self-proclaimed governing authorities and militias continued to operate and control territory throughout the country. The GNA did not control large areas of the country, including the cities of Benghazi, Derna, and Sirte. The GNA continued to fail to maintain law and order through the justice and security systems. Instead, a variety of groups revolutionary brigades, tribal militias, and local strongmen supported local security. The government reported it did not have much control over these groups.

During 2016 the Libyan National Army (LNA), an armed group operating in the east with political support from the HoR but outside the purview of the GNA, intensified its military campaign against violent extremist organizations and its commander Khalifa Haftar publicly declared his intention to rid the country of all Islamists, making no distinction between groups that espoused violence as a tactic and those that did not.

During 2019, increased air strikes prompted GNA- and LNA-aligned forces to increase force protection measures, such as jamming, air strikes, and use of SAM systems capable of reaching as high as 50,000 ft. In addition, air strikes have also prompted LNA-aligned forces to redeploy longrange UAS and SAMs to locations outside the area of northwestern Libya where they had previously been located. Foreign-operated armed UAS have conducted multiple strikes on competing airports/airbases, resulting in the destruction of multiple parked aircraft, including civil transport aircraft. These strikes could lead to an increased air defense posture, including advanced SAM capabilities, to protect airport/airbase operations and/or fielded forces.

Government of National Accord [GNA] - Tripoli / Sarraj


Turkey has been one of the GNA's foremost supporters since its inception in 2015. Ankara has stepped up its military support for the GNA in the face of Haftar's military campaign. In addition to armoured vehicles, the GNA was reported to have bought 20 Bayraktar TB2 drones from Turkey in summer 2019. Ankara has started deploying troops to Libya, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, after parliament recently approved the move. He said the objective of the deployment was "not to fight" but "to support the legitimate government and avoid a humanitarian tragedy". The move followed the signing of two agreements in November 2019 relating to maritime border demarcation and enhanced security cooperation between Ankara and the GNA.

The maritime border delineation deal is a way for Ankara to affirm its position as a leading power in the region, according to analysts, who are quick to point out that drilling rights in the contested seabed only tell part of the story. "Turkey is going to Libya to make sure that any discussion in the Mediterranean includes Ankara because neighbouring countries are trying to exclude it," Samdi Hamdi, the editor in chief of the International Interest, told Al Jazeera in January 2020. "If Libya falls under Haftar, who is an ally of the UAE, which in turn is antagonistic to Turkey, that essentially puts all of Turkish maritime interests in the Mediterranean at the mercy of the UAE, Egypt and Greece."


Qatar's dispute with its Gulf neighbors is reflected in the Libyan theatre where Doha supports a Tripoli government that is more tolerant of Islamist elements - such as the Muslim Brotherhood - than the Haftar-affiliated House of Representatives (HoR), which in turn enjoys the support of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Doha had played a key financial and military role in the 2011 overthrow of Gaddafi but has since taken a backseat with its support for GNA tempered and limited to diplomatic backing.


Italy has maintained strict neutrality throughout the conflict raging across the Mediterranean. Though supportive of the internationally-recognised GNA, Rome advocates for a comprehensive peace process that would incorporate all segments of Libyan society, which it knows well as the country's former occupying power. In April 2019, Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini warned France against supporting any of the warring factions for "economic or commercial reasons" after Paris blocked the EU's call for restraint. Italy is concerned France is trying to usurp Italian oil giant ENI's privileged position in the North African country.

In November 2019, the Haftar-led LNA shot down an Italian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) near the city of Tarhunah southeast of Tripoli, 65 kilometers south of the capital Tripoli. This confirmed Italys participation in the civil war.

While much of the international community considered Libya as a pariah under the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, Italy maintained diplomatic relations with Libya and exported a significant quantity of its oil from the country. Italy is hailed as the most important trade partner for Libya.

The Head of the Presidential Council Fayez Al-Sarraj met 07 May 2019 with the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in presence of several Libyan and Italian officials in Rome. Al-Sarraj hailed Italy's stance that rejects instability and military power grip in Libya and its assistance to his government in fighting terrorism as well as its assistance to the Libyan Coast Guard in fighting illegal immigration. As of January 2020 the Italian mission in Libya was made up of 250 military personnel securing the field hospital in Misrata and supporting Libyan coastguards in fighting human trafficking as well as arms' smuggling in the Mediterranean.

Libyan National Army (LNA) - Tobruk / Haftar

United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is seen by many experts as one of Haftar's main supporters, having supplied him with advanced weapon systems in violation of a 2011 UN arms embargo imposed at the beginning of an uprising that toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi. Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) has relied heavily on UAE air support, which includes the suspected deployment of Chinese-made Wing Loong II drones during its months-long offensive against the GNA.

A UN report released in November 2019 said the UAE also supplied Haftar with the Russian-made Pantsir S-1 advanced air defence system that was installed at the al-Jufra base near the town of Gharyan. "The complexity and costs of the system make it very unlikely that the United Arab Emirates has supplied it to any other entity who could have subsequently transferred it to Libya," the report said.

A separate UN report in 2017 said the Gulf country built an airbase at Al Khadim in eastern Libya and provided Haftar with aircraft as well as military vehicles. The UAE considers Haftar a trusted partner capable of curbing the spread of political Islam, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. "Abu Dhabi has no tolerance for political Islam, including its most moderate manifestations," Jalel Harchaoui, a research fellow at the Clingendael Institute and Libya expert, told Al Jazeera. "The only way for them to sleep easy at night and be sure proponents of political Islam do not wield any power in Libya is to prop up strict autocracy instead. "The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood happens to be very weak politically in Libya is not going to reassure or appease the Emiratis. The latter prefer erring on the safe side, by combating any form of democratic opening, whether legitimate, corrupt or dysfunctional."


Like Abu Dhabi, Cairo's aversion to the Muslim Brotherhood has meant that it found in Haftar a natural ally. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power after a 2013 military coup that toppled Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected head of state and a member of the Brotherhood. The group was outlawed that same year and declared a "terrorist" organisation by Egyptian authorities. For Cairo, the GNA's makeup, one that accepts the participation of groups such as the Brotherhood - already an important component of the UN-recognised government - in the political decision-making process, constitutes a major red line.

Haftar's endorsement by wealthy Gulf states, his military background and ability to rein in armed groups in eastern Libya's sparsely populated desert region have also earned him the support of el-Sisi. Egypt has used its vast border with Libya to funnel weapons and provide logistical support to Haftar, according to Libyan officials and Egyptian foreign ministry documents seen by Al Jazeera. During a recent trip to Cairo, Haftar - who received part of his military training in Egypt - said he would take over Tripoli "within hours" if Egypt were to send troops to assist his forces.

Saudi Arabia

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported in April 2019 that Saudi Arabia offered tens of millions of dollars to help fund Haftar's Tripoli offensive. According to the US publication, the offer came during a visit by Haftar to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in late March 2019, days before the launch of his assault on Tripoli. Citing senior advisers to the Saudi government, the WSJ said the offer of funds, which Haftar accepted, was intended to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders, recruit and pay fighters and other such military purposes. However, Riyadh, which views the Muslim Brotherhood with the same level of apprehension as the neighbouring UAE, has been bogged down by a conflict of its own in Yemen.


A report by the UNSC Libya sanctions committee in November 2019 accused Sudan and the head of Sudan's Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemeti, of violating UN sanctions by deploying 1,000 troops to Libya. The report stated that Sudan and Hemeti in July deployed 1,000 Sudanese troops to Libya to guard critical national infrastructure so Haftars forces could focus on their offensive launched against the internationally recognized GNA on Tripoli in April. Citing Sudanese military commanders in Libya, The Guardian said in December 2019 that as many as 3,000 Sudanese soldiers were participating in Haftar's military campaign. They included fighters from the impoverished Darfur region.


Jordan is a country that is mentioned in the report by the UNSC Libya sanctions committee in November 2019. The year-long study monitoring the implementation of sanctions on Libya outlined that the three countries routinely and sometimes blatantly supplied weapons with little effort to disguise the source. It was indicated in the report that Jordan and the United Arab Emirates supplied military material to Haftars forces, which then prompted Libyas GNA to ask the Turkish government for help.


French President Emmanuel Macron has officially backed efforts for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Libya. That stance, however, is counterweighed by France's diplomatic support for Haftar, which includes the blocking of a European Union statement calling on the renegade military commander to halt his assault on the capital, prompting GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in April to accuse the Macron administration of backing a "dictator".

There are also concerns that France is providing Haftar with military support. Tunisia's border guard in April denied entry to 13 French nationals attempting to cross into its territory after the group failed to disclose weapons it had in its possession. Quoting a "well-placed source" at Tunisia's presidential palace, Radio France International reported the men were not diplomats as claimed but intelligence agents.

In June 2019, US-made Javelin missiles belonging to France were found at a base used by Haftar's troops in the town of Gharyan, located some 80km (50 miles) south of Tripoli. In 2016, a French helicopter crashed near Benghazi, killing three soldiers, during what then-President Francois Hollande described as a "dangerous intelligence operation". The GNA said the incident was a "violation" of its sovereignty.


Much like France, Russia has publicly supported the UN's mediation efforts led by Special Envoy Ghassan Salame. Moscow, however, in April 2019 blocked a UN Security Council statement that would have called on the Libyan commander to halt his advance on Tripoli. Russian mercenaries from the private Wagner group have also reportedly joined the battle alongside Haftar's forces. If true, this could not have happened without the Kremlin's greenlight and suggests a push by Russia to establish itself as a new power broker in the region. "While Russia may lack the political capital to launch an Astana-like process in Libya, its gamble on the inaction of its counterparts may still position it as a power broker," wrote Emadeddin Badi, a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute. Moscow denies sending troops to back Haftar. Turkey accuses Russia of supporting Haftar through the use of 2,500 mercenaries of the Russian private military company (PMC) Wagner Group and other military support.

United States

The US was among the states that supported the efforts that led to the GNA's creation in late 2015. But soon after taking office in January 2017, US President Donald Trump said he did not see a "role" in Libya. "I think the United States has right now enough roles. We are in a role everywhere," Trump said in April the following year. But Washington began to send mixed signals shortly after Haftar launched his offensive on Tripoli. In a 19 April 2019 phone conversation with Haftar, who is also a US citizen, Trump recognised "Field Marshall Haftar's significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources". Washington in July 2019 blocked a UNSC statement condemning an air raid on a migrant detention centre that killed more than 40 people, which the GNA blamed on the US ally UAE.

Join the mailing list

Page last modified: 18-01-2020 19:04:20 ZULU