The conflict in Libya has taken a new turn. The advancing General Khalifa Haftar suddenly lost a lot of ground in recent days, despite the help of Russian planes and mercenaries. A state of affairs one would wonder.
After the uprising against dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has been in the second civil war for six years. In the western part of the country, is the internationally-recognized government of prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj; in the eastern part of Libya is in the hands of a renegade warlord, Khalifa Haftar.
The latter seemed to be on a crushing March to conquer the whole country, but in the last few weeks, with his militia LNA (Libyan National Army), he has again suffered a lot of terrain gains. This brings us back to the situation two years ago when Syria was roughly split in two, with the government controlling the densely populated north-east of the country and Haftars LNA ruling the rest of the country.
What is happening in Libya?
Nearly half a million Libyans have been expelled or on the run. There have been many thousands of civilian casualties. Libya, between Egypt and Algeria, is a strategically important link between Africa and Europe.
It is also a famous oil and gas producer. Many parties have, therefore, joined the struggle in the hope of being able to take full advantage of the enormous wealth that lies in the ground. Moreover, Libya is important for Europe because it is the departure point of many boat refugees who try to come to Italy.
Who is pulling strings in Libya?
Russia is very active now that Donald Trump is actually showing little interest in the area. Together with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Russians support the rebel LNA of Haftar.
Putin is trying to strengthen his grip on eastern Libya and would like to be thanked with a strategically important port of war, south of the NATO territory. Last month, Russia moved 14 fighter planes to Jufra airport, in the middle of the country.
Hundreds of mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a private security company with close connections to president Putin, to fight in the ranks of general Haftar. Egypt stationed tanks along the border. The Egyptians and the UAE also fight against General Haftar because, in his militias, Salafian jihadists move up, the influence of which they want to limit before they get in trouble.
And who does the internationally recognized government in Tripoli support?
Italy, Qatar, and, above all, Turkey are the main allies of Prime Minister Al-Sarraj. Without the help of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, the Tripoli government could have been defeated. The Turks now have frigates off the coast, fighter planes, and drones in the air, and mercenaries transferred from Syria on the ground.
How is Europe doing?
Italy supports the recognized government with which agreements have been concluded on behalf of the EU to stop migrants. Italy also has interests in Libyan oil.
France has traditionally also had economic interests. Some Haftar militia are fighting with French weapons, while Germany remains neutral and tries to mediate.
In the context of all this, future oil contracts, arms sales, and the refugee problem are at stake. Syria has a coastline of as many as 1700 kilometers, where people smugglers are active to cross many tens of thousands of migrants.
So what happens now?
Given that there are many interests at stake, the parties to the conflict seem to be in balance again and that there are a huge number of weapons in circulation, there seems to be little chance of a lasting ceasefire.
Efforts by the United Nations to achieve this have not yet been successful. This week, several mass graves were found in Tarhuna, which was recently recaptured by government troops from General Haftar’s militia.
According to some observers, there is a threat of deadlock in which Libya will soon have a Turkish sphere of influence in the west and a Russian one in the east. By the way, Russia and Turkey are also facing each other in Syria, where they have learned to coordinate their operations to avoid a direct confrontation.