By Jordan Morris
|Gen. Khalifa Haftar|
Three years after the fall of Col. Moammar Qaddafi, Libyans find themselves caught in the crossfire between the divided revolutionary militias. Airstrikes employed by NATO to overthrow the dictator of 42 years were seen as both a tactical victory for NATO and one of progress for humanitarian and democratic intervention. In 2014, pats on the back and rounds of applause of 2011 have fallen silent. Today Libya’s two largest cities have descended into exchanges of rocket-fire, airstrikes, and urban ground-force confrontation. The roots of current violence can traced back to the return of Khalifa Haftar, former Qaddafi Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces and current ‘General’ of the Libyan National Army. Haftar had been living in the U.S. since being disowned by Qaddafi after failed military operations in Chad in the late 1980's. When the revolution began in 2011, Haftar returned to Libya to head the offensive against Qaddafi. In February, Haftar called for suspension of the government. On May 14th, the General launched Operation Libyan Dignity, with the objective of removing Islamist extremism from Libya and their newly formed parliament, the Democratic National Conference. Because of the lack of a strong national army, the government will frequently call on local militias for security and police presence, many of who exhibit extremist tendencies.
The fighting can be loosely described as having two sides, but both sides are largely made up of militias and rebel groups with their own chains of command and ideologies.
Gen. Haftar’s Libyan National Army is really a cohort of militia’s he commanded during the overthrow of Qaddafi who share his secular ambition. Recently, Al-Saiqa Forces, an elite Libyan commando unit, aligned itself with Haftar’s army. The addition allowed them access to aircraft, advanced weaponry and trained soldiers. Part of the motivation for Al-Saiqa were their confrontations with al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Sharia. In May, General Haftar launched an attack against the parliament in Tripoli, an attack that the Democratic National Conference called upon Ansar to defend. Fighting between the two continued as recently as July 30th, when Ansar successfully besieged an Air Force base in Benghazi that had been held by Libyan National Army forces, leaving thirty dead. Khalifa Haftar denounces the government because many of the representatives are members of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, The Justice and Construction Party. The election of Prime Minister Ahmed Matiq was also shrouded in controversy due to abstention by the parliament’s secular lawmakers. General Haftar has received strong backing by many who wish to avoid the creation of an Islamist state, something that the LNA believes is likely under the current government. On the other hand, current members of the government claim that Haftar is using his military credentials to start a coup, though he claims that his movement is an expression of will of the Libyan people.
As the fighting worsens, foreign governments are scrambling to safely evacuate their diplomats and nationals from Libya. Because the fighting has been largely concentrated within Libya’s two biggest cities, Tripoli and Benghazi, evacuations have been particularly difficult. Airports in both cities are largely contested by both sides due to their strategic importance, so most travel had to be done by sea or land. On one occasion an English jeep convoy was fired upon when it came close to an Islamist rebel camp. Countries such as France, Britain, the US, Spain, Greece, the Netherlands, Germany, & Japan have all started evacuations. The Filipino government has issued the most drastic call for evacuation, issuing a plea for the 13,000 Filipino nationals living there to leave Libya immediately. The plea comes after news of a Filipino man being beheaded and a Filipino nurse was gang-rape by a mob of young men. Refugees and foreign diplomats have turned to Tunisia as an escape route, but the small country says it cannot sustain the large queues at its borders, which have reached around 5-6,000 per day. Mongi Hamdi, Tunisia’s foreign minister, says eventually the border will be shut down to all but returning citizens.
In 2011, Libya was set to be the poster-child of humanitarian intervention. In 2014, we see the very countries who championed the ouster of Col. Qaddafi evacuating their nationals from Libya by the convoy, shipload, or whatever other means will get them out as fast as possible. The US has closed its embassy and all diplomatic missions there, knowing it could not suffer another loss in Libya after the firestorm that came from the attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens in 2012. The U.S. was only one of a number of countries to close their Embassy, including France who spearheaded the NATO operations in 2011. Connor Friedersdorf wrote an article for The Atlantic tracking both congratulatory and skeptic writing of what exactly would be Libya's future after the overthrow of Moammar Qaddafi. Friedersdorf explains that in terms of foreign policy outcomes, interventionist states have a tendency to vindicate their interventions through counterfactuals, claiming that non-intervention in that scenario would have led to even more death and destruction. He goes to conclude that despite what interventionists thought they had achieved, Libya’s future was still very much uncertain, and that in the end even expert predictions meant very little.
Libya provides an important example of an area that the west seems deficient in: nation building. In reality the sheer costs of rebuilding a nation, including the time it takes, wear on the people of the country who foots the bill. After ten years the people don’t want to pay to rebuild governments properly. They don’t want to lose any more family to a cause that is so far removed from them. When tragedy strikes we’re eager to seek swift justice, but the consequences of not finishing what we started often come back on us ten-fold.