Control for territory in Libya is fought between different stakeholders, who mainly align with either the LNA, the GNA, or the GNC. Local and foreign militias, totalling between 1,000 and 1,700 armed groups, are thought to be involved in the conflict. Other countries have also been providing military support, either directly (mainly by air force) or by supplying one side financially or with arms. The high number and diversity of stakeholders has been a major obstacle to a political solution. ? ?
The Government of National Accord (GNA)
The GNA is the internationally recognised executive power in Libya. It was established based on the UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed in December 2015 between rival government factions GNC and HoR. According to the LPA, the GNA should be endorsed by the HoR, but on two occasions the HoR has voted down the list of ministers. ?The presidential council (PC) functions as the head of state under the LPA, with a prime minister, Fayez Serraj, leading it. The PC is based in Tripoli.
In mid-November, the UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, presented an initiative to amend the LPA, in order to find a consensus beteween the GNA and the HoR on the executive authority formula. The new action plan proposed by Salame foresees, among other amendments, a new PC constituted by three members, each representing the contry's three historic provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan. The amendment's new formula was approved by the HoR but rejected by the High Council of State. ? ?
Fayez Serraj is engaged in negotiations with the European Union in order to collaborate and counter illegal migration, smuggling, and human trafficking. On 3 October, during a meeting with EU officials in Tripoli, Serraj reiterated the need to lift the ban on arming the coastguard, stating this would help them be more efficient in fighting human trafficking gangs. ?
In May 2017, Serraj met with the Libyan National Army (LNA) leader General Khalifa Haftar in an attempt to end the conflict. On 9 May, the foreign minister of the GNA declared that Haftar would be recognised as the head of Libya's army, should he recognise the GNA as Libya's legitimate government.
The House of Representatives (HoR)
The HoR was chosen in June 2014, in an election marked by a low turnout. Based in the eastern city of Tobruk, the HoR enjoys the support of the LNA and Haftar. Although legislators are required to vote to accept and join the UN-backed unity government, they have largely refused to do so since the LPA was signed in late 2015. In March 2017, a fight for control over the oil crescent resulted in the HoR in Tobruk voting to officially withdraw from the LPA.
On 10 October, the HoR announced having voted unanimously to cancel article 8 of the Additional Provisions of the LPA. Article 8 establishes that all senior military, security and civil posts should be appointed by the PC.? On 14 October, the HoR and the High Council of State Commitee met in Tunisia to hold a meeting to review the LPA amendments. The HoR had already agreed the proposed reshuffling of the Presidential Council, which foresees the reduction of the PC to three members (one head and two deputies) and a separate Prime Minister's post. ??
In June 2017, the HoR cut diplomatic ties with Qatar alongside Egypt and the UAE (both supporters of the HoR) and four other countries. The decision came hours after Qatar was accused of supporting groups including the Muslim Brotherhood - the main party in the GNC - and IS. ? ? This is one of the most telling examples of the effects of international stakeholders over the internal stakeholders in Libya.
The General National Congress (GNC)
The GNC was formed by politicians from the blocs that lost the June 2014 elections. The GNC claimed to be the rightful continuation of the 2012 Congress, Libya’s first government. It was dominated by the Justice and Construction Party as well as the Loyalty to Martyrs Bloc, both associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.? Most of the GNC members went on to form the High Council of State within the LPA. The remaining ones, led by Khalifa Ghwell, a former GNC prime minister, declined to support the LPA, and established a “National Salvation Government” to rival the GNA in Tripoli. Its militia allies control parts of the city.?
Libyan National Army (LNA) and Khalifa Haftar
The LNA is a mix of military units and tribal or regional-based armed groups. The LNA grew out of Operation Dignity, an offensive against armed Islamist groups launched by Khalifa Haftar in 2014. Haftar is allied with the HoR, which recognises him as the general commander of the armed forces, and the LNA as the official army. Haftar is very popular in eastern Libya and HoR decisions are heavily dependent on his approval.? Sudan's armed opposition group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), is fighting alongside LNA forces in Libya.? The LNA is supported by Egypt, UAE, and increasingly, Russia. Rumours emerged in August of Israeli support for the LNA.?
The LNA has been accused of fighting alongside Islamist armed groups, claims the LNA denies. The LNA exerts vast military control over eastern territories, such as Benghazi, al-Beyda, Tobruk, and the oil crescent region east of Sirte. ? The LNA has been accused of human rights violations, with the International Criminal Court (ICC) issuing an arrest warrant for one of its commanders in August. Haftar has reportedly ordered his arrest and an independent investigation.???
Since 2017, Khalifa Haftar and the LNA more involved in talks with the EU and Italy on countering illegal migration towards Europe. Following a visit to Rome to meet with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of September, Haftar announced a willingness to contribute to stemming the flow of illegal migrants towards Europe. In exchange for this cooperation, he asked European countries to provide aid in the form of vehicles, drones, and helicopters. ?
On 29 November, Ahmed Al Mismari, LNA's spokesperson, stated once again that if Libya's politicians will not able to find a solution to the crisis by the end of 2017, the LNA would carry out a military intervention.? On 14 October, according to local sources, LNA's General Command posted a video on the internet showing Khalifa Hafter stating the LNA controls 1,660,000 out of 1,730,000 km2 of Libya. Although these numbers have not been confirmed, it is true that Haftar gained territories and control over oil facilities during 2017. ?On 18 October Haftar announced the set up of a central operation room in Benghazi, headed by Major General Wanis Bukhamada. One day later, Haftar announced the establishment of a new LNA unit in Bani Walid, in Misrata region. Both events suggest an advancement in LNA stratigic position.? ?
IS controlled the central Mediterranean coast of Libya until it lost its last stronghold, Sirte, to GNA-allied militias on 5 December 2016.? Since then, reports on their regrouping in southwestern Libya, around Bani Walid, as well as around Sirte, have intensified.???Their presence has also been reported in Jufra, southwestern Libya, where they have allegedly attacked an LNA checkpoint.??? IS is present in other parts of Libya, including Derna, Benghazi, and Tripoli.? Of the former 6,500 IS fighters present in Libya, around 2,500 died in the battle for Sirte, according to the militias who retook the city.?? In Benghazi, IS fighters have fought alongside the Benghazi Shura Revolutionary Council.??
The Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG)
The PFG currently act under the control of the GNA and are headed by Idris Bukhamada, a GNA appointee.?? Previously, they were led by Ibrahim Jathran, who allegedly has been kidnapped by a smuggler group in Nalut district, western Libya.?? The PFG briefly retook control of the oil facilities it lost to the LNA in September 2016 in March 2017, only to lose them again shortly thereafter.
Ansar al Sharia and the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council (BRSC)
Ansar al Sharia announced its dissolution on 27 May 2017. They stated the decision was based on loss of territories and weakened capacities following clashes in its stronghold, Benghazi, with the LNA. In their statement of dissolution, they called upon other anti-LNA armed groups in Benghazi to "form a united front" and "continue fighting". It is unclear whether ex-militants of Ansar al Sharia joined other anti-LNA armed groups. ?
Ansar al Sharia was formed in 2012 and advocates the immediate imposition of Sharia law. It is the largest jihadist organisation in Libya. The group’s stronghold was Benghazi, with affiliates in Derna and Ajdabiya. The UN put Ansar al Sharia on its Al Qaeda sanctions list in 2014. Ansar al Sharia merged with other local militias to form the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council (BRSC) to combat Operation Dignity in 2014. Although Ansar al Sharia and IS compete for members and territory they have also fought together against the LNA in Benghazi.??
Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB)
Composed of Libyan nationals, the BDB were formed in opposion to the LNA and as of April 2017 reject any inclusion of Haftar and the LNA in the Libyan political dialogue.? The BDB support the BRSC and the Ajdabiya Revolutionary Shura Council (ARSC), a similar Islamist coalition based in Ajdabiya.?? The BDB have themselves at least a partial Islamist connotation.? They are the main force responsible for the military action that brought the oil facilities in Ras Lanuf and Sidra under GNA control briefly in the beginning of March 2017.?? Between the end of December and the beginning of January 2017, their collaboration with Misratan militias against the LNA emerged, but was broken off in June.??
In June 2017, they were sanctioned by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain amid the diplomatic crisis involving Qatar, as the BDB reportedly received financial support from Qatar. ?
Misratan militias are the military power centre in western Libya and are opposed to the LNA. Most of them are mostly loosely allied with the GNA, while some others support the GNC. They were the main forces fighting IS in Sirte, supported by US airstrikes. The Misratans are strongly opposed to the LNA and Haftar. On 31 January, the Misrata Military Council (MMC) announced that all militias operating under its control will join “the Libyan Army”, a western Libyan group opposing Haftar's LNA. This can be seen as a move to coalesce Misratan forces. On 10 May, the Misrata elders and notables council called for the overthrow of the GNA after its foreign minister showed willingness to accept Khalifa Haftar as the head of Libya's army.? ? ?
Libyan National Guard
Set up in February 2017, the Libyan National Guard (LNG) is a western Libyan formation that rejects the Presidential Council and backs the GNC. Based in Tripoli, is it is made up in part of Misratan forces and Amazigh militias. The Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR) announced it was joining the new umbrella organisation. The LNG and its allies currently control almost all of west Tripoli.?
The conflict in Libya involves many international stakeholders. Most of them have an ambiguous role, facilitating the discussions between the GNA and the LNA, while supporting more or less openly one side. Countries in the Middle East, northern Africa and the north of Sub-Saharan Africa and Italy are the most involved in the conflict.? A UN report in June 2017 described the international involvement as an "obstacle" to a political solution in Libya. ?
Egypt has had an ambiguous role in the Libyan conflict. On one hand, diplomats and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have expressed support for the UN-led political process. On the other, the security apparatus has supported Haftar despite his open disapproval for the Unity government and close ties to the HoR, and has conducted airstrikes numerous times to support the LNA since 2015 - in Benghazi for example. ? As of 19 September, Egypt announced it will host LNA military officers to work on the reunification of their army. ? As of 24 October, the Egyptian military openly declared its support for the LNA and Khalifa Haftar in their fight against extremism in Libya. ?
The UAE delivers weapons and has has provided air support to Haftar and allied militias. They conducted numerous airstrikes to support the LNA in the battle for Benghazi. ? ??
The UAE acted as a mediator in talks between the GNA and the LNA in May 2017. ?
Russia has shown support for the LNA, and Haftar has gone to Moscow multiple times.? However, it also maintains open discussion channels with the GNA and the Misratans.? The GNA has been seeking economic cooperation with Russia.?
A force of several dozen armed private security contractors from Russia operated until February in eastern Libya. The presence of the military contractors was a commercial arrangement, likely with Moscow's approval, according to people who work in the industry in Russia.? In November 2016, Russian experts reportedly arrived in eastern Libya to support Haftar and the LNA. ?
Italy is actively involved in Libya, and supports the peace process. ? They are thought to side with the GNA, although they have publicly claimed neutrality and maintain a relationship with Haftar and the HoR.???Italy reopened its embassy in Tripoli in January 2017, the first Western country to do so.? Italy has been operating a military hospital in Misrata since October.?
Italy has been vocal about the need to strengthen Libya's southern border, which is currently very porous. ? The Italian government has said it is increasingly difficult for them to cope with the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe.? On 9 December, the office of Prime Minister Fayez Serraj announced the future establishment of a joint operations room to tackle the issue of migrants smugglers and traffickers. The joint operation room should be set up together with Italy, following an agreement between the two countries. Yet, it is unclear when and where exactly in Libya this operations room will be based, as well as the nature of its operations. ?
As of 11 October, Italy has been warned by the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner on the risks of its agreements with Libya on countering illegal migration. ?? Italy is currently providing Libyan authorities with money and equipment to fight people smuggling. Lately, the Libyan Coastguard (LCG), as well as armed militias in Tripoli and Sabratha, have prevented migrants from leaving Libya, leading to a 25% decrease of arrivals to Italy compared to 2016. On 10 October, an Italian navy ship reportedly helped LCG bring back 228 migrants heading off towards Italy. Although Italy's Interior Minister denied the fact, the Council of Europe warned Italy that returning refugees to Libya would mean breaking European Convention on Human Rights. ? ?
US and other EU countries
Some reports indicate that French and UK special forces are operating on the ground.??? Newly elected French president Emmanuel Macron has openly stated his support for the LNA. ?
EU countries and the EU policies on migration have a strong impact on Libya's internal policies, as well as on Libya's humanitarian crisis. As of 19 October, the European Council issued a Council Conclusions on Migration in which it reiterated the importance for EU countries to work with Libyan authorities to enhance border management , as well as the need to support the facilitation of voluntary returns, guaranteeing the humane treatment of migrants. ?
On 22 September the US army carried out precision strikes targeting the IS camp 240km from Sirte. In the past years, the US gave its military support to the GNA in combating IS in the region of Sirte. ? On 26 September the US Africa Command (Africom) carried out two airstrikes targeting an IS base 160 km southeast from Sirte. ?
United Nations Support Mission in Libya
UNSMIL was established in 2011 as a political mission to help restore state institutions. On 14 September, its mandate was extended until 15 September 2018. ? The mission has been more or less effective so far, partly due to lack of resources. ? As of 23 September, UNSMIL has been engaged in negotiations with delegations of local stakeholders from Zintan and Tripoli in order to guarantee a peaceful return of IDPs to Tripoli. According to UNSMIL, a formal joint agreement should be signed soon among the counterparts. ?