Libya: Insiders Insight - Haftar Overplays His Hand in Libya

9 April 2019

Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on the capital Tripoli last week. Credit: МИД России.

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Table of contents:

The follow-up

Ethiopian Airlines and pilots not at fault for ET 302 crash

Sudan protests continue

And so do the protests in Algeria

Continental Free Trade Area agreement enters into force

What everyone is talking about/Conflict Focus

Haftar overplays his hand in Libya

What we are talking about

An apology for a history of kidnappings

Health Corner

Reaching universal health coverage

Report of the Week

Understanding hunger

What else?

If you have time, read these!

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Free segment: What everyone is talking about/Conflict focus

Haftar overplays his hand in Libya

The essentials: General Haftar, a military strongman who commands about 25,000 fighters from eastern Libya, last week started an offensive to capture the capital Tripoli. After early advances, the offensive is now stuttering, invoking the spectre of a deadly drawn out conflict.

After days of fighting, who controls what in the suburbs of #Tripoli? check out my latest piece on the current situation in north-west #Libya:

- Dzsihad Hadelli (@dhadelli) April 7, 2019

The context: Since the fall of dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has remained a failed state with territorial control split between a myriad of local militias and larger coalitions. The two main power centres are the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli and General Haftar's Libyan National Army. In recent weeks, Haftar consolidated control over much of the east and south of the country in a string of military offensives and strategic alliances with local tribes and militias.

Now he is making a bold move for the capital in the west, undoubtedly hoping to become the only major player in Libya and consolidate power over the whole country from a position of strength. Unfortunately for Haftar and really everybody, the general underestimated the speed at which the GNA would be able to mobilise its own substantial forces and allies. Haftar's advance has been halted south of the capital.

Haftar has overplayed his hand. He gambled on the element of surprise, on slow mobilization by western Libyan forces, on side-switching.

That failed. Now, there are three scenarios: 1) protracted conflict south of Tripoli; 2) a humiliating withdrawal; 3) a devastating defeat.

- Wolfram Lacher (@W_Lacher) April 5, 2019

Apart from Haftar's disregard for the consequences of his actions for the civilians living in and around Tripoli, his approach also displays a dramatic disdain for the international community and its attempts to mediate the conflict. The Tripoli offensive was announced while UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres was in the capital to push for further talks and, eventually, elections. Haftar himself had in the past few months announced his support for elections, while clearly planning to present everyone with a fait-accompli when he triumphantly entered Tripoli.

The escalation also has an international dimension: Haftar is supported by regimes in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see in him a reliable stalwart against political Islam. The UAE Air Force has a base in eastern Libya and has intervened on Haftar's behalf in the past. Both countries have delivered weapons to his forces.

The good: General Haftar has likely overplayed his hand and will suffer at least a bloody stalemate and the possibility of being ostracised by the international community for his blatant disregard for the political process. Should his offensive fail badly enough, this could increase pressure on his camp to finally agree to elections and a new government.

The bad: Both sides are bringing heavy weaponry to the theatre. Should Haftar insist on seeing the offensive through to the end, Libyans could face a very bloody conflict right in the capital.

The future: This escalation erases all hopes to resolve Libya's political crisis anytime soon. All international mediation efforts will have to readjust after the dust settles and a new balance of power establishes itself.

Follow researcher Wolfram Lacher on Twitter for commentary and updates

Background: Libya's Conflicts Enter a Dangerous New Phase (SWP)

Libyan crisis escalates as warplane strikes Tripoli airport (The Guardian)

UN committed 'to support the Libyan people' as Guterres departs 'with deep concern and a heavy heart' (UN News)

A power struggle over Tripoli threatens to push Libya further into chaos (Vox)

Haftar attacking Tripoli with Egyptian, UAE and Saudi arms, Libya General claims (Middle East Monitor)

Fears of Libyan civil war as militias capture 145 Haftar troops (The Guardian)

Older but still interesting: Libya's Unhealthy Focus on Personalities(International Crisis Group)

Can the AU-UN efforts in Libya pave the way for elections in 2019?(Institute for Security Studies)

Discuss with @PeterDoerrie on Twitter

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The Africa Insiders' Newsletter is a collaboration between and @PeterDoerrie, with contributions from @_andrew_green and assistance from Stella Nantongo. Part of the subscription revenue is funding in-depth and freely accessible reporting and analysis on African Arguments.

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