Libya war looms

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

Since NATO-led forces overthrew the government of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011 Libya has been torn to pieces by rival militias presiding over separate fiefdoms. Now a coalition of militia and other forces headed by former general Khalifa Haftar intends to crush their rivals: full scale civil war threatens. On 16 May Haftar’s forces attacked jihadist militias in Benghazi using war planes and helicopters; over 70 people were killed and 141 injured. Two days later forces loyal to Haftar attacked the parliament building in Tripoli. Haftar said he was fighting terrorism. Parliament’s leader, Nouri Abu Shamein, called on jihadist militias to repel the attack.

Haftar participated in the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power. He later fought with Libya’s soldiers in Chad where he was taken prisoner by French forces in 1987. Having become an opponent of Gaddafi, he was removed to the US in around 1990, returning to Libya in 2011. Haftar is suspected of having close ties to western intelligence agencies; his allies include current and former army officers.

In April 2014 the US State Department announced, ‘Libya has become a terrorist safe haven.’ Just days before Haftar’s forces acted in Benghazi, the US stationed 200 marines in Sicily. A Pentagon spokesperson explained, ‘We’re doing this as a contingency because we believe that the security situation in North Africa is deteriorating to a point where there could be threats’. 2,000 Libyan troops were brought to Britain for training in 2013 and a further group arrived in April this year.

Libyan oil output has fallen from 1.4m barrels a day in 2013 to 200,000 barrels a day today. Oil generates 95% of Libyan government revenues. Unemployment is over 30% and a million people are internally displaced. Militias run their own prisons, thousands of people have disappeared. Dozens of police officers, former and current army officers and judges have been assassinated since 2011. The US ambassador to Libya and three aides were killed in Benghazi in September 2012. Amidst the chaos inflicted by the NATO attack on the country, weapons from Libya have been transferred to jihadists in Syria and been sold to groups fighting across West Africa, including Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Whatever foreign backing Haftar’s self-declared Libyan National Army may have, its opponents will not easily be outgunned nor will they be without their own supporters abroad. Any confrontation could be long and bloody.

Trevor Rayne


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