UN-backed government moves to secure control in Libya

The Wall Street Journal reports: Libya’s United Nations-backed unity government moved Wednesday to consolidate political control of the country, hours after a rival administration dissolved itself after years of factional power struggles.

A newly established advisory council for the country’s prime minister elected Adbulrahman Swehli as chairman, as the unity government sought to bolster its authority following the announcement late Tuesday by Tripoli’s self-declared administration that it was stepping down.

The decision by the Tripoli administration to disband is a major step forward in attempts by the U.N. and the U.S. and other foreign powers to restore a semblance of stability in Libya and blunt the growth of Islamic State, which has exploited the chaos in the North African nation and gained a foothold along its Mediterranean coast, a stone’s throw from Europe.

Libya has been split by rival legislatures since 2014, with an Islamist-leaning parliament in the capital Tripoli, known as the General National Congress, and an internationally-recognized parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk called the House of Representatives.

In a statement late Tuesday, Khalifa al-Ghwell, head of the General National Congress, said his administration was ceasing its activities to “preserve the higher interests of the country and prevent bloodshed and divisions.” [Continue reading…]

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David Cameron under pressure to come clean over plans to send British troops to Libya

The Guardian reports: The British government is facing new pressure to publish any plans it has for troop deployments to Libya after it was disclosed that five separate international security operations are being considered for the war-torn country.

EU ministers meet on Monday to discuss sending security units to Tripoli. Other missions in the works include bombing Islamic State fighters, training Libyan troops, combating people smugglers and disarming militias. Most are likely to involve British personnel.

Senior MPs are demanding a statement on what part British forces will play, after foreign secretary Philip Hammond insisted last week that no decisions had been made on any operations.

“Clarity is now overdue. We need transparency about the difficulties and the challenges,” Crispin Blunt, chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told the Observer. “Any deployment would need a parliamentary vote, as would airstrikes on Isis.” [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s worst mistake: failing to plan for the ‘day after’ in Libya

CNN reports: President Barack Obama said the worst mistake of his presidency was a lack of planning for the aftermath of the 2011 toppling of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

“Probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya,” he said in a Fox News interview aired Sunday.

This is not the first time in recent weeks he has talked about Libya and the NATO-led intervention which resulted in Gadhafi’s death in October of that year, months after NATO first intervened. [Continue reading…]

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Everyone says the Libya intervention was a failure. They’re wrong

Shadi Hamid writes: Libya and the 2011 NATO intervention there have become synonymous with failure, disaster, and the Middle East being a “shit show” (to use President Obama’s colorful descriptor). It has perhaps never been more important to question this prevailing wisdom, because how we interpret Libya affects how we interpret Syria and, importantly, how we assess Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

Of course, Libya, as anyone can see, is a mess, and Americans are reasonably asking if the intervention was a mistake. But just because it’s reasonable doesn’t make it right.

Most criticisms of the intervention, even with the benefit of hindsight, fall short. It is certainly true that the intervention didn’t produce something resembling a stable democracy. This, however, was never the goal. The goal was to protect civilians and prevent a massacre.

Critics erroneously compare Libya today to any number of false ideals, but this is not the correct way to evaluate the success or failure of the intervention. To do that, we should compare Libya today to what Libya would have looked like if we hadn’t intervened. By that standard, the Libya intervention was successful: The country is better off today than it would have been had the international community allowed dictator Muammar Qaddafi to continue his rampage across the country.

Critics further assert that the intervention caused, created, or somehow led to civil war. In fact, the civil war had already started before the intervention began. As for today’s chaos, violence, and general instability, these are more plausibly tied not to the original intervention but to the international community’s failures after intervention. [Continue reading…]

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Libya’s Tripoli authority rejects UN-backed government

Al Jazeera reports: Libya’s new unity government has been thrown into chaos, as the head of its rival Tripoli-based authority apparently refused to cede power.

Contradicting an earlier announcement that his National Salvation Government was ready to step aside, Tripoli’s unrecognised Prime Minister Khalifa Ghweil urged his ministers not to stand down in a statement on Wednesday.

“Given the requirements of public interest… you are requested to continue your mission in accordance with the law,” he said, threatening to prosecute anyone working with the new government. [Continue reading…]

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One of Libya’s rival governments steps down as new UN-brokered unity government is installed

The Associated Press reports: One of Libya’s rival governments has resigned, a step that helps efforts by a new, UN-brokered unity government to assert itself in the capital Tripoli despite opposition from some local militias.

In a statement, the Tripoli-based National Salvation government said it would “cease duties” as executive authority, and therefore absolve itself of responsibility for the country’s fate.

“We put the interests of the nation above anything else, and stress that the bloodshed stop and the nation be saved from division and fragmentation,” the statement read.

Western nations view the new unity government as the best hope for ending Libya’s chaos and uniting all factions against an increasingly powerful Islamic State affiliate, which has seized the central city of Sirte. Another government, based in the eastern city of Tobruk, still opposes the UN-backed body. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: The United States and European allies, including Italy, France and Britain, have made the unity government’s establishment a key precondition for launching twin missions to begin an international stabilization effort and help combat a growing Islamic State affiliate there.

Each of those tasks will be strained by tensions among militia factions that Western nations hope will form a unified front against terrorist groups and by strong reluctance among European nations to wade into Libya’s chaos — even among those countries most threatened by the Islamic State’s growth across the Mediterranean.

The tentative political progress comes as the United States moves forward with plans to launch intensified attacks against the Islamic State’s Libyan branch, which has up to 8,000 fighters and is the group’s strongest affiliate outside Iraq and Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Libya’s deep state is back and wants you to know it

Borzou Daragahi reports: A pudgy, graying middle-aged man in a brown sweater vest sat quietly sipping tea in the hotel lobby. If you noticed him at all, you might have thought he was a businessman, or an engineer, maybe a mid-ranking civil servant. He frowned occasionally as he contemplated the messages on his smartphone.

He allowed a smile as two men approached. They greeted each other as old friends, exchanging embraces, asking after relatives. One of the men complained a little about the state of business in the region, and warned he might have to head off at some point: “My daughter has a ballet recital.”

The entourage moved to a darkly lit corner of the hotel, their voices dropping, sometimes to a whisper. They looked up with paranoid glares each time a waiter or hotel guest walked by. The three men knew they could never be too careful.

The newcomers were retired colleagues; the first, a balding man in his sixties, works for a charity that helps African migrants in Libya; the second, in his late forties, is a real estate developer, dividing his time between the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and Europe.

But this was no workaday meeting of middle-aged businessmen. The three men are operatives from one of the most feared institutions in the Middle East: Libya’s mukhabarat, or intelligence agency. Formed shortly after the Second World War, the mukhabarat has worked behind the scenes to monitor and manipulate Libya for decades. And they have now joined the war against ISIS, as well as al-Qaeda and loyalists to the former regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi. They have made many, many enemies over the years.

“Extremists are extremists,” said the man in the sweater vest, a senior ranking official of the agency’s counter-terrorism division. “It doesn’t matter if they’re government militias, ISIS, or Qaddafi loyalists. In my focus, I target them all. Political extremists are all the same. And I want stability.” [Continue reading…]

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Why it’s wrong to say that the Arab uprisings failed

Tahrir_Square

Marc Lynch writes: Conventional wisdom holds that the Arab uprisings that began in Tunisia in December 2010 failed. It’s hard to argue with such a harsh verdict. Most Arab regimes managed to survive their popular challenges through some combination of cooptation, coercion and modest reform. Egypt’s transition ended in an even harsher military regime. Yemen and Libya collapsed into state failure and regionalized wars, while Syria degenerated into a horrific war.

But simply dismissing the uprisings as a failure does not capture how fully they have transformed every dimension of the region’s politics. Today’s authoritarians are more repressive because they are less stable, more frightened and ever more incapable of sustaining their domination. With oil prices collapsing and popular discontent again spiking, it is obvious that the generational challenge of the Arab uprising is continuing to unfold. “Success or failure” is not a helpful way to understand these ongoing societal and political processes.

Instead of binary outcomes, political scientists have begun to more closely examine the new political forms and patterns, which the uprisings generated. A few months ago, the Project on Middle East Political Science convened a virtual symposium with 30 political scientists examining how the turmoil of the past five years have affected Arab politics. Those essays, many of them originally published on the Monkey Cage, are now available for open access download as an issue of POMEPS Studies. Those essays offer an ambivalent, nuanced perspective on what has and has not changed in the region since 2011 – and point to the many challenges to come.

The new politics shaped by the Arab uprising can be tracked along multiple levels of analysis, including regional international relations, regimes, states, and ideas. [Continue reading…]

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The next disaster: ISIS expands as Libya descends into chaos

Christoph Reuter reports: The brass band starts playing. The musicians march along the Corniche, their blue uniforms starched and instruments polished and shining. The foreign minister has arranged for the celebration of several grand openings. Shops and cafés have opened their doors and red-black-green flags have been strung up all over, marking the fifth anniversary of the revolution.

Nothing in the capital city of Tripoli hints that Libya is in the throes of a civil war.

Still, an advance car equipped with a signal jammer that is supposed to block the detonation of any remote controlled explosives drives ahead of the foreign minister’s motorcade. And there are only a few consuls from neighboring countries walking along with the parade. After a brief address, the foreign minister plants an olive tree and then inaugurates a new low-rise government building. As he does so, secret service operatives dressed in civilian clothing go after a cameraman from the US TV station HBO. His offense is having filmed one of their white automobiles parked on the side of the road, though around three-quarters of all cars in Libya are white. They jerk the camera away from him amid the loud protestations of his crew. The band continues playing and then cake is served.

The scene is reminiscent of an operetta. Ali Abu Zakouk is the foreign minister of a government that is not recognized internationally. Politicians in Tripoli act as though they are running a state — but it is one that has in fact already broken into three pieces and is now on the verge of coming undone completely. The militaries of two Libyan governments are threatening each other, an array of militias and clans are involved as well, and the population is divided. Meanwhile, amidst this chaos, Islamic State (IS) is expanding. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. strikes in Somalia kill 150 Shabab fighters

The New York Times reports: The fighters had just completed “training for a large-scale attack” against American and African Union forces, said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

Pentagon officials would not say how they knew that the Shabab fighters killed on Saturday were training for an attack on United States and African Union forces, but the militant group is believed to be under heavy American surveillance.

The Shabab fighters were standing in formation at a facility the Pentagon called Camp Raso, 120 miles north of Mogadishu, when the American warplanes struck on Saturday, officials said, acting on information gleaned from intelligence sources in the area and from American spy planes. One intelligence agency assessed that the toll might have been higher had the strike happened earlier in the ceremony. Apparently, some fighters were filtering away from the event when the bombing began.

The strike was another escalation in what has become the latest battleground in the Obama administration’s war against terror: Africa. The United States and its allies are focused on combating the spread of the Islamic State in Libya, and American officials estimate that with an influx of men from Iraq, Syria and Tunisia, the Islamic State’s forces in Libya have swelled to as many as 6,500 fighters, allowing the group to capture a 150-mile stretch of coastline over the past year.

The arrival of the Islamic State in Libya has sparked fears that the group’s reach could spread to other North African countries, and the United States is increasingly trying to prevent that. American forces are now helping to combat Al Qaeda in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso; Boko Haram in Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad; and the Shabab in Somalia and Kenya, in what has become a multifront war against militant Islam in Africa. [Continue reading…]

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Tunisian clash spreads fear that Libyan war is spilling over

The New York Times reports: Fear engulfed Tunisia on Monday that Islamic State mayhem was spilling over from neighboring Libya, as dozens of militants stormed a Tunisian town near the border, assaulting police and military posts in what the president called an unprecedented attack.

At least 54 people were killed in the fighting in the town, Ben Gardane, which erupted at dawn and lasted for hours until the security forces chased out what remained of the assailants. An enormous stash of weapons was later found.

The authorities said at least 36 militants were among the dead. The others were a mix of security forces and civilians, including a 12-year-old girl.

It was unclear where the assailants had come from, although some witnesses reported that they had local accents and had pronounced themselves as liberators. But President Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia, increasingly alarmed about the Islamic State’s expansion in Libya, blamed the militant group. In a televised address, he suggested that the motive was to create a new Islamic State territory on Tunisian soil, similar to the 150-mile stretch it controls in Libya. [Continue reading…]

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Tunisia: At least 45 dead in clashes near Libyan border

The Associated Press reports: At least 45 people were killed Monday near Tunisia’s border with Libya in one of the deadliest clashes seen so far between Tunisian forces and extremist attackers, the government said.

The fighting in the border town of Ben Guerdane in eastern Tunisia comes amid increasing concern that violent extremism in Libya could destabilize the region.

The government closed its two border crossings with Libya because of the attack that left 28 “terrorists,” seven civilians and 10 members of Tunisia’s security forces dead, the Tunisian interior and defense ministries said in a statement. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. planning to strike ISIS in Libya based on ‘faulty intelligence’

The Telegraph reports: The United States is basing plans for military intervention in Libya on faulty intelligence, Western officials and country experts have told the Sunday Telegraph.

American intelligence agencies assess that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) has doubled in size in Libya, with between 5,000 and 6,500 fighters in the country.

Privately, however, some US officials say they believe these estimates to be overblown. Independent experts have come to the same conclusion.

“The estimates of the number of jihadists is grossly exaggerated,” said Karim Mezran, a Libya expert with the Atlantic Council in Washington.

Whilst Mr Mezran and other analysts were loathe to put a number on the size of the organisation, citing the chaos and lack of access to Isil areas in Libya, all said they believed the real figure to be only 20 to 40 per cent of the US estimate. [Continue reading…]

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‘We know what the U.S. can do with bombs,’ a Libyan student said. ‘What else can you do?’

In a 12,000-word two-part report for the New York Times on the U.S. intervention in Libya and Hillary Clinton’s role in it, Jo Becker and Scott Shane write: President Obama has called failing to do more in Libya his biggest foreign policy lesson. And Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the United Nations during the revolution, is deeply troubled by the aftermath of the 2011 intervention: the Islamic State only “300 miles from Europe,” a refugee crisis that “is a human tragedy as well as a political one” and the destabilization of much of West Africa.

“You have to make a moral choice: a blood bath in Benghazi and keeping Qaddafi in power, or what is happening now,” Mr. Araud said. “It is a tough question, because now Western national interests are very much impacted by what is happening in Libya.”

It was late afternoon on March 15, 2011, and Mr. Araud had just left the office when his phone rang. It was his American counterpart, Susan E. Rice, with a pointed message.

France and Britain were pushing hard for a Security Council vote on a resolution supporting a no-fly zone in Libya to prevent Colonel Qaddafi from slaughtering his opponents. Ms. Rice was calling to push back, in characteristically salty language. [Read more…]

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The Arab world and the West: A shared destiny

Jean-Pierre Filiu discusses his book, Les Arabes, leur destin et le nôtre, which aims to shed light on struggles in the Arab World today by exploring the entwined histories of the Arab World and the West, starting with Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt in 1798, through military expeditions and brutal colonial regimes, broken promises and diplomatic maneuvers, support for dictatorial regimes, and the discovery of oil riches. He also discusses the “Arab Enlightenment” of the 19th Century and the history of democratic struggles and social revolts in the Arab world, often repressed.

Filiu is also the author of From Deep State to Islamic State: The Arab Counter-Revolution and its Jihadi Legacy, “an invaluable contribution to understanding the murky world of the Arab security regimes.”

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