Trump aide drew plan on napkin to partition Libya into three

The Guardian reports: A senior White House foreign policy official has pushed a plan to partition Libya, and once drew a picture of how the country could be divided into three areas on a napkin in a meeting with a senior European diplomat, the Guardian has learned.

Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to Donald Trump under pressure over his past ties with Hungarian far-right groups, suggested the idea of partition in the weeks leading up to the US president’s inauguration, according to an official with knowledge of the matter. The European diplomat responded that this would be “the worst solution” for Libya.

Gorka is vying for the job of presidential special envoy to Libya in a White House that has so far spent little time thinking about the country and has yet to decide whether to create such a post. [Continue reading…]

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Warnings of a ‘powder keg’ in Libya as ISIS regroups

The New York Times reports: After B-2 bombers struck an Islamic State training camp in Libya in January, killing more than 80 militants, American officials privately gloated. On the heels of losing its coastal stronghold in Surt the month before, the Islamic State seemed to be reeling.

But Western and African counterterrorism officials now say that while the twin blows dealt a setback to the terrorist group in Libya — once feared as the Islamic State’s most lethal branch outside Iraq and Syria — its leaders are already regrouping, exploiting the chaos and political vacuum gripping the country.

Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, head of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, told a Senate panel this month that after their expulsion from Surt, many militants from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, were moving to southern Libya.

“The instability in Libya and North Africa may be the most significant near-term threat to U.S. and allies’ interests on the continent,” General Waldhauser said. “Even with the success of Surt, ISIS-Libya remains a regional threat with intent to target U.S. persons and interests.”

Libya remains a violent and divided nation rife with independent militias, flooded with arms and lacking legitimate governance and political unity. Tripoli, the capital, is controlled by a patchwork of armed groups that have built local fiefs and vied for power since Libya’s 2011 uprising. Running gun battles have seized Tripoli in recent days.

“Libya is descending into chaos,” said Brig. Gen. Zakaria Ngobongue), a senior Chadian officer who directed a major counterterrorism exercise here in the Chadian capital last week involving 2,000 African and Western troops and trainers. “It’s a powder keg.” [Continue reading…]

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Russia appears to deploy forces in Egypt, eyes on Libya role

Reuters reports: Russia appears to have deployed special forces to an airbase in western Egypt near the border with Libya in recent days, U.S., Egyptian and diplomatic sources say, a move that would add to U.S. concerns about Moscow’s deepening role in Libya.

The U.S. and diplomatic officials said any such Russian deployment might be part of a bid to support Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar, who suffered a setback with an attack on March 3 by the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) on oil ports controlled by his forces.

The U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States has observed what appeared to be Russian special operations forces and drones at Sidi Barrani, about 60 miles (100 km) from the Egypt-Libya border. [Continue reading…]

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Russian private security firm says it had armed men in east Libya

Reuters reports: A force of several dozen armed private security contractors from Russia operated until last month in a part of Libya that is under the control of regional leader Khalifa Haftar, the head of the firm that hired the contractors told Reuters.

It is the clearest signal to date that Moscow is prepared to back up its public diplomatic support for Haftar — even at the risk of alarming Western governments already irked at Russia’s intervention in Syria to prop up President Bashar al-Assad.

Haftar is opposed to a U.N.-backed government which Western states see as the best chance of restoring stability in Libya. But some Russian policy-makers see the Libyan as a strongman who can end the six years of anarchy that followed the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.

The presence of the military contractors was, according to the head of the firm, a commercial arrangement. It is unlikely though to have been possible without Moscow’s approval, according to people who work in the industry in Russia. [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s child-refugee crisis

Lauren Collins writes: Wasil awoke to the sound of a knife ripping through nylon. Although he was only twelve years old, he was living alone in a small tent at a refugee camp in Calais, France, known as the Jungle. Men entered his tent; he couldn’t tell how many. A pair of hands gripped his throat. He shouted. It was raining, and the clatter of the drops muffled his cries, so he shouted louder. At last, people from neighboring tents came running, and the assailants disappeared.

Wasil had left his mother and younger siblings in Kunduz, Afghanistan, ten months earlier, in December, 2015. His father, an interpreter for nato forces, had fled the country after receiving death threats from the Taliban. Later, Wasil, as the eldest son, became the Taliban’s surrogate target. Wasil was close to his mother, but she decided to send him away as the situation became increasingly dangerous. Her brother lived in England, and she hoped that Wasil could join him there. To get to Calais, Wasil had travelled almost four thousand miles, across much of Asia and Europe, by himself. Along the way, he had survived for ten days in a forest with only two bottles of water, two biscuits, and a packet of dates to sustain him. Before leaving home, he hadn’t even known how to prepare a meal.

Wasil was stunned by the conditions of the Jungle. The camp, a forty-acre assemblage of tents, situated on a vast windswept sandlot that had formerly served as a landfill, didn’t seem fit for human habitation. “I did not come here for luxury,” Wasil told me, in excellent English, which he had learned from his father. “But I can’t believe this is happening in Europe.” A chemical plant loomed nearby. There was no running water, and when it rained the refugees’ tents filled with mud and the camp’s rudimentary roads became impassable.

The Jungle had one thing to recommend it: its proximity to the thirty-mile-long Channel Tunnel, which connects France and England at the Strait of Dover. Thousands of refugees and migrants from all over the world congregated at the camp, amid rats and burning trash, with the sole objective of making it, whether by truck, train, or ferry, onto British soil. On one of Wasil’s first days at the camp, he called his mother on his cell phone. “Are you safe?” she asked. “I was saying to her, ‘I’m in a good condition, I am too safe. I’m going to school and learning French. . . . I can touch the water that one side is here and the other side is England,’ ” Wasil recalled. “I’m not telling her the real situation.” [Continue reading…]

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Russia’s arc of influence from Ukraine to Libya threatens Europe

Politico reports: When EU leaders began wrestling with how to confront Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine, there seemed little connection between events in Crimea and Donbas, the raging conflict in Syria and the outset of a second civil war in Libya.

As they gather Friday for an informal European Council summit on the island of Malta, a striking new geopolitical landscape has come clearly into focus: a crescent of Russian influence, arching from Donetsk in the east to Tripoli in the west.

Having cemented Russia’s role as the dominant belligerent against a pro-Western Ukraine, where the half-frozen conflict in the east has flared up in the past week, and in Syria where a fragile ceasefire has taken hold with Moscow’s ally Bashar al-Assad still in power, President Vladimir Putin has turned his attention to Libya.

For Europe, this raises the worrying prospect that Russia could gain control over the flow of migrants across the central Mediterranean, giving Putin leverage to destabilize Europe by unleashing a flood of refugees like the exodus from Syria that caused a crisis in Europe in 2015.

“It would have a tap to open when it needs something from us,” warned one Central European diplomat. [Continue reading…]

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The Arab Spring is far from over

Koert Debeuf writes: What were once high hopes for a new, free and democratic Arab World have turned into civil wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq. Instead of democracies, countries like Egypt, Bahrain and even Morocco have become even more repressive dictatorships.

In Egypt alone, no less than 40,000 people have been detained since President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in July 2013. All independent television stations have been closed and critical journalists arrested. Most NGOs have been shut down or can simply no longer function. And then there is the Islamic State, the most barbaric outcome of the chaos that followed the 2011 uprisings.

These may seem like more than enough reasons to call the Arab Spring an utter failure. But, in truth, it depends on how carefully you look at what is happening. On the surface, the political upheavals look like failed revolts against dictatorships. But dig a bit deeper into the societies of these Arab countries and there are reasons to believe what we see is not a simple revolt, but an epochal revolution.

If that is true, today’s depressing situation is not the end; it’s just one of the stages the region is going through on its way to a better future. That, at least, is one of the lessons we could learn from history.

Take the French Revolution. The storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, didn’t come out of nowhere. In the 18th century, the population of France had grown by 50 percent. The large young generation couldn’t find jobs because the economic system was stuck. The people were getting poorer, while the grandees who populated the court in Versailles were excessively rich. There was no freedom of religion, and the Church was amassing power and wealth. The French Revolution didn’t stop when Napoleon took power in 1799. It took 80 years and 12 constitutions before France became a stable democracy in 1870. [Continue reading…]

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In President Obama’s last year in office, the United States dropped 26,171 bombs

Micah Zenko and Jennifer Wilson write: In President Obama’s last year in office, the United States dropped 26,171 bombs in seven countries. This estimate is undoubtedly low, considering reliable data is only available for airstrikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and a single “strike,” according to the Pentagon’s definition, can involve multiple bombs or munitions. In 2016, the United States dropped 3,027 more bombs — and in one more country, Libya — than in 2015. [Continue reading…]

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Libya could become even more chaotic after the ISIS loses its stronghold

The Washington Post reports: Libyan militias backed by American airstrikes said they have cleared the stronghold of the Islamic State in Libya, a defeat that would set back the group’s ambitions in North Africa. The country, however, remains very unstable amid battles between rival militias and the remaining militants could still undermine a fragile U.S.-backed unity government, analysts said.

Libyan fighters erupted in celebration in the coastal city of Sirte on Tuesday after a nearly seven month struggle to oust the Islamic State, as the mostly pro-government forces were searching for any remaining militants.

The Islamic State’s hopes of extending their self-proclaimed “caliphate” beyond Syria and Iraq into Libya have been dashed, at least for now. But while their propaganda war and recruiting efforts have also been weakened, analysts said, the group remains active in other parts of the country.

Libya now faces the specter of clandestine cells staging terrorist attacks, much like they’ve done recently in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, after battlefield reverses there. [Continue reading…]

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Why it’s taking so long for the U.S. and its allies to finish off the ISIS in Libya

The Washington Post reports: A U.S. air campaign against Islamic State militants in Libya, which was supposed to be a brisk illustration of the effectiveness of U.S. support for local forces, has turned into an extended operation with no clear end in sight.

About 100 militants are believed to remain in the coastal city of Sirte, which in 2015 became the most important Islamic State stronghold outside of Iraq and Syria. They are holed up in a small, densely packed residential area. For months, U.S.-backed local militia fighters have struggled against militant defenses and sniper attacks; last week, 14 fighters were killed on one day alone.

The elusiveness of victory in Sirte underscores the challenges that continue to face U.S. efforts to defeat extremists from North Africa to Afghanistan: the limitations of local fighting forces, including inadequate battlefield support and poor morale, and the corrosive effects of local political feuds. [Continue reading…]

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Bunkers and booby-traps as ISIS makes a stand in Libya

Reuters reports: Sheltering in tunnels, improvised bunkers and rooms fortified by sand-filled fridges, Islamic State is holding out in the Libyan city of Sirte, defending itself with snipers, booby-traps and car bombs against pro-government forces.

After a six-month campaign of often fierce street fighting, Islamic State militants are surrounded in a district less than one-kilometer square, after hundreds of U.S. air strikes that began in August in support of Libyan forces.

The battle for Sirte, taken by Islamic State more than a year ago, may be over soon. But how the militants managed to survive may give insight into the kind of tactics they could use to defend other cities. [Continue reading…]

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Libyan general in east rejects UN-backed government

The Associated Press reports: A powerful Libyan general whose forces recently captured several key oil facilities has rejected a U.N.-brokered government and said the country would be better served by a leader with “high-level military experience.”

In a series of written responses to questions from The Associated Press this week, Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter said his army only recognizes the authority of the Libyan parliament based in the east, which has also rejected the U.N.-backed government in the capital, Tripoli.

Libya was plunged into chaos by the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi, and for the last two years has been split by rival authorities based in the far east and in Tripoli, in the west.

The two sides are deeply divided on Hifter’s future role in the country. In the east, he is seen as the kind of strong, experienced military leader who can defeat Islamic extremists and restore order to the oil-rich North African country. In the west, where powerful Islamist militias hold sway, he is seen as remnant of the Gadhafi government — which he once served — and an aspiring strongman.

Hifter said little to put such fears to rest.

He cited generals who went on to lead Western nations, as well as President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in neighboring Egypt, who led the military ouster of an elected Islamist president in 2013 and has presided over a sweeping crackdown on dissent.

“Military people who were elected to lead their country achieved remarkable success,” Hifter said. [Continue reading…]

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British MPs deliver damning verdict on David Cameron’s Libya intervention

The Guardian reports: David Cameron’s intervention in Libya was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis, drifted into an unannounced goal of regime change and shirked its moral responsibility to help reconstruct the country following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, according to a scathing report by the foreign affairs select committee.

The failures led to the country becoming a failed a state on the verge of all-out civil war, the report adds.

The report, the product of a parliamentary equivalent of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, closely echoes the criticisms widely made of Tony Blair’s intervention in Iraq, and may yet come to be as damaging to Cameron’s foreign policy legacy.

It concurs with Barack Obama’s assessment that the intervention was “a shitshow”, and repeats the US president’s claim that France and Britain lost interest in Libya after Gaddafi was overthrown. The findings are also likely to be seized on by Donald Trump, who has tried to undermine Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy credentials by repeatedly condemning her handling of the Libyan intervention in 2011, when she was US secretary of state. [Continue reading…]

Chris Stephen writes: When Nato went to war against Gaddafi in the revolution, the US took a back seat, with Britain and France sharing the leading role. But with the revolution over, Cameron walked away.

In London, few parliamentary debates on Libya were called by the government or the opposition, even though British bombing had done so much to create the country’s new order.

When last year the foreign affairs select committee called on Cameron to give evidence in its inquiry into British planning in Libya, he informed them he had no time in his schedule.

Meanwhile, diplomats insist that Libyan leaders of all persuasions have shut out offers of support. Memories of domination by outside powers leave Libyans suspicious of the motivations of foreigners, and offers to help build a modern state were spurned.

London finally woke up to Libya last year, with people smugglers taking advantage of the chaos to build a booming business – and with Islamic State on the march.

The UK, along with the US and Italy, is a prime mover behind the troubled government of national accord (GNA), created by a UN-chaired commission last December. Unelected and largely unloved, the GNA has failed to create a security force of its own, relying instead on militias that are also busy fighting each other.

The capture of key ports by the powerful eastern general Khalifa Haftar this week may have sealed the fate of this new government, now deprived of oil wealth.

All of which leaves Libya, in the words of Britain’s special envoy, Jonathan Powell – a veteran of Blair’s meeting with Gaddafi – veering towards becoming “Somalia on the Mediterranean”. [Continue reading…]

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Colin Powell called Benghazi a ‘stupid witch hunt’ — and Condi Rice agreed

BuzzFeed reports: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called the events surrounding and following the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, “a stupid witch hunt,” saying that fault partially lies with the US ambassador who was killed in the attack, according to personal emails seen by BuzzFeed News.

“Benghazi is a stupid witch hunt. Basic fault falls on a courageous ambassador who thoughts Libyans now love me and I am ok in this very vulnerable place,” Powell wrote in a December 2015 email exchange with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who died in the 2012 incident.

Hillary Clinton was secretary of state during the attack, which was the subject of a special congressional committee and remains an issue in the current presidential campaign.

“But blame also rests on his leaders and supports back here. Pat Kennedy, Intel community, DS and yes HRC” — the last acronym short for Hillary Clinton, added Powell, who served under former President George W. Bush.

“Completely agree,” Rice responds, adding, “Let me know when you’re in town and we’ll have that glass of wine (or two).” [Continue reading…]

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As ISIS closed in, a race to remove chemical-weapon precursors in Libya

The Washington Post reports: Late last year, as Islamic State fighters battled to expand their stronghold on Libya’s coast, ­militants came within 45 miles ­of the country’s sole remaining ­chemical-weapons site, unnerving Libyan and American officials who feared that potentially deadly chemicals could fall into extremist hands.

In May, when the fighters struck a mile from the lightly guarded desert facility, killing two security officers at a checkpoint, they decided it was time to act.

The Islamic State’s encroachment on an installation outside the remote oasis town of Waddan, where 500 metric tons of ­chemical-weapon precursor materials were stored, set off a hurried chain of events culminating in a disarmament operation involving the United States, European countries and the United Nations.

The international effort, which concluded last week when a Danish ship unloaded the materials at a German port for destruction, is one of the rare successes that Western nations can claim in Libya since dictator Moammar Gaddafi’s ouster in 2011 pitched the North African country into lawlessness and civil war. [Continue reading…]

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Haftar forces now control Libya’s ‘oil crescent’ along coast

Al Jazeera reports: Forces opposed to Libya’s unity government have seized a fourth oil port, Brega, completing their takeover of vital installations in the North African country’s “oil crescent”, according to military sources.

The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli is struggling to assert its authority and has faced staunch resistance from a rival administration based in Libya’s remote east.

Forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general, on Sunday launched an offensive on Libya’s “oil crescent” along the northern coast. [Continue reading…]

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