America’s myopic view of Benghazi


Libya: In militia-run camps, refugees are treated like animals

Watch “Libya’s Migrant Trade: Europe or Die (Full Length)” here.


Is Libya headed for another Qaddafi?

Frederic Wehrey writes: In the crowded trauma room of a threadbare hospital, a procession of bedraggled soldiers files in, bearing a grim catalogue of wounds: shrapnel in the neck, gunshots to the chest, burned legs. Fierce fighting erupted here last week as a coalition of army, police, tribal militias and neighborhood volunteer forces launched a campaign dubbed “Operation Doom” to evict jihadist and Islamic State forces from their strongholds.

It is a battle that many residents say has been largely forgotten and misconstrued by the international community. As Libya’s rival governments — an internationally recognized one based in the eastern city in Tobruk and another in the western capital of Tripoli — debate the final draft of a United Nations-brokered peace plan, the mood in Benghazi is one of skepticism and distrust. People here believe the U.N. talks are meant to legitimize Islamists in Tripoli, whom they accuse of supporting Benghazi’s jihadist forces.

At a rally I attended for two slain activists, the eastern government’s minister for culture and media struck a defiant note, lambasting the United States Navy for waiting offshore but doing nothing against the Islamic State, and accusing Israel of supplying weapons to the jihadists. The audience roared with applause when he mentioned the name of Operation Doom’s architect: Gen. Khalifa Hifter. [Continue reading…]


As frustrations build in Libya, so do calls for help

The New York Times reports: For more than a year, Libyans have been watching their politicians shuttle between foreign capitals on rounds of peace talks, workshops and conferences in search of a solution to the worsening chaos at home. At one recent event in the Tunisian capital, frustrations at the slow progress were evident in the heartfelt questions and statements from the Libyan refugees in the audience.

“We are a small country, and we need help,” Ahmed Werfalli, a businessman and activist, told the American ambassador during one panel discussion. “We were united against dictatorship, and now we are killing each other.”

Libyans are struggling with a problem that typically emerges after a bloody regime change: how to reassemble a functioning country after its brittle, autocratic and repressive government has been fractured and replaced with warring factions.

Many Libyans have taken refuge in neighboring Tunisia, forced out by the violence and doubting that the main protagonists will end their power struggle, even if a United Nations-sponsored peace agreement is signed soon. They are calling for greater international involvement to help end the conflict. [Continue reading…]


Lost generation: In war-torn Middle East, 14 million school-age children are not in school

The Associated Press reports: Forty percent of children from five conflict-scarred Middle Eastern countries are not attending school, the United Nations agency for children said Thursday, warning that losing this generation will lead to more militancy, migration and a dim future for the region.

An estimated 13.7 million school age children from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Sudan are not in school, out of a total of 34 million, UNICEF said.

The dropout rate could increase to 50 percent in coming months as conflicts intensify, Peter Salama, the agency’s regional chief, told The Associated Press.

“We are on the verge of losing a generation of children in this region,” he said. “We must act now or we will certainly regret the consequences.” [Continue reading…]


The Arab Spring was a revolution of the hungry

Thanassis Cambanis writes: Early in the Tahrir Square revolution, a group of retired Egyptian generals sat poolside at Cairo’s Gezira Club and worried about whether the country’s ruling elite could survive a popular uprising. It was February 2011, a week before President Hosni Mubarak was toppled. Millions of freshly politicized Egyptians had already taken to the streets. And yet, some of these career security men were unfazed.

“The only thing we really need to worry about is a revolution of the hungry,” said one, a retired Air Force general. “That would be the end of us.”

As it turned out, it took less than four years for Egypt’s dictatorship to reconstitute itself, crushing the hope for real change among the people. In no small part, the regime’s resilience was due to its firm grasp of bread politics. The ruler who controls the main staples of life — bread and fuel — often controls everything else, too.

Nonetheless, the specter of a “revolution of the hungry” still worries authoritarian rulers today, in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. Roughly put, the idea is shorthand for an uprising that brings together not only the traditional cast of political and religious dissidents but also pits a far greater number of poor, uneducated, and apolitical citizens against the state.

Look across the region, and regimes have good reason to be afraid. Even in countries where obesity is widespread, people suffer from low-quality medical care and malnutrition due to a lack of healthy food.

The basic equation is stark: The Arab world cannot feed itself. Rulers obsessed with security have created a twisted web of importers and bakeries whose aim is not to feed the population efficiently or nutritiously but simply to maintain the regime and stave off that much feared revolution of the hungry. Vast subsidies eat up the lion’s share of national budgets. [Continue reading…]


A culture of fear and vengeance continues in post-al-Gaddafi Libya

Jamie Dettmer writes: This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. Western backers of the Libyan uprising against dictator Muammar Gaddafi four years ago imagined that with him out of the way the door would be open for some sort of democracy or, at least, some serious respect for human rights.

To be sure, the final demise of Gaddafi himself was a gruesome dénouement. His captors dragged him dazed and bloodied from a desert culvert west of the Libyan town of Sirte and killed him with ferocious violence. Initially the revolutionary victors lied about the tyrant’s fate, claiming he had died from injuries sustained in a firefight, but videos emerged that showed him partially stripped, beaten by rebels and stabbed or sodomized with a bayonet or stick in the rear before he was shot.

Western backers of the uprising tut-tutted a bit, but the country’s new leaders quickly reassured them this was just a sad misstep; the new Libya would observe human rights meticulously and could be trusted to hold fair trials. There could be no comparison with Gaddafi’s four-decade-long republic of fear, where torture was a fine art used with maniacal zeal on liberal and Islamist activists alike — or anyone, for that matter, disliked by “The Family.”

Four years on now, more videos of rights abuses are emerging willy-nilly, and it’s clear the appalling brutishness of Gaddafi-run Libya, with its culture of fear and vengeance, has carried over into the practices of those who brought him down. [Continue reading…]


Libya: An execution designed to humiliate the local ISIS leader

The Daily Beast reports: In a scene of medieval brutality, a jihadi group fighting to control a strategically important Libyan port captured ISIS’s local commander there, paraded him through the streets amid the taunts of onlookers, and then walked him to a gallows, where he was hanged.

The public spectacle—the details of which have not been previously reported in the Western press—was meant to send a message to local residents: Side with ISIS, and this is your fate. But it also vividly conveyed that, despite ISIS’s territorial gains in Syria and Iraq, the self-proclaimed caliphate does not exercise total control of Libya, a fractured country that it’s trying to use as a safe-haven, training ground, and potential launching point for attacks in North Africa and potentially Europe.

The execution in the eastern city of Derna was described to The Daily Beast by two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity and are familiar with video footage of the shaming and hanging. U.S. government intelligence analysts have also seen the footage, the sources said.

The ISIS commander was marched through the street “Cersei Lannister-style,” one source said, an allusion to the queen mother in Game of Thrones, who, in the series’ recent season finale, is forced to walk naked through the streets to atone for her sins. [Continue reading…]


The Libyan political dialogue: An incomplete consensus

International Crisis Group: The preliminary political agreement that emerged from UN-led talks between Libyan rival factions at a signing ceremony in the Moroccan coastal resort town of Skhirat last week was a critical first step toward ending the Libyan civil war. Yet one side’s refusal to come on board without further amendments to the text potentially makes the agreement stillborn. Under the leadership of UN Special Representative Bernardino León, Libyan, regional and international actors should therefore put all their efforts into reaching a broader consensus on the text before proceeding to the next mileposts on the political roadmap, first and foremost the establishment of a national unity government, as well as security arrangements in Tripoli to support it.

On 11 July 2015, eighteen out of the 22 participants of the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue signed a preliminary framework agreement in Skhirat, Morocco, that charts a way out of a conflict that has divided Libya into two rival sets of parliaments, governments and military coalitions since July 2014. The Political Dialogue includes four representatives from each parliament – the internationally recognised House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk and its predecessor, the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli – as well as boycotting members from both sides and a number of independents, mainly former bureaucrats. The GNC delegation stayed away from the final talks in Skhirat and refused to sign the agreement, demanding further changes based on its perception that the text effectively sidelines its camp from the proposed political arrangement. [Continue reading…]


U.S. wants drones in North Africa to combat ISIS in Libya

The Wall Street Journal reports: The U.S. is in talks with North African countries about positioning drones at a base on their soil to ramp up surveillance of Islamic State in Libya in what would be the most significant expansion of the campaign against the extremist group in the region.

The establishment of such a base would help eliminate what counterterrorism officials described as one of the last and most pressing intelligence “blind spots” facing U.S. and Western spy agencies. Washington and its allies are seeking to contain the expansion of Islamic State beyond Iraq and Syria, where a U.S.-led military campaign against the group is already under way.

“Right now, what we are trying to do is address some real intelligence challenges,” a senior administration official said. A base in North Africa close to Islamic State strongholds in Libya would help the U.S. “fill gaps in our understanding of what’s going on” there, the official added.

The quest for a base represents an acknowledgment that the extremist group has managed to enlarge its area of influence even while under U.S. and allied bombardment in Iraq and Syria. [Continue reading…]


Libya parties sign deal without Tripoli government

Al Jazeera reports: Some of Libya’s warring factions have agreed on a framework for a peace deal following months of talks in Morocco, the United Nations says.

Representatives of municipal councils and the UN-backed government based in Tobruk initialled a draft deal stipulating a transitional period for the establishment of a democratic state in the country.

But a key player – the General National Congress (GNC), the legally installed government in Tripoli – and its allied Libya Dawn militia were not part of the agreement. [Continue reading…]


ISIS just lost its Libya stronghold

Institute For The Study Of War reports: The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)’s affiliate in Libya lost control of its eastern stronghold of Derna after tensions with a local Islamist militia escalated into violent conflict on June 9, 2015. Gunmen from ISIS allegedly assassinated Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB) leader Nasser al-Aker, who was a senior member of the al-Qaeda-associated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG).

The Mujahedeen Shura Council of Derna (MSC Derna), an umbrella group controlled by ASMB, released a statement declaring jihad on ISIS in Derna soon after the assassination. Clashes erupted across the city. Anti-ISIS forces cleared ISIS from central Derna and captured ISIS’s headquarters on June 13, despite ISIS’s defensive deployment of multiple SVBIEDs [Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices]. ISIS now holds no territory inside the city.

Social media reports from activists within Derna indicate strong local animosity towards ISIS. Derna’s residents organized demonstrations against ISIS on June 11 and 12, and according to unconfirmed rumors may have been armed by ASMB to participate in military operations against ISIS. [Continue reading…]


Splitting the Islamists: ISIS’s creeping advance in Libya

Frederic Wehrey and Ala’ Alrababa’h write: Since the Islamic State first announced its presence in Libya in late 2014, it has expanded to attack cities across much of the country, ranging from Benghazi in the east to Misrata and Tripoli in the west, and even in the southern deserts. At this point, the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Libya includes thousands of fighters, possibly 3,000 or even 5,000, with many of them being foreign volunteers from Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia.

Even though some observers tend to portray the rise of the Islamic State in Libya as the result of a ruthless and brilliant strategy, its advance appears to be largely opportunistic, occasioned by the fissures, distraction, and incapacity of rival factions. Where the group senses an opening, it moves, tapping into various kinds of disenchantment to divide opponents and attract potential recruits, whether among disillusioned Islamists, aggrieved tribes, or marginalized minor factions.

While it is hard to speak of a coherent strategy of the Islamic State in Libya, one consistent element of its approach has been to weaken other Islamist groups, in order to present itself as the only viable alternative for Islamists in the country. [Continue reading…]


Chaos in Libya paves way for ISIS expansion

McClatchy reports: Benefiting from Libya’s political chaos, Islamic State militants are consolidating their base in the city of Sirte and grabbing new territory, pushing back fighters from Misrata.

Libya’s two dueling governments, one based in Tripoli and the other based in Beida and Tobruk in the country’s east, are running dangerously low of cash as they back armed groups against each other, allowing the Islamic State to exploit the rift to grab territory.

The Tripoli-based government, known as Libya Dawn, and its rival, the Dignity coalition based in the east, have yet to come together to target the Islamic State’s growth, even as some commanders for Misrata’s militia, long considered the country’s most adept and a mainstay of Libya Dawn, worry that their city has become an Islamic State target.

“Daash are the biggest enemy,” said one Misratan intelligence official, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. He declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of his work.

Still, many in the Tripoli-based government view defeating Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who is aligned with the Dignity coalition, as a higher priority.

The Islamic State found fertile ground for development among Sirte’s disaffected, who were on the losing end of the 2011 war that toppled hometown boy Moammar Gadhafi and found their once-favored city devastated by the fighting and the NATO aerial campaign, according to one religious sheikh who fled his house on the outskirts of Sirte after Islamic State devotees moved into the house next door three months ago.

Some unhappy Gadhafi supporters at first had gravitated to Ansar al Shariah, the Islamist militia tied to the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi.

Then about six months ago, foreigners began arriving in Sirte, the sheikh said. [Continue reading…]


Talking with the wrong Libyans

Brian Klaas and Jason Pack write: In today’s world, internationally recognized governments do not always control their countries. Libya, which is embroiled in a multipolar civil war, is one tragic example.

Rival administrations — one in Tobruk, one in Tripoli — claim to be legitimate nationwide rulers even though neither actually governs the splinters of territory it claims to control. The real power lies with militia commanders and local councils.

All efforts to broker peace have failed. The Tobruk-based administration — having grown spoiled by a surfeit of international support — walked away from United Nations-sponsored negotiations last week, flatly rejecting the latest attempt at a power-sharing plan. Its leaders have hinted that they will resort to a military solution if a political one fails.

Now is the time to play diplomatic hardball; when the Thursday deadline for an agreement passes, the civil war is likely to intensify.

This chaos is dangerous, but not only for Libya. Since late May, ISIS has been on the march — taking over a key airport, overrunning a military base and accepting the surrender of various tribal groups in central coastal Libya. And every day, barely seaworthy boats depart with human cargo toward Europe from Libya’s coastline, which has become an unpatrolled, lawless sieve.

This smuggling of migrants (and, occasionally drugs and jihadists too) is lucrative. It enriches and empowers criminal and militia groups in Libya, which have no incentives to build peace but plenty to prolong the low-level civil war.

Libya’s further collapse is a pressing threat to Western security. But so far, all internationally led diplomatic efforts to stabilize the country have been doomed because they are guided by a narrow anti-Islamist and counterterror ideology.

The political logjam has not been broken because Western diplomacy remains focused on who we want to have in power rather than who actually wields it.

In law enforcement, when hostage negotiators attempt to stave off tragedy, they talk to whoever is holding the hostages, not his distant cousin 500 miles away. Yet Western negotiators in Libya have ignored this approach. [Continue reading…]


On the ground in Libya there’s a weird kind of stability

Jamie Dettmer reports from Tripoli: The few Western reporters here echo the warnings of U.N. envoy [Bernardino] León and file stories justifiably reporting the country is “disintegrating.” But that word doesn’t quite capture the peculiarly Libyan ambiance and the extent to which the conflict across the country is a very, very Libyan one: earnest and deadly, certainly, but also comical and orderly — yes, orderly. Where else would you find one rival government responding to phone call pleas from the other for its share of the country’s subsidized goods, or one government continuing to transfer salaries to the bank accounts of the rival government’s fighters?

“We provide them with everything,” says Jamal Zubia, a spokesman for the Tripoli-run government’s foreign ministry. A bearded former exile who raised his seven children in Britain, Zubia rubs his hand over his bearded face and chuckles when asked whether he considers it odd for a rival government to fund the activities of the other.

“Yes, we pay the salaries of their fighters,” he says. “We pay the social security payments and child benefits for everyone in Libya. We pay for the schools, we pay the fighters and even the police service, too, in the East. We transfer the money for the fighters because many of them were members of the Libyan armed forces or were warriors in the uprising against Gaddafi.”

The Tobruk government recently published its own budget but it is basically a fiction. Money is disbursed by the central bank and the bank only responds to orders from Tripoli’s Minister of Finance. Like the country’s investment authority, the central bank is now based out of Malta. On Friday Tobruk announced a new central bank under its control but how it will be funded is unclear.

Abdulgader Hwili, a senior member of the mainly Islamist government of the General National Congress (GNC), the parliament in Tripoli, also reacts with a laugh about the cash transfers to fighters loyal to Gen. Haftar. This is a family squabble, he tells me. “I have eight brothers — four of them support Tobruk,” he says. “So they are our family — we have to pay them.”

Hwili says the familial nature of the confrontation between Tripoli and Tobruk is limiting the violence and he hopes it will lead to a deal between the two governments—the one now in Tobruk was a House of Representatives elected last year to replace the Islamist-dominated parliament that is still in Tripoli but has refused to step down.

The stay-put parliament’s partisans, known as Libya Dawn, or Fajr, often are associated with the effort by Turkey and Qatar to spread the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. Their opponents sometimes fall in line with efforts by the Saudis, Emiratis and Egyptians to crush it. Haftar takes Egypt’s new President Gen. Abdel Sisi as his anti-Islamist role model. But the situation is at once more complicated than that, and, from a Libyan perspective, simpler.

Hwili says that while the U.N. sponsored talks are likely to fail — the next round of negotiations is slated to start this week in Morocco — he has hopes that face-to-face talks between the two sides already being planned for later will succeed in hammering out a peace deal and perhaps a national unity administration.

Like other lawmakers here, Hwili doesn’t think either side can win the war — a point emphasized in a soon-to-be-published study by Libyan academics sponsored by the German think tank Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. “No military action is able to make any territorial gains and end the war in its favor; this paves the way for a political dialogue to end the crisis,” the report argues. [Continue reading…]


Libyan gains may offer ISIS a base for new attacks

The Washington Post reports: As the Islamic State scores new victories in Syria and Iraq, its affiliate in Libya is also on the offensive, consolidating control of Moammar Gaddafi’s former home town and staging a bomb attack on a major city, Misurata.

The Islamic State’s growth could further destabilize a country already suffering from a devastating civil war. And Libya could offer the extremists a new base from which to launch attacks elsewhere in North Africa.

The Libyan affiliate does not occupy large amounts of territory as the Islamic State does in Syria and Iraq. But in the past few months, the local group has seized Sirte, the coastal city that was Gaddafi’s last redoubt, as well as neighborhoods in the eastern city of Derna.

A key reason for the Libyan affiliate’s expansion is the chaos that has enveloped this oil-rich nation since the 2011 Arab Spring revolt. The country has two rival governments and is rent by fighting between militias that emerged from the anti-Gaddafi struggle.

Although the Islamic State claims allies in many countries, the Libya branch is especially close to the main organization. Its core fighters in Libya are veterans of the Syrian civil war. [Continue reading…]


Half a million refugees gather in Libya to attempt perilous crossing to Europe

The Guardian reports: Up to half a million refugees are gathering in Libya to attempt the crossing to Europe on the deadly boats that have killed thousands already.

The toll of misery was revealed by senior Royal Navy officers leading Britain’s Mediterranean rescue mission off the Libyan coast. Britain’s amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark has helped save around 4,000 refugees before they drowned having set sail in unseaworthy boats.

The ship’s 350-strong company of sailors and Royal Marines is bracing itself to rescue a further 3,000. Captain Nick Cooke-Priest said: “Indications are that there are 450,000 to 500,000 migrants in Libya who are waiting at the border.” [Continue reading…]