Sunday, August 25, 2019 | ePaper

Libya's Warlord

Why World Reluctant To Condemn Khalifa Haftar?

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Saleem Samad :
A UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting failed to agree on a statement condemning deadly airstrikes on a migrant detention center in northwestern Libya, which was apparently blocked by the United States.
The strikes, which killed dozens of people, have been blamed on military commander Khalifa Haftar and his so-called Libyan National Army (LNA).
However, the UN's secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the bombing was "outrageous", with his spokesperson later confirming that he condemned "this horrendous incident in the strongest terms".
So why is there an apparent reluctance from the US to condemn such an attack, and who are the other important background players in Libya's most recent conflict?
The latest escalation is one element of a complex proxy war which involves many regional powers in the conflict.
Libya has an internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli - that was put together by the UN in 2016 in a bid to stabilize the country after the bloody overthrow of military dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The new government, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, operates out of the capital Tripoli in the country's northwest.
But the oil-rich east and parts of the south are controlled by Haftar in a parallel government-backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
The support that the warlord receives from Gulf monarchies is the result of establishing himself as a bulwark against "extremist" movements in North Africa.  
The United Nations report reveals that Haftar's ragtag rebellion army receives a significant amount of aircraft, military vehicles, and supplies from the UAE which also helped build an airbase in an area controlled by the militias.
Haftar has attracted this support due to his brutal suppression of Islamist Salafist group Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, and also the Muslim Brotherhood.
In April, the 75year-old General after returning from exile in the US ordered his forces toward Tripoli in a bid to topple the GNA and take control of the country.
But this has also led to a deepening conflict of interests for states that officially back the UN-instated government, who in the background have built ties with Haftar for a number of reasons, including his stance on Islamists, oil power and a means to maintain strong relations elsewhere in the region.
Despite conflict of interest for states that officially backed the UN initiated GNA, US President Donald Trump appeared to take matters into his own hands in a later phone call with Haftar - who has US citizenship - in which he praised his "significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources," a White House statement said.
However, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov maintains that "Moscow is not taking part" in the renewed fighting "in any way" - but Russia also refused to approve a statement calling on Haftar to halt his offensive in early April.
Haftar has also been hosted by Russia several times, once receiving a tour of the renowned Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in 2017.
Various Russian allies support different parties in the conflict: Turkey and Algeria, for example, support the UN-backed Tripoli government, while Egypt and Saudi Arabia back General Haftar.
The former General came back to Libya from the United States just in time in 2011, just after the beginning of the political turmoil. A perfect ally for the Western countries, favorable to the so-called "secularist" forces which Haftar is apparently helping.
As renegade warlord Haftar fights to expand his rule over Libya, his anger at Turkey's support for the internationally recognized Libyan government grows.
(Saleem Samad, is a journalist, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award, also Bangladesh correspondent of Paris based international media rights organization, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Twitter @saleemsamad; Email:

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