Giancarlo Elia Valori
With a view to currently understanding what is happening in the critical relationship between the Libyan military groups, we need – first and foremost – to look at the role played by the United Arab Emirates.
In Yemen, for example, the UAEs, which are primary players in the whole Arab context of the post-“democratic revolutions”, i.e. the “colour revolutions” developed by a U.S. model born in the Balkans, have placed both the Special Forces of the Presidential Guard and the traditional support to the local anti-Houthi militias on the ground.
In Yemen, the UAEs operate from the Assab base. In 2016 they reconquered Mukhallah, another very important base, and they finally recovered Al Mokha.
In Libya, the Emirates’ strategy, which is still essential to understand what is happening there, was different: clear support to Khalifa Haftar, certainly, but also direct actions by the UAE forces in favour of the forces of Benghazi’s Libyan National Accord: in the year between April 2019 and 2020 alone, there were as many as 850 drone launches and air attacks with advanced aircrafts on GNA’s Tripolitania, probably with Emirates’ pilots.
As to air attacks alone, the UAEs leave from the base of al-Khadim, 65 miles east of Benghazi, which they have restructured. It is from this base that also the supplies for Haftar came, sent from al-Sweihan, Abu Dhabi, as well as from Assab, Eritrea, the maritime base from which the Italian colonisation of the Horn of Africa – which would be currently very useful – left in the 19th century.
With specific reference to operations in Libya, the mediation between the Emirates and the local fighting tribes is often mediated on the spot by Egypt, with strong financial, technological and informational support, as already happened in the operations towards Tripoli carried out by Saudi Arabia in 2017.
Hence who are the UAEs supporting in Libya? The Salafists, who often have the primary aim of fighting against the Muslim Brotherhood; many of the former fighters of Saleh’s “National Resistance Forces”; the old Republican Guard or the “Giants Brigades”, a Salafist group.
It should be recalled that in 2013 they were delegated to the government of Misrata, the “martyr city” and the centre of many revolutionary “katibe“. The city government was the prerogative of Ansar al-Sharia, a group affiliated to al Qaeda and arisen within the February 17th Martyrs Brigade, about which we will talk later on.
Hence many factions and “revolutionary brigades”, as well as much real immobility and immutability of the Libyan picture, where no one can win over the other, due to katibe and factions in government. This can be seen as a “guarantee” for silly or lazy Westerners, who think of stabilizing Libya by simply leaving it to its now very evident role of failed state.
In their heart the Emirates would like to have an al-Sisi-style shift towards authoritarianism, but in Libya there are even the Sudanese forces that also support General Haftar and collaborate closely and directly with those of the Emirates. We have already discussed Turkey’s role in Tripolitania in other articles.
Let us see, however, how the still many militarized factions operating in Libya were born and why.
Obviously the fault for all this lies with those who foolishly preached the war “against the tyrant” thinking that the Libyan or Maghreb political culture should be that of downtown Boston or London clubs.
Or of some ignorant French mythomaniacs who, in 1968, supported the pure Khmer Rougescriminals.
A global strategy for unsatisfied ladies in salons and social gatherings, a foreign policy of Mormon preachers who have their Bible “stuck in their heads”, as Voltaire used to say.
The West looks only at itself. It has an inward-looking attitude and can only think of its own silly categories. Therefore, it can no longer understand the others and hence it does not even understand itself.
The insurgency in Cyrenaica in 2011, organized mainly by French intelligence agents, was staged there because of the traditional marginalization of the East Libyan region during Gaddafi’s leadership and of the persistent ideological and organizational presence of the Senussian network, which has always had excellent relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups of the Salafist tradition.
The Senussian sect has an esoteric and sometimes heterodox tradition which, over the years, has come closer to the Wahabi radicalism and literalist sectarianism of some Saudi and Egyptian traditions of Islam. As a scholar of ancient wisdom, I can say that this is a case to be studied carefully.
Hence a mix of local elites from Cyrenaica, superficial foreign agents, but often of local origin, as well as defectors from Gaddafi’s apparata, quickly organised a National Transitional Council (NTC) with French ships a few miles from the coast and even closer French submarines, as well as the advanced weapons supplied to them by the French Intelligence Services.
The NTC did mainly foreign policy, especially in the United States and the E.U. and especially contra Italiam, since Sarkozy’s dream was to have ENI bought by Total, with related presidential bribe, but it did not take care of hierarchically organizing all the various “revolutionary” groups that arose like mushrooms. Westerners paid well, and the “stuff” – as Machiavelli called it – was there for the most violent one.
We could also glimpse – very clearly – a Western campaign of simple and rough defamation against the “tyrant” Gaddafi and of progressive military support, especially in terms of air protection, to favour the “rebels”, all turned into “democrats”, with the magic of the aforesaid dull Western propaganda.
The Italians, forced by a series of subtle but very clear threats, were forced to participate in the anti-Gaddafi operation and, with this silly choice, they marked their progressive cancellation from the Mediterranean.
What about Mohammed bin Salman? And al-Sisi? And the King of Jordan, a great and enlightened statesman? Are they “democratic” only because they are liked by the sloppy and superficial Westerners, who in the Middle East operate like the classic bull in a China shop? Was only Gaddafi the “villain” of this B western movie or were also the others there?
So let us forget the propaganda nonsense often orchestrated – as is the case with France – by enfants gâtés who were trained – as I said above – among Pol Pot worshippers. After 1968, a path from De Gaulle’s enemies to U.S. propaganda men. A linear path, but the 1968 protesters did not know it.
As is well-known, the so-called Islamic revolution in Libya, but supported by Westerners, ended in August 2011, when the “democratic” Salafists and the Islamic Brothers took Sirte and Bani Walid, the last areas under Gaddafi’s control.
Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA) has long had limited internal support, despite its being backed at international level with all the useless fanfares.
No one will ever know the formula of the spell that has enabled Tripoli’s GNA to receive the so-called “international legitimacy”.
The Presidential Council has been established in Tripoli since March 30, 2016. Led by Fayez al-Sarraj, former member of the Tobruk Parliament, where he represented Tripoli, it originated from a Libyan Political Agreement supported by the United Nations and signed on December 17, 2015, i.e. the Shkirat agreement, which was a pact between the two main factions to achieve a unitary national government between Tripoli’s GNA and Tobruk’s Parliament. Ninety Tobruk MPs signed the written agreements at the “Mohammed VI Centre” in the Moroccan city. Also the 27 Tripoli MPs signed it, but they had the “proxies to vote” of other 42 MPs living in the capital city who did not leave to vote. At the time the Presidential Committee was made up of 6 personalities, all designated by the United Nations. Later 3 other politicians were added, two representing Fezzan and one representing Cyrenaica. It was that Presidential Committee that drew up the list of Ministers of the unitary government. We know how it ended up. The legal-political fact is that the Tobruk Parliament accepted the 2015 agreement, but refused to sign Article 8 of the Shkirat text, which would force Tripoli’s government to control the autonomous forces of Cyrenaica.
Furthermore, at the time, the Tobruk Parliament did not accept the names proposed for the future, but impossible Libyan national government. A great and definitive chaos.
However, who is Fayez al-Sarraj? He graduated in Architecture and Town Planning from the University of Tripoli in 1982. He had secondary, but not negligible roles in Gaddafi’s regime and then inevitably joined the “revolution”.
It should be recalled, however, that the Presidential Council was the real Libyan “Head of State”.
But why did the Security Council vote unanimously the Political Agreement of December 2015? In fact, the aforementioned Shkirat agreement of 2015 was defined mainly to resolve the dispute between the regularly elected House of Representatives operating in Tobruk-Al Bayda, the General National Congress of Tripoli and the other centripetal forces that had already been formed. The latter won the fight against two weak governments depending on “others’ weapons”.
The idea in the Shkirat pact was good in principle, but, without deciding who should be entrusted with “sovereignty”, disputes are bound to last forever.
Tripoli’s Presidential Council, currently led by al-Serraj – when, as you may recall, the current leader of Tripolitania had to arrive by sea because he knew that, if he arrived at the airport of Mitiga, he would be killed – was born, however, to create a unitary government with all “Parliaments” in Libya, not to operate alone.
The funny result is that the United Nations and all the sheep-like and spineless EU member States keep on looking the other way pretending nothing happened and treating the GNA as the only “legitimate” government. Moving forward almost by inertia, we could say. A heritage of the negative Western experiences in Iraq – but the brain is made to be used and not to project one’s own petty bourgeois preconceived ideas onto the Arab world, which is much more complex than we might think.
The United States has always fully supported the Government of National Accord (GNA), but Egypt, the Emirates, Russia and also, indirectly, China argue that a “national and unitary Libyan army” is particularly needed and therefore they support – first and foremost – Khalifa Haftar, especially in an anti-Islamistic and anti-jihadist function.
Reverting to the official structures of the now inevitably fragmented Libya – just now, when we need it well united – there is also Khalifa Gwell’s government, based on the now remote authority of a General National Congress, which had its moment of glory during the 2012 Parliamentary elections.
The “Parliament of Tripoli”, which has nothing to do with al-Sarraj, largely moved to the High Council of State, a body chaired by the leader of Misrata, Abdul Rahaman Sweli. Later, however, the Tobruk Parliament began to support the government of Abdullah Al-Thinni operating directly from Al-Bayda.
All the revolutionary groups participating in the easy insurgency against Gaddafi, the thuwar, as they are generically called in Libya, did not want – from the beginning – the continuity of the Armed Forces and the Libyan police. Quite the reverse, they strongly contested that assumption.
All of them had developed the vague concept of “revolutionary legitimacy” and it was precisely the first non-Gaddafi government, led by Abd Al Rahim al Kib (which lasted from November 2011 to November 2012) which actually appointed “guerrillas” from Zintan and Misrata, as well as Salafists and many jihadists, to Ministerial posts, at least to rebalance the distribution of presences in the “revolution” between Colonel’s old loyalists and new “Islamic revolutionaries”.
As was obvious, those jihadists and most of the thuwar, be they Salafists or not, did not accept at all the presence of the old men of Gaddafi’s regime in other areas of the Libyan government. In their opinion, their “revolutionary legitimacy” allowed them to have a right of control and expulsion – often “immediate” – for the old elements of Gaddafi’s “regime”.
Another factor not to be neglected in the analysis of the Libyan structural crisis is the scarce conceptualization and official regulation of military power and security.
Some roles in the Intelligence Services were abolished by the anti-Gaddafi revolution, based on the idea – we all know in Italy, but which remains silly anyway – that certain qualifications recalled sad moments (but only for them).
Even the Defence Ministry was abolished and the new laws for the intelligence sector made the Services a semi-private function, so to speak.
The laws adopted by the NTC and the National General Congress were always ambiguous and badly drafted, just like the Italian ones. Therefore any political players had the possibility of favouring their own military faction to the detriment of the others.
Therefore, first and foremost, the lack of clear and unambiguous rules and the intentional ambiguity of security laws mainly favoured the so-called “revolutionary legitimacy” of the thuwar against the professionalism of former Gaddafi’s supporters or even of the men that the West – always foolishly and carelessly – chose to lead the “new Libya”.
The ultimate aim of the insurgency was the destruction of Gaddafi’s family, who reasoned by clans and tribes. That held true for all the thuwar, although they had nothing in common.
Hence all of them and their katibe could not seriously control the Libyan territory and the concept of State power and unitary control of the territory did not even exist. We could define it a “federalism of civil war”.
95% of the small katibe, the “battalions” of the thuwar, were composed of less than 1,000 elements – little more than extended families, like the mafia gangs in the South of Italy – and in the Libyan West they organized themselves mainly through “Military Councils”, while in Eastern Cyrenaica through rather loose coalitions of “fighting groups”.
By Darwinian natural selection, two large reference organisations soon emerged for all the small katibe: the “17th February Coalition” and the “Coalition of Revolutionary Organisations”.
The “17th February Coalition” soon divided into two other sections.
The first one was called “Preventive Security Apparatus” and performed mainly counter-espionage and border control activities, also to counter the many elements still linked to Gaddafi.
The second one was called the “Libya Shield Force” and was composed of small groups that had operated mainly in Brega and operated mainly in the oil-rich Tripolitania.
In Misrata a brigade was formed, led by a defector of Gaddafi’s forces, Salim Joha, but made up of groups of trained civilians, with a size ranging from 1,000 men up to even 10-20 that, however, soon reached the size of as many as 236 katibe.
Almost all of them were battalions specialised in one single task or function. Most of them enrolled – so to speak – in the “Misrata Union of Revolutionaries” or even in the “Misrata Military Council”.
In November 2011, at its best, the Union had 40,000 militiamen.
In the West, in the region generically defined as Tripolitania, there was a clear differentiation among the contact people of the countries that had carried out the (illegitimate) attack on Gaddafi – a differentiation that referred to military groups, policy lines and even areas of influence.
In Zintan there were 6,000 “revolutionaries” divided into eight brigades, while in Nalut there were 5,000 divided into six brigades.
The katibe of Jadu, Zawiya, Zuwara and the other small centres were mainly linked to the Border Guards, to the forces for controlling oil wells or even to those for Vital Installations.
Moreover, in Tripoli as many as 17 “revolutionary councils” were created, mainly fuelled by the 16,000 common criminals that Gaddafi had freed shortly before his fall. None of the groups was completely autonomous nor could control acceptable parts of territory. Many of them were involved in drug dealing with drugs stolen from the warehouses of the security apparata or operated in the “black market” and in the private protection sector.
There were also “revolutionary” groups that were created, but later, in the regions where Gaddafi’s power had lasted longer: in Bani Walid, Tarhouna and in the Warshafana area.
Those groups were a mix of old Gaddafians, orphans of their leader but always and absolutely part of the same tribe, and also of new “revolutionaries” who imitated the exploits of the katibe operating in the major centres.
Most of those groups later returned to the ranks of the Oil Guards that paid better than others.
Nevertheless, Gaddafi was also to blame for that chaos. He had created a State security structure that did not report only and directly to the Chief of Staff, but to two different and clearly separate bodies: the “Temporary General Committee on Defence” (initially led by Abu Bakr Yunis Jabr) and the “Standing Committee on Defence”, led by various figures but, actually, by Gaddafi himself.
The safety net of Gaddafi’s regime was also very complex: there was the “32nd Brigade”, led by Khamis Gaddafi, as well as the Mohammed al Maqariaf, Sahban, Fadhil Abu Omar, Faris, Hamza, Suqur, Abu Minyar and finally the Maghawir brigades.
In Gaddafi’s organization of State security, also the other military forces were divided into two. Only the Eastern units immediately defected, while the others remained loyal to the Colonel.
A part of the Saeqa battalion joined the “revolutionaries” of Eastern Cyrenaica to form the “Zawiya’s Martyrs Brigade” but, as the advance of jihadists and Westerners from the East proceeded, many officers – albeit fewer we may think – began to defect also in Tripolitania.
Nevertheless, many of the military units stationed in the South and in the West remained loyal to Gaddafi almost until the end.
After the death of the Sirte Colonel, the units of the West and of the South met with the “revolutionary councils” in the regions where the regular Armed Forces were strong while the revolutionary katibe were weak. This happened mainly in Gharyan, Khums, Sabha, Surman and Tarhouna, the city where a former director of our “external” intelligence Services was born. A hybridization of the political-military forces that make us reflect and is very characteristic of the Libyan anti-Gaddafi insurgency.
Instability obviously grew, while the Westerners, who foolishly caused it, washed their hands of it, probably waiting for the Holy Spirit of some invariably rigged election.
There was also the strengthening of some institutions which, however, were already very fragmented: the “Libya Shield Force”, the “Preventive Security Apparatus”, the “Lybyan National Guard”, a structure initially created by Khalid al Sharif, former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a network that was already born in the run-up to the 2011 insurgency.
Ubi occidentalia, ibi jihadismus, and forgive me for the inevitable mistakes in Latin.
There were even other organizations of Gaddafi State that absorbed elements of the katibe to stay in power and have some kind of operational base. To survive and do business or just to stay alive. The economic crisis caused by the fall of the regime in 2011 bit immediately.
Oil accounted for 97% of Tripoli’s revenues at the time of the Colonel. The Libyan oil was processed and exported by ENI, French Total, German Wintershall, Russian Gazprom and Spanish Repsol. With many Italian managers inside them. Obviously Westerners were waiting for the capital of the Libyan Investment Authority to be mobilized – 67 billion in late 2012 – but the political issues arising from the factionalism of the katibe and governments were endless, as it was easy to predict. There were also the General Electricity Company of Libya (GECOL), the Libyan Iron and Steel Company (LISCO), the Economic and Social Development Fund (ESDF), the Office of Development or Administrative Complex (ODAC), the free port area of Misrata. Since Gaddafi’s time, an economy that, before the 2011 insurgency, had already been largely privatized but that the “revolutionaries” could not interpret and were not able to control.
Also the institutions fell into chaos, often applying Westernist models to a very different situation: for years the position of “Supreme Leader of the Armed Forces” remained not legally clear, but fluctuated within the GNC, as a result of power struggles, and was often harshly contested by the many “little bosses” of the katibe.
Before the governments split into two, there was also the often immature conflict between the Defence and the Interior Ministries and the government itself which led, even in the midst of an uncertain and always personalistic management of oil transactions, to an administrative, social and political stalemate – which, in turn, led to an increase in mass poverty.
That added to the Baroque and elaborate structure of institutions, pursued almost exclusively to avoid command and responsibility: the above mentioned Supreme Defence Committee in Tripoli (where also the Salafist and jihadist influences were more evident than in other regions), also divided throughout Libya into 54 regional sectors, had as many as 16,000 guerrillas available only in the old Gaddafi’s capital.
As already recalled, again at the Libyan post-national level, there were 54 local sectors of the Supreme Defence Committee, as well as 23 anti-crime committees, 45 units supporting defence activities, the Ėlite Forces and the Special Deterrence Forces.
It should also be noted that the Forces that had sought the support of the various factions of the Supreme Defence Committee -often succeeding in obtaining it – even included pro-Gaddafi katibe or even mere common criminals, in addition to elements already classifiable as Qaedist jihadists.
In Ben Ashur, for example, the members of the anti-crime brigades were all ex-convicts.
Until the dissolution of the Supreme Defence Committee, this was the mechanism of Libya’s post-Gaddafi “security”. We will talk about this matter again in other articles.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France
President of International World Group