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Who is Khalifa Haftar?

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Submitted by George Callaghan…

Khalifa Haftar is a 76 year old Libyan-American who is trying to seize control of Libya. Haftar leads the Libyan National Army (LNA). He is battling against the Government of National Accord (GNA). The GNA is recognised by the rightful government of Libya by almost every government. It holds the UN seat for Libya. Under international law the GNA has legitimacy. Those who rebel against a lawful government are usually judged harshly.

The GNA controls not even all of Tripolitania. Cyrenaica and the Fezzan are in LNA hands.

What is Haftar? Is he a warlord or robber baron? Is he an idealist or an opportunist? Is he an Islamist or a secularist? Is he the marionette of extraneous forces? Or is he his own man? Is the wouldbe emancipator of his people or their next oppressor? He is enigmatic. There are as many opinions of him as there are grains in the Sahara.

Haftar has a curious back story. He was a senior officer in the Libyan Army under Mummar Al Gadaffi. Gadaffi sent him into Chad to wrest the valueless Aozou Strip from the Chadians. Libya’s endeavour to seize more sand ended in ignominy. France backed its former colony with weapons and advisors. Haftar surrendered to the Chadians. Haftar was interviewed by the CIA which was then very active in the erstwhile French colony. K Haftar agreed to switch sides. It might have been that he did not wish to be repatriated to Libya at the close of hostilities to face the wrath of the Brotherly Guide of the Revolution. He and several hundred Libyan Prisoners of War were looked after by the CIA. The idea was to turn them into a sort of Vlasov’s Army or Indian National Army. They would be trained and then sent back into Libya to overthrow the government when the time was ripe. Relations between the United States and Libya were very strained at the time. The bombed each other. The opportune moment for anti-Gaddafi Libyans to be sent back into Libya to oust Gaddafi did not arise in the 1980s.

The conflict ended with Gaddafi saying he was giving the Aozou Strip to Chad as a present! Haftar must have feared being sent home. Once Gaddafi learnt that Haftar had turned his coat then Haftar will have known what lay in store. No one ever called Gaddafi lenient.

Haftar was allowed to move to the United States. He was an asset that the US could use later if the chance came. He later attained American citizenship.

Gaddafi was detested by the West for decades. But from 2003 onwards he started to court various Western leaders. He had Tony Blair eating out of his hand. There must have been something in the she-camel’s cheese that he served Blair. Gaddafi agreed to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction programmes. That flatulent Bedouin agreed to gas people with no more than miasma from his cloaca.

Silvio Berlusconi visited Libya. Italy was eager to regain influence on La Quarta Sponda (the fourth shore). Rome paid $5 billion in assythment for genocide in Libya 1911-31. The Italian Government apologised unreservedly for the wrong wrought in Libya. This was also supposed to be the Italian State disgorging its ill-gotten lucre from the exploitation of Libya.

The compensation paid was little more than a kickback for the Gaddafi family to purchase assets from Berlusconi and chums. It worked.

The European Union invited Mummar Al Gaddafi to Brussels. He addressed the European Parliament. He was hailed as a reformer. Only two years later the EU voted to bomb Libya. With friends like these…

In 2011 the Arab Spring brought insurrection to Libya. That lead to the internecine warfare that we have today in Libya. Since the rebellion began the country has not had a day of peace in nine years. The country has gone from development to dystopia. It is the war of all against all.

Do not get me wrong. Gaddafi was tyrant who killed hundreds of this people. Men and women of moderate opinion were tortured in his dungeons for daring to want rights. His crazy cult of the personality was contemptible. He had a weathervane mind. Col Gaddafi professed egalitarianism while he practised nepotism and his clan enriched themselves.

Gaddafi has the only single colour flag in the world. There was no symbol on it. The political landscape was as monochrome as that banner. The exaltation of Gaddafi as some sort of superman was daft. Even the constitutional title of the country was risible: The Great Libyan Arab People’s Islamic Socialist Jumahurriya. Jumahurriya is usually translated ‘republic.’ Literally it is ‘mass state’. His novel form of democracy was a series of thousands of local councils all feeding decisions up to the central one. Did it work? How could it?

Despite his many manifest iniquities Gaddafi also had his virtues. He achieved some positive outcomes for Libya. Infrastructure improved immeasurably under him. When he seized power in 1969 most Libyans were illiterate. By the time of Colonel Gaddafi’s downfall almost every Libyan could read. It is true that there were advances in most countries. But the improvements in Libya were greater than average.

The Gaddafi Administration also preserved the ancient Roman monuments in the country. He opened the country to small scale tourism.

Gaddafi was not always on the side of wickedness. His opposition to anti-black discrimination was of course laudable.

It is galling that Gaddafi was ousted as his behaviour was improving? Should he have been the ruler of Libya? I dislike him thoroughly. But surely the decision as to who should wield power in Libyan is one for the people of that land to make.

Since the fall of Gaddafi the Libyan economy contracted more than any other. Gaddafi prevented illegal immigrants from coming into Europe. Now the EU receives hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from across the Mediterranean each year. Many would be immigrants die on the voyage.

Haftar re-entered Libya a few years ago. He has been with Islamists and against them. He is an American and has spoken to Trump on the phone whilst on campaign. He has also visited Moscow and met the Russian Foreign Minister. It begs the questions: does Haftar believe in anything besides Haftar? Is he simply Boris Johnson with bazookas?

France, Egypt, the UAE and Jordan all threw in their lot with the LNA. It is unclear why. It is curious that France is breaking with her EU and NATO partners on this one.

Most other countries support the GNA. Turkey has been especially active in assisting the GNA. Turkish troops are in Libya at the express invitation of Tripoli.

Erdogan entertains pretensions of recreating the Ottoman Empire. Libya was Ottoman land for centuries prior to the Italian invasion. Besides the fantasy there is a hard-headed economic reason to support Tripoli. The government has signed a gas contract with Ankara for offshore gas fields in the Gulf of Sirte.

No non-Turkish nation is nostalgic for Ottoman rule. When the Italians invaded and subjugated Libya they encountered twenty years of stiff resistance. But the guerrillas did not seek a restoration of Ottoman rule. If Erdogan believes that the Libyans wish to become a satrapy of the Turks once again then he is sorrily mistaken.

Khalifa Haftar does not appear to be overburdened by humanitarianism. Combatants under his command have often killed prisoners of war. His foes are fighting legally and in uniform. There is no justification for killing them after their surrender unless they try to escape or attack their guards. He has left mass graves in his wake. Exhumations have shown people shot in the back from close range. It is unlikely these people went into battle walking backwards.

Wagner Group is active in Libya. Most Wagner Group contractors are Russian. What is Wagner Group? Mercenaries are outlawed in Russia. So are they mercenaries or something else? How can Haftar afford to pay them? Are they working pro bono? Or is someone else footing the bill?

Why are some foreign governments backing Haftar? He has no access to money or arms without them. If he wins he shall be ingratiated to them. On the other hard he is a bargaining chip. Support for him can be reduced or withdraw in return for concessions from the Libyan Government. But if Tripoli is not forthcoming with concessions then armaments shipments to the LNA can be increased. It is stick and carrot.

So many governments are inconsistent. Why is rebellion outrageous in Syria but righteous in Libya? One of these two governments is savage and the other is not. But which is which?

All this talk of rigorously adhering to international law is so much hot air coming from certain chanceries. Government who say they wish to uphold human rights seldom apply that across the board. So often these principles are applied with self-interested selectivity.

Backing the LNA might be payback to Western countries for lending aid and comfort to the Free Syrian Army. It raises the cost of supporting the GNA.

If Haftar wins a mighty country might get a naval base in the Mediterranean. Is this the goal?

Some people lost out upon the fall of Gaddafi. They have not reached an accommodation with the GNA. They therefore seek to replace it with a government that is more amenable to them.

It is hard to see a decisive outcome occurring soon. The LNA made some powerful thrusts towards Tripoli early in 2020 but were given a bloody nose. Foreign support for the GNA shows no sign of dwindling. Likewise the LNA’s foreign paymasters appear to be steadfast.

The conflict will drag on for a few more years. Some factions of the GNA or LNA might be induced to turn their coats. Perhaps Washington might lean on some the the LNA’s weaker sponsors to cut off aid. Jordan and Egypt are dependent upon the largess of Uncle Sam. The United States might twist their arms into abandoning Haftar. The UAE could be vulnerable to sanctions. France might be pressurised into being a good European and acting in a spirit of loyalty and solidarity as provided for by the Treaty of Lisbon. The EU is supposed to have a common foreign and security policy. What a mess it is!

If all foreign fighters and foreign military aid were cut off the bloody anarchy would peter out fairly soon. But sadly it is hard to see that happening in the foreseeable future. There is too much at stake in this oil rich country.

When there is a crime a detective looks for a motive. Ask yourselves who has a motive to cause and sustain conflict in Libya? Cui bono?

The other core principle to remember when analysing such a debacle is from Murphy’s Law. The Golden Rule is: whoever has the gold makes the rules. The bankrollers of this conflict are the ones behind it. Think why are the behind it? What do they stand to gain? There are different interests at play. Some want the LNA to win and some want the GNA to win. But to some simply wish to drag out the conflict because there is more profit in it being protracted?

At the moment on the only people who would benefit from peace in Libya are the much put upon Libyan people. But who cares a fig for their wellbeing or wishes?

Meanwhile, Libya suffers a brain drain. The country is in such a shambles that ambitious youngsters are tempted to seek their fortune elsewhere.

Haftar is elderly and infirm. He is not a safe longterm bet. If his backers were smart they would start grooming a lieutenant of his to take up his mantle should Haftar be stricken. Even if it were not for the conflict he is not long for this world.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.

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