Libya (SCF) – As recently acknowledged by The Washington Post, US Special Forces are directly involved in military operations in Libya, «coordinating American airstrikes and providing intelligence information» to local forces battling the Islamic State (IS) for Sirte, 450 kilometres to the east of Tripoli.
British special forces have also been active in Libya for several months, providing direct military support to brigades from Misurata (Libya’s third largest city situated in the northwest of the country), which are also attacking Sirte. Paradoxically, the British and Americans are supporting irreconcilable enemies in the Libyan conflict as allies.
France is also involved in the intervention in Libya. On 26 July, in Libya a helicopter containing three French soldiers was shot down. French special forces are supporting the forces of General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the armed forces of the Libyan Parliament (the House of Representatives) located in Tobruk in the west of the country. The French soldiers were killed by militants from the Benghazi Defence Brigades – an armed group formed by radicals from Misurata. The group is led by Ismail al-Sallabi, the brother of Libyan Muslim Brotherhood leader Ali al-Sallabi. Its aim is to prevent General Khalifa Haftar gaining control of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, and the oil fields in Cyrenaica.
It has to be said that the battle between the militants from Misurata and the Islamic State is rather conditional in nature. The Islamic State in Libya is an experiment by the Qatari intelligence agencies, and an unsuccessful one at that. Unlike Syria and Iraq, there are no prerequisites for the expansion of the Islamic State in Libya. In Iraq, the emergence of the IS was largely due to the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict, which does not exist in Libya. In addition, the ideology of the Islamic State involves the unification of Islamists regardless of tribal affiliation. This is possible in Syria and Iraq, but is out of the question in Libya, where the tribal factor determines the structure of society. Realising that its experiment had failed, Qatar began strengthening the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood with the Misurata tribe and the fighting in Sirte is an attempt to use one group of Islamists to remove another.
After learning of the downed French helicopter, Fayez al-Sarraj, the prime minister of Libya’s national unity government, which has little real power over the country, condemned the actions of Paris, calling them an intervention. It is interesting, however, that al-Sarraj’s government is taking a completely different line with regard to America’s intervention in Libya, which does not just consist of special forces operations, but also the bombing of IS positions by US F-16 fighter jets. In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on 9 August, the Libyan prime minister said that there are no US ground troops in Libya, only the US Air Force, which is carrying out surgical strikes on terrorist targets. In doing so, Fayez al-Sarraj deliberately misled the reading public just as Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council that overthrew the Gaddafi government, misled the public in the summer of 2011. Nobody mentions Abdul Jalil today, he has disappeared from the radar screens. Will the political biography of al-Sarraj, whose government has become a fig leaf covering up Western intervention, turn out to be just as short? Especially as his government is not the only one in Libya. Besides the National Unity Government, there is also the previously-mentioned House of Representatives in Tobruk, which is based on an elected parliament, and a government in Tripoli. However, these two governments together control only a small part of the country. As well as these, there are hundreds of armed groups that, strictly speaking, are the real masters of the situation.
The National Unity Government (a name that actually sounds comical given the current situation in Libya) was formed under the mediation of the UN and the West and from April to July this year was even too afraid to appear in Tripoli, its headquarters located at the Bu Sitta naval base on an island not far from the Libyan capital (similar to the ‘Green Zone’ in Baghdad set up by US occupying forces). One of the first steps taken by the new government was to begin talks on the merger of two oil companies operating independently of each other in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. Upon hearing this, the ears of al-Sarraj’s Western sponsors pricked up, since their first and primary interest is Libyan oil. As a consequence, fighting for the control of territory is mostly taking place in Sirte and Ajdabiya, where Libya’s main oil terminals are located. The second interest of those involved in NATO’s Libyan intervention is to safeguard Europe’s southern flank from Libya’s coastline, which stretches for 1800 kilometres.
NATO justified its first Libyan intervention in 2011 with concerns for the establishment of democracy in the country following the overthrow of Gaddafi’s «tyrannical regime». This time, the intervention is being justified by the need to combat Islamic extremism. Something has changed in the five years between 2011 and 2016, however: while the anti-Gaddafi opposition held meeting after meeting in Benghazi in 2011 calling for NATO troops to be deployed in the country, now, after the French helicopter was shot down, meetings are being held in Libya against Western intervention.
Over the past five years, Libyans have learned a lot from their bitter experience: they have realised that ‘help’ from the West in establishing ‘democracy’ and in the ‘fight against extremism’ brings nothing but destruction, death and the displacement of those still alive. Today, three million Libyans, which is half of the country’s population, are forced to live outside of their homeland.
This report prepared by Alexander Kuznetsov for Strategic Culture Foundation.