Atlas Assistance Profile picture
Sep 11, 2018 20 tweets 4 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
#Libya While all eyes were focusing on Tripoli over the past two weeks due to militia clashes, ceasefires and yesterday's terrorist attack on the NOC, the LNA was tacitly preparing for a military escalation in central and south-western Libya, with immense potential ramifications
The instability in Tripoli served Haftar in several ways: 1) By highlighting the weakness of Serraj's GNA/PC and compounding shortages in water & electricity etc. the instability in Tripoli eroded what little popular support remained for a GNA/PC leadership despised by Haftar
2) The attack on Tripoli started by the Kani Brigade created a new push for political and fiscal reforms of the GNA similar to those Haftar demanded after the oil terminal stand-off ended in July but which since then lost momentum in August as the GNA and the Central Bank stalled
3) Most importantly, the violence led many of LNA's militia rivals to deploy forces to Tripoli from as far as Zintan, Misrata (Sumoud Battalions & CT Force) and Sirte (BAM & Brigade 604) in anticipation of a renegotiation of political, financial and security sector arrangements
The deployment of fighters by so many militias in the north-west to Tripoli left a vacuum in military capabilities in many areas currently outside LNA control. It is this vacuum that Haftar and the LNA now look poised to exploit by expanding into central/south-western Libya
From the LNA's perspective, with Benghazi secured and islamists in Derna well contained the concentration of enemy forces in Tripoli offers an ideal opportunity for territorial expansion in central and south-western Libya to boost the overall strategic position of Haftar's forces
As the primary vehicle for this endeavor, last week Field Marshall Haftar appointed Saiqa Commander Major General Wanis Bukhamada (who has returned from hospitalisation in August) as head of a new 'South Operations Room' based in Tamenhint airbase north of Sabha city
This new operations room led by Bukhamada is given the monumental task of securing the lawless and immense south-western region in general, and combating terrorists, 'gangs', mercenaries and smugglers of people, drugs and weapons in particular
In recent days Saiqa Special Forces units from Benghazi (where Haftar has surprisingly reconciled with rogue Saiqa leader Mahmoud Warfalli) have deployed to Sabha as part of Bukhamada's operations room, which is expected to commence ground operations within a few weeks at most
Perhaps not coincidentally, yesterday Fezzan tribal elders announced their own local/regional government as a replacement for the GNA which has failed to provide basic security and services in Sabha. This renegade 'government' could become a political cover for Haftar's ambitions
Moreover, the Operations Room's mission serve the interests of many states with a stake in Libya, which are likely to at least endorse Haftar's escalation in the south-west if not provide direct material support for the LNA, whose power and leverage would only rise accordingly
The vast majority of migrants trafficked through Libya en route to Europe pass through the Sabha region. If the LNA expands control of the south-west and its smuggling routes, Haftar gains great leverage vis-a-vis the Italian government, whose primary concern is halting migration
Tellingly, just yesterday Rome's Minister of Foreign Affairs Enzo Milanesi led an Italian delegation to Benghazi to meet Haftar. This was the latest example of Italy's warming up to LNA in recent weeks as Rome seeks to build/mend ties with Haftar ahead of the November conference
Italy's rival France sees the LNA escalation the same way. Paris has spent years cultivating ties in the border region (possibly with a role in the new Fezzan 'government') and will surely support the LNA maybe even with military capabilities from nearby French bases Chad & Niger
Other states will also be interested in the new LNA operations, although less due to migration and more for the anti-mercenary/foreign rebel aspect. The governments of Sudan and Chad both face big problems with cross-border attacks launched by rebels based in southern Libya
For example, last month the Chadian rebel group Conseil de Commandement Militaire pour le Salut de la République (CCMSR) - founded to overthrow President Idriss Déby - attacked the Chadian army just south of the Libyan border on several occasions, leaving several soldiers killed
President Déby has vowed to pursue CCMSR, even into Libya as far as Um al-Aranib 350 km north of the border. If LNA expands its presence in the south-west (where it conducted airstrikes against CCMSR in the spring), it could be an essential partner for the Chadian government
Niger would likely also endorse an LNA campaign aimed at controlling south-western Libya and rooting out destabilising transnational threats. In fact, this was likely the topic of discussion last month when Haftar met Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou in the capital Niamey.
Algeria is more complicated. It shares the same concerns about transnational threats as Libya's other neighbours but doesn't believe that a military escalation will solve the problems. This puts it directly at odds with Haftar, who just days ago threatened Algeria with war
In sum, the impending LNA operations in south-west #Libya look to bring Haftar support from foreign states hoping an escalation will solve their transnational problems. This support will increase Haftar's power and influence on the domestic scene in spite of the focus on Tripoli

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