Defence and security expert with comprehensive media experience, coupled with specialist knowledge of Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan and military operations past and present.
Some thoughts on the upcoming SDSR and innovation for War on the Rocks
Originally published by PS21: http://projects21.com/2015/05/06/what-now-for-libya/
The increasing number of migrants perishing in the Mediterranean over the past fortnight has finally brought the deteriorating situation in Libya into the spotlight of the Western media, resulting in an increase in the EU’s naval presence off the Libyan coast.
On 24 April EU leaders held an emergency meeting in Brussels, during which they agreed to triple the budget for the EU’s border control forces in the region to €120 million. The United Kingdom has announced that HMS BULWARK will shortly begin patrolling off the Libyan coast, with the capability to deploy two smaller patrol boats and refuel three Merlin helicopters that will based in Malta and Sicily. Germany, France and Belgium have also offered ships and aircraft to bolster the EU’s presence. It appears that the EU’s main objective will be the interdiction of trafficking vessels – the majority of which are departing from areas around Tripoli controlled by the one of Libya’s rival governments – before they reach international waters, thus giving EU ships the legal basis to force such vessels to return to Libya.
However, any lasting solution will be dependent upon the Libyan state’s ability to control its own borders. For this to have a chance, the increasing intensity of the factional infighting currently wracking the country – which, with over 1,000 battle casualties caused in the past two years can be described as civil war – must be brought to an end.
As part of the ongoing negotiations process between the broadly Islamist General National Congress (GNC) based in Tripoli and generally more conservative and secularist House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk, on 28 April the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Bernardino León, released the third draft agreement for political transition. This draft is based on progress made at previous rounds of talks held recently in Algeria and Morocco, which León himself acknowledged: ‘This draft will not meet all the expectations of all the parties, particularly with regard to the distribution of competencies among the different institutions.’
The same day, the GNC dismissed the draft out of hand, stating it was ‘not balanced and does not respect the Supreme Court ruling [which declared the June 2014 elections to choose the HoR void], neither does it meet the aspirations of the revolutionary fighters for a political and balanced solution to the Libyan crisis.’ Addressing the UN Security Council the following day, León reacted to the GNC’s statement by saying that another draft is in the process of being drawn up, and will based on comments on the third draft from both sides that must be submitted by 3 May. After this, another round of talks is scheduled to take place in Morocco ‘in the coming couple of weeks’, according to León. The ultimate goal is the creation of a consensus government of national unity before the beginning of Ramadan in mid-June.
This may prove optimistic.
While the dialogue between Libya’s two rival legislatures has continued, the past two weeks have witnessed heavy clashes around Tripoli, fighting and airstrikes in Benghazi and Derna to the east, and in the south. The loose alliance of militias comprising Libyan National Army (LNA) and ‘Operation Dignity’ forces – both of which support the HoR-appointed government of Abdullah al-Thinni – have continued to increase the military pressure on the various militias comprising the broadly more revolutionary and more Islamist ‘Libya Dawn’ alliance that supports the GNC.
Indeed, the confidence of the Dignity bloc in an outright military victory is growing: on 13 April the LNA’s commander-in-chief, General Khalifa Haftar, told journalists that the Dignity bloc was now ‘betting on a military solution’ to the current political crisis. Haftar elaborated that while he would abide by the decisions of al-Thinni’s government, it was not clear how the rival political blocs could reach a deal. He also warned that if the peace talks do not succeed, ‘then the military solution is a must because it is decisive.’
Haftar’s comments were supported by a similar statement a couple of days later by the LNA’s commander in the northwest region, Colonel Idris Madi. Taken together, both comments are the clearest indication yet of LNA/Dignity forces’ pursuance of a military strategy to wear down the Dawn alliance while the political negotiations proceed.
This strategy certainly appears to be succeeding. On 15 April pro-LNA militias in the eastern Tripoli suburb of Tajoura clashed with Misratan and Tripoli-based Dawn militias, while the LNA has also advanced in numerous other areas in the northwest region. Clearly, the military initiative lies with the Dignity bloc at present, especially as Misratan Dawn forces have been diverted to besiege Islamic State in the Iraq and Levant (ISIL) forces in Sirte. Thus, the temptation to continue the fighting, in the hope that the Dawn alliance may fracture further – perhaps with the all-important Misratans staying out of the fight – remains strong for some in the HoR camp.
Indeed, many Libyans remain pessimistic about the talks. The first and most obvious reason is that the security situation on the ground reached a critical point at the start of the year with the increasing presence of ISIL affiliates in Tripoli, Sirte, Derna and the southern Fezzan region. The increasing confidence and belligerence of these groups, as evidenced by their mass executions of Christians and attacks on oil facilities recently, has underlined to the Libyan populace that those individuals once responsible and powerful enough to potentially bring peace to the country may no longer be in a position to do so. They argue that the ongoing political engagement is a potential distraction, rather than a solution, to the current situation, and rightly question whether those at the table will prove able to rule in the loose alliance of militias – many with their own local, tribal and economic agendas – if an agreement is reached.
A second reason to question real impact of the negotiations is a perception that there is no way to reconcile the situation in Libya without one of the rival governments being viewed as ‘losing’, encouraging both sides to pursue their own diplomatic, military and economic agendas while paying lip-service to the talks. The al-Thinni government has provided clear examples of how it intends to strengthen diplomatic ties independently of the negotiations. Most significantly, on 14 April al-Thinni confirmed that his government had asked Russia to provide military equipment, and to restart work on contracts won during the Gaddafi regime.
This announcement represents a radical departure from Libya’s immediate post-revolution position of entirely marginalising Russia for its prior relationship with Gaddafi. It should also be viewed as a blow to the West, which, due to its refusal to lift the current UN arms embargo on Libya until a unity government is in place, has slipped rapidly from a position of diplomatic authority – and potential economic strength – to one of worrying weakness. In fact, during a meeting in Moscow on 15 April, al-Thinni went so far as to accuse the West of destabilising Libya by supporting the Islamist bloc, calling on Russia and China to support his government in the face of Western inaction.
Many Libyans sympathise with his statements, arguing that the HoR was elected as a result of a democratic process and that the international community should promote decisive resolution of the crisis by providing military assistance, rather than prolong the crisis by delaying such support. A day later, following a meeting in Beijing between al-Thinni’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hassan Sagheer, and his Chinese counterpart, Zhang Ming, China announced it will train 150 Libyan police officers and provide substantial food and medical aid.
Nevertheless, al-Thinni’s courtship is unlikely to bear fruit. China and Russia are both permanent members of the Security Council, and thus are highly unlikely to break the arms embargo they have imposed; if they were going to subvert their status they would only do so for an issue that matters much more to them than Libya. Western states know this too, and al-Thinni’s gamesmanship is thus likely to fail as well. The US and UK in particular know that the UNSMIL process is the best chance Libya has of restoring political stability, and they will only shift from this policy if something really radical happens. It is noteworthy that US officials told a delegation from the HoR on 16 April that they should adhere to the dialogue process.
Meanwhile, representatives of both the HoR and the al-Thinni government have continued to court regional support. On 22 April, Haftar arrived in the UAE to discuss the provision of further military aid. The visit came on the heels of another to regional ally Jordan on 13 Apr, during which King Abdullah II promised to provide training and material support to the LNA. However, the fact that Libya has become a proxy for regional powers like Qatar, Turkey and Sudan on the GNC’s side, and Jordan, the UAE and Egypt on the HoR’s is not surprising given the strong support many of these nations gave to revolutionary groups in the early days of the rebellion against Gaddafi. Indeed, as outlined in this excellent recent analysis of the Libyan revolution and its aftermath, these groups’ competing visions of Libya’s future is at the core of the current crisis.
While the political bodies that claim to represent them are ultimately likely to agree a deal, it will take a strong international backing – and possibly more than that – to ensure that the armed groups on the ground obey the ceasefires and disarmament programmes agreed in conference rooms outside Libya. Libya’s problems are complex and manifold – a good example of a ‘wicked problem’ – and will need united and enduring international support, which has so far been lacking, to be overcome.
 Doyle, Michael W., and Nicholas Sambanis. 2000 (D&S2000). International Peacebuilding: A Theoretical and Quantitative Analysis. American Political Science Review 94 (4):779- 801
At approximately 7am on 27 January, at least two masked gunmen detonated a car bomb outside Tripoli’s luxury Corinthia hotel, which is often frequented by foreigners during visits to Libya’s capital. Following the blast, the attackers entered the building, killing five of the hotel’s security guards in the ensuing gun battle. As the assault continued through the morning, at least five foreigners (three Asians, a US and a French citizen) were killed. The incident ended in the early afternoon when the attackers apparently blew themselves up on the hotel’s top floor. In a brief statement on Twitter, the Tripoli branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for the attack. Meanwhile, as a further two days of peace talks between many of Libya’s warring factions concluded in Geneva the same day, all parties emphasised that they rejected terrorism and had made positive steps toward forming a government of national unity.
Although details are still emerging, the attack on the Corinthia is significant in that it is the first major assault on foreigners by an ISIL-affiliated group in Libya. Indeed, the death toll could have been far higher but for the fact that the Corinthia has been comparatively deserted since the major deterioration in Tripoli’s security situation last summer. Coming as it did just as some Western firms were beginning to reinsert personnel into Libya, the assault at the Corinthia has again highlighted the enduring threat to foreigners in Libya, even in better-protected areas. Indeed, the attack provides more evidence that Libya’s security situation is worsening as the threat from Islamist extremism rises.
However, the immediate effect of the assault on the Corinthia should be balanced against developments at the political level that give rise to cautious optimism about Libya’s longer-term future. The united condemnation of the attacks by all the delegates attending the Geneva talks was a new, and rare, show of unity, and despite the absence from the talks of more hard line Islamist elements – including those from the rump General National Congress, who claimed the attack on the Corinthia was the work of ‘Gaddafi-ists’ – the negotiations appear to be proceeding well. Crucially, most of the Misratans, so often the bellwether of events in Libya, are taking part, while the range of delegates attending from across the tribal and regional spectrums is another welcome development. Even more encouragingly, as the talks concluded, the United Nations’ Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) which has overseen the dialogue process, issued a statement that participants had ‘discussed the issue of the formation of a consensual national unity government to ensure the unity of the country and State institutions. This includes the government’s mandate, program, the decision-making process as well as the criteria for selecting its members.’ Local reports have quoted unnamed Libyan sources stating that this unity government could be decided upon in as little as two weeks. While this is likely to be optimistic, clearly progress is being made.
Such progress must be tempered with realism. The ceasefire between broadly secularist Operation Dignity forces and the broadly Islamist Operation Dawn alliance declared 16 January has not held, with heavy fighting reported in the west; near the Es Sider oil terminal; and in Benghazi. And with the oil sector now firmly in the crosshairs, on 26 January the Anwaar Afriqya oil tanker was approaching Misrata port when Dignity jets – wary that its cargo would find its way to Dawn units – forced it to divert to Tobruk. The incident clearly indicates the continuing lack of trust between the adversaries at the operational and tactical levels, and the gap between the rhetoric of Geneva and the reality of Libya’s complex and dynamic frontlines.
The immediate affect of the Corinthia attack is likely to hinder Western commercial activity in Tripoli and Libya in the short term. Unfortunately, this comes just as Aegis sources reported an uptick in the expatriate presence in the capital. Those that do remain will have to carefully consider their security posture in light of the emerging extremist threat. Meanwhile, there is some way to go in hammering out the details of any potential unity government, and with many hardliners still not involved and happy to keep fighting, a total and binding ceasefire remains a distant prospect. Nonetheless, the fact that delegates have met in Geneva again, and have agreed to the next phase in the dialogue process, is a significant step forward. There is also clear momentum with the process now, thus making it harder to obstruct. Indeed, while an abortive spectacular attack in a hotel has finally put Libya back in the headlines of the Western media, commercially, it is the continued targeting of oil and gas assets that is much more worrying.
Setting the record straight: Journalist equates NATO tactics in Afghanistan to Peshawar school attack
Last night I was invited at about 9pm to speak about the Peshawar siege on Irish TV3’s Vincent Browne Tonight show, as they wanted some security analysis about the very disturbing terrorist attack. The show airs live at 11pm, so it was a last minute request, and I prepared a brief on the subject.
I should point out the following:
1/ The International Security and Assistance Force is an UN-mandated stabilisation operation undertaken at the request of the elected government of the Republic of Afghanistan. See here
2/ NATO, (including British) troops are subjected to very stringent rules of engagement concerning the use of small arms, artillery and air strikes in civilian areas. These often mean that insurgents can take tactical advantage of the presence of civilians in the urban environment. Vincent also failed to mention that many civilian casualties in both Iraq and Afghanistan are caused by insurgents. Here is an example of the complexity of the issue. See here
3/ If anyone has read my book they’ll know the lengths to which most professional soldiers go to to prevent civilian casualties. Callsign Hades is also used to teach ethics to Cadets in numerous Western armies.
Here is the interview.
Second item, from 12.50 min