Civil War In Libya
On March 30, 2016, the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) arrived in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. The group of Libyan lawmakers, led by Fayez al-Sarraj, had previously been based in Tunisia. On April 7, the rival Tripoli-based National Salvation government, or former the General National Congress (GNC), rejected the GNA’s transition, contradicting its earlier acceptance of the new government taking over.
The formation of the GNA was the result of UN efforts to find a resolution between the warring factions and to create a unity government. UN Envoy Martin Kobler facilitated a series of talks in Morocco and Tunisia with the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) and its rival, the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC). The principle obstacles to the success of a unity government continue to include the HoR’s concerns about GNC politicians’ links to Salafist militias and demands by GNC allies to exclude Libyan Army General Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-backed former Qaddafi loyalist, from the new government.
Further complicating the struggle between various vying factions is the presence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which established a foothold in the country in February 2015 and quickly gained control of the coastal city of Sirte. In May, Libya’s UN-backed government, with support of allied militias, launched a coordinated offensive on the Mediterranean port city, the group’s most significant stronghold outside of Syria and Iraq.
The United States began an air campaign in August 2016 against the Islamic State, at the request of Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli. Under the cover of U.S. airstrikes, the militias successfully captured the group’s headquarters in Sirte on August 11, 2016. Sirte’s mayor, Mokhtar Khalifa, estimates that about 70 percent of the city has been rid of Islamic State elements. The UN had previously estimated the number of Islamic State fighters in Libya to be between two and three thousand (including administrators and financiers), eight hundred of whom fought with the group in Syria, but in June 2016 CIA Director John Brennan said there were between five thousand and eight thousand.
The head of the Islamic State in Libya, Abu Nabil, was killed in a U.S. air strike in November 2015—the first U.S. airstrike against the Islamic State outside of Iraq and Syria. But the group’s presence continues to grow in Libya; the Islamic State has urged foreign fighters to travel to Libya instead of trying to enter Syria. In January 2016, over sixty policemen were killed and two hundred were wounded in a bomb attack in western Libya—one of the deadliest attacks since the fall of Qaddafi—potentially carried out by the Islamic State.
Libya has struggled to rebuild state institutions amid rising violence since the ouster and subsequent death of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi in October 2011. The strength of rebel militias has increased—approximately 1,700 armed groups, including fighters loyal to the Islamic State—especially since the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.
After the fall of Qaddafi, Libya’s secular-leaning HoR has tried to consolidate legitimacy as the main authoritative power in the country. The GNC—initially tasked with the transition process after Qaddafi’s ouster for writing constitution—was voted out in August 2014. Yet the GNC reconstituted itself as a rival government in Tripoli, pulling together former GNC members and Islamist militias.
In September 2014, former Qaddafi loyalist and HoR appointee General Haftar began Operation Dignity with an initial focus on attacking Islamist militant groups in Benghazi, calling for a dissolution of the GNC. To counter this movement, an alliance of Islamists and militias formed Libya Dawn. The conflict pits the Libya Dawn coalition, which controls Tripoli and much of western Libya, against the Dignity coalition, controlling controls parts of Cyrenaica and Benghazi in eastern Libya. Each coalition had its own self-declared parliament and government, as well as nominal military chiefs, and faces internal fragmentation and divisions among different groups.
There is a continued presence of jihadists, including Ansar al-Sharia—the Libyan terrorist group allegedly responsible for the U.S. consulate attack— and the Islamic State, which has gained significant territory in Libya. Taking advantage of the widespread political instability, jihadists are using the country as a hub to coordinate broader regional violence and launch attacks.
As a result of the continued fighting, more than 434,869 people have been internally displaced as of June 2015—double the number of displaced persons from the previous year. Given its proximity to Europe, Libya has also been used as a passageway for Libyan refugees and refugees from other North African and sub-Saharan African countries. In 2015, half a million people had sailed by boat from Libya as of September. In 2015, an estimated 76,000 refugees and migrants made the journey to Europe from Libya.
There is general concern about the permanent fracturing of Libya, as the various rebel and militia groups have tried to divide the country among political and tribal lines. Furthermore, it is uncertain whether the new unity government will be able to bring together the warring factions and reestablish stability in Libya.
A Visual Exploration of the Conflict
Carnegie Endowment For International Peace
MARCH 30, 2017
MARCH 21, 2017
FEBRUARY 28, 2017
Julia McQuaid et al.
New York Times
DECEMBER 8, 2016
European Council On Foreign Relations
Peter Cole with Fiona Mangan
U.S. Institute of Peace
SEPTEMBER 2, 2016