European values are fairly clear: they want oil to travel northward, not people. Haftar, at the cost of the Libyans themselves, will make that happen.
by Vijay Prashad
You can well imagine the tension when Libya’s beleaguered Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj met with the UN envoy Ghassan Salamé in his office in Tripoli on Monday morning. Not far away, in the south of Libya’s capital, the troops of the Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar had made rapid advances. They had taken the shell of Tripoli International Airport and had made a dash toward the road that links Libya to Tunisia. Haftar’s troops, well-armed and well-disciplined, had moved northward toward the Ain-Zara neighborhood. On Monday, Haftar’s air force bombed the only working airport in Tripoli—at Mitiga. The United Nations wanted to let al-Serraj know that it would not abandon him.
Part 1 - Khalifa Haftar
It’s hard to follow the ins and outs of Libyan politics, particularly given the fragmentation of the country after the NATO war in 2011. NATO hit Libya very hard, destroying what institutions remained.
As soon as the bombs started falling, General Khalifa Haftar departed for Benghazi (in Libya’s east) from his home in Virginia, just a 10-minute drive from CIA headquarters.
Haftar had been a senior general in the army of Muammar al-Gaddafi, and it was Haftar who had led the charge into Chad during that ill-fated war in 1987. Haftar defected to the United States, dashed out of Libya with his family and arrived in Virginia. The United States government essentially gave Haftar exile status, keeping him in cold storage for when he might be useful. But Haftar was in for a surprise.
The U.S. government led by Barack Obama thought that it controlled the situation in North Africa, when in fact it was flat-footed. Obama’s team felt that it could continue to support Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak even after Egypt’s military had decided to do away with him.
In Libya, they felt that their man—Haftar—would be able to take the reins and seize Libya for the United States. But when Haftar arrived in Benghazi, he found that the Gulf Arabs—notably the Qataris—had already chosen the next leader of Libya, their banker Mahmoud Jibril. The United States and France bombed Libya to a crisp and Qatar won the initial prize, with Jibril as the head of government.
Libya fell into the worst of the rivalries of the Gulf Arabs. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—with their close friend Egypt—had a grand falling out with Qatar—and its close friend Turkey—in 2014.
Egypt and the UAE, as well as Saudi Arabia, had already decided that Haftar would be their man against Qatar’s Jibril. The Egyptian and Emirati bombers gave Haftar air support as they continued his brutal war in Benghazi and then as he attempted a failed coup in Libya in 2014. Haftar appeared to the Saudis and the Emiratis as the Libyan version of Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Haftar saw that el-Sisi was given a long leash, not only by his Gulf Arab allies but also by the West, which said nothing about the human rights violations inside Egypt. If el-Sisi can get away with it, Haftar surmised, so can he.