The fall of Muammar Gaddafi and his revolutionary regime in 2011 has ushered in an era of factional violence between city militias, military units, and Islamic and nationalist brigades. According to (see detailed bibliographic reference below), 1,741 Libyans have been killed in violent clashes or assassinations from January to September 2014 alone. Although the site’s body count statistics cannot be taken as official numbers since they are based on media reports, it offers the best estimation.

The conflict has created 250,000 refugees with, in August 2014, a peak rate of 5,000-6,000 crossing the Tunisian border each day, forcing Tunisia to close its border. Egypt and Algeria have also closed their borders, forcing Libyans to either stay in the country as displaced persons, or attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea as refugees. Libya’s post-Gaddafi era has brought about a failed state that is increasingly plagued by civil war and all the associated negative effects.

A continuing and strengthening Libyan civil war poses a significant challenge in the North African and Middle Eastern regions, and even beyond. Besides the direct domestic disaster resulting from civil war, the involvement of five foreign regional governments (each with their own political or security stake in Libya) backing the fighting domestic actors could be a powder-keg, further destabilizing the region.

Furthermore, radical Libyan Islamist groups, such as Ansar al-Sharia, may be tempting opportunities for outside terrorist organizations; therefore, a continuing civil war between Islamic and nationalist forces in an oil-rich region could potentially invite foreign extremist groups that would ensure the continuance and likely spread of instability, as suggested by Egypt. According to Christopher Chivvis and Jeffrey Martini from the RAND Corporation, jihadist groups in Libya are certainly a minority, but are still very deadly and a potential “future threat” (2014).

Hence, this post begins a series on the Libyan crisis and post-Gaddafi civil war. The objective of this series is to provide analysis and strategic foresight for the next five years in Libya, which is crucial to conduct considering the potential strategic impact of the war and related uncertainties.

Due to the sheer number of armed groups, the increasing involvement of regional actors, and the constant change in territorial control, we must analyze the crisis and make strategic foresight conclusions through adaptable lenses. With this in mind, we shall present throughout the series the state of play for each actor in the Nationalist and Dawn of Libya coalitions, the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, Mujahideen Shura Council, and the involved regional actors, while emphasizing their goals and beliefs as much as possible before pursuing scenarios. In this opening post, we shall present the current situation and underline its main features, including using metrics to evaluate the severity of the Libyan “crisis”.

Brief outlook of the situation (October 2014)

Libya’s descent into chaos can be attributed to many variables. However, the primary variable involves the interim government’s failure to make visible progress (in the form of stable governance, justice, finance, and security in the post-conflict phase) – and particularly its inability to control the armed groups that were once integrated under the transitional government. It will be vital to keep those elements in mind once a peace process is in sight.

Libya is currently split between two rival governments – the elected Council of Representatives currently located in Tobruk (the newly elected parliament that replaced the GNC) and the General National Congress in Tripoli (Libya’s former legislative authority during the interim phase). Furthermore, most of Libya’s major armed groups have merged into warring coalitions: the Dawn of Libya – composed of Misrata brigades and Islamist groups – on the one hand, and General Haftar and his nationalist allies, on the other. A third alliance, called the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, is an umbrella group comprised of Ansar al-Sharia, Libya Shield One, the Rafallah al-Sahati Companies, and 17 February Revolutionary Martyr’s Brigade (Ending Libya’s Civil War, 2014), while a Derna-based alliance called the Mujahideen Shura Council is comprised of Salafi-jihadists (see Islamist Forces Part I) The more radical Islamist umbrella groups oppose the Nationalist Coalition – similar to the Dawn of Libya – however, they have not ideologically aligned themselves with Dawn of Libya. General Haftar faces two fronts of Salafi-jihadist alliances and the primarily-Islamist yet pro-revolutionary Dawn of Libya. Dawn of Libya controls Tripoli and Misrata, the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries is currently battling Haftar in Benghazi, and the Mujahideen Shura Council is operating in Derna.

Khalifa Haftar is a renegade general who established his own National Army and seeks to remove Islamist factions and influence from Libya. The Dawn of Libya announced its support for the General National VOA, Libya, Libyan war, HIIK, Kosimo, war, conflict, Khalifa Haftar, HaftarCongress, while General Haftar has allied with the Council of Representatives in Tobruk. Haftar had called for a new government to replace the GNC either to minimize the influence of Islamist politicians or as a strategic “coup attempt” to consolidate political power and influence, or both. Haftar prefers the newly elected Council of Representatives to the Islamic-dominated GNC, thus making him a strong ally to the government in Tobruk.

During the interim phase, armed groups – whether affiliated or not with the state – fought for regional control and influence, or were tasked by government ministries to handle specific security operations. However, the launch of Haftar’s “Operation Dignity” (with the goal of eliminating Islamist militias and terrorism) forced many prominent groups to form alliances. As a result, the western-based Islamist groups and the Misratan brigades have joined forces against General Haftar and his allies, while the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries and Mujahideen Shura Council clash with Haftar in the east. The Dawn of Libya controls the major cities of Tripoli and Misrata, the Shura Council is battling Haftar to retain control of Benghazi, the Mujahideen Shura Council controls Derna, and the Nationalist coalition controls Al-Zintan in the west with Al-Bayda and Tobruk in the east.

Libya, Libyan war, war, conflict, Libyan actors
Libyan Actors Main Positions. Google Maps, map data: Basarsoft, Google, ORION-ME 2014. Blue Circle: General National Congress. Blue Balloons: Dawn of Libya (Islamist/Misrata Coalition). Red Balloons: Ansar al-Sharia. Orange Balloons: Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries. Green Circle: Council of Representatives. Green Balloons: General Haftar and Nationalist Coalition. Black Balloon: Mujahideen Shura Council. Black Star: Islamic State. Blue Diamonds: Regional Supporter of Operation Dawn. Green Diamonds: Regional Supporter of Operation Dignity.

Characterizing the Libyan conflict

Most of the fighting occurs in the Tripolitania and Cirenaica regions with epicenters in Tripoli and Benghazi, both currently under Islamist control; however, Libya’s conflict cannot be classified as a simple rivalry between Islamists and secularists – a notion iterated by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (Barak Barfi, “Khalifa Haftar: Rebuilding Libya from the Top Down,” August 2014). Both loose coalitions contain tribal, regional, religious, and ideological fracture lines, with differences existing between the individual Islamic groups as well. Tensions and divisions exist between Salafist-jihadist groups, like Ansar al-Sharia, and the more democratic Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups. Divisions in Libyan armed groups and society include, but are not limited to:

These divisions, along with the continued widespread violence in Libya, thus pose two difficulties that pertain to the availability of statistics: 1) most casualty counts are based on media reports, making it difficult to produce accurate statistics and 2) acquiring accurate strength numbers for armed groups, particularly unofficial brigades and organizations, can be extremely problematic due to shifting alliances and unofficial reporting. In addition to statistics difficulties, Libya has a “hybrid security order”, where government controlled forces – such as the military and law enforcement – often coordinate with unofficial armed groups, according to Frederic Wehrey (“What’s Behind Libya’s Spiraling Violence?” July 28, 2014) from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This blurs the differentiation between state-controlled and non-state group operations.

Libya, a case for war

Of the estimated 1,700 armed groups in Libya (Council on Foreign Relations, January 2014), only a prominent handful is capable of causing significant change in their cities or regions. At this point, it would seem that no singular armed group has the capability to take control of the country (notion shared by Frederic Wehrey) and as a result, has resorted to loose coalitions with similar strategic goals. In Libya, it seems that the absence of a dominating player can create a perpetual cycle of territorial loss and gain between armed groups locked in a civil war. Whereas Libya may have been labeled a limited war on a national scale in 2013 (Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research), the current situation on the ground creates a case for Libya that can be confidently labeled as civil war – based on HIIK’s methodology. In fact, the violence thus far in 2014 rivals the NATO intervention to overthrow Gaddafi in 2011.

Based on HIIK’s methodology for conflict classification, Libya likely entered the civil war phase in mid-May or June 2014, however, complete data could only make a case for July, August and September, as summarized in the table below and explained next.

Libya, Libyan war, HIIK, Kosimo, war, conflict
Analysis of Libya’s conflict status in July, August, and September 2014, according to HIIK methodology.

Heavy weapons, including an array of airstrikes from Libyan and regional actors, were utilized in all three months with August and September seeing an increased employment of heavy weapons.

The highest number of personnel involved is more difficult to determine. However, it is certain that there were more than 50 involved (HIIK’s low threshold) and it is likely that the number of involved personnel was greater than or equal to 400 (HIIK’s high threshold) – considering the number of armed groups involved in each clash and their estimated strength numbers.

Furthermore, July, August and September saw an increased spike of violence and casualties. All three months saw greater than 60 casualties (HIIK high threshold). There was also infrastructure destruction in July and August when missiles and heavy shelling destroyed fuel depots, aircraft and the main terminal at Tripoli International Airport. Residential neighborhoods were heavily shelled in September resulting in residential destruction.

Lastly, all three months saw more than 20,000 Libyan refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) (20,000 – HIIK’s high threshold). According to UNHCR, 100,000 Libyans were displaced in just three weeks (September – October 2014), bringing the total number of refugees and displaced persons to 287,000.

We shall examine all possibilities of Libya’s future over the next five years, in the rest of this series, including the preferred scenario of de-escalation, assuming it is plausible.


Bibliography and Resources

Featured image: This rebel pick-up truck at Ajdabiya had a four-barreled Grad missile launcher mounted on the back. 23 April 2011, by Al Jazeera English (High-powered technical) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Brief Outlook
A Case for War

Methodological Justification (Table)

Published by Jon Mitchell (Ma)

He is an independent researcher and writer pursuing his MA in Public Policy – International Affairs from Liberty University, U.S.. He has contributed to a political-economic analysis report for a non-profit international organization, compiled an unofficial analysis report on Boko Haram for a U.S. Congressional Committee, and writes articles for Foreign Policy Journal. While interning with the Hudson Institute, he researched critical regional security issues and analyzed complex international challenges in their Center for Political-Military Analysis.

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