Haftar’s Struggle: From Civil War To Peace And Development In Benghazi – OpEd


The First Libyan Civil War was an armed conflict in 2011 in the North African country of Libya that was fought between forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and rebel groups that were seeking to oust his government.

The war was ignited by protests in Benghazi beginning on Tuesday, February 15, 2011, which led to clashes with security forces who fired on the crowd. Due to that, the United Nations Security Council passed an initial resolution on February 26 with many restrictions against Gaddafi while Gaddafi’s forces rallied, pushed eastward, and retook several coastal cities before reaching Benghazi.

Khalifa Haftar returned to Libya in the First Libyan Civil War, at the onset of the Libyan Crisis in 2011, to support the anti-Gaddafi forces. After that, he was appointed commander of the military. A further UN resolution authorised member states to establish and enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, and a bombing campaign by the forces of NATO against Libyan military installations and vehicles.

In addition, the rebellion lasted for a year, killing of Gaddafi on October 20, 2011 and On 23 January 2012, around 100–150 local fighters attacked the main NTC army base in Bani Walid, including the September 2012 attack by Islamist militants on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the spread of the Islamic State and other armed groups throughout the country. Furthermore, an alternative city council was established and later recognized by the National Council. Transitional Council (NTC), which led to further division These unresolved issues led directly to the outbreak of a second civil war in Libya.

The Second Libyan Civil War, from 2014 to 2020, was fought between different armed groups, mainly the House of Representatives (HoR) and the Government of National Accord. Ahmed Al-Mismari, the Major General, a spokesperson of the Libyan National Army (LNA), said, in May 2014, General Khalifa Haftar launched Operation Dignity. The hostilities first broke out early in the morning of Friday, May 16, 2014, when Gen. Haftar’s forces assaulted the bases of certain Benghazi Islamist militia groups. The operation, codenamed “Operation Dignity” by Haftar, was a campaign conducted by the Libyan National Army (LNA) to attack Islamist militant groups across eastern Benghazi. To counter this movement, Islamist militants and armed groups—including Ansar al-Sharia—formed a coalition called Libya Dawn.

Started when forces loyal to General Haftar attacked units of the February 17th Martyrs Brigade, the Libya Shield No. 1 Brigade, and Ansar al-Sharia. On 29, the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, including Ansar al-Sharia, seized a military base in Benghazi that served as the headquarters of the Saiqa Special Forces Brigade; a unit that supports General Khalifa Haftar.  The battle for the base involved the use of rockets and warplanes and resulted in the deaths of civilians in the crossfire.

Ahmed Al-Mismari added that the battle for control over Libya crosses tribal, regional, political, and even religious lines. We have created governing institutions and named military chiefs, but we have faced external fragmentation and division. In an effort to find a resolution to the conflict and create a unity government, then-UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon, a supporter of Haftar, created the Libyan Political Agreement and the UN-supported Government of National Accord (GNA) in December 2015. However, over time, the GNA faced obstacles to creating a stable, unified government in Libya while Haftar controlled Benghazi. Armed Islamist groups took advantage of the widespread political instability as a hub to coordinate broader regional violence and seize territory in Benghazi, Derna, and Ajdabiya. With that control, the Islamic State’s power in Libya peaked in 2016. Armed Islamist group members committed numerous human rights abuses for which they now face trial in Libya.

Al-Mismari added We did not stop completing the path to eliminating terrorist groups. In July 2018, Haftar announced that the LNA had recaptured the city of Derna. In August 2018, violence in Tripoli ended the relative calm that had been maintained, and the UN quickly brokered a cease-fire between the involved militias while Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, and Russia backed Haftar, particularly with military support, while Russia gave support to Wagner Group to aid Haftar, and the UAE conducted airstrikes.

Haftar struggle for peace

Al-Mismari said, the struggle for stability was not easy in Benghazi. We faced many challenges in the oil sector, illegal immigration, and building a strong army. Haftar upended peace efforts by launching a campaign to take western Libya and Tripoli, and the LNA made fast progress until stalling on the outskirts of Tripoli. While Turkey sent troops to Tripoli to reinforce the city’s defense and increase the size of the force ahead of the GNA counteroffensive on the other side, the UAE conducted airstrikes in support of Haftar. UN-led mediation efforts for progress while tensions escalated when Egypt warned that Sirte was its  red line and authorized the deployment of troops to help prevent the GNA from taking the city, they supported Hafter. In August 2020, Haftar ended an oil blockade shortly after, paving the way for a nationwide cease-fire signed in October.

Haftar has used the battle for the liberation of Benghazi from “terrorists” as an opportunity, with full Egyptian support, to strengthen his forces. In fact, as long as the battle in Benghazi raged, albeit confined to some neighborhoods only, a justification existed for the support in arms, equipment, and training he received from Egypt and the UAE. However, in reality, part of this support also went toward enabling Haftar’s troops to reach a level of effectiveness that empowered them to reinforce their control over Eastern Libya and launch a sudden offensive to conquer the oil installations of the Gulf of Sidra. In addition, oil can only be sold legally by the National Oil Company (NOC), led by Abdullah Sanallah. Therefore, there will be negative repercussions resulting from Hafter’s continued stopping of production and the closure of ports in Libya, leading to a decline in exports to zero and the diminishing of foreign exchange reserves. There will be an increased financial burden resulting in the worsening deterioration of the living conditions of citizens.

The closure of oil fields and ports in 2020 by Hafter Tribal allies has meant a loss of 1.2 million bpd. The smugglers illegally move products for profit, and they do so by traffic transiting the maritime space, looking to bust sanctions or destabilize states. Due to the conflict in Libya, there is another political issue about the criminal activity of migrant smuggling that originates from the eastern coast of Libya. It’s well known to the EU that the authorities in the House of Representatives (or Council of Deputies) in control of eastern Libya profit from migrant smuggling. In addition, there was an internal document from the German government that shows that EU officials were informed months ago about the increase in outflows from eastern Libya, which is a lucrative source of revenue for the rulers involved.

Despite much evidence, the EU provides Libya with resources and training, even though it has no way of controlling where these funds go. After that, Italy and Malta entered into talks with Hafter for the purpose of combating irregular migration. In June 2023, Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Piantedosi declared that Hafters were willing to collaborate to stop clandestine exits. After a time that collaborates to reduce the volumes of people smuggling, Hafters aim to inject capital for rebuilding Benghazi. Moreover, Haftar managed to build a strong Libyan National Army (LNA) in Benghazi and control large swaths of Libya’s east and south.

Prof. Miral Sabry AlAshry

Prof. Miral Sabry AlAshry is Co-lead for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at the Centre for Freedom of the Media, the Department of Journalism Studies at the University of Sheffield.

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