All the newspapers are writing headlines about “The Military Strongman Leading The Offense Against Libya’s UN-Backed Government” or “Halifa Haftar, Libya’s Strongest Warlord, Makes A Push For Tripoli” and “The Libyan Crisis: Who Is Strongman Khalifa Haftar?”
We must know who this man is, who the newspapers say is the strongest man? An ex-General who came back to Libya from the United States just in time (in 2011, just after the beginning of the political turmoils), the dictator Gaddafi made him a commanding officer in the 1980s, but Haftar soon turned against his own leader, calling for a coup and eventually had to be rescued by the CIA. Then he lived in the US for 20 years, where he was granted U.S. citizenship before returning to his homeland just before Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in 2011,
Now he controls eastern Libya, and has never disguised his ambitions, Haftar returned from exile in the US, to be the next president, and he became commander of Dignity Operation in Benghazi and was the military officer who is supported by the Interim Government and the eastern parliament in Libya. And yet, Haftar never agreed to recognize Al-Sirraj and his Skhirat-signed UN-brokered government as a legitimate body.
Haftar wants to take power the same as Sisi in Egypt, with his supporters issuing statements and holding demonstrations in Benghazi and other cities calling for mandating him as the ruler of Libya, this giving him power outside Libya to make him a strong man. Haftar’s loyalists have demanded an end to the elections’ preparations saying, “We only need Haftar as the president here in east Libya, we don’t need elections or anything like that.”
So, who makes Haftar the most powerful man in Libya?
Haftar has long worked hand-in-glove with the UAE and Egypt to bring Libya within the framework of the intra-Gulf dispute with Qatar, which is known to back many of the western militias. His coalition also has Saudi support, unlocking a sizeable war chest and an important channel of influence for the Trump administration in the Middle East.
The Great Powers of the Middle East’s A plan is to control the Libyan region initially by putting under its control Benghazi and then the capital of Tripoli. Therefore, Haftar has a limited window to convert his recent advance in the south-west of the country into a meaningful victory and as such he sent forces into strategic locations in the south.
Haftar launched an attack on Tripoli on April 4, after his cakewalk through the south of Libya from his power base in the eastern half of the country. The assault on the capital was his strongman effort to bring all of Libya under his control and vanquish the country’s “terrorist” gangs. But his goal is to eliminate Al-Sirraj and his Skhirat-signed UN-brokered government.
Haftar claimed to be purging the south of terrorists and mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa, despite the scores of Chadian and Darfuri guns-for-hires within the LNA’s own ranks that address its abiding manpower shortage.
Libyans, who endured decades of Gaddafi’s rule followed by the bloodshed and turmoil after his overthrow by rebels with NATO support, now face a new chapter of suffering. The cost of Haftar;s ambitions is becoming clearer as more than 260 have already died, including civilians, and many more are wounded. Around 32,000 people have been displaced.
As we know US policy encourages the fighting against extremism and terrorism, however, this time the US against Haftar.
Haftar did not get the message right as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had already spoken against the operation in Tripoli, as well as US President Donald Trump’s speech saying his forces must cease fire and return to their status quo positions.
Nevertheless, Haftar did get support from Middle East countries.
And, Haftar got support by two ways he controlled Libyan media and used it for his purposes by a formidable electronic army, which has artfully combined misinformation with selected facts to amplify and exaggerate the LNA’s influence in parts of the south-west, and creating new facts on the ground that are temporary and reversible.
Which makes Libyans wonder what does the West and the East want from Libya? Is the West pro-democracy or not? They say speech’s without actions, and yet they are siding with a military man who is trying to grab power through war and destruction in the name of fighting terrorists. To them, these terrorists seem to be the same group the US, France, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain is backing as the internationally recognized government of national accord in Libya.
The danger, of course, is that Haftar himself has come to believe the myth-making of his media machine and he will be the next president.
This cannot be Washington’s stance as it has helped embolden Haftar and his backers to wage an all-out war that could last for months and lead to thousands of casualties; therefore, no hope for democracy and rule for the fittest.
In view of all these factors, will Haftar stand up to remain the strongest man in Libya, although in the beginning America supported him and now, they are trying to give him up.
War in Tripoli with no doubt would leave a massive split in the fabric of the region’s society.