Khalifa Haftar’s military advance-started in Jufra on April 4 last – passed from the South, namely Fezzan, and partly from Central Libya, starting from the Westernmost point of the area of influence already gained by Haftar in the last military advances.
The support for his actions against Tripolitania, which stems from very old tensions (the Senussi King Idris boasted he never set foot in Tripoli), materialized with the support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation, as well as France in particular. Other countries, however, are and will be the future friends of Haftar’s forces, if the General wins throughout the Libyan territory.
Why so many allies? Firstly, Saudi Arabia regards Haftar as an opponent of Islamic terrorism, the first real danger of the Saudi Kingdom.
Also the United Arab Emirates, however, start from this first consideration and assessment.
Moreover, both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have largely funded Al-Sisi’s coup against the Muslim Brotherhood of the then President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
The Emirates also participated in the secret negotiations held last summer to have Libyan oil exported through external channels other than the one approved by the UN, namely the National Oil Corporation of Tripoli.
Haftar’s forces have already redirected oil shipments from the ports they control -to the tune of several thousand oil barrels.
Furthermore Saudi Arabia and the Emirates also funded the electoral campaigns of General Haftar’s candidates. This is a problem close to us, because the upcoming elections announced by the UN envoy, Ghassam Salamè, at the Palermo Conference, scheduled for next spring, will anyway be decisive, whoever funds them.
In any case, they will be blocked indefinitely due to the now evident proxy civil war that is taking place in Libya.
In addition, General Haftar started the April 4 offensive after informing Emirate’s Prince Mohammed bin Sayed al-Nayan on April 2 and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz (but not the acting Prince) on March 27.
The penetration into Tripolitania had already been militarily planned by General Haftar with both the Saudi and Emirate leaders, with whom he had very secret contacts.
The political will of the two Arab States in the peninsula is to put al-Sarraj’s government in Tripoli under such strong pressure as to make al-Sarraj accept the agreement that had been defined in the Abu Dhabi meetings with General Haftar himself on February 28 last.
In Abu Dhabi, the first issue to be discussed was the Sharara oil field, the most important one in Libya, held by General Haftar’s forces, as well as the gradual unification of the two State structures.
The signing of that agreement, which reaffirmed – sine die- the bureaucratic union of the two parts of Libya was welcomed everywhere, but evidently that agreement had been written on the desert sand.
For the Sharara oil field, Prime Minister al-Sarraj accepted the sale of 300,000 barrels/day, managed by the Libyan NOC, the Spanish Repsol, Total, the Austrian OMV and the Norwegian Equinor. However, no progress has been made so far.
Nevertheless the “Libyan National Conference” that the previous Palermo Conference had scheduled for late January 2019 was never held, despite the passion and enthusiasm shown for it by the UN envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salamé.
France sent its DGSE operatives to Haftar’s area in late 2015, encamped near the Benghazi airbase.
What does France want from General Haftar? It wants to close the Maghreb region to other countries’ influence – especially Italy’s – so as to create a large Françafrique area from Central Africa to all Mediterranean African coasts except for Egypt, which is too big for the forces (of France and Great Britain) that even had to stop – for lack of ammunition – during the first phase of Gaddafi’s Libya “conquest” and asked the United States to intervene.
Certainly France also wants all the Libyan oil, which is currently in General Haftar’s hands.
What about the Russian Federation? It supports Haftar, although with a sui generis approach. In fact, while I am writing this article, Haftar is holding a talk with Vladimir Putin for two reasons: he wants to sell weapons to the Libyan National Army, but also to avoid competition from Saudi Arabia, which is also a major oil producer and could add the Libyan oil and gas to its own, thus quickly becoming the unparalleled top exporter of crude oil in the world.
Here – regardless of OPEC or not – the situation does not change: the price of the oil barrel would be set by Saudi Arabia.
Russia’s allies on the field are not homogeneous in their alliances. Turkey and Algeria support al-Sarraj while – as already noted – the others support General Khalifa Haftar.
There is also the possibility of a Russian military base on Cyrenaica’s coast, when General Haftar fully wins the game.
Nevertheless, rumours are already rife that the Russians of the Wagner Group, the main private military group used by Russia, are present in the Benghazi forces’ area.
In late 2018, the Russian newspaper RBC reported that there were “Russian troops in Libya”.
General Khalifa Haftar’s forces, the Libyan National Army, moved from Fezzan – through the territories of the various local tribes – in two ways: with the good – and not only recent – good relations they had with that tribe world or with large cash payments.
The first military advance line of the Benghazi Free Army was between Bani Walid and Sabratha, towards Gharyan, the crossing point to Tripoli from the South.
In late March, many local, tribal and non-tribal brigades had changed sides, in favour of General Haftar, mainly thanks to the example of the Seventh Al Khaniat Brigade from Tarhouna, which started fighting with the Benghazi National Army that, in fact, advanced through the Southern districts of Tripoli.
The Seventh Brigade’s attack probably had the opposite effect, thus making some Tripoli’s brigades remain loyal to al-Sarraj’s government, although no one knows for how long.
Even the “moderates” of Misrata -led by the current Interior Minister of Tripoli, Fathi Bachaga – that until now have been open to future negotiations with General Haftar, have stiffened their stance in defence of Tripoli.
The troops of Misrata, the Libyan “Sparta”, amount to 15,000 soldiers and would make the difference in any future confrontation.
However, Misrata has already mobilized its military forces, but for the time being there is only a small Misrata force alongside the other forces in Tripoli.
The Benghazi Defence Brigades, which also include some soldiers from Misrata, and the Halbous militia have instead agreed to be part of Tripoli’s counteroffensive.
(Others’) money counts.
The Forces of Zintan, another major military centre of Tripoli’s armed forces, are divided between the group still loyal to Tripoli’s GNA, led by Oussama al-Jouili and Emad al-Trabelsi, while all the others are now supporting General Haftar.
The latter, can still rely on a large amount of ammunition.
The Rada Militia, led by Abdelraouf Kara, has not yet made any choice.
It is currently called “Unit for the Prevention of Organized Crime and Terrorism” and controls Tripoli’s nerve centres.
Hence if Haftar wins, the old Rada Militia will be on his side.
General Haftar has already had contacts with this organization, which is affiliated with the same Makhdalist Salafist movement that is already operating in favour of General Haftar in the East.
The strength of the African Salafist sect, which aims at an African and Libyan jihad, must certainly not be underestimated.
The strategy of forcedly re-proposing the Abu Dhabi agreement to al-Sarraj, who would obviously be weakened, is supported – on Haftar side – by Russia, which coincidentally voted a UN Security Council’s motion condemning General Haftar’s advance.
Egypt itself has some fears for the current advance of the Benghazi forces. It is afraid that this may have repercussions both on the many Egyptian workers still present in Libya and on the country’s internal equilibria.
France has supported General Haftar’s advance, also with its operatives – not only from the DGSE and its Service Action. France thinks that General Haftar’s advance is the only barrier against terrorism, but also the way to reconquer Libya after the disastrous operations following Gaddafi’s ousting in 2011.
General Haftar is openly pro-Gaddafi, as he demonstrated by having the Rais image portrayed on his banknotes printed in Russia.
Moreover France has greatly favoured Haftar’s advance in Fezzan by collecting and assigning to the Benghazi General the intelligence gathered by a spy-plane provided by CAE Aviation, a company belonging to DGSE and to its Service Action, in particular.