The situation on the ground in Libya has changed little since we last looked at it two weeks ago.
The Libyan National Army (LNA) troops of General Hafter attack the militias which support the UN recognized government in Tripoli from the south. The LNA still lacks forces for a larger break through. Several objects at the front changed hands several times. There are bloody skirmishes but no big fights. Those are still to come.
Some people doubt that Hafter can be successful:
Analysts believe that Haftar over-estimates the strength of his LNA.
They say the controversial field marshal, who backs an administration rival to the GNA based in eastern Libya, was counting on a quick collapse of Tripoli militias.
But pro-GNA reinforcements from around Tripoli rushed to assist in driving back his forces.
It was never clear if Hafter really hoped that a lightning attack on Tripoli would achieve a fast victory, or if his sudden move was intended to rally support from outside. He is now certainly getting such support and that will be to his decisive advantage in the longer play.
As we described it:
Hafter has open support from France, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia. The Trump administration is not interested to step into the mess. Hafter is an old CIA asset and if he takes control there is a good chance that the U.S. will have influence over him. As long as Libyan oil flows and keeps the global oil price down Trump will be happy. Russia is trying to stay in the background to not give the anti-Russian forces in Washington an excuse to intervene.
The Muslim Brothers, supported by Turkey and Qatar, are still in play in Misrata but have otherwise lost their influence on the ground.
Since then the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia pledged tens of millions of dollars to support Hafter's move on Tripoli. During the last week Hafter visited President Sisi of Egypt.
Europe is disunited over the issue. Italy wants to keep its influence in its former colony Libya and its historical position in the Libyan oil industry. It is also concerned about a new wave of refugees. It supports the government in Tripoli. France is supporting Hafter with an eye on taking over some oil business. It is also concerned about Islamist activities in former French colonies west and south of Libya. With Italy and France in a clinch, the European Union only issued a weak statement that called for a stop of fighting without naming any side.
Concern over the militias which support the Tripoli government increased too. They not as harmless as many seem to have thought:
A week after an aspiring strongman launched a surprise attack on the Libyan capital, an assortment of criminal gangs and extremists are rushing into the fight against him, raising new questions for the United States and other Western powers that have condemned his attack.
But an increasingly unsavory cast has joined the coalition against him, including a group closely tied to a militia sanctioned as a terrorist organization by the United States and the United Nations; an extremist warlord sanctioned for undermining Libya’s stability; and other militia leaders sanctioned for migrant trafficking. That mix so alarms Western powers that some may deem General Hifter the lesser evil.
Yesterday the U.S., which had said little when Hafter launched his assault on Tripoli, came out of the closet:
The United States and Russia both said Thursday they could not support a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Libya at this time, diplomats said, as mortar bombs crashed down on a suburb of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
Russia objects to the British-drafted resolution blaming eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar for the latest flare-up in violence when his Libyan National Army (LNA) advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli earlier this month, diplomats said.
The United States gave no reason for its position on the draft resolution ...
Today we learn that Trump spoke with Hafter several days ago:
President Donald Trump spoke on Monday with a Libyan strongman whose forces are advancing on the nation’s capital, the White House said, in a move that may undermine support for the country’s internationally recognized government.
Trump discussed “ongoing counterterrorism efforts and the need to achieve peace and stability in Libya” with Haftar, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement. Gidley called Haftar by the title “field marshal.”
“The president recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system,” Gidley said.
The key point for Trump is the oil price. His administration put sanctions on sales of Iranian and Venezuelan oil. Since the beginning of the year crude oil prices rallied from the low $50 per barrel to over $70 per barrel. Trump plans to reduce waivers he gave to some of the countries that continue to buy Iranian oil. That would further decrease Iran's output. Any additional disruption of Libya's oil production would increase the oil price and harm the U.S. economy. It would thereby make Trump's plan for total sanctions on Iranian oil impossible.
Hafter controls most of Libya's oil supplies. With open backing from the U.S., Russia and France, support from the military in Egypt, and with enough Saudi cash to finance his army, he surely has all the needed support to sustain a longer fight.
His next move will likely be against the small air force the Misrata gangs assembled. The U.S. might give him a helping hand in that. Hafter could then close down the airspace for flights from Turkey and Qatar. That would cut into the resupply Misrata and Tripoli need for a longer fight.
Those who say that "there is no military solution" to the situation in Libya will likely be proven wrong. Hafter has all he needs to win the fight.
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