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News > Libya

Libya: How Did We Get Here?

  • A destroyed and burnt tank that belonged to the eastern forces led by Khalifa Haftar, is seen in Gharyan south of Tripoli Libya June 27, 2019.

    A destroyed and burnt tank that belonged to the eastern forces led by Khalifa Haftar, is seen in Gharyan south of Tripoli Libya June 27, 2019.

Published 14 January 2020

Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's government in 2011, Libya has been immersed in non-stop violence that has culminated into a final show down between rival political factions

The Libyan War broke out in the Spring of 2011 after weeks of wide-scale protests against the government of President Muammar Gaddafi. 


Libya Talks in Russia Progress but Fail to Sign Ceasefire

The protesters were calling for Gaddafi to step down from the presidency, despite holding the role since his rise to power in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The Beginning 

Unlike the revolutions in neighboring countries of Egypt and Tunisia, Libya would witness a violent civil war that pitted the long-time government of Gaddafi against several NATO-backed militias.

At first, it appears Gaddafi would succeed in putting down the unrest; however, after the fall of Benghazi and NATO's intervention, the government forces would begin to lose several parts of the country. NATO's entry into the war was a major turning point for the anti-government forces, as the no-fly-zone killed several key figures in the government and grounded the Libyan Air Force.

Gaddafi would witness the death of several of his relatives and generals after daily NATO raids targeted his strongholds in Tripoli and Sirte. Eventually, the government forces would find themselves encircled at the coastal city of Sirte, which was also Gaddafi's birthplace. 

A NATO attack on Gaddafi's military convoy in Sirte left the government forces incredibly weak, paving the way for the militias from the city of Misrata to overrun the President's positions and eventually execute him following his capture. 

Shortly after the news broke about Gaddafi's execution, a video emerged showing the badly wounded President being taunted and tortured by the rebel fighters. With Gaddafi dead, the first Libyan Civil War would conclude with the establishment of a new government and flag in Tripoli. 

After Gaddafi

Gaddafi's death shocked the Middle East and North Africa, as he was the longest serving president of any country in these regions. However, not long after his death, Libya appeared to be thriving with a new government and international recognition. 

The world would shift their attention away from Libya after Gaddafi's death, as it appeared the country would settle any internal issues and follow the Egyptian and Tunisian model with new elections. 

The honeymoon period would end once hardline groups like the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda began to take over large parts of the country. 

A second Libyan Civil War would breakout from 2013-2016, when the new government began to split and forces loyal to the defected general Khalifa Haftar launched a military campaign to capture Benghazi from the Islamic State in eastern Libya. 

The second Libyan Civil War would see the emergence of the Libyan National Army, under the command of Khalifa Haftar, and the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord, under the control of Fayez Al-Sarraj. 

Both the LNA and GNA would work independently to capture territories from the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, eventually linking their front-lines by late 2016 and early 2017. 

Proxy War

With two major military forces in Libya, two governments were established inside the country: the GNA's Tripoli-based government and the LNA's Benghazi-based government. Both of these political and military entities would receive a great deal of foreign support, as Libya became the battleground of rival countries in the MIddle East/North Africa and world. 

One such rivalry was Turkey and Egypt, who have long sought to influence the eastern Mediterranean. Under President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Egypt would back the government of Khalifa Haftar, as the Tripoli-based regime was a close ally of Qatar and Turkey. Qatar and Turkey were two of the biggest supportes of the former Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi. Morsi would eventually be overthrown by General Sisi during a 2014 coup against the Muslim Brotherhood-led government. 

So when the conflict arose between Benghazi and Tripoli, Egypt, along with Arab allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, began to provide Haftar with military and political aid. In turn, Turkey would beef up their support for the Tripoli-based government, prompting the backers of the Benghazi regime to condemn Ankara for their role. 

Another proxy war would breakout on top of this proxy war, when Russia entered the scene and began to challenge Turkey's role in Libya. The Russian Federation would become one of the biggest supporters of the Libyan National Army, giving them weapons and logistical information to help them against their rivals. 

Russia's support for the LNA would cause some friction with Turkey, as Moscow appeared to once again undermine Ankara's foreign endeavors as seen previously in Syria. 

The New War

In April of 2019, the LNA launched their offensive to capture the capital of Tripoli from the GNA forces, despite the U.N.'s call for a nationwide ceasefire. 

For weeks, the Libyan National Army was advancing south of Tripoli, capturing oil fields and town that were previously considered GNA strongholds in northern Libya. 

Once Summer began, however, the battle for Tripoli would witness a reduction in violence, which was attributed to attempts by the U.N. to broker a long-term ceasefire. 

However, this would not last long, as in late November, the Libyan National Army announced the start of the final phase of their Tripoli offensive. In this phase, the Libyan National Army would seek to capture the city-center of Tripoli and drive out the remaining forces loyal to the GNA. 

As of now, the LNA holds some parts of Tripoli, but a new ceasefire has all but stopped their offensive in favor of a potential peace deal with the GNA. 

The GNA is distrustful of the LNA and has begun pushing for Turkish military intervention to prevent the Benghazi-based government's take over of Tripoli. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announed that his country's armed force have begun to deploy to Libya as part of a security agreement with the GNA. 

Furthermore, a report released by Bloomberg News last month revealed that Turkey was also sending Syrian fighters from the opposition factions to Libya to help the GNA. 

With Haftar's refusal to sign a peace agreement in Moscow on Monday, the battle for Tripoli is expected to intensify in the coming days, as the LNA makes their final push. 

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