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article imageOp-Ed: Anti-Haftar forces growing in eastern Libya

By Ken Hanly     Jan 22, 2016 in Politics
Tobruk - In a dramatic turn of events, the official spokesperson for General Khalifa Haftar, the commander in chief of the Libyan National Army, resigned and launched a bitter attack on Haftar.
Colonel Mohamed Hejazi spoke on TV, including a station that supports Operation Dignity, Haftar's own operation launched back in May of 2014. Operation Dignity was meant to rid Libya of Islamists including the Libya Dawn, the main forces supporting the rival General National Congress (GNC), located in the west in Tripoli. The internationally-recognized government, the House of Representatives (HoR) is located in the east in Tobruk and the Libyan National Army is associated with the HoR. The Libya Herald reports that Hejazi said of Haftar: ".. he claimed that Hafter had deliberately stretched out the fighting in Benghazi, had targeted civilian areas, had set up a secret department to kill his opponents, had set fire to their homes and stolen their belongings, had diverted money from the Libyan army to buy property in Egypt and Jordan, but all the while remaining in comparative safety in Marj." Hejazi called Haftar a dictator, a traitor, and said he wanted 5,000 Italian troops as part of a stabilization force.
At first, one might think Hejazi may have been persuaded to join in with supporters of the new UN-brokered GNA government. The GNA has provisions that would take away Haftar's job and give it to senior officials of the GNA, the Presidency Council. However, Hejazi condemned the GNA, as well as Haftar, and said a military council was to be set up under Colonel Faraj Barasi — whom Haftar had recently fired — and also Wanis Bukhamada, head of the Saiqa Special Forces who is not sympathetic to Haftar. Hejazi said that the proposal would be sent to the HoR president Ageela Salah to approve.
Just a week ago, Hejazi had still been staunchly defending Haftar. The head of the Libyan Air Force, Major-General Adam Saqr Geroushi, a close ally of Haftar said Hejazi may have been bitter after he had been suspended from his job for what Haftar thought were misleading statements to the media. He said that none of Hejazi's accusations were true. Hejazi's statement apparently created a backlash in Benghazi and a warrant is expected for Hejazi's arrest. Haftar himself was busy talking to an Italian delegation about security plans for the country. I wonder if that includes Italian troops!
There are also divisions created by the GNA appointment of Colonel Mahdi Al-Barghathi as Minister of Defense in the new Government of National Accord. The Herald reports that the appointment was welcomed in Tripoli but only by some of the militia that support the UN-brokered GNA not the GNC or Libya Dawn. Kobler has carried on with the program of splitting the GNC militia support that was begun by his predecessor Bernardino Leon who met with militia representatives without authorization of the GNC military officials. Kobler built on this and a number of Misrata militia groups support the GNA. Barghathi was born in Benghazi in the east and commands a tank brigade there. He even joined Haftar's Operation Dignity in 2014. Both Al-Barghathi and Bukhamada formerly of the Saiqa Special Forces have little confidence in Haftar's leadership, according to the Herald.
Bukhamada is also friendly with Ibrahim Jadrhan, the commander of the Petroleum Facilities Guards(PFG) who have been attempting to ward off attacks from the Islamic State on the oil facilities they guard. Haftar's forces are nowhere to be seen as the Islamic State advances. Jodhran is a supporter of the GNA but an opponent of Haftar. The Libya Observer quotes Jodhran as saying on TV of Haftar: "He (Haftar) destroyed Benghazi, oh my people in Barga, beware of his plot, beware of this criminal....I call my people in Benghazi and Barga for unity. Our enemy is not Daesh only, but also those who are planning to bring back dictatorship and military rule. The so-called the General Command and its supporters are also enemies to all Libyans."
The appointment of Barghathi as Defence Minister was one reason Ali Gatrani, a close Haftar ally, resigned from the Presidency Council of the GNA.
The pro-GNC Libya Observer also reported on Al-Hejazi's attack on Haftar. According to the Observer Hejazi said that Haftar had negotiated with the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya(UNSMIL), Martin Kobler, for the position of defense minister in the GNA. If he did so, obviously it did not work since Haftar supporters to not approve of Barghathi. Hejazi also called the GNA a trusteeship government and said that Haftar was a foreign agent. Finally he said that Haftar was corrupt and had transferred military funds to his sons in Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan. There could be outright fighting between rival factions in eastern Libya before the HoR even meets to vote confidence in the GNA. Haftar probably still has enough power to prevent a vote by the HoR on the GNA if he chooses to do so. His decision will no doubt hinge on receiving guarantees that he will remain as commander of the Libyan National Army.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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