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Op-Ed: Eastern Libyan commander Haftar takes full control of Benghazi

The announcement came after a three-year Operation Dignity campaign launched back in May of 2014 to free Benghazi and indeed all of Libya from his Islamist opponents whom he describes as terrorists. They include some of the militia groups backing the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli. Neither the HoR government nor Haftar recognize the GNA. As part of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) the HoR is to vote confidence in the GNA. It would then become the legislature of the GNA and there would be one Libya government instead of the two competing governments as there are now.

The HoR has twice failed to vote confidence in the GNA, the last time on August 22, 2016. There is supposed to be a dialogue to amend the LPA but no meetings have been held or are even scheduled. Those loyal to Haftar demand that a section of the LPA that gives the Presidential Council (PC) the powers of commander of the Libyan National Army be removed among other changes. At present, there appears to be no agreement in sight.

Haftar appeared on TV in a fancy white uniform and said: “Your armed forces declare to you the liberation of Benghazi from terrorism, a full liberation and a victory of dignity. Benghazi has entered into a new era of safety and peace.” While no longer holding territory in the city, militants will probably continue a campaign of guerrilla tactics launching isolated attacks in an attempt to create instability and show they are still present. Parts of Benghazi have been completely ruined by constant shelling and air attacks. The LNA claims to have lost more than 5,000 men over the course of the battle.

The Haftar victory can only increase his power in the east and in Libya as a whole. Haftar not only controls the oil ports in the Oil Crescent area of Libya but also has recently successfully taken over areas in the Al Jufra region in the south with forces loyal to the GNA and also the Benghazi Defense Brigades virtually giving up the area without a fight. He has threatened to invade Tripoli several times. In the latest he gives the GNA until December to meet his political demands or he says he will act militarily. The GNA and many analysts seem to make little comment on these threats. Haftar has long had the strong support of Egypt and the UAE and more recently from Russia. While there are still some expressions of support for the GNA from some western governments it seems to be mostly formal and the GNA appears to be growing weaker all the time in relationship to the power of the HoR and Haftar. I note that for some time now the HoR is often referred to as the interim government and internationally recognized legislature. This makes no sense. The HoR is the legislature of a rival unrecognized HoR government. Only when the HoR votes confidence in the GNA does it become a legislature of the GNA recognized by the UN and most countries. The fact that mainstream media and commentators are playing such games shows that there is a move towards legitimizing Haftar and his supporting HoR government. This while the head of the HoR Ageelah Saleh is under sanction.

The victory was welcomed by many as attested by many tweets.One tweet claims: “..It’s almost midnight in #Benghazi and the streets are still full of people. Celebrations are in very corner of the city2:38 PM – 5 Jul 2017” One tweet reports pro-militant media as claiming that they still hold some small area in Benghazi: “In Libya, Al-Fath, pro-BRSC media, denies the full control of Al-Sabri and Sidi Khraibish areas in Benghazi by the LNA troops. 3:17 PM – 5 Jul 2017” The BRSC no doubt stands for Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council that at one time controlled most of Benghazi.

Faiez Serraj, head of the GNA PC did not mention Haftar but congratulated “the Libyan people, especially our people in Benghazi”. This is rather ridiculous since it was Haftar and his forces and his Operation Dignity that finally ousted the Islamists from Benghazi. Serraj simply wants to avoid praising Haftar who is hated by a number of members of his government and no doubt many citizens in Tripoli and Misrata. Abdulrahman Sewehli who is head of the GNA High State Council was highly critical of UK ambassador’s Peter Millet’s statement on the victory. Millet had welcomed what he called the liberation of Benghazi saying: “Terrorism has no place in Libya. Hope this brings peace, security and prosperity for the people of Benghazi.” Sewehli said that Millet was irresponsible and made himself non grata: “He has given rogue Gen Hafter supporters the go ahead to attack (sorry ‘liberate’) Tripoli and Misrata in their coup attempt”. Sewehli may soon find himself non-grata. The UNSMIL also used similar wording using the term “liberation” and repeating that there was no place for terrorism in Libya. The UNSMIL alos said the victory was a step towards stability and reconciliation in Libya. It is no doubt a step towards Haftar coming closer to his goal of completing his Operation Dignity.

In all the celebration and talk of liberation any actions of Haftar that may have approached being if not actually be war crimes appear to be simply ignored. The Libya Observer reports that Bunyan Al Marsous (BAM) forces have come under attack near Sirte. Perhaps Haftar will now try to liberate Sirte.

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