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Op-Ed: General Haftar lashes out at Libyan Government of National Accord

Haftar’s rare public statements often clearly show his contempt for the Libyan Dialogue, the UN and the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA). His biting barbs are in stark contrast with the guarded, often positive, bland pronouncements of Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), Martin Kobler. Those people who try to manage Haftar’s media appearances and public statements no doubt have an unenviable job.

According to a report in the Libyan Gazette, Haftar said on TV recently that decisions made by the UN-brokered meant nothing to him: “Decisions of the Unity Government are just ink on paper.” He said that he did not recognize the GNA because it has not yet obtained a vote of confidence from the HoR. However, Kobler did hold a meeting of Libyan Dialogue members, also accepting a letter allegedly by a majority of the HoR supporting the GNA in principle as evidence of HoR approval of the GNA. The GNA said it had a green light to declare itself operative and move to Tripoli. Most, but not all, of the international community accept the GNA as now the sole legitimate government. However, Haftar has the support of countries such as Egypt and the UAE and perhaps Russia as well. Haftar recently refused to hold a meeting with Kobler.

Haftar does not regard the Presidency Council’s establishment of a Presidential Guard as legitimate either. Haftar stated his main goal was to rid Libya of the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorists. He has been doing this through his Operation Dignity started back in May of 2014.

The Gazette quotes an article in the Washington Times that claims Haftar’s forces are little more than a glorified militia. While this may be true to a certain extent, the article describes the House of Representatives as a faction whereas up until recently it was the sole recognized government of Libya and recognized as such as well by the United Nations. The Times is dismissive: This nominal facade, along with recognition by Tobruk, has led some in the international community to accord Gen. Haftar’s forces more recognition than other militias and, with it, an air of legitimacy. In reality, neither Gen. Haftar nor his rivals control a force that represents a united army of Libya. In their struggle for supremacy, they have acted as enablers for ISIS while each uses the threat they have allowed to fester as an excuse to continue their essentially local turf wars. This is a description for those supporting the GNA against Haftar and the view of the U.S. and many in the EU. It is not the view of Egypt, the UAE, or the Arab League. While the description is correct in that Haftar’s LNA is not a united army of Libya, these countries want Haftar to lead any national army under the new GNA. This is why the HoR has not yet accepted the GNA — it has yet to offer Haftar the role he wants. The problem for the UN and GNA is that if he is offered that role, the GNA government — with many Islamist and other opponents of Haftar — will implode. To many of them, Haftar’s being in charge of the LNA would mean a return to a Gadaffi-like regime. The situation is not helped by Haftar bringing in to the LNA many Gadaffi-era figures.

Haftar’s role against the Islamic State is ambiguous. While he does fight against the IS as he does all Islamists opposed to him, he appears to use the IS to further his own ends. This is hardly unusual. The U.S. did the same thing in Afghanistan against the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union. Haftar allegedly helped the Derna Shura Council drive the Islamic State out of the outskirts of Derna, although the Council disputes this. However, he continued to attack the Council fighters during and even after the IS withdrew. He now has launched Operation Volcano against Derna since the Council does not accept the HoR rule. He claims to be about to liberate the city from terrorism and Islamist control.

Meanwhile, the GNA forces, Misrata militia, are left to fight against the Islamic State on their own, while Haftar has made no attempt to engage them on the eastern front even though his troops are as close as Ras Lanuf just a few miles away and he has been marching on Sirte to liberate it for well over two weeks.

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