Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Khalifa Haftar refuses to merge his forces with those of UN-backed Libyan GNA

In an interview on TV, General Khaifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army(LNA) of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR), said it was "unthinkable" for his eastern forces to join those of the UN-backed Government of National Accord.

Before he could even consider doing so, he said the militias supporting the GNA should be disbanded. Many of these militias are headed by Islamists, Haftar considers his enemies. The enmity is mutual. There are some members of the LNA who support the GNA, including the defense minister, but for the most part the GNA depends upon various militia groups for security and also for the operation against the Isamic State. Militia groups from Misrata have taken the lead in the costly offensive against the Islamic State, as they advance towards Sirte.
Haftar has launched his own operation against Sirte with a two pronged attack from the east and south. He has had not clashes with the Islamic State but forces loyal to him clashed with militia associated with Misrata in the south near Zilla. He secured a number of oil fields in the area. He has been over two weeks and advanced as far as Ras Lanuf only a few miles from the eastern border of IS territory. Instead of attacking IS and helping the GNA forces in the west, he launched Operation Volcano to capture Derna from the Shura Council fighters who were instrumental in driving the Islamic State from the city.
The western-backed UN-brokered GNA under PM Faiez Serraj urged that there be a unified command center to coordinate efforts against IS but Haftar refused to join. A meeting of foreign ministers in VIenna called for exceptions to be made to the UN embargo against arms shipments to Libya to supply the GNA.. This could happen soon but Haftar's forces will remain embargoed. He still will no doubt get illicit deliveries from friendly Arab nations supporting him such as the UAE and Egypt.
Haftar pointed out in his TV interview: "Firstly, We have no links with Mr Seraj and the Presidential Council which he leads is not recognized by the parliament (in the east). Secondly, on this unified command center, I would like to stress that Mr Seraj relies on militia and we refuse them. An army cannot unify with militias so they must be dismantled. It's unthinkable to work with these armed factions."
Haftar has been carrying out his Operation Dignity since May 2014, designed to rid Libya of Islamists he considers his enemies. This includes many of the militia fighters associated with the GNA. Haftar has always tried to convince international powers that he would be the best hope for a successful fight against the Islamic State and other radical jihadists. He makes this pitch in his interview: "Daesh does not have the capacity to face the Libyan armed forces, but the battle could take time, If the international community supports us, and I ask it to do so by lifting the embargo on weapons, then we could eliminate Daesh in Libya definitively and quickly,"
"Daesh" is a synomyn for the Islamic State, also called ISIS. The international community, however, is banking on the GNA, and giving it support, probably much more support than it has in Libya. There is a constant stream of media reports of important foreign figures meeting with the Presidential Council of the GNA at their naval base headquarters on the outskirts of Tripoli.
Under the Libya Political Agreement (LPA) the HoR is the sole legislative body of the GNA. The present GNA is operating with no legislature as the HoR has yet to give it a vote of confidence or amend the constitutional declaration of 2011 as is required. There is no indication yet when or even if this will happen. The Libya Herald notes: Haftar has repeatedly expressed his disregard for the Libyan Dialogue, the United Nations, and the new unity government, which was established to aid in establishing national reconciliation and unite Libya’s various political and armed factions vying for power and control of the country since the ousting of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.I believe that the GNA was established to further the interest of foreign powers primarily. The aim was for the GNA to ask for foreign intervention to fight the Islamic State and help stem the flow of immigrants to Europe.
The Herald rightly notes that under the terms of the LPA, the PC assumes the function of the Supreme Commander of the Libyan Army. However, the HoR is unlikely to vote confidence in the GNA unless the section is removed, forgotten, or "frozen." Even those supporting the GNA in principle demand that Haftar remain as commander in chief of the Libyan National Army. Unless some way is found to get around these demands that conflict with the GNA there seems to be no hope of a unified national army or a legislature for the GNA.

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