Tuesday, March 3, 2015

General Haftar rises from failed coup leader to commander of Libyan army

Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni of the internationally recognized Libyan government based in Tobruk has appointed General Khalifa Haftar as commander of the army today.
Al-Thinni was interim prime minister of the interim government when Haftar launched his Operation Dignity in which he attacked two Islamist bases in Benghazi and also had his allies, the Zintan brigades, attack the parliament in Tripoli and burn it. At that time, Al Thinni said at a press conference when the operation first began in Benghazi that Haftar's operation was illegal and that the move "undermined attempts to confront terrorism." This was Haftar's second unsuccessful coup. Haftar had earlier in February last year announced that he had dissolved parliament. Al Thinni was then defence minister: Libyan Defence Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni, responding to the declaration, claimed that Haftar's claim to forces loyal to him being in Tripoli was a lie, and also alleged that Haftar had no legitimacy. Thinni also reiterated that there was a warrant out for Haftar's arrest on the grounds of plotting a coup d'├ętat.Of course the warrant for Haftar's arrest was never carried out. Fast forward to just over a year later and Haftar manages to convince the same Al-Thinni's government to appoint him head of the army:General Khalifa Haftar has been appointed top commander of the Libyan army by Aguilah Saleh, President of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives.
Haftar will supervise the Libyan National Army but also have power over the defence ministry and chiefs of staff. Haftar has merged his militia with the Libyan armed forces. This move shows the power the Haftar has over the Al-Thinni government and a prime minister who was once charged with arresting him. Earlier moves on the part of Haftar show he was putting pressure on the Al-Thinni government to give him more power. For example this Al Jazeera video from February 4th claims he gave the government just 24 hours to set up a military council with himself as head. There was no follow up story anywhere that I could find to what is surely dramatic and surprising news:

No doubt, the Al-Thinni government was following Haftar's orders or at least doing what Haftar wanted when the Tobruk government decided that it would not participate any longer in UN-sponsored peace talks with representatives of the Tripoli-based government and its main militia Libya Dawn. While Haftar and the Tobruk government have the support of Egypt and several other Arab States including the UAE both the UK and the US want the Tobruk government to attend the peace talks scheduled to take place this Thursday. One of the aims of the talks is to form a unity government. The UK and US do not want an arms embargo lifted on shipment of arms to Libya until there is a political settlement of the conflict and a unity government. The Tobruk government made a sudden U-turn and decided it will attend. No doubt, the UN representative, Bernadino Leon, was able to convince the Tobruk government(HoR) that if there were no attempts at a political solution they could not expect any lifting of the arms embargo or support from key powers such as the US:The HoR, which had pulled out of the process a week ago following the bombings in Guba, performed its U-turn following talks in Tobruk between members of its dialogue committee and UN Special Envoy to Libya Bernadino Leon. He had flown in to try and convince the HoR to change its mind. Leon also met with the HoR’s president, Ageela Saleh Gwaider.

The talks appear bound to fail given the conditions the two sides have placed on dialogue. They have not as yet talked directly to each other in any event, since neither recognizes the legitimacy of the other. The Libyan Supreme Court declared the elections that created the Tobruk House of Representatives unconstitutional back last November. The Tobruk government does not recognize the ruling. The UN said it was studying it last November. I suppose it takes a while since it has made no further statement on the matter.
The Tobruk government insists that as a condition of dialogue and talks with the opposing side the international community must accept that it is the only legitimate parliament in Libya. It must also be understood that any government of national unity should meet the approval of the Tobruk parliament, and that the Libyan army is fighting terrorism. The Tripoli government does not recognize the Tobruk government, nor does the Libyan Supreme Court. The Tobruk government and Haftar call all their opponents terrorists, including Libya Dawn. Libya Dawn also manages to lay down conditions impossible for the other side to accept.
Libya Dawn wants any ceasefire to exist throughout the country without exception. In the earlier ceasefire Haftar claimed the right to continue to fight terrorists and he continued his campaign in Benghazi against groups that are allies of Tripoli. Haftar would never agree to stop what he calls the fight against terrorists. Libya Dawn wants air strikes in the east of the country to cease. In the west it wants Haftar allies, Zintani and Washefana militia to surrender their weapons and ammunition to the Chief of Staff, Major General Obeidi, recognized by Libya Dawn. Haftar is not about to demand his allies give up their weapons! The peace talks appear unlikely to arrive at any solutions agreeable to both sides and conflict is likely to continue.
There are reports that Egypt and Tobruk plan further bombings and perhaps joint ground action against Derna controlled by groups pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. The Italian navy is also carrying out extensive manoeuvres near the Libyan coast.