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Benghazi Mired in Chaos as Islamists Battle Renegade General

Benghazi Mired in Chaos as Islamists Battle Renegade General

Heavy fighting between Islamists and opponents led by renegade Libyan General Khalifa Haftar erupted in Benghazi, Libya on Wednesday after the general and his forces went on the offensive against Islamist militias to recapture the city. 

Tuesday night, during a pre-recorded televised broadcast, the general made a public statement stating that Operation Dignity was going to launch a major assault in Benghazi on Wednesday to “expel militants from the area,” reported Libya Herald. Adding that the general “called on residents to take up arms and to rise up against the “terrorists” in one final push to re-take the city”.

According to the Libya Herald, Haftar stated that they have learned that they are fighting a battle against foreign fighters that have been funded and trained by foreign funding.

“This war is really against a broad network of terrorists targeting the entire region and sustained with the collaboration of some Libyans,” Hafter said. “Through our interrogations of captured fighters, we have learned that we have been fighting a battle of international proportions. Not only are the terrorists being financed and trained using foreign monies, but foreign terrorists have been systematically brought into Libya to kills us,” he added, stated the Libyan Herald.

During the televised statement, Hafter outlined the achievements since Operation Dignity was launched last May.

“…Hafter said that it had provided and built up military equipment for new divisions of the Libyan army; developed intelligence services that had obtained valuable information on terrorist gangs, foreign fighter recruitment and transportation of foreign fighters and weapons; secured a “safe haven” for the House of Representatives and the government in Tobruk and Beida; brought about the unity of the Libyan army under the command of the HoR-appointed Chief of Staff Abdul Razzaq Nazhuri; and had built a strong base for the democratic process in Libya. The national army stands at an equal distance from all sides within the political process, he stressed,” according to the Libya Herald.

AP reported that the operation was part of an Egyptian-led campaign against terrorism in Benghazi quoting two unnamed officials, stating, “The two officials, who have firsthand knowledge of the operation, said the use of the aircraft was part of an Egyptian-led campaign against the militiamen that will eventually involve Libyan ground troops recently trained by Egyptian forces.”

Egypt and Libyan officials were quick to deny involvement in the operations. Egyptian presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef stated the report by the AP regarding Egypt bombing Libya militants was “completely untrue”, according to Ahram Online. The anti-Islamist movement Operation Dignity also denied the claim that Egyptian airplanes took part in the operations in Benghazi. 

“Mohamed El-Hagazi added that Islamist sites in Benghazi were hit by Libya’s Air Force”, reported Ahram Online. Adding that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Aty also denied the AP report.

Since the removal of Qadhafi in 2011, the security situation in Libya has spilled over Libya’s borders affecting the entire region. Egypt has particularly been affected from the instability in Libya: hundreds of weapons have been seized by the Egyptian military on the western border from Libya; Egyptian civilians have been killed in Libya by militants; 6 Egyptian border guards were killed on the Libyan border last June and 21 Egyptian border guards were killed in July and hundreds of Egyptians have been held hostage in Libya by militants on various occasions.

Libya is currently engaged in a civil war waged by a violent campaign from Islamist militias working to establish an Islamic state in Libya, leaving hundreds of thousands of Libyans homeless and exiled.

The terrorist organization of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), whose members were arrested under Qadhafi and participated in his overthrow and are now fighting with the Islamist militia group Libya Shield Force fighting against General Haftar and the national army. The LIFG was formed in Afghanistan comprised of Libyans who fought against the Soviets. They returned to Libya after Afghanistan with the purpose of establishing an Islamic state in Libya and depose the Gaddafi regime.

According to a 2007 West Point Study called “Al-Qaida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq, A First Look at the Singar Records”, Libya made up the second largest contingent of foreign fighters sent to Iraq to fight against American troops and the first country of foreign fighters in Iraq per capita. The report also stated that “the Syrian and Libyan governments share the United States’ concerns about violent salafi-jihadi ideology and the violence perpetrated by its adherents.”

The story that is often not reported is the situation leading up to 2011 and the NATO intervention involving the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. In 2008, the Libyan government started to release members of the LIFG and other Islamic militants. In 2009, members of the LIFG leadership issued a press release repenting and apologizing to Muammar al-Qadhafi for the previous violent actions against him. That same year, leading members of the LIFG released a 417 page document titled “Revisionist Studies of the Concepts of Jihad, Verification, and Judgement of People”, renouncing violence, apologizing to the Gaddafi regime and promising to not use violence to overthrow the government. The Libyan government over the following years eventually released over 200 members of the LIFG from prison. 

UN Security Council resolution 1973 authorized the NATO intervention in Libya, led by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Powers. LIFG leader Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, who was released from prison through the de-radicalization program, became the commander of Tripoli’s Military Council who worked with NATO to overthrow the Qadhafi regime. Belhaj was the former emir of the LIFG and had close relations with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. He was arrested in 2004 after being tracked by the CIA and MI6.

The United States lost 4 Americans in 2012, including an Ambassador due to the instability in Libya. Lessons can be learned from the outcome in Libya and the United State’s policies today in Syria.

Tera Dahl is the Executive Director of the Council on Global Security.

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