During a recent visit to Washington, D.C. and New York, members of the House of Representatives (HoR) located in Tobruk– the democratically-elected government in Libya and one of two competing to run the nation– met with U.S. policy makers.
The Tobruk Parliament– recognized internationally and by the UN as the legitimate, secularist government of Libya– is currently struggling to remove a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate alternative militia government that has taken over Libya’s capital, Tripoli.
Speaking to several of the members from the delegation, they stated they were here to ask for help in fighting jihadist terrorists in Libya and to ask for help in establishing state institutions, including support for the Libyan army. They also asked for the easing of the arms embargo, which hinders any international support for the Libyan army to fight terrorism. The delegation members stated their disappointment with the lack of support they received from the government officials in their meetings.
When asked what the perception of U.S. policy is in Libya, the delegation member stated that Libyans are frustrated with the lack of U.S. support and many believe that the United States is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood instead of those who are fighting terrorism.
“The international community is not helping the Libyan army at all…nothing,” said one Libyan HoR representative. “The international community is asking the Libyan military to help with the refugees and fight against Daesh, but they are not helping at all.”
“We need international support for the Libyan Army – we need training for the Libyan Army to fight against terrorism. We need intelligence to make the area more safe,” the representative added.
When asked what the message is they are in DC to send to the American people, the MP stated that “first, we love the American people very much. We hope that the American government will help us to arrive to democratization in Libya.” He continued saying, “they helped us to remove the Gaddafi regime from power but didn’t finish their duty.”
He also said that the “American government knows that Qatar and Turkey are arming the militias.” He claimed that their ships arrive at the Libyan ports to help Libyan militias that are helping to kill the Libyan people. He asked why the Muslim Brotherhood did not help create the Libyan army and asked the American government to open more channels to create and build a new Libya.
“We will keep going by ourselves whether they [international community] will help us or not. We will keep fighting them [terrorists]. We are going to face them. We are going to protect the refugees that move to Europe.”
Speaking to another member of the Tobruk HoR delegation, he said they were here to ask America for help in supporting the Libyan army. “We are not defending certain people, but the democratic process,” he said.
He said, “We are with the dialogue in Morocco and are forming a unity government but it might be too late for a unity government to be formed… terrorism is spreading in the absence of state institutions. They need support for the state institutions.”
Since 2011, the situation in Libya has continued to deteriorate creating a safe haven for Islamic State. 21 Egyptian military border guards were killed last July near the frontier with Libya. In February, 21 Egyptian Christians were beheaded by Islamic State militants in Libya. In April, 30 Ethiopian Christians were beheaded in Libya. 900 migrants fleeing Libya were killed in April when their boat sank off the coast of Libya. Thousands of migrants have fled Libya due to the deteriorating security situation.
After the 21 Egyptians were beheaded in Libya, President Sisi called for a United Nations resolution mandating international intervention in Libya and to lift the international arms embargo on the Libyan army. Egypt conducted airstrikes against Islamic State positions after the beheading.
Since the NATO intervention in Libya that toppled the Gaddafi regime, Libya has been in a state of chaos and has become a safe haven for Islamist terrorists and now a base for Islamic State. UNHCR states that over 400,000 Libyans have been displaced due to the security situation.
Libya held elections in 2014 after massive popular demand by the Libyan people to replace the former Muslim Brotherhood/Islamist General National Congress (GNC) that was elected in 2012. The 2014 elections saw nationalist and liberal factions win the majority of seats. The 2014 elections had a low voter turnout due to many areas of Libya, particularly in Derna, where militants threatened voters and the polls were not opened.
After the 2014 election, Islamist fighters with Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn), a coalition of Islamist militants, seized Tripoli using violence to protest the newly elected government. The elected Parliament, House of Representatives (HoR), moved to Tobruk due to security concerns from the militias in Tripoli who support the Muslim Brotherhood General National Congress (GNC).
After the elections in 2014, the Supreme Court in Tripoli annulled the election results in November declaring that the elections that took place were illegal. The HoR rejected the decision. The Supreme Court’s decision has been reported to be due to the security threats against the judges and their families.
The international community recognizes the Tobruk HoR as the legitimate government in Libya, but continues to push both the HoR and GNC to the negotiating table, even though the GNC has been rejected by the Libyan people and holds no legitimacy. The GNC includes members who were previously arrested under Gadaffi and were affiliated with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), including Abdel Wahab Qaid and Abdelhakim Belhadj.
According to a West Point Study in 2007, the LIFG contributed far more fighters per capita for killing American troops in Iraq than any other nationality.
Although UN Security Council Resolution 2146 established in 2014 bans armed shipments to Libya, Qatar and Turkey are known to be supporting the militias in Tripoli by sending Qatari weapons through Sudan. The UN Resolution prohibits the Libyan army to receive military support by the international community.
Under Gaddafi, the Libyan military and state institutions were weak as Gaddafi relied on militias. Libya is now working on creating stable government institutions, including rebuilding the Libyan army. In March, the internationally recognized government, HoR, appointed General Khalifa Haftar as Commander of the Libyan Army. Haftar served as Libyan chief of staff under Gaddafi. He left Libya after Gaddafi betrayed and disowned the general and 300 of his troops in Chad. General Haftar returned to Libya in 2011 and fought with groups in the uprising that removed Gaddafi.
In 2014, General Haftar led a rogue campaign against Islamist militants in Libya launching “operation dignity” to cleanse Libya of terrorism. Libya is working on creating government institutions to bring order and stability.
The United States has a responsibility to help fight terrorism in Libya after the decision to intervene in 2011 to remove Gaddafi. The security threat in Libya poses a direct national security threat to the United States and the international community with the establishment of a safe haven/base for Islamic State to operate from. 9-11 occurred largely due to Al Qaeda having a safe haven in Afghanistan; the international community should heed the warnings now before it is too late.
The international community should support the legitimate state institutions in Libya, including the HoR and Libyan army. The GNC lost elections and the support of the Libyan people; they are rejected by the Libyan people so therefore should not have a seat at the negotiating table.
The UN should lift the arms embargo on the Libyan army and establish a safe haven outside of Libya to train the Libyan army. Pressure should be placed on Turkey and Qatar to stop supporting the militias and providing weapons and arms. How many more people need to be beheaded before the international community acts in Libya.
Tera Dahl is the Executive Director of the Council on Global Security.