The year was 2011. The month of March had just started. The Arab Spring which began in Tunisia had spread to Libya. Rebels in the Eastern Libyan city of Benghazi had risen up against the rule of long-serving dictator Col Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi's loyal forces were at the outskirt of the city to crash the rebels. The Western media described the situation in the city as very dire and Western governments, the Arab League and the African Union all raced to see what they could do. France, Britain and Lebanon tabled a draft resolution at the UN Security Council (UNSC) seeking mandate for a no-fly zone and weapons embargo to be implemented against Gaddafi. There was a heated debate in the chamber of UNSC among the permanent members of the Council as well as the non-veto holding members including South Africa. Britain, France and a reluctant United States were in favour of the resolution, while Russia, the AU and some members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) including Germany and Turkey were also against any military intervention in Libya. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow was "categorically opposed to any foreign intervention, particularly military intervention, in Libyan affairs". Then German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle warned against intervening militarily in Libya saying: "We do not want to get sucked into a war in North Africa and we would not like to step on a slippery slope where we all are at the end in a war".
But the opposition fell on deaf ears and the resolution was passed. NATO was then called on humanitarian grounds under the principle of 'responsibility to protect' or (R2P) to enforce the no-fly zone and the weapons embargo to protect the citizens from being killed by Gaddafi's forces,
However, US, Britain and France manipulated NATO to overstep its mandate. The three NATO allies not only aided the rebels but used NATO to physically participate in the war. They rained bombs on Gaddafi's forces, attacked and destroyed his surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missile batteries. They sent special forces to advice the rebels on strategy and tactics. The special forces also fought alongside the rebels. When the rebels could not make headway in the conflict, France started to arm them. The supply of arms to the rebels and NATO's incessant attacks degraded Gaddafi's military capabilities, weakened his grip on Libya and strategically altered the battle environment in favour of the rebels. Gaddafi was eventually toppled and while he was on the run NATO bombed his hideout making it possible for the rebels to capture and kill him in on 20 October 2011. NATO's direct military action and support for the rebels did not please some of UNSC members like South Africa who had supported the resolution.
But like Iraq, the NATO allies had no plans for post-Gaddafi Libya. It is clear that they decided to throw their weight behind the rebels based on superficial understanding and shallow analysis of the situation in Libya. They forgot that before the uprising took off, there were bitter tribal and ethnic animosities among Libya's 140 tribes where most of the fighters owed their allegiance. They put all the fighting groups into one basket and called them opposition fighters. The NATO allies failed to differentiate between the true moderate revolutionaries and the radicals who are now causing mayhem in Libya. US and its NATO allies overlooked the Islamist agenda of some the rebels, as well as the federalist and secessionist ambition of some the militias who were fighting to unseat Gaddafi. The NATO allies failed to foresee that an unstable and security deficit Libya will be a haven for terror groups like Ansar al-Sharia. The key NATO allies were only motivated by the spoil of oil and gas deals that the rebels promised them without a deeper reflection of whether Libya will remain a viable, united and stable state for the oil and gas to be exploited. The rebels, who saw Gaddafi as the major enemy and were thus united by their common hatred for him, buried their century old differences and united to fight him. They were therefore ready to welcome the support that NATO promised as a means to achieve their common aim. But once Gaddafi was gone their differences and mistrust soon emerged. They refused to disarm and be integrated into the national army and rather began to administer the areas they control independently without reference to the central government. When that became insufficient, they started using the heavy weapons they had seized from Gaddafi and those supplied by France to target one another.
Libya is now a country of the militias, by the militias, and for the militias. There are about 1700 armed militia groups in the country divided on ideological, ethnic, tribal and cultural lines. Each of them has its own goals and reasons why they continue to fight. The Misrata Brigade for example sees itself as defenders of Libya against former Gaddafi supporters, while the Zintan Brigade sees itself as protector of Libya against political Islam including the Muslim Brotherhood. But that is not all. There is serious rivalry among them that frequently lead to deadly clashes in the cities. For example the rebels in the city of Zintan see those in Misrata as their main rivals and have been battling each other for power, money and influence. As a result Tripoli has become a blood soaked city. In Eastern Libya for example militia groups such as the Abu Obayda bin al-Jarah Brigade, the Malik Brigade and the 17 February Brigade reign supreme. In North Western and Central Libya (including the city of Misrata and until recently Tripoli), the Misrata Brigade are the power holders while the Zintan Brigade controls the city of Zintan, its surrounding as well as Tripoli's airport (which has become a scene of bitter confrontation by rival groups).
The rebels also targeted Libya's transitional leaders and subsequent governments, undermined Libya's institutions and continue to commit widespread human rights abuses against the civilian population. In October 2013 Ali Zeidan, the prime minister was briefly kidnapped and then released. In November 2013 Mustafa Noah, Libya's deputy intelligence chief was also kidnapped outside Tripoli airport.
As if that was not enough, power struggle and infighting among members of government and their militia backers continue to cause frequent change in government. For example there have been three prime ministers since March 2014. Mr. Ali Zeidan the prime minister was ousted in March 2014 when the navy failed to enforce a naval blockade on a North Korea oil tanker that escaped with oil from rebel controlled ports. Mr. Zeidan was replaced by the defence minister Abdullah al-Thani. But Mr Al-Thani also quit as PM after less than a month in office citing threats to his family. He was replaced by Ahmed Maiteeq in early May 2014. The kidnapping of Mustafa Noah, Ali Zeidan, the prime minister and the resignation Abdullah al-Thani on security grounds point to deteriorating security situation and also underscores the threats that government officials and security providers face. In short the governments put in place after the demise of Gaddafi have demonstrated that they are incapable of running the country.
Meanwhile the dream of oil and gas becoming the prize for NATO's intervention is yet to materialise as the bloody conflict has affected security of production and supply. In 2010 prior to the outbreak of hostilities, Libya's crude oil production stood at 1.66 million barrels a day thus about 2% of global output. Production however fell to 479,000 barrels a day as the conflict deepened. In August, production from Libya's 12 oilfields was zero as the conflict escalated and spread to other areas. Production recovered to 1.51 million barrels a day at the end of 2012 but was still lower than the 2010 output. In 2013 protests and violence forced oil ports, pipelines and oilfields to be shut. At the time of writing production was around 500,000 barrels a day. The gas sector has not been spared. Like oil, natural gas production and export has also declined considerably. Libya for example exported 9.97 billion cubic meters in 2010 but this was cut by more than 63% to 3.67 billion cubic metric meters in 2011. Export jumped to 6.22 billion cubic meters in 2012 but was still lower than the 2010 pre-hostility figures. The fall in oil and gas production the country's dependence on oil and gas which together provide 90% of Libya's revenues, 97% of export earnings and almost 70% of GDP has been dealt a severe blow. Rebels continue to control several key oil infrastructures and have attempted to export oil from the ports they control. In March they unsuccessfully attempted to sell oil to a North Korean flagged vessel (Morning Glory) but their effort was thwarted after intervention by US Navy SEALs.
As Hiba Khodr and Isabella Ruble of the American University of Beirut observed in October 2013 “The deep-seated regional divisions in Libya have left a lingering insecurity as to the stability of energy supplies. There are signiﬁcant expected risks to the outlook for Libyan oil production due to continued uncertainty concerning security conditions, state cohesion, political institutions, the return of foreign capital and expertise, contract terms, and industry oversight”.
Today the peace, security, stability and democracy dreamed by the NATO allies have become a mirage. Libya like Iraq has no effective government. There are currently two rival governments: one in Tripoli, the other in Tobruk. The army is also very weak and has failed to provide security and defend the country against rampaging Islamists and militia predators. In fact the chaotic situation in the country suggests that Libya is on the brink of becoming a failed state like Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq as rebels from the East, West and Central including Benghazi, Misrata, Zintan and Tripoli battle one another for control of the country's cities, oil ports, airports and natural resources including oil and gas fields.
In the face of such carnage, insecurity, lawlessness one would have expected France, Britain, U.S. and NATO to continue to play a leading role in stabilising Libya just as they were at the forefront of unseating Gaddafi and plunging the country into chaos. But so far there is no sign of NATO or its leading players. US, Britain and France have all evacuated their embassy staff and citizens from Libya. The UN and other international organisations have also pulled out their staff effectively abandoning the country and its people to the guns of the rebels.
While NATO has washed its hands from the insecurity it helped to create in Libya, the EU says "there is no military solution to Libya's problems; the only option is a political solution". US State Department Jen Psaki also issued the same statement on Monday 25 August 2014 reiterating the “political process” as the only option. Meanwhile the burden of having to keep rampaging militias away from power has fallen on Egypt and United Arab Emirates. Last Monday Egyptian jet fighters bombed rebel positions in Tripoli after they (the rebels) seized control of the Tripoli's main airport. However the involvement of Egypt and UAE is an indication of the competition by regional players (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE versus Qatar and Turkey) for control and influence. This is likely to exacerbate the conflict in the country and undermine Libya's security with potential, dangerous consequences for North Africa, the Sahel region and even Europe.
By Lord Aikins Adusei