MS Risk Blog

Libya fighting intensifies as Haftar sworn in

Posted on in Libya, United Nations title_rule

9 March – In the latest series of “tit-for-tat” strikes, warplanes from Libya’s internationally recognized government (based in Tobruk) attacked the last functioning airport in Tripoli, which is held by the rival administration. The two opposing governments have been battling for control of the nation and its vast oil resources, causing spiralling violence in the north of the country.

“Warplanes conducted air strikes this morning on Mitiga airport but there was no damage,” airport spokesman Abdulsalam Buamoud said. “Flights were suspended for only an hour … but now the airport is working normally.”

Spokesman for the Tobruk-led military, Mohamed al-Hejazi, the airport was targeted because it is “outside state legitimacy”, adding that weapons and fighters which were heading to western Libya come through the Tripoli airport. Western Libya has become a sort of base for Islamist militants who have exploited the chaos between the governments.

Haftar Sworn In:

The attack coincided with the swearing-in of Khalifa Haftar as army commander for the recognized government. Haftar has been vocally opposed to the Tripoli based government since February 2014 and attempted to seize the parliament building and halt their activities. The Tripoli government called his actions an attempt at a coup. Shortly thereafter, Haftar began “Operation Dignity”, a self-declared war against Islamist militants in Benghazi which gained great support from military forces and civil society. However Haftar has also been met with opposition from those who criticise his attacks on civilian air and sea ports. Today, Libya’s internationally recognised President Abdullah al-Thani and his parliament have formally allied with Haftar. The Tripoli-based rival government has denounced Haftar as “war criminal.”

Haftar’s appointment as army commander will complicate mediation efforts by the United Nations which began last week in Morocco. The UN has been trying to persuade both sides to form a national government and said on Saturday that progress had been made at talks in Morocco. Delegates will return this week for more negotiations after consultations at home, but both factions face internal divisions over the negotiations.

ISIS attacks oil fields:
Meanwhile, in the midst of the government battles, the Tobruk government’s military spokesman, Ahmed al-Mesmari, says that militants affiliated with the terrorist group Islamic State affiliate beheaded eight guards after an assault on al-Ghani oil field last week, during which nine foreigners were abducted. Al-Mesmari did not elaborate on how the army knows about the beheadings but the force serving as oil guards is closely allied to the Tobruk military. Authorities in the Philippines and Austria confirmed that nine of their citizens were abducted during the attack, however the beheadings have not been confirmed.

The attack was part of a string of militant strikes targeting oil fields in the nation. Libya declared a force majeure related to 11 oil fields in the centre of country after a string of attacks against the facilities by ISIS. In a statement posted on its website, state-owned National Oil Company (NOC) said it was no longer able to ensure security in the 11 fields. By declaring force majeure, the nation can guarantee legal protections from claims against any future disruptions. Libya is pumping about 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day, three times less than its peak output. The Dahra oil field, about 310 miles southeast of Tripoli, was attacked late on Tuesday, hours after two other oil facilities were targeted by the militants. Colonel Hakim Maazab, a commander of the oil guards in the area said his men had regained control of the field late on Wednesday. Mabruk and Bahi oil fields in central Libya that were stormed for a second time by unknown gunmen on Monday and Tuesday, after experiencing similar attacks in February. Mabruk once produced 30,000 to 40,000 barrels a day and is operated by a Libyan joint venture with French oil firm Total SA. It was occupied again overnight on Tuesday by the militants, who claim to represent Islamic State and killed nine guards there last month. Bahi and Dahra are operated by a partnership with U.S. oil companies Marathon Oil Corp., Hess Corp. and ConocoPhillips. Colonel Maazab said on Wednesday that the gunmen had withdrawn from Mabruk after inflicting heavy damage on the facilities, destroying oil tanks and the control room. “Daesh (Arabic slur for ISIS) blew up a lot of equipment,” he said.