Tag Archives: Libya war

The Division of Libya

Libya satellite image

Libya’s self-proclaimed prime minister [Omar al-Hassi] has warned that attempts by a rival government in the east to assert control over the oil industry could escalate the political conflict dividing the OPEC member state and force it to break in two.  Libya has had two governments competing for power since August 2014 when a group called Operation Libya Dawn, which opponents say is backed by Islamists, seized Tripoli and forced the elected Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni to flee 1,000 km to a small city near the border with Egypt.

The warning by Omar al-Hassi, prime minister of the rival government, came after Thinni’s government claimed air strikes on Tripoli’s Mitigate airport this week, escalating a confrontation that started with an attack by Libya Dawn on a rival force in Tripoli in July.  The new rulers in the capital are not recognised by the United Nations and world powers but have taken over ministries, oil facilities, airports and much of western and central Libya.

In a step to assert control over the oil industry, Thinni’s government said it had appointed a new chairman of the National Oil Corp. Thinni had initially retained the state oil firm’s previous head, Mustafa Sanallah, but he remains in Tripoli.  The conflict gripping Libya three years after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi poses a legal dilemma for oil traders, who are left wondering who owns Libya’s oil exports, worth more that $10 billion a year. The country sits on Africa’s largest oil reserves…

“There are attempts (by Thinni) to set up an eastern Supreme Court, there are attempts to launch a central bank in the east, there are attempts to establish a separate oil ministry in the east,” said Hassi, who said he was against partition.

Thinni’s government has sought to move heads of state-run institutions to the east as he is recognised by the international community, but he too denies any plans for secession.

But Hassi said Thinni’s government had shown it intended to control oil facilities in the eastern rump state by picking al-Mabrook Bou Seif as new NOC Chairman, since he was from the same tribe as Ibrahim Jathran, a former rebel leader who seized eastern ports for a year to press for regional autonomy.

Struggle over Libya’s oil risks breaking up country -rival PM, Reuters,  Nov. 28, 2014

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One Thug Gone, One Too Many Remain: Libya

Hours after taking control of Bani Walid, a former stronghold of Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan militias from the rival city of Misrata fired ferociously at its empty public buildings.  Fighters yelling “Allahu akbar (God is greatest) and “Today Bani Walid is finished” sought to make their mark with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades on a town they say still provides a refuge to many of the overthrown Libyan leader’s followers.  The chaotic, vengeful scenes demonstrated the weakness of the new government’s authority over former rebel militias which owe it allegiance but essentially do what they like, Reuters reports…After days of shelling that sent thousands of families fleeing from the hilltop town in scenes reminiscent of last year’s war, militias aligned with the defence ministry, a grouping known as Libya Shield, seized Bani Walid on Wednesday (Oct. 24, 2012.)  he latest fighting, in which dozens of people were killed and hundreds wounded, erupted over a government demand that Bani Walid hand over those who had kidnapped and tortured Omar Shaaban, the former rebel fighter who had caught Gaddafi hiding in a drain in his hometown of Sirte last year.  Shaaban, from Misrata, a city that underwent a harsh siege by Gaddafi’s forces, died in a Paris hospital last month from injuries inflicted during two months of captivity in Bani Walid.   The United Nations had called for restraint as militias gathered menacingly around Bani Walid, whose residents had baulked at turning over the wanted men to unruly armed groups, while Libya’s justice system remains in disarray….Many people in Bani Walid belong to the powerful Warfala tribe, which was mostly loyal to Gaddafi.  The town and its now-displaced inhabitants, long isolated from the rest of Libya, fear retribution and wonder what fate awaits them in the post-Gaddafi era.

A disquieting example is offered by Sirte, whose residents feel neglected by Libya’s new rulers, saying they are paying the price for being the last bastion of Gaddafi, who was killed there on October 20, 2011. His death has yet to be investigated…

“Where is the international community?” Bani Walid tribal elder Mohammed al-Shetawi said by phone after leaving the town.  “Where is the United Nations and the European Union and the other people in the world, why have they forgotten us?”…

Excerpt, Capture of Libyan town smacks of revenge, not reconciliation, Reuters, Oct. 26, 2012

NATO Claims Right to Impunity for Civilian Deaths in Libya

NATO’s seven-month air campaign in Libya, hailed by the alliance and many Libyans for blunting a lethal crackdown by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and helping to push him from power, came with an unrecognized toll: scores of civilian casualties the alliance has long refused to acknowledge or investigate.  By NATO’s telling during the war, and in statements since sorties ended on Oct. 31, the alliance-led operation was nearly flawless — a model air war that used high technology, meticulous planning and restraint to protect civilians from Colonel Qaddafi’s troops, which was the alliance’s mandate.  “We have carried out this operation very carefully, without confirmed civilian casualties,” the secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said in November.

But an on-the-ground examination by The New York Times of airstrike sites across Libya — including interviews with survivors, doctors and witnesses, and the collection of munitions remnants, medical reports, death certificates and photographs — found credible accounts of dozens of civilians killed by NATO in many distinct attacks. The victims, including at least 29 women or children, often had been asleep in homes when the ordnance hit.  In all, at least 40 civilians, and perhaps more than 70, were killed by NATO at these sites, available evidence suggests. While that total is not high compared with other conflicts in which Western powers have relied heavily on air power, and less than the exaggerated accounts circulated by the Qaddafi government, it is also not a complete accounting. Survivors and doctors working for the anti-Qaddafi interim authorities point to dozens more civilians wounded in these and other strikes, and they referred reporters to other sites where civilian casualties were suspected.  Two weeks after being provided a 27-page memorandum from The Times containing extensive details of nine separate attacks in which evidence indicated that allied planes had killed or wounded unintended victims, NATO modified its stance.  “From what you have gathered on the ground, it appears that innocent civilians may have been killed or injured, despite all the care and precision,” said Oana Lungescu, a spokeswoman for NATO headquarters in Brussels. “We deeply regret any loss of life.”  She added that NATO was in regular contact with the new Libyan government and that “we stand ready to work with the Libyan authorities to do what they feel is right.”

NATO, however, deferred the responsibility of initiating any inquiry to Libya’s interim authorities, whose survival and climb to power were made possible largely by the airstrike campaign. So far, Libyan leaders have expressed no interest in examining NATO’s mistakes.  The failure to thoroughly assess the civilian toll reduces the chances that allied forces, which are relying ever more heavily on air power rather than risking ground troops in overseas conflicts, will examine their Libyan experience to minimize collateral deaths elsewhere. Allied commanders have been ordered to submit a lessons-learned report to NATO headquarters in February. NATO’s incuriosity about the many lethal accidents raises questions about how thorough that review will be.  NATO’s experience in Libya also reveals an attitude that initially prevailed in Afghanistan. There, NATO forces, led by the United States, tightened the rules of engagement for airstrikes and insisted on better targeting to reduce civilian deaths only after repeatedly ignoring or disputing accounts of airstrikes that left many civilians dead.  In Libya, NATO’s inattention to its unintended victims has also left many wounded civilians with little aid in the aftermath of the country’s still-chaotic change in leadership.  These victims include a boy blasted by debris in his face and right eye, a woman whose left leg was amputated, another whose foot and leg wounds left her disabled, a North Korean doctor whose left foot was crushed and his wife, who suffered a fractured skull.  The Times’s investigation included visits to more than 25 sites, including in Tripoli, Surman, Mizdah, Zlitan, Ga’a, Majer, Ajdabiya, Misurata, Surt, Brega and Sabratha and near Benghazi. More than 150 targets — bunkers, buildings or vehicles — were hit at these places.

NATO warplanes flew thousands of sorties that dropped 7,700 bombs or missiles; because The Times did not examine sites in several cities and towns where the air campaign was active, the casualty estimate could be low.  There are indications that the alliance took many steps to avoid harming civilians, and often did not damage civilian infrastructure useful to Colonel Qaddafi’s military. Elements of two American-led air campaigns in Iraq, in 1991 and 2003, appear to have been avoided, including attacks on electrical grids.  Such steps spared civilians certain hardships and risks that accompanied previous Western air-to-ground operations. NATO also said that allied forces did not use cluster munitions or ordnance containing depleted uranium, both of which pose health and environmental risks, in Libya at any time.  The alliance’s fixed-wing aircraft dropped only laser- or satellite-guided weapons, said Col. Gregory Julian, a NATO spokesman; no so-called dumb bombs were used.

While the overwhelming preponderance of strikes seemed to have hit their targets without killing noncombatants, many factors contributed to a run of fatal mistakes. These included a technically faulty bomb, poor or dated intelligence and the near absence of experienced military personnel on the ground who could help direct airstrikes.   The alliance’s apparent presumption that residences thought to harbor pro-Qaddafi forces were not occupied by civilians repeatedly proved mistaken, the evidence suggests, posing a reminder to advocates of air power that no war is cost- or error-free.  The investigation also found significant damage to civilian infrastructure from certain attacks for which a rationale was not evident or risks to civilians were clear. These included strikes on warehouses that current anti-Qaddafi guards said contained only food, or near businesses or homes that were destroyed, including an attack on a munitions bunker beside a neighborhood that caused a large secondary explosion, scattering warheads and toxic rocket fuel.

NATO has also not yet provided data to Libyans on the locations or types of unexploded ordnance from its strikes. At least two large weapons were present at sites visited by The Times. “This information is urgently needed,” said Dr. Ali Yahwya, chief surgeon at the Zlitan hospital.  Moreover, the scouring of one strike site found remnants of NATO munitions in a ruined building that an alliance spokesman explicitly said NATO did not attack.  That mistake — a pair of strikes — killed 12 anti-Qaddafi fighters and nearly killed a civilian ambulance crew aiding wounded men. It underscored NATO’s sometimes tenuous grasp of battle lines and raised questions about the forthrightness and accuracy of the alliance’s public-relations campaign.  The second strike pointed to a tactic that survivors at several sites recounted: warplanes restriking targets minutes after a first attack, a practice that imperiled, and sometimes killed, civilians rushing to the wounded.

Pressed about the dangers posed to noncombatants by such attacks, NATO said it would reconsider the tactic’s rationale in its internal campaign review. “That’s a valid point to take into consideration in future operations,” Colonel Julian said.  That statement is a shift in the alliance’s stance. NATO’s response to allegations of mistaken attacks had long been carefully worded denials and insistence that its operations were devised and supervised with exceptional care. Faced with credible allegations that it killed civilians, the alliance said it had neither the capacity for nor intention of investigating and often repeated that disputed strikes were sound.

The alliance maintained this position even after two independent Western organizations — Human Rights Watch and the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, or Civic — met privately with NATO officials and shared field research about mistakes, including, in some cases, victims’ names and the dates and locations where they died.  Organizations researching civilian deaths in Libya said that the alliance’s resistance to making itself accountable and acknowledging mistakes amounted to poor public policy. “It’s crystal clear that civilians died in NATO strikes,” said Fred Abrahams, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. “But this whole campaign is shrouded by an atmosphere of impunity” and by NATO’s and the Libyan authorities’ mutually congratulatory statements.

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