Libya

On January 27, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order on immigration, titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” The order places a ban on the entry of foreign nationals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days; suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days; and blocks the entry of Syrian nationals indefinitely.  

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As it enters its sixth year, the crisis in Libya shows no signs of abating. The UN-backed unity government seems to be teetering on the edge of collapse, and clashes threaten to escalate between eastern and western forces. Withdrawal from Libya could have negative consequences for western interests, and the United States—under the Trump administration—could take the lead in engaging with Libya to achieve stability. This engagement is key, not only for Libya’s stability, but for the stability of neighboring Egypt and Tunisia as well as US and European interests in the region.

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As the situation on the ground in Libya continues to deteriorate, many fear a complete descent into chaos. The successful operation against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Sirte—formally conducted under the authority of the UN-sponsored and Tripoli-based Government of National Agreement (GNA)—but largely dominated by the Misrata militias, put the latter in close geographical proximity with the forces of their rival General Khalifa Haftar. Clashes between Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Misrata militias are already occurring in southern central Libya, and the worst case scenario of all-out war between these forces, which is becoming more and more probable, should be prevented at any cost.

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As the situation in Libya increasingly declines, and in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump at President of the United States, Libya experts are considering new ideas for US policy in Libya. One idea is for the international community to abandon its effort to create a Libyan unity government in line with the December 2015 Skhirat agreement and instead lend support to a stronger party that could better ensure the rapid stabilization of the country. In other words, it would mean shifting support from the Presidential Council (PC) and Government of National Accord (GNA) of Fayez Serraj to the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar. Is this feasible? Is it desirable?

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With the Libyan city of Sirte almost completely liberated from the Islamic State, the group appears to be adapting rather than collapsing. Despite a significant decline in interactions with outsiders, recent statements by ISIS leaders and the tactics used in its fight in Sirte point to how it might deal with the aftermath. In its fight for survival, the Islamic State is adopting a low profile and building a network of itinerant, covert cells.

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Roughly 20 years ago, Carlo Maria Santoro, a professor of international relations at Milan and one of Italy’s foremost experts on geopolitics, wrote a book titled, The Risk from the South. He warned of Libya’s centrality to the stability of North Africa and the countries of Southern Europe. He was, at the time, referring to the dangerous idiosyncrasies of Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi and his shrewd manipulation of the migrant trade, sponsoring of terrorism, and economic blackmail. Today, we are still facing all these threats, even without Qaddafi.

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Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warns against placing conditions on defense of allies

In a thinly veiled swipe at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former secretary general of NATO, said on September 29 that it is in the United States’ best interests to be the world’s “policeman,” and it would be dangerous to condition the defense of allies on their financial contributions toward security.  

In a debate with his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in New York on September 26, Trump said the United States “cannot be the policeman of the world, we cannot protect countries all over the world, where they’re not paying us what we need.”

Trump supporter and former speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, has also expressed doubt about whether a Trump administration would risk nuclear war with Russia by coming to the defense of Estonia in the event of a Russian attack.

Such comments raise doubts about NATO’s resolve to maintain collective defense, said Rasmussen, noting that Estonia is one of five countries in the twenty-eight-member Alliance that actually spends the required two percent of its GDP on defense.

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The situation in Libya seems to be heading toward a military confrontation between forces loyal to the UN-sponsored Government of National Agreement (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces of General Khalifa Haftar. The General is nominally under the authority of the House of Representatives (HoR), the parliament seated in Tobruk and of the government headed by Abdullah al-Thinni seated in al-Bayda. In reality, Haftar is his own commander and has been encouraged by strong support from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to launch his bid to take control of as much Libyan territory as possible. The General’s strategy has been apparent for a long time; the latest events, the sudden and rapid attack to conquer the oil infrastructure in the Gulf of Sidra, offer empirical confirmation of such a plan.

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After many failed attempts to meet and reach a quorum, Libya’s House of Representatives (HoR) seated in Tobruk met on August 22 and voted on the cabinet of the Government of National Accord (GNA) proposed by the Presidential Council (PC) led by Fayez Serraj. With the legal quorum of 101 members, 61 members voted no confidence, 39 abstained, and only one voted in favor of Serraj’s cabinet.

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In the wake of Libya’s 2011 revolution, eastern leaders feared that they would once again become second class citizens. The perceived domination by Tripolitanians of the National Transition Council (NTC)—the de facto government established during the revolution; the alleged marginalization of Cyrenaica; and the strong influence of militias from Tripoli, Misrata, and Zintan on the government seemed to confirm these worries. Repeated government promises to move significant public entities, like the headquarters of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and Libyan Airlines, to Benghazi failed to materialize.

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