Libya

A recent series of militant attacks that forced the closure of three of Libya’s key oil fields represents the latest blow to the North African nation’s efforts to revive its energy sector while reigning in the chronic instability that has plagued the country since its 2011 revolution.

Over the course of two weeks in late August, the Rayayina Patrols Brigade (RPG) targeted oil fields and other facilities along a key pipeline corridor in western Libya, disrupting production at  the Hamada el Hamra, El-Feel, and El Sharara oil fields by an estimated 360,000 bpd.

Though all three fields are scheduled to resume production this week following a negotiated settlement, the attacks underscore the challenges the Tripoli-based and internationally recognized Government of National Accord continues to face as it attempts to revamp production and stabilize the country amidst a fraught security environment.

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Diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the chaos that has prevailed in Libya since 2011 have legitimized Khalifa Haftar, a former Libyan general whose forces have been accused of torture and executing prisoners, according to the Atlantic Council’s Karim Mezran.

Haftar met Fayez-al-Serraj, the prime minister in Libya’s United Nations-backed government, in Paris on July 25. The fact that this meeting occurred in the first place was a recognition of the reality that Serraj’s government—the Government of National Accord (GNA)—has been unable to unite the country and that Haftar has an indispensable role in any solution to the crisis, said Mezran, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“Haftar is the big victor,” he added.

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Russia has decisively expanded its global footprint in a way that analysts say challenges the West and will force US President Donald J. Trump to rethink his “America First” strategy.

This challenge extends well beyond Russia’s neighborhood—Ukraine, Georgia, and the Baltic States—to Syria, Libya, and even Afghanistan. Western governments and intelligence agencies have also accused Russia of meddling in elections in the United States and Europe.

John E. Herbst, director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “pursuing a clear revisionist agenda designed to change the post-Cold War order in Eurasia; permit Moscow to establish a clear sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space; weaken NATO and the EU; weaken the transatlantic relationship; diminish American prestige and power; and project Russian power globally.”

With this as a backdrop, Trump and Putin will meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7. The meeting takes place amid investigations by a special prosecutor and congressional committees into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

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True national reconciliation and inclusiveness are necessary ingredients for ending the cycle of statelessness and radicalization that has created a fertile ground for terrorist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), to flourish in Libya, according to a new Atlantic Council report.

“People who fought in Syria, we call that the undergrad for jihad, they went to Libya to get their post-grad degree in jihad,” said Jason Pack, founder of Eye on ISIS in Libya and executive director of the US-Libya Business Association.

“By coming from what they gathered in Syria to their post-grad in Derna and Sirte they founded their own brigades,” said Pack referring to mostly Tunisian jihadis who initially trained in Syria where a civil war has raged for the past six years. “The porosity of the Tunisian-Libyan border has been a real plague for Libya, and it has been a plague for Tunisia,” he added, pointing to high-profile terrorist attacks in Tunisia in 2015 at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis and on British holidaymakers in Sousse.

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A horrific suicide bombing in Manchester has put a spotlight on Libya—the North African nation where the chaos that has prevailed for the better part of the past six years has become a fertile breeding ground for a mélange of terrorist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

“What Manchester shows is that it is possible for a radicalized kid to go to Libya and potentially receive the kind of training that would allow him to return to his home country and commit an act of terrorism,” said Karim Mezran, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

On May 22, a bomber identified by British authorities as Salman Abedi, the twenty-two-year-old British-born son of Libyan immigrants, detonated explosives at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena, killing himself and twenty-two other people. Fifty-nine people were wounded. Abedi had earlier traveled to Libya to see his parents who have moved back; he also visited Syria. The British government on May 23 put the entire country on the highest level of alert—a sign that another attack “may be imminent.”

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The situation in Libya seems to be simultaneously stalemated and wavering on the brink of collapse. The Presidential Council and Government of National Accord (PC/GNA), which emerged from the UN-led Libyan Political Agreement at the end of 2015, has made little progress in solidifying its authority in the country. The United Nations is increasingly weak in Libya, with no clear replacement for Special Representative Martin Kobler, whose mandate expires soon. Meanwhile, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who is allied with the House of Representatives in the east and leads the Libyan National Army, continues to refuse to come to a deal with the PC/GNA, perhaps based on the false assumption that he can take control of the country militarily. The recent clashes in the south of the country near Sebha between Haftar’s forces and militias loyal to the PC/GNA are an indicator of the dangers of escalation in the country’s conflict. There is an ever-growing risk of civil war in Libya. Indeed, PC/GNA head Fayez al-Serraj called this week on the international community to intervene in Libya to prevent further destabilization in the south and a possible outbreak of war.

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Libyan foreign minister seeks US engagement in effort to root out terrorists

Amid concern that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is regrouping in Libya, Mohamed Taher Syala, the foreign minister in Libya’s internationally recognized, Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), said the United States must remain committed to defeating the terrorists in his country.

More than five years after its longtime ruler, Moammar Gadhafi, was ousted and killed in an Arab Spring-inspired uprising, Libya remains mired in chaos. It has two rival governments and is awash in weapons and independent militias. ISIS has sought to exploit this chaos in the North African nation.

In the summer of 2016, the United States conducted drone strikes against ISIS targets in the coastal city of Sirte. Troops loyal to the GNA—mostly militias from the western city of Misrata—also helped shatter ISIS’ control over its stronghold in Sirte.

Syala praised the US military intervention. “Without those attacks, it would be very difficult for our forces to conquer Daesh in that area,” he said in an interview with the New Atlanticist on March 23. ISIS is also known as Daesh.

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In order to end the civil war in Libya, those competing for power must meet, negotiate, and establish a path to free and fair elections early in 2018, Jonathan Winer, a former US State Department special envoy for Libya, said at the Atlantic Council on March 9.

The three factions claiming sole legitimacy and authority in Libya should “negotiate a deal… come together for the good of the country, create an interim government, and have elections in 2018,” said Winer. Of international allies and partners invested in the region, he said, “everybody pretty much sees it the same way. That’s what needs to happen.”

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Last month, European Union leaders met in Malta, in the words of European Council President Donald Tusk, to “agree [to] concrete operational measures to stem irregular migration from Libya to Europe.” The statement was an unusually frank expression of EU intentions in the Mediterranean: to regulate, limit, or halt mixed migration flows on the Central Mediterranean that include tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers each year.

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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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