Can Libyan general rout Islamist militias?

Maj. Gen. Khalifa Hifter launched an unexpected operation in Libya against Islamist armed groups after his calls to the Tripoli authorities to impose stability were not met.

al-monitor A man walks past destroyed warehouses following clashes between Libyan irregular forces and Islamist militias in Benghazi, May 17, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori.

Topics covered

security, politics, libya, islamists, benghazi, al-qaeda

May 21, 2014

[An interview conducted by El-Khabar with Libyan journalist Mahmoud Ali al-Rukaibi.]

El-Khabar:  What is your reading on the military developments on the ground in Libya and the operation launched by Maj. Gen. [Khalifa] Hifter?

Rukaibi:  Frankly, the operation of Maj. Gen. Hifter was a surprise to the observers following the Libyan situation. I mean, there were a lot of indicators that suggest that Hifter was onto something. However, no one predicted a military land and air operation, simply because no one believed that Hifter had fighter jets. The armed groups in Libya had sophisticated military equipment, but no one thought warplanes were among them. On the other hand, observers have been trying to follow up on Hifter 's political movements, rather than military ones, since he has been recently trying to win the support of tribes and activists in the western region of Libya.

However, Hifter’s “Operation Dignity” exceeded all expectations. So far, information remains unclear and limited to the statements of both parties in Benghazi and Tripoli, and both do not bode well.

El-Khabar:  You doubt that Hifter possesses warplanes, so does this mean that there are external forces that are supporting his quest?

Rukaibi:  These are not doubts. These are formal charges by the armed brigades of Benghazi. They accused foreign countries of being directly involved in what is going on in Libya. The February 17 Battalion confirmed that foreign aircraft were involved in the bombing of Libya.

El-Khabar:  Hifter said that he does not seek to rule the country and what he is doing is not a coup. Then, what is the purpose of this operation?

Rukaibi:  We should look back at when Hifter was trying to end the transitional period in Libya. He proposed a road map to the authorities in Tripoli, but there was no response. Hifter's close associates confirm that he is trying to respond to the demands of the Libyan people, who are disaffected by the failure of the General National Congress in Libya. He wanted the government to end the transitional period and start a stabilization phase in the country. Most importantly, he was trying to end the influence of armed groups that were imposing their will on the authorities and on the people in the Libyan street in general. This was the reason why many citizens and tribes were ready to support Hifter in his quest, which explains the defection of military units from the central authority to join Hifter.

El-Khabar:  Many believe that the ongoing conflict is between advocates of the civil state and Islamists.

Rukaibi:  It is true, and this is an important aspect of the conflict. The conflict started on the political level and then turned into clashes on the ground between armed groups. Deposed Prime Minister Ali Zeidan warned about this. Perhaps the main reason of the conflict was the inability of Libya to get out of the vicious circle, as both parties are seeking the help of armed groups. However, the game changer today is that one of the parties of the conflict has found an external ally to throw its weight behind it, while the second party is counting on armed groups inside.

El-Khabar:  Who do you mean by external forces supporting Hifter against the Islamic groups?

Rukaibi:  I do not have specific information, but analysis is open [to many possibilities]. One can say that they are the same forces fighting Islamic groups on their territories and refuse the return of political Islam to rule in the region. This is not to mention the growing fears among Western capitals about the risk of armed Islamic groups spreading. I believe what is happening in Libya is the result of an alliance of these parties.

El-Khabar:  Do you expect that Hifter will win in his quest?

Rukaibi:  There is no room for expectations. The developments will be the answer. However, what I fear, as a Libyan citizen, is that the victory of one party will only deepen the security crisis at the expense of the Libyan people. We have already started to witness division between pro- and anti-Hifter people. Those supporting Hifter say that the people are tired of the chaos and need someone able to impose stability.

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More from  Samia Belkadi