A rogue General in Libya is leading his own war in an unauthorized campaign against Islamist groups in the country, using government aircraft and troops to carry out large scale attacks in Benghazi and elsewhere. Major General Khalifa Haftar, who came out of exile in the U.S. to lead ground forces in the 2011 NATO-sponsored campaign to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, is leading what he calls a “National Army” to fight Islamic groups in Libya.
General Haftar’s paramilitary forces have used warplanes and helicopters in an aggressive battle with Islamic fighters in Benghazi and the fighting has raged for days. The latest violence has claimed the lives of at least 36 people, injuring another 138.
The government in Libya headed by interim Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has called Haftar and his paramilitary group “outlaws”, and his use of government aircraft to wage war as illegal. Libya has imposed a no fly zone over Benghazi, threatening to shoot down any plane that enters the now restricted air space.
Roving gangs and militias have become a huge issue in Libya following the overthrow of Gaddafi’s government in 2011. Warring tribes and factions which were once united under the iron hand of Gaddafi now have little cause to hold back their ancient resentments, taking advantage of the political vacuum to assert power and influence over particular regions in the country.
General Haftar has proclaimed his military action a campaign to free Benghazi of “terrorist groups”, like those formed in the wake of Gaddafi’s rule.
But officials in Libya are drawing no difference between the rogue terrorist groups in Libya and Haftar’s paramilitary force, saying that Haftar’s campaign is unauthorized and only causing more unrest. In Haftar’s latest attack, over 120 military vehicles and a Libyan air force plane were used without permission from the government.
It’s been reported that some officers and army units have defected from the Libyan military, joining Haftar’s campaign.
High ranking officials in Libya have denied any involvement in Haftar’s vigilante justice. Armed forces chief of staff Abdessalam Hadallah al-Salihin says his army has nothing to do with Haftar’s mission.
Meanwhile conflicting military orders are being beckoned from both the Libyan army and Haftar’s rogue forces. Haftar has called for an evacuation of Benghazi while Libya’s government is ordering Haftar to the war he has started against Islamists in the city.
Still violent clashes continue across Libya between Haftar’s forces and Libya’s army. Benghazi’s Benina Airport has been closed due to safety concerns from the government, saying it will be reopened “depending on the security situation.”
Algeria temporarily closed its embassy in Tripoli, citing security concerns.
The government in Libya went as far to say that Haftar’s actions are equivalent to a “coup”.
Gaddafi’s eccentric and harsh rule held a tight grip on the widely diverse tribal society for almost 40 years. It was the proverbial glue in a society of over 140 distinct ethnic tribes, and over 8 different languages. The instability that followed has resulted in the chaotic struggle for power, with even Generals going rogue and taking it upon themselves to claim the direction of Libya’s future.
by John Amaruso