The civil war in Libya is to a large extent a proxy war pitting some major global rivals against each other. On one side of the conflict is the UN-backed government in Tripoli, known as the Government of National Accord. On the other side is a renegade general named Khalifa Haftar who leads a group called the Libyan National Army, or LNA.
In April 2019, Haftar’s forces, which controlled much territory in the east of Libya, mounted an attack on the UN-backed government in Tripoli. At the time, Haftar had military backing from Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. France offered a degree of political support and the United States also appeared to give a green light to the assault.
But Haftar’s attack on Tripoli did not go as planned. His forces ended up in a long stalemate, unable to capture key parts of the city and unable to gain broader international support. In December, the tables seemed to turn when Russia began investing more heavily in the fight, sending in mercenaries and other military advisors. But in response, Turkey promised to more heavily support the Government of National Accord.
By the end of 2019, a proxy war was poised to escalate between Russia and Turkey, a NATO member.
That was the tense scene in Libya when I last spoke to Mary Fitzgerald, a longtime researcher. Libya was poised to be a major crisis as we entered 2020. And it had been a calamity — even as the world has been more focused on COVID-19 and global economic calamity.
In June, the tide turned very sharply against Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army. Turkey’s intervention in the conflict proved to be decisive. Haftar’s forces lost a series of battles around Tripoli and effectively ended their assault. These forces are now on the retreat and Haftar’s foreign support may be drying up.
This is a decisive moment for the crisis in Libya.
Mary Fitzgerald is back on the Global Dispatches podcast to explain the current state of play of the conflict and offer insights into what may unfold next in this internationalized civil war.