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Libya’s Perpetual Chaos

Why Haftar’s Tripoli Offensive Could Break the Country’s Deadlock

Soldiers from Haftar's LNA in Benghazi, April 2019 Esam Al-Fetori / Reuters

Earlier this month, as the United Nations prepared for yet another conference to end Libya’s nearly eight-year-long conflict, General Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), ordered an assault on the capital, Tripoli. Whether Haftar’s forces will succeed in taking the city is still unclear. But a decisive victory for the general would likely bring relative order to Libya, at least for the time being.

The international community has sporadically condemned the LNA’s offensive, asking on “all parties” to adhere to the UN process and support Haftar’s rival, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined the chorus, calling on Haftar to “halt” his advance. Despite these condemnations, it is clear that some countries, including France and the United Arab Emirates, are saying one thing publicly while privately hoping that Haftar’s actions will jolt Libya out of its deep political malaise.  

For four years, many in the Western media have cast Haftar as an aspiring dictator undermining the UN’s patient efforts to bring the country’s warring factions together. Yet many Libyans have lost patience with the GNA and support the LNA’s efforts—not out of any great sympathy with Haftar but because they feel that he is the only actor in the country actively addressing Libya’s massive security needs. Many Libyans have lost patience with the GNA.

DEMOCRACY DERAILED

Few informed observers expected that the fall of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011 would quickly or easily lead to democracy. Yet the early achievements of the Libyan revolutionaries were quite remarkable: within two years of Qaddafi’s ouster, Libya held largely free and fair national elections, saw a peaceful transfer of power from an unelected transitional body to an elected government (the General National Congress), and witnessed the rapid growth of civil society and a free press. But as former President Barack Obama lamented in 2014, the United States had failed to prepare

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