US President Donald Trump’s decision to sack his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, could have significant consequences for the US posture toward Libya and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in particular.
Bolton has historically been one of Haftar’s most supportive voices in Washington. He signalled US support for his Tripoli offensive in April in contradiction to the policy signals from the State Department that Washington continued to support the Government of National Accord (GNA) which Haftar is now attacking.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who is likely to be far more cautious than Bolton — could now dominate foreign policy under the Trump Administration which compromises Haftar’s assumption that he can at least rely on Washington’s support for his activities.
Unfortunately there is little optimism that the forthcoming international Libya conference — scheduled to take place in New York later this month — will lead to any major shifts in international dynamics that could end the Tripoli war. However last week’s new initiative, announced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, raises hope that a more neutral third party such as Berlin will be able to compel Libyan actors — as well as unhelpful external players — to commit to peace.
After the National Oil Corporation (NOC) announcement earlier this month that it would be limiting fuel shipments to the east there was an increase last week in relatively minor attacks on NOC facilities. They have, however, underscored how precarious Libya’s oil sector viability is and this obviously exacerbates economic volatility. In reaction to the many negative economic effects of the current Tripoli war, there has been increasing discussion about reforming the tax system.
On 12 September the UN Security Council (UNSC) voted to renew the UN Support Mission in Libya’s (UNSMIL) mandate for another year. There is no indication — despite recognising the complicated role that the UN should play supporting humanitarian, political, security, and economic efforts in Libya — that Security Council members are willing to augment UNSMIL capabilities or resources to improve its chance of success.
Last week the opponents of Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) went on the offensive in southeast Tripoli — trying to take advantage of Haftar’s vulnerabilities in Tarhouna — to force the field marshal to shift his focus away from reversing losses in Gharyan and Murzuq. Their 13 September strike against Tarhouna’s Kani Brigade resulted in the deaths of two of the brigade’s leaders which put Haftar’s ability to rely on Tarhouna to fight for his interests in southeast Tripoli in doubt.
But the intense fighting — which threatens to overwhelm local hospitals with casualties — coincided with an intensification of the air war throughout the country. As the anti-LNA air assets pummelled LNA reinforcements in Jufra, the LNA’s air assets targeted Misrata International Airport and the Ghardabiya airbase about 15 kms south of Sirte.