Filling the void in Libya

The Libyan desert near Murzuq
Control of Libya’s interior – which Italian colonists used to call the ‘big sandbox’ – could give Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar the key to reunify the country by force (source: dpa)
  • Libya remains torn between rival governments, local militias and foreign powers
  • The UN’s top-down reconciliation process is not working and needs a rethink
  • Khalifa Haftar seems to be implementing a plan to reunite the country by force
  • Perhaps only the U.S. can mediate effectively, but it seems determined to stay out

President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria reset the geopolitical chessboard in the Middle East. One of the places where its repercussions are being felt is Libya. This may at first seem surprising, since the United States has lacked a significant footprint in the country since evacuating its embassy from Tripoli in 2014. Washington has been wary of Libyan exposure since the September 2012 attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, which killed Ambassador Chris Stephens and three other Americans and ignited a political firestorm at home.

Yet after years of intense mediation by the United Nations, assisted by the European Union, France and Italy, the situation in Libya remains critical. The country is still divided between Tripolitania, nominally under the control of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA), and Cyrenaica, ruled by the country’s House of Representatives in Tobruk, backed by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). Libya’s sparsely inhabited interior region, Fezzan, has been mostly left to its own devices.

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