North Africa Theater
The US military will keep an unspecified number of ground troops in Libya to help local forces further degrade the ISIS faction there, and also seeks greater scope to target insurgents in Somalia, Africa Command chief Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told reporters at the Pentagon March 24. "We're going to maintain a force that has the ability to develop intelligence, work with various groups as required, or be able to assist if required...to take out ISIS targets," said Gen. Waldhauser, boasting that the ISIS presence in coastal Libya has fallen below 200 from an estimated 5,000 only a year ago. In Somalia, where al-Qaeda affiliate Shabaab remains a threat, Waldhauser hopes the Trump White House will loosen rules of engagement established by the Obama administration to avoid "collateral damage." "I think the combatant commanders, myself included, are more than capable of making judgments and determinations on some of these targets," he said. (Military Times, March 24)
Human Rights Watch said March 21 that members of the Libyan National Army (LNA) may have committed war crimes in Benghazi on and around March 18. Benghazi has been center of stand-off between the LNA and the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC) for almost two years. On March 18, dozens of civilians attempted to flee the Ganfouda neighborhood of the city. Some of the civilians were accompanied by BRSC soldiers. Relatives of some of the civilians who fled stated that LNA fighters intercepted roughly seven fleeing families, attacking and killing some of them and detaining others. There have also been photos and videos of LNA fighters mutilating and desecrating the corpses of BRSC fighters. LNA leadership has made statements denouncing the actions of those fighters, and pledging to arrest those who have committed the violations. The LNA has also justified some other actions believed to be war crimes. This includes a video of an LNA captain shooting three restrained men in the back with a machine gun as they kneeled facing a wall. An LNA special forces spokesman defended the incident as having occurred "within the battlefields."
Installation of an interim authority in Timbuktu, part of a peace deal with Tuareg rebels in Mali's desert north, was blocked as hardline factions erected street barricades across the city March 6. Former rebel leader Boubacar Ould Hamadi was to become head of the interim authority in Timbuktu. The rejectionist factions, holding out for greater autonomy in the region, are led by the Council for Justice in Azawad. Last week, interim authorities were successfully installed in the towns of Kidal and Menaka. But there were also difficulties in Gao, where dozens of armed men briefly occupied the regional assembly building until their demands for greater participation were met. (Reuters, AFP, March 6)
The Benghazi Defense Brigades seized Libya's key oil ports from warlord Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity forces, and urged the Tripoli-based "official" Government of National Accord to take control of the country's long-contested "oil crescent." The militia apparently took Ras Lanuf and other key oil terminals to press demands for displaced persons from Benghazi, long contested by Haftar’s forces and Islamist factions, to be able to safely return to their homes. "We will not stay inside the oil crescent region, once we secure it back from Haftar’s mercenaries, we will hand it over to the legitimate official authorities," the Benghazi Defense Brigades said in a statement. (Libyan Express, March 4)
The 2014 trial of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi failed to meet international fair trial standards, according to a UN report (PDF) published Feb. 21. The UN "closely monitored" the proceedings, and recognized efforts made to elevate standards, including the decision to live-broadcast the trial. However, the monitors identified several prominent violations of international law occurring throughout the trials of former regime figures. Such violations include the failure to afford the defendants adequate due process and access to lawyers. The UN also condemned the prosecution for interfering with the Qaddafi's right to defense and to be present at his trial, violating provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (PDF). Gaddafi was tried and sentenced to death in absentia, as he was being held by a rebel militia at the time. The report urged a review of Libya's Penal Code, and called on the Libyan government to hand Qaddafi over to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The latest in an ongoing wave of unclaimed air-strikes in Libya on Feb. 9 hit al-Jufra air base in the interior of the country, which is in the hands of local militia forces. Two were reported killed and several injured, as well as extensive damage to the base. The targeted militias were identified as the Tagrift Brigade and the Saraya Defend Benghazi group. These militias have been targeted before by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, military chief of Libya's unrecognized eastern-based government. (Anadolu Agency, Libya Observer, Feb. 9)
As Morocco is readmitted to the African Union at the continental body's 28th summit in Addis Ababa, it is pushing for the suspension of Western Sahara, placing the AU in a difficult position. The AU has long backed self-determination for the Moroccan-occupied territory, and recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as the representative of its people. Morocco dropped out of the Organization of African Unity (precursor to the AU) in 1984 in protest at the SADR's admission to the body. At Addis Ababa, Rabat won the backing of a simple majority of AU members for its return to the body. Among the dissenting votes was South Africa, whose ruling African National Congress (ANC) issued a statement calling the readmission of Morocco an "important setback for the cause of the Saharawi people." Rabat stopped short of explicitly demanding the AU withdraw its recognition of the SADR, with King Mohammed VI saying in a statement: "On reflection, it has become clear to us that when a body is sick, it is treated more effectively from the inside than from the outside." SADR's Foreign Minister Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, howver, said Morocco's readmission represents "a victory of the Sahrawi people since Morocco had finally accepted to sit alongside its neighbor, Western Sahara." (Africa in Fact, Feb. 1 via AllAfrica; BBC News, Sahara Press Service, SPS, Jan. 31; The East African, Jan. 30 via AllAfrica)
US B-2 Stealth bombers and drones carried out a raid against presumed ISIS camps in the Libyan desert Jan. 19, in what will likely be the final air-strikes ordered by President Obama. The operation targeted two camps located just over 40 kilometers southwest of Sirte, the coastal city recently liberated from ISIS by an alliance of local militias. The strikes, which left scores dead, were reportedly ordered several days ago on the basis of information gathered from the air and on the ground. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said militants at the camps "were actively planning operations against our allies in Europe." (Al Jazeera, NPR, ANSA)