North Africa Theater
The latest fodder for "anti-war" propaganda—avidly jumped on, of course, by such predictable outlets as the (reliably reactionary) Counterpunch and (poorly named) Global Research—is the report of the British parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee finding that the 2011 military intervention in Libya relied on flawed intelligence and hastened the country's political collapse. The report blasts the UK's then-Prime Minister David Cameron, stating that his government "could not verify the actual threat to civilians posed by the Gaddafi regime; it selectively took elements of Muammar Gaddafi's rhetoric at face value; and it failed to identify the militant Islamist extremist element in the rebellion." (Al Jazeera, Sept. 14)
Forces led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, loyal to Libya's eastern government, launched an attack Sept. 10 on three ports held by Petroleum Facilities Guard troops, loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA). The attack on terminals in Libya's "oil crescent" is the first armed conflict between the eastern government and the UN-recognized GNA, based in Tripoli. A spokesman for Haftar's forces said the offensive, dubbed "Surprise Lightening," has taken control of the Sidra and Ras Lanouf oil terminals, with fighting continuing for the facilities at Brega and Zuwetina. (MarketWatch, Libya Observer, Sept. 11)
An appeals court in the Algerian city of Setif on Sept. 6 upheld the conviction of Slimane Bouhafs, a man the court says slandered Islam and the Prophet Muhammed. Bouhaf's lawyer claims his client, a Christian convert, only criticized political Islam in a Facebook discussion with non-Algerian Christians. On Aug. 7, the trial court found otherwise, ruling that those Facebook posts were offensive to the prophet, and the appeals court agreed. Now, international human rights groups are calling for Bouhafs' "immediate and unconditional release." Bouhafs faces a five-year prison term.
Algeria has announced plans to build a 120-kilometer wall along its border with Libya, local media sources report. The wall along the 1,000-kilometer border is another step in a list of upgraded security measures Algeria is undertaking to improve its counter-terrorism initiatives. Measuring three metres in height, and lined with barbed wire, the wall is intended curb the movement of ISIS militants and arms smugglers from entering the country. Growing reports of incursions by armed militants and criminals, alongside growing attacks and kidnappings in Algeria's remote south, have spurred calls for construction of the barrier. According to Geoff Porter, president of North Africa Risk Consulting, Algeria seeks to avoid "trespassing on another sovereign territory" by militants and smuggling networks. Tunisia earlier this year completed the first phase of its own separation wall on the Libyan border. (MEM, Sept. 2)
Lawyers for 13 anti-slavery activists on trial in Mauritania said they have been tortured in detention. The activists, on trial for "rebellion and use of violence," were arrested last month after angry protests in a poor district of the capital Nouakchott slum community that faces forcible relocation as part of an urban clearance plan ahead of an Arab League summit to be hosted in the city. "One by one, the 13 spoke out against the forms of torture they had been subjected to in custody," said attorney Brahim Ould Ebetty, representing the members of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (ARI). The riots started when security forces stormed dwellings occupied for decades by members of the Haratin ethnic group, many of them former slaves. Authorities accused the ARI members of instigating the riots. The detained are now being held at an unknown location.
US special operations troops are for the first time directly supporting local forces battling ISIS in their key Libyan stronghold of Sirte, the Washington Post reported Aug. 9. US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Post the commandos are working from a joint operations center on the outskirts of the city. (AFP, Aug. 10) However, the head of Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) made clear that he rejects the introduction of foreign troops in the country. "We do not need foreign troops on Libyan soil," Fayez al-Sarraj said in an interview with Italy's Corriere della Sera daily. (Middle East Eye, Aug. 10) The US-backed militias in Sirte now say they have seized control of the city's Ouagadougou convention center that had served as ISIS headquarters. (BBC News, Aug. 10)
US warplanes and drones on Aug. 1 launched a new round of air-strikes against ISIS targets in the Libyan city of Sirte—the first such strikes carried out in support of local ground forces. A Pentagon statement said the raids were undertaken at the request of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). However, the air campiagn is in support of local militias that have declared loyalty to the GNA, which still lacks an official armed force of its own. Previous US strikes against ISIS targets elsewhere in Libya were undertaken unilaterally. An ISIS tank was said to be among the targets hit in the new strikes at Sirte. The strikes mark the opening of a new Pentagon campaign against ISIS in Libya, dubbed Operation Odyssey Lightning. (Military Times, Tripoli Post)
The bodies of 14 civilians were found July 22 in a landfill in Benghazi's Lathi neighborhood, which is under the control of "Operation Dignity" forces, led by renegade Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar. The victims included the imam from the local mosque, Abdullah al-Fakhri, a revered community figure and a father of three. The bodies showed signs of torture as well as gunshots to the head. The UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, denounced the executions, calling them a war crime. "Those responsible must be held accountable and brought to justice," he said. Operation Dignity forces are attempting to tighten their grip as the Benghazi Defense Brigades, a group of armed IDPs, announced a drive to take the city by force. (Libya Herald, Libya Observer, July 22)