North Africa Theater
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)
Amnesty International is demanding the international community take action to address "horrifying" abuses of refugees and migrants in Libya. The June 30 statement warns that EU cooperation on immigration with the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (actually one of three rival governments in Libya) should not go ahead until guarantees for human rights are provided. Testimony gathered from some 90 migrants and refugees who made it to the safety of three camps in the Sicily and Puglia regions of Italy describes how Black Africans are imprisoned and exploited until they could earn their payment to traffickers or have more money sent by relatives back home. "From being abducted, incarcerated underground for months and sexually abused by members of armed groups, to being beaten, exploited or shot at by people smugglers, traffickers or criminal gangs—refugees and migrants have described in harrowing detail the horrors they were forced to endure in Libya," said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty's interim deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
A typically vague BBC report informs us that "Libyan forces" have retaken control of the port in the city of Sirte, after fierce fighting with militants from so-called Islamic State. We are only told several lines in that these "forces" are "aligned to" the "UN-backed unity government" in Tripoli. This vagueness is aimed at obscuring (first) that Libya has no functional government—or three rival governments, of which the "UN-backed" one is the weakest by far. It is also aimed at obscuring that the "UN-backed" government has no armed forces—just autonomous militias that recognize its authority in a token way. For a clearer picture, we have to turn to the Libyan press. A report in the Libyan Herald tells us that the militia force battling ISIS at Sirte is from the city of Misrata, and also notes that it has carried out air-strikes in the battle for the city—indicating that these autonomous militias now have warplane. Libyan Observer identifies one of the Misrata militias as al-Bunyan al-Marsoos—and notes that it is resisting an ISIS effort retake to retake the port.
The passing last week of Mohammed Abdelaziz, longtime leader of Western Sahara's Polisario Front, occasioned confusion in media coverage as to the difference between Arabs and Berbers—which is fast becoming a critical issue in the contest over the Moroccan-occupied territory. Most embarrassingly, the New York Times writes: "The Polisario Front was formed in the early 1970s by a group of Sahrawis, indigenous nomadic Berber tribesmen, in opposition to Spain's colonial presence in Western Sahara. When Spain withdrew from the region in 1975, the Sahrawis fought attempts by both Mauritania and Morocco to claim the territory." The Sahrawis are not Berbers. They are Bedouin Arabs who arrived from across the Sahara centuries ago. The Berbers are the actual indigenous people of North Africa, who had been there for many more centuries before that. Ironically, the Times goes on to state: "He was selected as secretary general [of Polisario] in 1976 after the death in combat of the front's military leader, Al Ouali Mustapha Erraqibi. Later that year, he was elected president of the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic."
At a summit in Vienna this week, world powers agreed to supply arms to Libya to fight ISIS, and to seek an exemption from the UN arms embargo on the country. But few media accounts are emphasizing that Libya now has three rival governments (not counting ISIS and various militia-controlled enclaves), and the "recognized" one is by far the weakest. Attending the summit was Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). An official statement said: "The GNA is the sole legitimate recipient of international security assistance and is charged with preserving and protecting Libya's resources for the benefit of all its people." (Anadolu Agency, EuroNews) A sobering analysis in the Times of Oman, "Libyan quagmire to inevitably continue," calls the GNA "a 'Potemkin Village' lie of epic proportions," noting that it consists of a handful of men ensconced in a naval base outside Tripoli, controlling no territory and commanding no troops. The closest thing to an army it has is "an assortment of militias of varying shades of extremist" that have announced a tenuous recognition of its authority, mostly in Tripoli and Misrata.
Tizi Ouzou, principal city in Algeria's restive Kabylia region, saw two mass mobilizations April 20 to commemorate the 1980 "Berber Spring" uprising. One, organized by the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RDC), pressed demands for official recognition of the Amazigh language in Algeria's constitution. But the second, led by the Kabylia Self-Determination Movement (MAK), called for the region's actual independence from Algeria. Each drew thousands, and several arrests were reported. Amazigh was recognized as a "national language" in a 2002 constitutional reform, and second reform earlier this year upgraded it to "official" status, meaning it can be used in government functions. However, Berber activists say that even the new reform maintains Amazigh in a subsidiary position to Arabic.
ISIS forces in Libya have doubled over the past year, now reaching up to 6,000 fighters, Gen. David M. Rodriguez, head of US Africa Command, told a news briefing in Washington April 7. But he emphasized that local militias "are contesting the growth of ISIS in several areas across Libya." (Reuters, April 7) He did not mention that many of those militias fighting ISIS are themselves jihadist, and loyal to rival Qaeda-linked factions. Additionally, the rate of growth may be significantly low-balled, if we go by Gen. Rodriguez's own prior statements. Just over a year ago, he characterized the ISIS presence in Libya as "very small and nascent," with "around a couple hundred" militants.