Libyan National Army (LNA) head Khalifa Hafter, who is in the process of
attacking the capital city of Tripoli for at least the third time since
2014, is reportedly being pushed by the US government for a bigger role in official Libyan affairs. This could include making him the head of the actual Libyan military, instead of just the one he pieced together himself.
Hafter has a long history in Libya, participating in the 1969 Gadhafi coup, finding himself part of a CIA-funded rebel force in the 1980s, and has been positioning himself as a military strongman since Gadhafi’s 2011 ouster.
In 2014, Hafter ousted a parliament, and by year’s end was in the process of launching a coup of his own. In 2015 he became head of the LNA, the force loyal to the Tobruk parliament, and stopped referring to his old title of general, instead styling himself a “field marshal.” His forces have been trying to seize territory and consolidate power since, finding themselves once again moving against Tripoli, this time to remove the US and UN-backed unity government.
This latest action is ruining UN-planned conciliation talks, with officials saying no one wants to talk while Tripoli is under attack. The US sees the solution as just promoting Hafter, figuring he’ll stop attacking Tripoli if he’s part of the government that already controls it.
To be fair, Hafter’s promotion to the Tobruk parliament’s official military chief was also done at least in part to keep him from attacking their territory. That worked, as far as it goes, though Hafter has subsequently acquired substantial territory of his own, and still seems to have designs on ultimately being the military ruler of Libya, or at least as much of it as he can muster.
This is likely why the US has recently avoided being too publicly aligned with Hafter, though top US regional allies like Egypt’s junta leader Abdel-Fattah ElSisi and the United Arab Emirates have both been very openly supporting him.
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