Libya: Minimal International Attention in Spite of Violent Civil War
When former president Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed in 2011, Libya descended into a state of violence that has persisted even after several efforts to bring conflicting groups together.
There are two rival governments seeking power— the first is the House of Representatives in Tobruk, internationally recognized and supported by the Libyan National Army. The other group is the General National Congress in Tripoli, who are supported by the Libya Dawn militia. A United Nations-brokered agreement signed by both governments in December 2015 sought to bring the groups together, but fell apart just a month later.
Similar attempts for peace have been made, but as of last month, General Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by the administration in the east, announced that the UN-brokered Libyan political agreement, called the Skhirat agreement, was void. The agreement was signed in Morocco’s Skhirat on December 17, 2015 and it established the Government of National Accord for one year, renewable only once.
Libya’s civil war may not receive as much coverage as the conflicts in Syria, Israel/Palestine, and Iraq, but it has caused a profound humanitarian crisis and allowed the Islamic State to maintain and grow its forces in the region. The Islamic State has established three provinces in Libya since late 2014, which have served as major recruiting grounds for foreign fighters and have provided access to ports and space to store weapons. Another source of conflict comes from al-Qaeda’s North African branch, which has expanded its operations in Libya since Gaddafi's death. Libya continues to be a prime location for al-Qaeda recruitment, and has served as an important al-Qaeda base.
In terms of the humanitarian crisis, as of 2015, over a million Libyan residents have been forced to flee, and hundreds of thousands of Libyans are internally displaced. Australian nurse Colin Watson, who worked for three months in Libya as a Nursing Supervisor, warned that the conflict has “disrupted supply chains and now medical stocks are in short supply,” making it difficult to care for a majority of patients.
The Italian government has called on the U.S. to provide Libya with aid and help stabilize the country, but according to President Donald Trump, he does “not see a role in Libya. I think the United States has, right now, enough roles.” Although he does not see a role for the U.S. in stabilizing Libya, Trump did say that he sees a role for the U.S. in trying to push the Islamic State out of the region. Other NATO countries such as France and Britain backed away early on in the crisis, which has resulted in minimal aid and peace efforts.
The most powerful force coming in now is Russia, as it seeks to gain influence in the region and build on its relationship with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Russia has publicly offered to act as a mediator between Libya’s conflicting governments, but has also been supporting General Haftar, providing his allied government with money and attempting weapons-for-oil deals.
Mohammed Mensli, a senior adviser to the Government of National Accord, urged the U.S. to become more engaged in the region. He indicated that he doesn’t want the Russians to get involved, but that “they are very persistent.”
Efforts to pursue peace must increase to reduce violence. Last week a mosque was bombed in Benghazi, killing at least two people and injuring 55. Last month a double car bombing killed at least 35 people. People believe the time has come for the U.S. and other international actors to step in and help Libya’s warring factions reach an agreement to end the conflict.