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Latest Updates on the Situation in Libya

April 10, 2018

Latest Updates on the Situation in Libya

As the Arab Uprisings spread to Libya, they put an end to more than 4-decades long reign of Kaddafi in 2011. Yet, since Kaddafi was toppled, the country has been beset by turmoil and civil war, which has also taken its toll on Libya’s oil production. The most serious manifestation of Libya’s disintegration has been the emergence of two separate conflicting parliaments and governments, one operating in the east and one in the west. As the civil war has raged since 2014, the political landscape in Libya has been characterised by the presence of few truly national actors. In fact, the majority of the actors on the ground are local players with some of them, despite being relevant at the national level, still represent the interests of their region, or in most cases, those of their city.

Haftar Forces, Fighting Zones, and Fighting Groups

In July 2017, the Libyan National Army under Tobrouk-based General Haftar declared the city of Benghazi “liberated” after years of fighting with various Islamist groups. Earlier in March 2017, Haftar forces had seized the oil terminals from the Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB), a mix of Islamists, which then handed them over to the Petroleum Facilities Guard, which is affiliated to the UN-backed unity government in Tripoli. Haftar’s seizure of these ports from the UN-backed unity government, also called the Government of National Accord (GNA), is another sign of the tensions between the two governments in Libya.


In July 2017, both the current Prime Minister of the GNA Government, Fayez Al-Sarraj, and General Khalifa Haftar agreed to a ceasefire and agreed to hold elections following the talks hosted by French President, Emmanuel Macron. In December 2017, Haftar openly declared that he’d support the elections to be held for 2018. However, so far General Haftar has refused to share power with Al-Sarraj. His Libyan National Army (LNA) continues to fight militias aligned with the GNA. He is open to elections but warns that he will “take action” if he dislikes the outcome.


At present, the country is grappling with the presence of three centers of power: 1)A GNA-government based in certain parts of Tripoli under Fayez al-Sarraj – a former member of the Tobruk Parliament, 2) the rival, but an increasingly weakening (General National Congress) GNC headed by Prime Minister Khalifa Ghwell 3) The third center of power is based in Tobruk and Bayda, supported by the LNA with a significant influence of General Haftar. At present, the LNA under Haftar continues to fight militias aligned to GNA and also shuns the GNA government. Moreover, Misrata, Zintan, Derna and other municipalities are ruled by Islamist military councils and the Government of National Accord has no influence on them.


Other Prominent Warring Factions


In addition, other factions have also contributed to instability in Libya. Chief among them are the following:

1) The Benghazi Brigade: As General Haftar took control of Benghazi in 2014, the fighters previously stationed there formed this brigade, engaging in continuous clashes with Haftar’s forces.

2) The Libya Shield: This group is composed of several militias of the same name operating in various parts of the country and supporting the defunct GNC government; yet, it remains unrecognized by the Tripoli authorities.

3) Jihadist Groups: The ISIS in Libya as well as the Ansar Al-Sharia and the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are the main jihadist groups vying for control in Libya.


Libya’s Oil Fields and Oil Production

Due to security problems, Libya had to grapple with a serious cut in its oil production. In the 1970s, it produced more than 3 million bpd, and before the NATO-backed uprising toppling Muammar Gaddafi seven years ago, it was pumping more than 1.6 million bpd. Since the uprisings, Libya’s armed groups have time and again attacked oil facilities, disrupting the production in Libya’s Oil Crescent around the Mediterranean coast. For a brief period of time, Libya caught up with its pre-revolutionary production capacity by producing 1.6 million bpd in 2013. In order to stave off these attacks, the GNC government formed the Petroleum Facilities Guard, which numbered 18,000 men in 2013. Yet, this could not ensure the security of key oil fields and ports.


During 2015-16, the Islamic State militants attacked oilfields and ports before being repelled by local forces; yet, the destruction that they caused to storage tanks at two of Libya’s biggest terminals, Es-Sider and Ras Lanuf, has yet to be repaired while fields including Mabruk and Ghani still remain closed. Moreover, protests by guards, armed groups pressuring for the release of their jailed members as well as the Eastern Libya’s attempts to try to sell its oil singlehandedly have added to the recent shutdowns of refineries.


From 2013 until July 2017, the production had been below the 1 million barrels per day. It hit 1,005,000 bpd in July 2017—the highest level in four years, corresponding to a 400% jump since August 2016. An unidentified Libyan oil source indicated that production was lately fluctuating roughly around the 1.1mn bpd level. It is common for Libyan production to fluctuate due to poor infrastructure in the country. In 2007, the state-owned National Oil Corporation (NOC) announced that it was intending to raise the production to 2.2 bdp by 2023. However, this avowed goal requires approximately $18 billion dollars of investment in the industry, especially because major installations damaged in fighting need to be repaired.

There are also reports that the National Oil Company (NOC) has signed a deal with a French building and engineering group, Artelia, to manage the development of its offices in the eastern city of Benghazi, as the state oil firm could move its headquarters from Tripoli back to Benghazi. Yet, no clear date has been set for such a transfer.



Vahid Yucesoy for iStrategic