Haftar Founders as Opposition to War Grows

By August 2019Libya

A recent claim from the Twitter account @LibyaDesk, created by the son of key former regime figure Abuzaid Dorda, that foreign companies have sought advice on how to engage Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA) highlights the challenges of navigating disinformation on Libya. In fact, looking past the propaganda being distributed by Haftar and his foreign backers, it is clear that his misguided offensive to capture Tripoli from the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) is struggling just three months after he started the war, which he claimed would be brief.

Not only has the LNA lost its main supply base in Gherian, but Haftar also replaced LNA Commander for Western Operations Brig. Gen. Abdul Salam al-Hassi – a professional military officer who is respected by the UAE and Egypt – following the humiliating loss. Libyan media have speculated that Hassi is being detained in Haftar’s al-Rajma base in eastern Libya; he has not been seen in public since the LNA was routed from Gherian, despite featuring heavily in LNA propaganda. Even the @LibyaDesk account, which has been pro-LNA since it went public days before Haftar launched his Tripoli assault, has admitted the high-level reshuffle and insists that the LNA will not make “the same mistakes.”

On 22 July, the LNA was supposed to launch its second offensive on the capital. The day before, LNA spokesperson Ahmed al-Mismari announced that it had drawn up its final plans to capture Tripoli, which involved protecting both government institutions and diplomatic missions. In response, the GNA expressed concern over any escalation in the capital and vowed to deter and defeat any renewed assaults there. In the end, the LNA’s highly vaunted “zero hour” campaign turned out to be a failure. Not only did its push toward Khalet al-Furjan falter, but GNA-aligned forces also claimed to made advances on a number of front lines. Meanwhile, an LNA fighter jet made an emergency landing on a road in Tunisia near the Libyan border.

According to Tunisia’s Ministry of Defense, the pilot was forced to land due to technical difficulties. The plane is thought to have been travelling between al-Watiya and Brak al-Shati, two LNA-controlled airbases in western and southern Libya. Given Haftar’s hopes for a spectacular push on Tripoli, along with rumors that the pilot had staged the landing in order to refuse a bombing mission, the episode is not good for LNA optics. Haftar has claimed for years that victory is imminent, but his plans to capture the capital look increasingly unlikely. At the same time, despite LNA’s calls for civilians in Tripoli to rise up in support of its campaign, no such movement has taken place, and polling suggests that the majority of Libyans are opposed to the war Haftar started. 

LNA supporters claim that its strategy is one of attrition, in which Haftar draws out Tripoli’s armed groups and exhausts them in the hinterland. Several of those armed groups have not yet joined the battle, yet the LNA is still struggling. As such, Haftar’s narrative, as well as his recent claim to have 90,000 men under his command, has been increasingly exposed to be false.

Meanwhile, GNA forces are using Turkish drones to target the LNA’s aerial capacity and most recently conducted strikes on LNA’s main base Jufra for the first time. Haftar’s recent speech, in which he claimed that victory would “come soon,” was likely aimed at raising his troops’ morale. With Libyans opposed to Haftar’s war and his backers in Abu Dhabi and Cairo reportedly impatient with the course of the battle, there seem to be few who believe that he will be successful, but Haftar will likely continue posturing for support.