Part 2 of a 3 part series on the new civil war in Libya. Part 1 is available here.
In the previous installment in this series, we explained how Libya has devolved from a semi-stable democracy at the end of 2013, to once again a situation of all-out war. But who exactly is fighting in this current conflict?
Ideology: Statist, Nationalist, Secular
Alternative names: Operation Dignity, Haftar Forces
Leader: Khalifa Haftar
The forces of the Libyan government include most of the remnants of the Army, Air Force and Navy who are fighting in Operation Dignity. Their strongholds include the eastern port city of Benghazi, as well as Zintan and Tobruk. While the group is nominally led by civilians forming the Libyan Government who fled Tripoli in August to Tobruk, much of the power is held by the military leader General Khalifa Haftar.
Ideology: Moderate Islamist
Alternative names: GNC, “Libyan Government”, Fajr Libya
Leader: Nouri Abusahmain
Representing moderate Islamist factions, including the Libyan Revolutionary Operations Room (LROR) and Libya Shield 1, this group seized power in Tripoli in August 2014. Backed by Turkey and Qatar, Libya Dawn is also heavily linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. They have set up their own alternative government called the New General National Congress (GNC) and have recently issued an arrest warrant for General Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the pro-Government armed forces.
Shura Council Of Benghazi Revolutionaries
Ideology: Jihadist, Extremist Islamism
Alternative Names: Ansar Al Sharia, Libya Shield 1
Leader: Mohamed al-Zahawi
Similar in ideology but more extreme than Libya Dawn, the Shura Council Of Benghazi Revolutionaries, are involved in heavy fighting around the eastern port city of Benghazi. The main groups making up the Shura Council include Ansar Al Sharia - responsible for the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in the city - and Libya Shield 2. In the last few months they have been steadily losing ground to pro-government forces who have an airpower advantage.
Islamic State (Wilayat Libya)
Ideology: Jihadist, Extremist Islamism, Fascism, pro-Caliphate
Alternative Names: Wilayat Barqah, Shura Council of Islamic Youth
Leader: Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi
Last month, Islamist groups in the eastern city of Derna pledged their loyalty to the Islamic State’s professed “Caliphate” and its leader Al-Baghdadi. Calling itself Wilayat Barqah (Province of Libya), the group have a substantial number of fighters, however it has stayed out of much of the fighting so far in the region. Currently it only controls the city of Derna and its immediate surroundings.
While the extremist groups involved in this conflict are concentrated in the East of the country and have suffered significant defeats at the hands of pro-Government forces in the past months, they still pose a large threat to the security and territorial integrity of the country. Despite this, the more concerning problem (at least in terms of scale) is the escalating conflict between the moderate islamist Libya Dawn and the pro-Government Armed Forces of Libya fighting under the aegis of Operation Dignity.
— Thomas van Linge (@arabthomness) November 6, 2014
In terms of territory, both groups hold roughly half of Libya each. As seen in the map above by Thomas Van Linge from last month, the western half of the country is held by Libya Dawn, with the exception of the town of Zintan which remains pro-Government. In the East, most of the countryside is controlled by pro-Government forces, with the exception of the outskirts of Benghazi (held by Ansar Al Sharia) and Islamic State-controlled Derna. In the sparsely populated south, tribal militias hold control, however their loyalties often shift.
While the land is roughly evenly split, in terms of military capabilities, the pro-Government faction has the upper hand. This is due to the fact that they retained the loyalty of the Libyan Air Force, which they have used to cripple airports in the west of country, as well as beat back Islamic extremists closer to home. However, this alone is likely to not be enough for them to retake the rest of the country, given that experience from Syria and the earlier Coalition air campaign in Libya has shown limited air strikes do little to degrade unconventional, infantry forces.
Now that we know both the history of this new Libya Civil War, its major factions and how the battlelines have been drawn out, question remains: where to from here? In the final installment of this three part series we will look as the possible developments in the country, and the regional consequences and fallout from a further collapse in the country.