The average person occasionally wakes to the sound of birds in the morning. I woke up to the sound of a drone, lazily cruising through the skies of Benghazi. This was significant for two reasons; 1-We haven’t been paid a visit by the drone in a long time, since the capture of Abu Khattala in fact. 2-There were airstrikes in Tripoli this morning.
The latter point is significant in itself because this is the first time planes have hit targets in Tripoli since 2011. But back then they were NATO planes. Whose planes were these?
The Libyan Parliament, who convened in Tripoli on August 4th, voted recently on asking the international community to intervene to protect civilians. As soon as we heard about the planes, the first thing that came to mind was that foreign forces had entered the country. The Italian ambassador denied his country was involved, followed by the French Foreign Affairs Ministry and NATO.
The Libyan Interim Government released a statement saying they didn’t know who was behind the strikes, which wasn’t exactly reassuring seeing as they’re the guys in charge. Just when we were beginning to wonder if it wasn’t a UFO or maybe a good Samaritan country who felt bad and decided to scare the militia, Heftar’s forces (i.e. the East Libyan Air Force) made a claim to the airstrikes.
Which makes sense, in a way. They’ve been hitting militia bases in Benghazi for months now. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they had somehow managed to get planes to fly over Tripoli.
Except that the Air Force Chief of Staff released a statement saying that the planes were foreign and not local.
Huh. Curiouser and curiouser.
It could mean that Operation Karama forces managed to get their hands on new equipment, or that they’re getting assistance from other countries. They have been active in Benghazi with recent clashes, but this would be their first operation in Tripoli.
As baffling as these air strikes have been, they have very serious implications for the militias on the ground. The Parliament has been clear in their demands for the militias to dissolve, being a major threat to civilian lives and the authority of the state. As strong as they claim to be, their disorganized structure make them easily susceptible to systematic aerial attacks.
It also brings up the question of what will happen if the militias are bombarded. We don’t want a repetition of 2011, where we neutralize the immediate threat but leave ourselves exposed and unprepared for future regrouping and attacks. There are currently more weapons in Libya than there are citizens, and our army is unprepared and under-funded to deal with this catastrophe.
And then there’s the issue of the country’s political schism. The city of Misrata has gained notoriety throughout much of the country because of their support for the current operation by their militias in Tripoli (named Operation Fajr). Last Friday there was a large demonstration in the city against foreign intervention, and their Parliament members (as well as a handful from other cities) have refused to go to Tobruk, claiming that holding sessions there is ‘unconstitutional’. But with the clashes in Benghazi and Tripoli showing no sign of stopping, the Parliament will not be moving out of Tobruk anytime soon.
Instead of moving forward, Libya has taken several steps backwards. 3&1/2 years after the revolution we are still in a transitional stage and we haven’t learned to communicate and compromise. Political parties and extremists groups have taken the country hostage and are fighting to the death for power. At this point many people are sick of bickering about political ideals, not when innocent people are dying. If air strikes can at least stop the militias in their tracks, Libya might still have a chance at making it out of the ‘failed state’ category.