While there has been considerable – and understandable – international media scrutiny of the advance of General Khalifa Haftar, along with his international backers, an underreported, yet pivotal, aspect of current Libyan imbroglio is the role played by extremist militias in the capital, Tripoli, and west of the country.
These groups, operating largely outside the authority and control of the UN-backed government, have been aided in their cause by their own international backers, notably Qatar and Turkey. In the Qatari case, according to Reuters, this support has extended as far as the direct provision of weapons to the militias, actively bypassing the government to which they publicly espouse support.
This support, and the actions it encourages on the ground, are causing great damage to the every-day quality of life of Libyans, further undermining their ability to form a cohesive state and endangering regional security.
Between 2011 and 2017, it is estimated that the support provided by Doha to these groups amounted to over 750 million euros. These groups, a French diplomatic source noted, “are at the end of the day allied to al-Qaeda”.
Other concerning figures within this sphere include Ahmed al-Dabbashi, a man previously responsible for the illegal trafficking of tens of thousands of migrants across the Mediterranean, with journeys often resulting in death by drowning. The sphere also includes the Special Deterrent Forces, whose prisons have been described as akin to ‘dens of torture’ by the Jamestown Foundation. The former now finds himself subject to both UN and US Treasury sanctions.
It is increasingly apparent that these militias have grown to depend on the support, financial and other, of foreign powers in order to remain active and maintain their spheres of influence, with devastating consequences for the populations under their control.
Libya evidently has a long way to go in repairing the fractures and instability that years of civil war has caused. Qatar and Turkey’s funding of Islamist groups and non-government militias render that process all the more difficult.