There are questions looming over the future of General Khalifa Haftar, leader of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), after his recent defeats against the Turkish backed-Government of National Accord (GNA).
Turkey’s military support for the GNA in the battle for the capital Tripoli has seen the U.N.-recognised government turn the tide against Haftar’s LNA forces.
In recent weeks, Haftar’s LNA has retreated extensively from the northwest of the country after GNA’s forces gained the upper hand earlier this month after retaking the capital’s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city, and a string of key towns.
Much of the effort by the GNA appears to have been accomplished without major fighting and there are hints of a secret deal or a compromise of sorts that has been made by the backers of both Haftar and the GNA.
There are speculations on the whereabouts of Haftar following the recent loss of ground suffered by the LNA. The LNA commander was last seen meeting with Egyptian President Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo last weekend. He has not made a public appearance since.
On Monday, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said that Haftar was in Venezuela. Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency, on the other hand, said Haftar was being held under house arrest in Cairo, citing Egyptian opposition news portals.
Speaking at a teleconference, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Bureau at the State Department, David Schenker, confirmed that the allegations were concerning, Reuters reported.
Turkey and Qatar have thrown their support behind the Tripoli-based GNA, while the LNA is backed by Russia, along with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and France.
The failures of Haftar pushed his backers into new searches, with the head of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh Issa, emerging at the fore.
Libya’s House of Representatives is now juridically the only democratically elected structure in the country. The fact that this structure supports Haftar and the LNA gives Haftar an appearance of legality.
However, on April 24, Issa made an unexpected political proposal. He called for the re-establishment of the presidential council and government, for a change of the constitution, followed by work for the presidential and parliamentary elections afterwards. On Apr. 27, Haftar responded to Issa’s proposals.
The commander of the LNA said his forces had a “popular mandate” to rule Libya. He also declared an official end to a U.N.-brokered political agreement, the Skhirat Agreement that attempted to establish a unity government.
The GNA emerged as a result of the Skhirat Agreement that aimed at ending the division that persisted in the country since the 2011 uprising that ousted long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi. But its legitimacy continues to be questioned by the Tobruk-based government.
These developments did not prevent the defeat of Haftar’s forces. The LNA had retreated from several cities northwest of Tripoli, near the border with Tunisia in late April, as well as al-Watiya airbase in May, a strategic asset southwest of the capital.
It was also driven from Tarhuna last week, the LNA’s last foothold in Tripoli’s suburbs.
Earlier last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that his targets were the city of Sirte and Jufra air base in the war-torn countries southeast. Turkey’s strongman said the GNA forces would seize the oil fields after these areas are captured.
There are several oil refineries and storage facilities in the areas between Sirte and Ajdabiya and Libya’s largest oil and gas deposits lie to the south of Sirte-Ajdabiya line.
Russia, has been sending warplanes since the end of last month to block the progress of the Turkish-backed GNA forces. The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced that Russia deployed 14 fighter jets at Jufra base.
In addition to fighter jets, Russia has also reportedly been sending Syrian mercenaries to fight in Libya, just as Turkey does.
Meanwhile, the Arab Weekly last week said Egypt, troubled by the advances of Turkish-backed GNA, was planning to send forces to Libya.
There is no official statement on whether the countries that support Haftar have withdrawn their support.
It is estimated that the total number of militia commanded by Haftar, which includes Sudanese and Chadian militia forces, numbers around 25,000.
Meanwhile, the Independent on Wednesday published an exclusive report describing how Haftar was defrauded by western mercenaries and businessmen. The 76-year-old general has lost upwards of $55 million in public resources and patron contributions after war machinery such as an assault helicopter, a reconnaissance plane and an offshore patrol vessel were paid for but never materialised, according to the Independent.
The news outlet also said that the LNA has left several expensive weapons after the heavy defeats. And, a team of 20 foreign mercenaries, including five Britons (two of them former Royal Marines), 12 South Africans, two Australians and an American were paid around $120,000 each last June to create a marine strike force, the Independent said, citing confidential U.N. probe reports.
“U.N. investigators believe they were contracted to prevent Turkish-supplied weapons from reaching the GNA. During the three-month job, the team were reportedly expected to track down, board and search vessels,” the Independent report said.
But, the soldiers fled to Malta last June, just days after landing in east Libya after a fight erupted between the group and Haftar since the value of the military hardware and services provided totalled little more than an estimated $30 million of the $80 million paid by Haftar, according to two diplomatic sources with knowledge on the matter.