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More than seven years after Gaddafi's brutal murder, Libya remains in turmoil

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Abdus-Sattar Ghazali
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More than seven years after the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's overthrow and brutal murder (on October 20, 2011), the situation remains in flux as former CIA-asset General Khalifa Haftar's forces launched an offensive against the forces loyal to the western-installed Libyan government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), at least 4,500 people have been displaced since the clashes erupted six days ago, when General Khalifa Haftar ordered his forces to march on Tripoli.

As fighting continued on Wednesday, Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) took up positions some 11 km south of the centre of the capital, which is protected by an array of militias and other groups loyal to the western-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

Al Jazeera, reporting from Tripoli, said the situation in the southern suburbs of the capital remained very tense, with the warring sides vying to take control of the city's disused international airport. "The situation in and around Tripoli's international airport is very tense after Haftar's forces managed to recapture the airport last night," Al Jazeera said on Wednesday.

UN conference scrapped

Meanwhile, the UN had scheduled a three-day conference on April 14 in the southwestern town of Ghadames to discuss a constitutional framework for elections as a means of ending the North African country's eight-year political crisis.

But on Tuesday, the UN's envoy for Libya announced the postponement of the summit. "We cannot ask people to take part in the conference during gunfire and air strikes," Ghassan Salame said, vowing to hold the event "as soon as possible ... on the day when conditions of its success are ensured."

Libya has remained beset by turmoil since 2011, when a bloody NATO operation leading to the ouster and brutal death of President Muammar Gaddafi after four decades in power. Since then, the country's stark political divisions have yielded two rival seats of power: one in eastern Libya, with which General Haftar is associated, and another in Tripoli, where it enjoys western support.

US eyes bigger role for Libyan warlord as civil war looms

With the US-backed UN process in disarray, former US officials tell Al-Monitor the United States is becoming more open to Haftar commanding a unified Libyan military as a means of stopping his offensive.

"The US doesn't want Haftar to continue with this campaign," a former US official told Al-Monitor. "I think they'd like to see him in a powerful position within the security apparatus of a unified Libyan state, but they want him to be incorporated into the state via a political solution to the conflict."

In 2014, the then-US Africa Command chief Gen. David Rodriguez wanted to pair Haftar's eastern troops with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj's forces in the west to battle the 'Islamic State', according to Jack Detsch of Al-Monitor.

"We wanted to combine those [forces] under Haftar and have a Libyan-led offensive against [the Islamic State] with our support," said Donald Bolduc, the former commander of US Special Forces in Africa. "[If we had been] successful with that, then you put Haftar in charge, and then you build a national military."

But Haftar balked at State Department-led efforts to rein in his authority. After Rodriguez retired in the summer of 2016, special envoy for Libya Jonathan Winer held two all-day meetings with Haftar in an effort to bring him under the authority of Sarraj's UN-backed government. Haftar could have potentially been the head of Libya's national military council or run for political office under the deal being contemplated.

"He would not do that," said Winer, who stepped down in January 2017 and was never replaced.

Libya's descent into civil war

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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