TIME Libya

Libya Faces the Prospect of Civil War as Regional Powers Choose Sides

A damaged aircraft is pictured after shelling at Tripoli International Airport, Aug. 24, 2014.
A damaged aircraft is pictured on Aug. 24 after shelling at Tripoli International Airport Aimen Elsahli—Reuters

U.S. officials say the UAE and Egypt were behind airstrikes on Islamist militants in Tripoli, raising fears that a regional proxy war inside Libya could worsen as neighboring militaries get involved

Airstrikes don’t usually come with a calling card. After all, the intended targets usually know who their enemies are. But in Libya, a series of fighter jet strikes on Islamist militias fighting for control of Tripoli’s airport couldn’t have come from their traditional rivals—Libya’s fractious militias may be well armed and powerful, but none have an effective air force. On Monday, unnamed US officials confirmed to media outlets what many Libyans had already feared: the country’s neighbors are starting to choose sides in a conflict that is rapidly descending into civil war.

Sunday’s airstrikes, as well as an earlier attack on Aug. 18, were launched by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with assistance from Egypt, U.S. officials told the BBC and the New York Times. Both countries vociferously deny the claims, but to experts and scholars who closely follow regional politics, the denials ring hollow. With radical Islamist forces gaining ground in Libya, says Ronald Bruce St. John, an independent scholar and author of five books on the country, neighboring countries fear for their own stability—particularly in the wake of recent gains in Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). “It’s not there yet, but if Libya moves to an ISIS-type state, every one of its neighbors will feel threatened.” And not just immediate neighbors. Many countries in the Middle East, from Saudi Arabia to the UAE, are threatened by their own internal Islamist uprisings. The fear is that an Islamist success in Libya could inspire stronger movements at home.

Ultimately, the airstrikes were a failure: the Islamist-aligned militia retained control of the airport. But the consequences for Libya, and the region, could be devastating.

From the first days of the uprising against Col. Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya’s neighbors sought to influence the outcome by supporting different factions within the opposition. Qatar and Turkey, more comfortable with Islamists in general, backed radical militias with weapons and financial support. Others backed tribal militias over ideological ones.

Now that Gaddafi has fallen and a fledgling democratic state has taken his place, those militias are battling for political influence, the country’s vast oil wealth and lucrative smuggling routes. Increasingly, they are backed by their former regional sponsors, who want a say in Libya’s political future, and are willing to go to great lengths to ensure it, says Professor George Joffe, a research fellow specializing in North Africa and the Middle East at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. “The fact that UAE has attacked Tripoli means that in effect the proxy war has become the real war.”

But it is not just a question of Libya’s spoils. The regional power struggle unfolding inside Libya is one part of the post-Arab Spring conflict between secularist autocrats and the Islamist groups that would overthrow them.

The problem is that none of Libya’s militia groups are poised to bring security, establish stability or protect democratic gains. The leader of the principal anti-Islamist militia, former general Khalifa Hifter, attempted to take power by force in May, hardly inspiring confidence in his support for democratic governance. “Much of this is about economics pure and simple: the control of smuggling networks, oil production facilities [and] airports,” notes Frederic Wehrey of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The militias are not necessarily ideologically different but many are mafia-like groups that have allied with key tribes and regions.”

Had militia infighting stayed local, there was always the chance of local resolution, adds Joffe. Military interference by regional actors escalates the tensions and raises the stakes. “No longer do you have a dispute between two militia groups,” says Joffe. “Now you have two states confronting each other indirectly, and they are not going to listen to what locals say about reconciliation, so the real danger is that Libya becomes a open war.” There is widespread agreement that Libya will require some sort of international intervention to solve the internal conflict between militia groups. Now that regional actors are taking sides, resolution will be harder to reach.

TIME Libya

Unidentified Warplanes and Explosions Reported in Libyan Capital

A man fires a weapon during fightings between rival militias around Tripoli international airport, on August 17, 2014.
A man fires a weapon during fightings between rival militias around Tripoli international airport, on August 17, 2014. Mahmud Turkia—AFP/Getty Images

The reports come after the U.N. condemns the “grave escalation” of fighting

Residents of the Libyan capital of Tripoli say that unidentified warplanes were seen overhead on Monday, and several explosions heard, reports Reuters.

A Libyan TV channel claimed the planes were targeting areas that militias have sought to control, however none of the militias are believed to own warplanes Reuters said.

Since the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has struggled to contain its armed militias. The past month has seen fighting escalate in Tripoli, particularly near the airport, and in Benghazi, where U.N. and foreign diplomats have been driven out.

On Sunday, the U.N. mission in Libya said in a statement that it condemned the “grave escalation” of fighting in Tripoli.

[Reuters]

TIME 2016 Election

Why Rand Paul Is Attacking Hillary Clinton

Conservative Political Action Conference
Rand Paul at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland on March 7, 2014 Mark Peterson—Redux

Meet the GOP's top Hillary attack dog

Some politicians attack in prose. Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul can do it in poetry—with color, precision and language that’s hard to forget.

Over the last week, he didn’t just blame Hillary Clinton for the current state of Libya, he said she created a “Jihadist wonderland” there. He didn’t just knock her for not fortifying the Benghazi embassy, he said she treated the place “as if it were Paris.”

“While she was turning down request for security, she spent $650,000 on Facebook ads, trying to get more friends for the State Department,” he said. “They spent $700,000 on landscaping at the Brussels embassy. They spent $5 million on crystal glassware for the embassies around the world.”

On Friday, he asked the crowd for a moment of silence, to pray for Clinton’s bank account. “Somebody must have been praying for her, because she’s now worth $100, $200 million,” he followed, deadpan. “I tell you, it was really tough giving those speeches.” Then on Tuesday, at an event for a fellow ophthalmologist running for Congress in Iowa City, offered his crowning rhetorical turn. “Hillary’s war in Libya, Hillary’s war in Syria,” he said. “None of this was ever approved by Congress.”

Of course, all of these attacks were unfair, as political attacks tend to be. Hillary did not choose to bomb Libya, though she supported the policy, and she has broken from President Barack Obama on the strategy in Syria. There is no evidence the question of additional security for the Benghazi embassy ever rose to her desk at the State Department, her net worth includes her husband’s substantial earnings, and no one serious has ever suggested an actual connection between Belgian landscaping budgets and American security.

But what matters at the moment is not accuracy, but political calculation and execution. And Paul is quickly establishing himself as the Republican Party’s preeminent basher of Hillary Clinton, a title that could bring him rewards over the coming months as the 2016 presidential race heats up.

The strategy plays to two of Paul’s natural advantages in the current Republican field. He is not a sitting Governor, and therefore far more free to dip his tongue in the partisan mud. He is also running for President—albeit without an official campaign—on the idea that he can best distinguish himself from Clinton on key matters of foreign policy that are likely to resonate with independent and young voters. “There are definitely areas where Clinton has vulnerabilities that Rand is uniquely situated to attack,” said Tim Miller, who spends his days attacking Hillary Clinton for America Rising, an opposition research group.

Other would-be Clinton challengers have, of course, tried to get on the Hillary-bashing bandwagon, but with lesser results. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio made an early splash by calling Clinton a “20th century candidate,” but most of his attacks have sounded more like Senate speeches than a sonnet. “If she’s going to run on her record as Secretary of State, she’s also going to have to answer for its massive failures,” he says. Texas Sen. Tex Cruz, meanwhile, remains more likely to focus his fire on Obama, or their joint efforts, than Hillary alone. “Internationally, the Obama-Clinton foreign policy is a disaster,” he says.

Paul’s focus on Clinton clearly looks like a strategy to elevate himself early in the Republican field. Soon Republicans nationwide will pivot to focus on what may the central question of the Republican primary: Who can actually take on Hillary Clinton and win? As far back as February, Paul was already working on these credentials. He started by calling former President Bill Clinton a “sexual predator” in interviews. His point was that Democrats should be called to account for Clinton’s personal life if they wanted to claim to be champions of women.

Those jabs were widely condemned as political malpractice, a misfire aimed at a popular former President for failures that were long ago digested by the public. “I’m not sure he has a strategy,” Karl Rove jabbed on Fox News. “Frankly, Rand Paul spending a lot of time talking about the mistakes of Bill Clinton does not look like a big agenda for the future of the country.”

Paul never really let up. For weeks in February, he found himself in headlines pitted against the presumptive Democratic nominee.

In a crowded field, he was in pole position—where he remains to this day.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 30

1. The bipartisan deal on VA reform is a good first step, but more must be done to fix this badly broken system.

By Jesse Sloman at the Council on Foreign Relations

2. Notes from an intervention: What went wrong in Libya.

By Nathan Pippinger in Democracy

3. An independent Kurdistan could reshape the middle east – if we let it.

By Jonathan Foreman in Newsweek

4. Amtrak doesn’t need a writer’s residency; it needs to deliver affordable on-time transportation.

By Christopher Kempf in Jacobin

5. “Our nation’s baby steps towards political, social and economic inclusion could be stalling.

By Maya Rockeymoore in Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Libya

Libyan Rebels Capture Special-Forces Base in Benghazi

A girl stands next to the wreckage of a government MiG warplane which crashed during Tuesday's fighting, in Benghazi
A Libyan girl stands next to the wreckage of a government MiG warplane that crashed during clashes in Benghazi, Libya, on July 29, 2014 Esam Al-Fetori —Reuters

Libya is quickly sliding into the realm of a failed state as rebel forces and Islamist militants battle against government troops

A special force’s base in Benghazi has fallen after a coalition of rebel militias and Islamist militants pounded the enclave with salvos of rocket fire and artillery.

“We have withdrawn from the army base after heavy shelling,” Libyan Saiqa Special Forces officer Fadel al-Hassi told Reuters.

Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, has been home to fierce fighting between government special-forces troops and former rebel fighters from the Benghazi Shura Council who are now allied with the Islamist force Ansar al-Sharia, according to Reuters.

Since the ousting of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi, the country has gone through periods of perennial chaos, as the militias who overthrew the regime have refused to give up their arms and Islamic groups have steadily grown more powerful.

Earlier this month, heavy fighting among rebel bands near the capital resulted in the closure of Tripoli International Airport after rockets crashed into the facility, killing one person and damaging at least a dozen planes.

Late last week, the U.S. embassy in the capital was evacuated and shuttered amid the increasing unrest. Over the weekend, the U.S. State Department issued an official travel advisory, warning American citizens to avoid any trips to the conflict-riven country.

“The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution,” read the notice. “Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.”

TIME Libya

U.S. Evacuates Libyan Embassy

Secretary of State John Kerry blamed the rise of "freewheeling militia violence" in the country where an attack by Islamic militants killed four Americans in 2012

+ READ ARTICLE

Updated 10:59 a.m. ET

The State Department relocated all personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, on Saturday following an outbreak of violence between Libyan militias, the department announced.

“A lot of the violence is around our embassy but not on the embassy, but nevertheless it presents a very real risk to our personnel,” Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Paris, ABC reports.

Kerry blamed the “freewheling militia violence” that has flourished since the ousting of former president Muammar Gaddafi.

“We are committed to supporting the Libyan people during this challenging time, and are currently exploring options for a permanent return to Tripoli as soon as the security situation on the ground improves,” deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement.

U.S. military assisted in the operation and drove personnel to Tunisia. The relocation took five hours and was “without incident,” according a statement from Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.

Embassy staff will now work out of Washington, D.C., and other locations in the region.

The relocation occurred the same day the State Department issued a new travel warning that strongly advised U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to Libya and to leave immediately if already visiting.

In 2012, an attack on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya, by Islamic militants killed four Americans.

“Securing our facilities and ensuring the safety of our personnel are top Department priorities, and we did not make this decision lightly,” Harf’s statement continues. “Security has to come first. Regrettably, we had to take this step because the location of our embassy is in very close proximity to intense fighting and ongoing violence between armed Libyan factions.”

TIME Libya

U.N. Withdraws Libya Staff as Fresh Rocket Attack Strikes Tripoli Airport

Mideast Libya
In this image made from video by the Associated Press, smoke rises from the direction of Tripoli International Airport, in the capital of Libya, on July 13, 2014 AP

Facing spiraling unrest, the U.N. is withdrawing its entire staff from the country. "The mission concluded that it would not be possible to continue its work," read a statement

One person died and six were injured after a rocket assault hit Libya’s main international airport on Monday evening.

Tripoli International Airport had been closed a day before the attack because of fighting between an alliance of militia groups and rebels hailing from the western Zintan region, who have been in control of the airport for the past two years.

The terminal was attacked by “a large number of rockets, including Grad rockets,” a security source told the BBC.

Twelve planes were damaged in the barrage of fire and the control tower had taken a hit, with escalating clashes also forcing nearby Misratah Airport to close.

In response to the worsening security situation, the U.N. announced the withdrawal of its entire staff from the country. “The mission concluded that it would not be possible to continue its work … while at the same time ensuring the security and safety of its staff,” read a statement.

Tripoli is the main national transport hub, and as the only other international airport, Benghazi, has been closed for two months, there are no longer any flights to and from the E.U.

Libya has remained unstable since the fall of dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

[BBC]

TIME Italy

Boat Migrants Risk Everything for a New Life in Europe

Photographer Massimo Sestini accompanied the Italian navy on its rescue missions earlier this month, offering a rare up-close glimpse of the men, women and children who make the dangerous trip to start a new life

Eight months after a boat carrying hundreds of migrants sank off the coast of Lampedusa, killing more than 360 people and spurring an international outcry, the flow of migrants risking the perilous sea journey to Europe shows no signs of letting up.

Already this year, the number of migrants arriving by boat on Italy’s shores has surpassed 40,000, the total number of migrants that arrived in 2013. Earlier this month, Italy said it rescued some 5,200 people in the span of just four days. Officials there warn that many more will die without broader support from across Europe.

Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants make the journey to Europe annually, departing from dozens of countries in Africa and the Middle East, according to the European Parliament. In recent years, Syrians fleeing the civil war in their country have joined the ranks of Eritreans, Sudanese and Somalis looking for a better life, the UN said in April.

On World Refugee Day, June 20, TIME is publishing a collection of images from photographer Massimo Sestini, who accompanied the Italian navy on its rescue missions earlier this month. The shots depict the treacherous conditions in which tens of thousands of migrants and refugees attempt the crossing, packed in rickety motorboats with limited supplies. But they also reveal, in a manner rarely seen, the human faces of some of the men, women and children who risk everything to make it to Europe.

After the tragedy off of Lampedusa, Italy began a naval mission dubbed “Mare Nostrum,” Latin for “Our Sea,” to patrol the waters. The operation has rescued some 30,000 people, but officials in Italy and Greece are calling for support in the face of this summer’s expected calm seas and warmer weather, when journeys are likely to jump. Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano warned earlier this week that Italy might not be able to afford to continue Mare Nostrum without EU support.

Last month, Enzo Bianco, Mayor of Sicily’s Catania, condemned Europe’s “deafening silence” at a funeral for 17 migrants who died off the coast of Libya, the Guardian reported. “Faced with these coffins, Europe must choose [whether to] bury our consciences of civilized men along with them,” he said.

TIME Libya

U.S. Captures Suspected Ringleader of Benghazi Attack

Ahmed Abu Khatallah is suspected in the 2012 attack

+ READ ARTICLE

American authorities have captured a suspected “key figure” in the 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, officials confirmed on Tuesday, during a covert raid in Libya that gives a welcome foreign policy victory for the Obama Administration.

U.S. Special Forces and law-enforcement personnel apprehended Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a senior leader of the militant group Ansar al-Shari’a, on Sunday, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

“He is in U.S. custody in a secure location outside of Libya,” Kirby said. “There were no civilian casualties related to this operation, and all U.S. personnel involved in the operation have safely departed Libya.

American officials wouldn’t yet say where Khatallah will be transferred to, though he is expected to be turned over to law enforcement for trial in the U.S. in the coming days. The Department of Justice filed charges against Khatallah in a sealed indictment in federal court last year.

Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed during the Sept. 11, 2012 attack. It became a rallying cry for conservative critics of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy record in the run-up to the 2012 elections, and congressional Republicans have continued to probe the Administration’s handling of the incident and its aftermath.

“The United States has an unwavering commitment to bring to justice those responsible for harming Americans,” Obama said in a statement. “Since the deadly attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, I have made it a priority to find and bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of four brave Americans. I recently authorized an operation in Libya to detain an individual charged for his role in these attacks, Ahmed Abu Khatallah. The fact that he is now in U.S. custody is a testament to the painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement and intelligence personnel.”

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham quickly said on Twitter that “Khattala should be held at Guantánamo as a potential enemy combatant.” But Obama made clear his Administration is taking another route.

“This individual will now face the full weight of the American justice system,” Obama said.

“With this operation, the United States has once again demonstrated that we will do whatever it takes to see that justice is done when people harm Americans,” he added. “We will continue our efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the Benghazi attacks.”

Khatallah was added to the State Department’s designated list of terrorists in January. He was living relatively openly in Libya after the attacks, sitting for several interviews with Western reporters last year. Khatallah is the first suspect to have been captured for suspected involvement in the attack. His capture was first reported by the Washington Post.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the apprehension doesn’t end the U.S. investigation into the attack, “but marks an important milestone.”

TIME Libya

Libyan General With U.S. Passport Wages War On Islamist Extremists

Gen. Khalifa Hifter has assembled a force that is taking the fight to Islamist extremists in the worst fighting since the 2011 revolution

Into the chaos of post-revolution Libya rides Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a former confidant of Muammar Gaddafi with a U.S. passport and a reputed history with the CIA. A resident of northern Virginia until the 2011 revolution that deposed his old boss, Hifter, 71, returned to his homeland and, after a couple of embarrassing personal setbacks, recently persuaded elements of the military forces to join him in battling the most extreme of the many armed militias operating in Libya today.

The fighting, described as the worst since the overthrow of Gaddafi, prompted the State Department this week to urge Americans to leave Libya, and the Pentagon to move a warship with 1,000 Marines on board into the vicinity. The USS Bataan was ordered, if not quite to the shores of Tripoli, then close enough to respond quickly if an evacuation is ordered.

Libya has remained conspicuously unstable since Gaddafi’s regime fell in August 2011 in an armed rebellion supported by a NATO air campaign. A constitutional process was set up, and a legislature and prime minister elected. But the government has failed to establish what academics call the fundamental element of sovereignty—a monopoly on force. Last October, the premier was kidnapped in broad daylight. Scores if not hundreds of militias are active, the most feared of which are Islamist extremists like the gunmen responsible for overrunning the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi in September 2012, killing ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Those are the militias Hifter is targeting. “We are now fighting not only on behalf of Libya, but on behalf of the whole world,” he told the New York Times by telephone on Wednesday. Fighter-jets loyal to Hifter bombed a base in Benghazi held by an extremist militia. In Tripoli, the capital, a militia loyal to Hifter overran the legislature on May 18, prompting lawmakers to finally name a date for new elections (June 25).

U.S. officials deny that Hifter is getting American support, something he reportedly boasted of receiving decades earlier when he commanded a force trying to unseat Gaddafi. He had helped Gaddafi come to power in a 1969 coup, but then turned against the strongman in the 1980s after being captured in neighboring Chad, which Gaddafi had ordered invaded. He later moved to Virginia, and voted in local elections in 2008 and 2009.

His 2011 return to Libya was not triumphant. Hifter tried but failed to take command of the rebel force arrayed against Gaddafi. And when he showed up on television in February calling for the overthrow of the government, he was mocked.

But in the weeks that followed, a force took shape behind him—motivated, according to the current U.S. ambassador, Deborah Jones, by a wave of assassinations carried by extremists, including a bomb attack on graduating military cadets. “That was the breaking point,” Jones said in a May 21 talk at The Stimson Center, a Washington think tank.

“Hifter’s focus is very specifically on terrorist groups,” Jones said, in remarks she acknowledged were more supportive of Hifter than the official State Department line, which criticizes the use of force. “It’s not necessarily for me to condemn his action going against… groups that are frankly are on our lists of terrorists,” Jones said.

Libya’s politics remain chaotic. The country has had three prime ministers in the last two months, two of whom still claim the title. The constitution is only now being drafted. Hifter has shown signs he views himself as Libya’s version of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian general who deposed an elected Islamist government in neighboring Egypt, and was elected president this week. But the dynamic in Libya is a different one, analysts say.

“I hear a lot of support for his actions against these specific groups, less support for him as an individual, given his background,” Jones said. “The jury is still out, because it’s not clear what the political agenda is.”

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