How the army is taking revenge against Islamists in Libya

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Former rebel fighters who are now intergrated into the Libyan army and form the Diraa al-Gharbiya brigade, are seen with their weapons guarding the western entrance of the capital Tripoli on May 19, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Mahmoud Turkia)

By: Iman Ibrahim

Published Tuesday, May 20, 2014

States do not usually sit idly by in the face of security threats. Nevertheless, Cairo has kept its distance from the unrest in neighboring Libya, although one military leader suggests that Haftar’s move may ultimately be in Egypt’s interests.

Cairo: To the intelligence community in Egypt, the tension at the border with Libya is not new, or the result of the events of the past few days. The Egyptian troops deployed along the western border have been on high alert ever since armed militias emerged in Libya, carving the country into spheres of influence. Nevertheless, the intelligence community in Egypt is reassured by the military’s measures to secure the border, and the level of coordination at all levels between the border guard, the air force, the navy, and rapid intervention units.

Egyptian military sources told Al-Akhbar, “The army is fulfilling all its responsibilities in protecting the areas adjacent to the Libyan border. It will secure its strategic extension even within Libyan territory if necessary, especially with the ongoing attempts by armed elements to infiltrate the country and carry out attacks to destabilize the situation ahead of the presidential elections.”

Politically, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry is a step behind the statements made by the sources above. The ministry said it is closely following the rapid developments in Libya, though in a press conference on Monday, the ministry denounced what it said were attempts from inside and outside Libya to implicate Egypt in the developments there, saying Cairo considered what is happening in its neighboring country an internal Libyan affair. The ministry also said that the Egyptian government and people are in favor of ending the strife in Libya to stop the bloodshed, while rejecting any foreign meddling.

Earlier, on Saturday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy had met with his Libyan counterpart Mohammed Abdel Aziz, before the storming of the Libyan General Congress (parliament) building. They discussed Egypt’s proposal to hold a conference on border security.

Meanwhile, a Libyan military commander explained the motives behind the actions of former Libyan army major general and leader of the current rebellion Khalifa Haftar, saying the latter is seeking to move against terrorist militias operating under the guise of Islamism. Speaking to Al-Akhbar on condition of anonymity – for fear of physical liquidation – he said that these militias have seized control of large swaths of Libyan territory, sacking around 2,000 Libyan army officers, including Haftar, since 2011.

The Libyan military leader said, “After they took over, they systematically liquidated army officers who had been dismissed or who had retired throughout eastern and central Libya. This prompted Haftar and his men to make a stand against this massacre.” The leader counted 150 officers who had been assassinated by the militias in the past several months, including women officers who retired 10 years ago. The militias threatened Haftar and his loyal troops directly, he added.

To this, he adds other motives for Haftar’s rebellion, which his opponents and the interim administration have deemed to be a coup. He said, “The armed Islamist groups were gripped by fear after Egyptian protesters on June 30 shattered the hopes and dreams of the Muslim Brotherhood to establish Islamist rule in Egypt,” pointing out that all armed groups in Libya are close to the Muslim Brotherhood, despite their various names and stated ideologies, such as al-Nusra, Shields of Islam, and so on.

The Libyan military leader then accused the Libyan Undersecretary of Defense Khalid Sharif, who currently leads the National Guard, of financing all armament programs for the militias in collaboration with Qatar, Turkey, and the Free Army in the city of Derna, saying that the latter is currently detaining army leaders such as the head of military intelligence Abdullah al-Senussi and the head of external security Abuzed Dorda.

He continued, “The debate currently centers on rehabilitating some tribes that could support groups loyal to Haftar, the majority of which are Gaddafi supporters, led by tribes like Bani Walid, the Magarha, al-Ujailat, and al-Qadhadhfa, to fight the armed groups affiliated to al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Particularly so when these tribes have large numbers and are highly skilled fighters thanks to Gaddafi’s sponsorship and care.”

The military leader concluded by saying that Haftar’s supporters need assistance from neighboring countries, especially in terms of armament, “because they currently depend on what is left of the weapons stolen from Gaddafi’s caches, while armed groups receive armaments by sea and by air from Qatar and Turkey.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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