This article is the eighth of our series focusing on scenarios depicting interventions in the Libyan war. In our previous article, we discussed an international intervention that started to support the nationalist side of the conflict, but encountered difficulties in partnering with Libyan factions on the ground, as well as an air-strike-only campaign by the international coalition that abandoned the strategy of partnering with a spectrum of Libyan groups – a group of scenarios we wrap up here.
In this article, we shall focus on scenarios related to an intervention that supports a UN-backed Libyan unity government, a case very similar to what is currently taking shape with the Government of National Accord.
In our scenario, our UN-backed Libyan unity government experiences some fragmentation and requests international air support. The scenarios discussed below point out some crucial elements that should be considered: the success or failure of such an intervention will depend heavily on Libyans’ perception of international intervention, as well as on the international coalition’s willingness to continue its air campaign despite the exacerbation of civil war that could be induced by the intervention itself. The amount of power (across all domains) to apply to the situation and thus the cost incurred to revert fragmentation will be proportional to the intensity and depth of fragmentation. Past a certain threshold, it will be impossible to go back to unity and the international coalition will only be intervening on the side of somehow a new actor in a renewed Libyan civil war.
Note: Considering the future names of potential factions that would result from a new split between the unity government, we shall use the label nationalist for those that supported the nationalist/liberal-dominated Council of Representatives (COR) and any future anti-Islamist factions; Islamist to note those that supported the General National Congress (GNC) and any future pro-political Islamic movements; and Salafist will remain the label of choice for groups that reject democratic institutions and embrace jihadism.
Sub-scenario 22.214.171.124.2 The International Coalition Intervenes without Partnering
Having not received an invitation from a legitimate political authority to intervene, or facing pressure to not partner with Libyan factions, the international coalition decides to intervene in Libya without partnering. This leads to the same results as a fractured partnership during intervention (Sc 126.96.36.199.1.2.2).
Sub-scenario 2.1.2 Intervention in Support of a Unity Government
With their majorities supporting a unity government after years of civil war, the GNC and COR agree to unite under one government with representation from both sides (see Mitchell, “Scenarios 1: Towards Peace? (1),” June 29, 2015). The rival governments relinquish their authority to the new unity government, although some opposition members remain. The international community supports the creation of a united Libyan government, but awaits an official invitation to intervene and provide assistance in the fight against security threats.
— The Peninsula (@PeninsulaQatar) February 24, 2016
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.1.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
- The ability of the rival sides to form a unity government. Forming a unity government requires a majority vote of approval by both the GNC and COR. If one or both sides fail to secure a majority vote – instead relying on pledges of support – the likelihood of forming a legitimate unity government decreases. Past indications occurred when members of the GNC “unilaterally announced the body’s dissolution,” but the rest of the GNC announced the next day that these members did not represent the whole General National Congress, which rejected the formation of a unity government (Berkowitz, The National Interest, May 3, 2016; TASS, May 5, 2016). Simultaneously, the Council of Representatives continually delayed its vote on the unity government approval (Berkowitz, Ibid). See sub-scenario 1.1.1 at “Scenarios 1: Towards Peace? (1)” for a detailed discussion on the formation of a unity government.
- The willingness of the GNC and COR to relinquish their authority to the new unity government. After voting an approval for the formation of the unity government, the GNC and COR must then be willing to relinquish their authority to the newly created government. If one or both former governments refuse to relinquish all authority, the likelihood of this scenario significantly decreases. A past indication occurred when the unity government gained administrative control of ten ministries in Tripoli, and was still waiting on the transfer of authority for other ministries (The Economist, May 5, 2016; Lewis, Reuters, April 25, 2016).
- The ability of the international coalition to wait on intervention until a unity government is formed. If the unity government takes too long to make progress, or Salafist threats begin to emerge out of Libya into Western countries, the international community may not be willing to wait to intervene – thus decreasing the likelihood of this scenario. However, with the recent arrival of a unity government in Tripoli, the international community is waiting for an official invitation (which would only be truly legitimate once both the GNC and COR transfer all authority to the unity government and dissolve). A past indication occurred when Italian Prime Minister Renzi stated that Italy would not deploy troops to Libya until officially invited by the unity government (Sputnik News, April 25, 2016).
Sub-scenario 188.8.131.52 The Unity Government and Its Forces Begin to Fragment
Although most factions from both sides initially supported the unity government, some factions decide to withdraw or continue to withhold their support. The breakaway groups withdraw their support as a result of their tribal or political rivals having more influence in government, as well as opposition to government leadership and policies. Some Islamist and Misratan militias that initially pledged support to the unity government decide to withdraw and reinvigorate their support for the remaining GNC leaders that oppose a unified government. Islamist groups such as the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR) withhold their support to see how much backing the unity government receives by the rest of the country.
With its armed forces fragmenting, the political element of the unity government also shows signs of fracture and tension, as political leaders revert to previous political factions. Politicians that held influence at the height of the civil war begin to politically ally with or oppose other political groups along tribal and policy lines.
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 184.108.40.206 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
- The level of opposition to new policies or the influence of rivals in government. If the new government passes controversial policies – particularly ones that involve political and religious affiliations, or if a rival tribe/political faction appears to have stronger influence on government policies, the likelihood of factions breaking away increases.
- The number of influential politicians that remain in the COR or GNC and oppose the unity government. If politicians still oppose a unity government and keep some semblance of the GNC or COR in place, they may draw some armed factions away from the unity government. These politicians may use their claims of “legitimacy” to reclaim support from armed factions that previously supported their government.
- The level of opposition by hardliner factions. If hardliner factions continue to vehemently resist a unity government – likely driven by differing views of political legitimacy, the likelihood of this scenario increases. A past indication occurred when attempts were made to prevent the unity government from arriving in Tripoli (Lewis, Reuters, April 19, 2016). Furthermore, the commander of Dawn of Libya’s First Division brigade recently stated that up to 80% of the armed factions supported the unity government (Ibid). If the number were even somewhat accurate, that would still leave a few factions that either actively oppose or simply withhold support from the unity government.
- The level of competition to retake Sirte. The more powerful factions may attempt to launch their own offensives on the Islamic State stronghold at Sirte in order to gain additional influence with the unity government. By launching individual offensives instead of participating in the coordinated offensive under the unity government, the armed factions increase the likelihood of fragmentation. A recent indication occurred when General Haftar launched his own offensive on Sirte, despite the unity government’s order to cease all military operations and unite under one coordinated offensive (ANSAmed, May 4, 2016).
- The level of public support for the unity government. If the unity government is lacking in public support, some armed factions may withhold their support until domestic legitimacy increases. A past indication occurred when the political chief of the Libyan Revolutionaries’ Operations Room (LROR) stated it would wait to support the unity government until it “could get more political and popular backing” (Lewis, Reuters, April 19, 2016).
- The ability of politicians to overcome previous political allegiances. Previous political allegiances, as well as tribal affiliations, significantly impact the likelihood of political fracturing occurring in the new unity government. Initially, there will likely be a return to previous political allegiances, which will increase the likelihood of this scenario.
- Indicators 1, 2, 4, and 5 of sub-scenario 220.127.116.11.1.1 also act here in a similar way.
Sub-scenario 18.104.22.168.1 The Unity Government and Its Forces Stop Fragmenting, Maintain Enough Cohesion to Press Forward
Facing political and military fracturing, a few key Libyan leaders in the unity government work to prevent further fragmentation by meeting with all sides as mediators. After a period of political in-fighting and the threat of a unity government collapse, the international community threatens to sanction the political leaders leading the collapse. Furthermore, the Libyan people, who initially supported a political solution in the form of a unity government, begin to lose faith. Facing external pressure, political coaxing by key leaders, and the risk of losing all public support, the political fragmentation subsides. Government leaders then turn to stop the fragmentation of its armed supporters. Both the unity government and international community sanction members of the former GNC and COR that still actively oppose the unity government as a political rebellion. The unity government then grants important positions within its ministries to tribal or city leaders from the breakaway factions as a way to retain their support, but also to balance out political rivalries. By showing signs of leadership and granting representation from various tribes and cities, the unity government begins to regain the faith of its public supporters, thus further swaying some of the armed factions that were waiting for public recognition of the government’s legitimacy.
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 22.214.171.124.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
- The willingness of key Libyan leaders to mediate between rival political factions. If just a few key politicians are non-partisan for the sake of political stabilization and progress, they will be able to mediate between the rival political factions, which, in turn, would increase the likelihood of this scenario.
- The international community’s determination to uphold the unity government by imposing sanctions. If the international community is determined enough to impose sanctions on the politicians that are hindering the unity government from functioning, the likelihood of this scenario increases. A past indication occurred when the United States and European Union imposed sanctions on Khalifa Ghweil and his supporters in the GNC, who all opposed a Libyan unity government (Middle East Eye, April 19, 2016).
- The Libyan public’s level of support for the unity government. If the majority of Libyans initially supporting the unity government begin to see political fragmentation and lack of progress, they will likely begin to lose faith in a political solution to the civil war. Losing public support may put enough pressure on politicians to mitigate the political fracturing. A previous indication of public support occurred when ten cities that originally supported the GNC switched their allegiance to the new unity government (Middle East Eye, April 1, 2016).
- The willingness of unity government leadership to fill ministerial positions with tribal or city leaders from breakaway factions. The willingness depends entirely on the importance of their personal allegiances to their tribes or cities compared to the importance of retaining the support of armed factions for the purpose of stabilization and progress. Tribal and city allegiances, as well as rivalries with other tribes or cities, have the potential to decrease the likelihood of this scenario.
Sub-scenario 126.96.36.199.1.1 The International Coalition Launches an Airstrike Campaign after Receiving an Invitation from the Unity Government
With opposition to foreign ground troops being deployed to Libya, the unity government invites the international coalition to provide only air support as it combats Salafist groups and attempts to reign in the breakaway factions. The decision to not invite foreign ground troops is a strategic one, as the unity government does not want to lose its supporters that might oppose foreign troops, nor does it want to further alienate the Libyans that are neutral or already oppose the unity government. However, the Libyans lack sufficient air power for a sustained air campaign – which is needed to destroy Salafist capabilities – so the unity government decides to only request air power from the international coalition. Wanting to destroy Salafist threats in Libya as soon as possible, but not supportive of deploying ground troops beyond Special Forces, the international coalition accepts the invitation. After formulating an efficient airstrike campaign that has sufficient numbers of aircraft and precision-guided munitions, the coalition deploys to Libya to support the unity government’s ground offensives. To bolster its ground forces and gain an edge over Salafist and breakaway groups, the unity government requests that the UN lift the arms embargo so it can import weapons, munitions, and military hardware; additionally, it requests that Libya’s frozen assets be made available to the unity government in order to make progress.
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 188.8.131.52.1.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
- Libyans’ perception of international forces on Libyan soil. Considering the deep impact of colonization and imperialism on Libya’s tribal groups (Mitchell, “Tribal Dynamics and Civil War 1,” April 13, 2015), some may consider foreign troops on Libyan soil reminiscent of colonization. Some militias and tribes may consider foreign intervention as a violation of Libyan sovereignty, with Western imperialism dictating the policies and agenda of the unity government. Thus, negative perception of tribes and militias towards foreign forces could prompt them to actively oppose both the unity government and international forces.
- The willingness of the unity government to request international assistance. If the unity government would rather increase its domestic support and ability to function than immediately invite international forces into Libya, it will be less willing to request international military assistance. The unity government may also feel that international forces in Libya may exacerbate the precarious situation. Past indications occurred when the unity government rejected the UK’s request to deploy 1,000 soldiers, as well as when the unity government’s Prime Minister-designate Fayez Serraj stated that the Islamic State in Libya will be defeated “by Libyan hands and not through foreign intervention” (Mulvany, Middle East Confidential, April 29, 2016; RT, April 13, 2016).
- The unity government’s willingness to request air assistance. If the unity government quickly realizes that it needs assistance with deploying a precision air campaign against Salafist strongholds, it may continue to reject the use of international ground forces, but request tactical air support from the international coalition. The willingness of the government to only request air support increases the likelihood of this scenario occurring.
- The UN’s willingness to lift the arms embargo. With a UN arms embargo imposed since February 2011, Libya’s governments have struggled to legally obtain military arms from outside the country. The UN Security Council has refused to lift the embargo in the past – despite the Islamic State expansion – and instead is awaiting a unified, functioning government to take power (Libya Herald, May 4, 2016). If the GNC and COR transfer all authority to the unity government, the UN will likely be willing to lift the arms embargo, thus increasing the likelihood of this scenario.
- The unity government’s ability to access Libya’s frozen financial assets. If the international community is willing to unfreeze Libya’s frozen assets abroad, the likelihood of this scenario increases. Having access to billions in assets would allow the government to make progress and transition to a peacebuilding phase. The international community has been unwilling to unfreeze the assets until a unity government is formed and is strong enough to safeguard it (TASS, April 8, 2016). More recently, Holland’s Foreign Minister met with a member of the unity government’s Presidential Council and discussed the potential of the government accessing frozen assets in Holland for the purpose of acquiring humanitarian supplies (The Libya Observer, May 5, 2016). However, the release of financial assets to the unity government could also prompt a power struggle, whereby the unsupportive elements of the GNC and COR increase their opposition in response to the unity government’s new access to crucial assets.
- The coalition’s availability of precision-guided munitions. The efficiency of the coalition to launch and continue an air campaign depends heavily on the number of aircraft and support personnel, availability of precision-guided munitions, and intelligence on Salafist targets. If coalition forces lack any of these critical elements, the likelihood of this scenario decreases, or this scenario may take place but the likelihood to see a favorable outcome tends to decrease. Past indications occurred when NATO partners ran low on precision-guided munitions only three weeks into Operations Odyssey Dawn/Unified Protector, and when Operation Inherent Resolve coalition forces borrowed from the United States munitions stockpiles to keep their missions going (Cenciotti, The Aviationist, April 17, 2011; Pawlyk, Air Force Times, March 28, 2016). The U.S. Department of Defense also announced that the number of its precision-guided munitions is at a low point and will need to be replenished in 2017 (Pawlyk, Air Force Times, March 28, 2016).
- Indicators 3, 5, 7 of 184.108.40.206 also act here in a similar way.
Sub-scenario 220.127.116.11.1.1.1 The International Coalition and Unity Government Succeed against Salafist and Breakaway Groups, Transition to Peacebuilding
Due to the partnership and coordinated military strategy between the international coalition, the Libyan military, and the pro-unity government factions, the Salafist threats are mitigated while the remaining breakaway factions are either defeated militarily or eventually switch their loyalty due to over-whelming pressure. With Salafist capabilities degraded and the unity government pursuing a peacebuilding phase, the military intervention is deemed successful. Upon the conclusion of the military intervention, the unity government continues on the long road towards stabilization, as we discussed in Scenario 1 (Mitchell, “A Successful Peacebuilding Mission?” September 28, 2015).
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 18.104.22.168.1.1.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
- The efficiency of the military strategies to destroy Salafist strongholds. The success against Salafist strongholds relies on the efficiency of the air and ground strategies, as well as the ability of Libyan forces to carry out the ground campaign. If the strategies rely too heavily on the ability of the Libyan forces to move tactically and quickly, the likelihood of this scenario decreases. However, if the air and ground strategies are well-balanced and efficient, the likelihood increases.
- The level of pressure on remaining breakaway factions to switch allegiance to the unity government. If breakaway factions are militarily engaged by significantly stronger forces, are pressured by influential tribal or city leaders, and or face extreme levels of exhaustion from war, they will be more likely to switch their allegiance to the unity government rather than continue their opposition.
- Indicators 1 and 3 of sub-scenario 22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199.1 also act here in a similar way.
- Indicator 6 of sub-scenario 188.8.131.52.1.1 also acts here in a similar way.
Sub-scenario 184.108.40.206.1.1.2 Coalition Airstrikes and the Unity Government’s Ground Offensives Exacerbate Civil War
Although the coalition’s airstrike campaign begins to make progress in degrading Salafist capabilities, it also exacerbates civil war by angering the factions and tribes that oppose international forces operating in Libya. The factions and tribes see the unity government as collaborating with the West and enabling Western imperialism to dictate Libya’s future, which prompts them to actively fight against unity government and international forces. Although the coalition’s airstrike campaign mitigates the jihadist threats emanating from Libya, it inadvertently triggers domestic opposition to the unity government and thus exacerbates civil war.
Indicators to Monitor
Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 220.127.116.11.1.1.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.
- Libyans’ perception of the unity government working alongside international forces. Many Libyans may begin to withdraw their support for the unity government when it invites and partners with “imperialistic” international forces. With the association between the unity government and an international intervention causing a loss of public support, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
- The willingness of factions and tribes to actively fight against unity government and international coalition forces. If factions or tribes consider international intervention a serious enough offense to override the mitigation of Salafist threats or stabilization of Libya, they will likely turn to active opposition in response, which increases the likelihood of protracted civil war.
- Indicator 1 of sub-scenario 18.104.22.168.1.1 also acts here in a similar way.
Sub-scenario 22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199 The International Coalition and Unity Government Emerge Victorious after Protracted Conflict, Transition to Peacebuilding
Due to increased financial assistance from the international community, the continued provision of vital resources by the coalition, and the willingness to follow through with a protracted airstrike campaign, the unity government and coalition are able to withstand the protracted conflict and finally destroy Salafist threats while fending off domestic opposition forces. Near the conclusion of protracted conflict, domestic opposition groups either withdraw in defeat or switch allegiances to the unity government in an attempt to acquire influence. With Salafist capabilities degraded and the unity government now pursuing a peacebuilding phase, the military intervention is deemed successful and the unity government continues on the long road towards stabilization, as we discussed in Scenario 1 (Mitchell, “A Successful Peacebuilding Mission?” September 28, 2015).
Sub-scenario 188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206 The Unity Government Fractures as a Result of Protracted Conflict, the International Coalition Gradually Withdraws its Forces – Back to Civil War
Considering the unity government’s already precarious ability to function and its current inability to make military progress in the protracted conflict, the government begins to fragment, which in turn impairs its ability to function at all. With the Libyan unity government fractured and about to completely disband, the international coalition decides to withdraw. This scenario thus leads back to civil war.
Featured Photo: Leaders of the Government of National Reconciliation posted on the Information Office of the Chairman of the Presidential Council of the Government of National Reconciliation Facebook page, April 1, 2016
“10 key Libya cities lend support to UN-backed unity government,” Middle East Eye, April 1, 2016
Aidan Lewis, “Cautious steps as Libya’s new government moves into Tripoli,” Reuters, April 19, 2016
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David Cenciotti, “Operation Unified Protector (Was Odyssey Dawn) Explained (Day 29),” The Aviationist, April 17, 2011
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