Right now the biggest risk to Libyan peace is the feud between the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli and the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Last week, the LNA launched an operation to clear southern Libya of extremists and criminals. GNA forces have been under a lot of pressure to regain control of the country’s lawless south, but all attempts they’ve made to do so have failed. Meanwhile, Haftar’s forces have ruled predominately in the country’s east.
Haftar’s clearance operation in the south could prove effective if his forces establish control, reinstating law and order in the province. This would entice foreign corporations and organizations, including those in the oil and gas industry, to return to the country and start operations. Just a few miles from the town of Sebha, three international personnel were kidnapped from the oil fields. That prompted all others in the area to discontinue operations in the region. This could be the prime reason to commit the army to the region: to take control and safeguard the corporations willing to return to the region to generate cash flow again and stabilize the Libyan economy.
Reports arriving from southern Libya show that LNA forces have mostly secured the key cities of Ubari and Sabha—home to one of the largest Libyan oil fields. If the LNA control this oil field, they will have a vice grip on the state’s wealth and will be recognized by many global corporations as the reigning authority with whom they should do business.
Last night, Haftar’s forces advanced into the Sahra oil field. Many in the area embraced the presence of the troops of the LNA, and they encountered little resistance from any local armed militants. Local security forces handed over police stations and checkpoints with merely a handshake and friendly chat. So far the communities in the area seem to support the arrival of LNA forces. This will no doubt come as a tremendous disappointment to the Tripoli-based GNA, as their adversary is all but set to seize complete control of Libya.
This does not mean that GNA forces will simply lie back and take it. Just a few hours ago locals took to social media to report they have identified 60+ GNA technicals heading toward the oil field in Ubari. Twitter feeds have begun to report confrontations between GNA and LNA forces over control of the field.
This could prove a fundamental shifting point in the Libyan War. Haftar’s forces dominate most of Libya and are now in a position to control the country’s largest revenue stream. Thus far they have also managed to clear several groups of armed bandits and terrorists out of southern Libya, which is a positive move in the right direction.
The next big question is, will it be peace or a bloody battle for Tripoli?