In a dramatic escalation of the ongoing conflict in Libya and its neighboring countries, Libyan troops loyal to eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar have initiated an airborne assault on a Chadian rebel headquarters situated in the southern desert. This audacious operation took place last Friday with the intent to suppress the influence of rebel factions operating along the Chadian-Libyan border.

Libyan-Chadian Border Skirmish: The Historical Root Causes

To understand the recent escalation, it’s important to delve into the historical root causes of the conflict. The seeds of Libya’s instability were sown decades ago, during the four-decade rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s iron-fisted regime suppressed opposition and dissents, while his divisive policies led to regional imbalances and social tensions. In the 1980s, Libya was involved in several conflicts, including clashes with neighboring countries like Chad and Egypt. Perhaps most notably, Libya was linked to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The fall of Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, triggered by a NATO-backed uprising, created a power vacuum and fragmentation of the country into competing armed groups vying for control.

Chadian-Libyan War
(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Emergence of Rival Administrations

Out of this chaos emerged two main power centers in Libya: the UN-backed government in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah, and the administration backed by Khalifa Haftar, based in the eastern part of the country. This division created a deeply polarized political landscape, with each administration receiving support from different foreign actors and armed groups.

Forging Alliances Across Borders

The stop-start conflict, which has gripped Libya for over a decade, led its rival leaders to forge alliances with various rebel factions in neighboring Chad and Sudan. These alliances blurred the lines between domestic and regional conflicts, adding layers of complexity to an already convoluted situation. Rebel factions took advantage of porous borders and shared ethnic ties to gain support and establish footholds in neighboring countries.

The Chadian Factor and Recent Developments

Chad, a country with its own history of political instability, became a focal point in this multifaceted conflict. Chadian transitional president Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno’s efforts to stabilize his nation faced challenges from rebel factions operating along the Libya-Chad border. The self-styled Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic (CCMSR) emerged as a prominent player, often launching cross-border attacks.

The Strategic Airborne Assault

The recent airborne assault by Haftar’s forces signifies a significant departure from conventional tactics. By targeting a Chadian rebel stronghold housed within an unfinished housing complex in Umm al-Araneb, the Libyan National Army (LNA) aimed to disrupt the operational capabilities of rebel factions while asserting control over Libyan territory near the border.

On August 25, Friday evening, the air force belonging to Haftar’s LNA carried out airstrikes on positions held by Chadian rebels on the Libyan border. Subsequently, an airborne assault was launched, according to a statement from the LNA’s press office, cited by news reports.

The immediate focus of this operation was an incomplete housing complex located in the remote Umm al-Araneb outpost within the Murzuq district. This complex, intended for the construction of over 2,000 homes, had been seized by rebel fighters and their families, as reported by Khalifa al-Obeidi, the chief press officer of the LNA.