The future of Libya is uncertain. The country has been through two civil wars in the past decade. Many are concerned that a third one is on the horizon as two rival governments continue to
campaign for power, which has led to another six-month delay to Libyan elections. How did Libya get here, and what is the situation today for a country so consumed by chaos?


the Libyan chief of state attends the 12th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Feb. 2, 2009. Qaddafi was elected chairman of the organization.


The Libyan Civil War of 2011

We are certainly not unfamiliar with the Libyan Civil War of 2011, as it was used quite frequently as a political tool by U.S.-based politicians in the year that followed. The war began during the early stages of the Arab Spring, when its leader Muammar Gaddafi responded to protests with violence, igniting a full-scale civil war. The war started on February 15, 2011, and ended symbolically on October 20, 2011, when Gaddafi was killed.

At this point, the Libyan Revolutionaries took control of the country.
Although the rebel forces were united in their objective to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, they lacked a shared vision for the future governance of Libya. The militias in the country held too much power and were in conflict with one another for control. Militias were unwilling to share power with the Libyan government or yield control to official institutions. Sure, they would allow the government to pay their salaries as militiamen or as members of rebranded militias like the Libya Shield. However, collecting a paycheck was not out of loyalty to their country. They took
it as they believed it was earned through bloodshed during the Revolution.

One reason for the militiamen’s pushback against being rolled into the newly formed Libyan government was that the previous Gaddafi-run government had impacted members of the militias–with large numbers of people released from prisons-and they had no trust in another governing body. Another reason was that the militias were larger than official institutions and finally had authority. There were inherent risks in giving up their weapons to an unstable government. And the last reason was that the more extremist militias did not want a democratic-style government or western influence in Libyan affairs and were planning to fight for Libya to become a true Islamic Caliphate.

As the militias refused to surrender their arms and join traditional military, police, and intelligence forces, early Libyan governments lacked legitimacy. As a result, the government of Libya appeared weak and vulnerable to collapse, attracting terrorists from abroad. International terrorist groups, like al-Qaeda, planned for Libya to be a terrorist safe haven where it could operate
training camps and easily smuggle persons and weapons in and out of the country–offering a new base in North Africa. Al-Qaeda terrorists with their Libyan militia allies ended this post-revoluntary era a decade ago when they carried out the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and CIA Annex attacks on September 11 and 12, 2012.

[Essam Mohamed] Fighters for Libya’s interim government rejoice after winning control of the Kadhafi stronghold of Bani Walid. 2011

The Second Libyan Civil War

The Second Libyan Civil War began on May 16, 2014, and ended in 2020. From the outside, the war was fought by two rival factions: the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli and supported by Islamist militias, and the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar, which was loyal to the Tobruk-based House of Representatives. From the inside, LNA’s primary operational purpose was a three-fold counterterrorism approach.

(1) To liberate Libya from internal terrorists who participated in and hijacked the Libyan Revolution from its people.

(2) To liquidate the terrorists who laid siege to cities in Eastern Libya by carrying out targeted assassinations and attacks from 2011 to 2014,
specifically in the cities of Benghazi and Darnah.

(3) To end terrorist safe havens by ridding the region of those terrorists who sought to establish bases in Libya like al-Qaeda in the Ganfouda neighborhood of Benghazi, and then later on with the Islamic State (ISIS) establishing a base in Sirte, Libya. ISIS proved to be a major problem for both the LNA and the GNA.

The war saw multiple changes in momentum and control of territory by the GNA and LNA, with both sides making significant gains at various points in the conflict. The conflict was also primarily fueled by foreign intervention. Multiple countries supported different factions in the war, both directly and indirectly. The GNC was supported by Turkey and Qatar, while the LNA was backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia. The presence of wanted Egyptian terrorists in Libya created a need for the Government of Egypt to develop a close working relationship with the LNA to combat terrorism in the region effectively.

The Second Libyan Civil War officially ended on October 23, 2020, when a Joint Libyan Military Commission representing the LNA and the GNA reached a ceasefire agreement. Over the years, the fighting displaced nearly 400,000 people, destroyed vital infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, and resulted in widespread corruption in Libyan institutions. There were well over 25,000 Libyans killed. The war’s death count has been grossly underestimated as the intensity of fighting was on par with Syria in 2015. For example, just within LNA alone, they lost 8,000 soldiers while fighting terrorists in Eastern Libya during the first three years of the six-year war. In one neighborhood alone in Benghazi, terrorists killed 700 soldiers. These figures do not include the terrorists killed in Libya, including foreign fighters from Europe, Algeria, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.

The Situation Today

United Nations mediators have failed for two years to reconcile GNA and LNA to prevent a return to conflict in Libya. Despite the time put into these efforts, no resolution on a constitution to move elections forward resulted. As such, violence has flared up in recent months, threatening to plunge the country back into war. Early in July, Libyans took to the streets to protest the
government’s dysfunction. They engaged in both peaceful protests and civil disobedience to show their discontent.

For example on Friday, July 1st, protestors in Eastern Libya overran the House of Representatives in Tobruk and held large-scale protests in Benghazi where they blockaded roads as the city’s electricity only runs several hours a day due to government corruption. In Western Libya, protesters came out in their most significant numbers in years in Libya’s capital of Tripoli. The south was not spared either, with protestors setting fires to buildings in Sabha. The south may take things a step further, as there’s chatter that they now want a power-sharing role in a future government like Tripoli in the north and Tobruk in the east have been vying for.

Such widespread displays of popular unrest demonstrate the frustrations of the Libyan people after a decade without progress. If Libya again descends into an all-out civil war, it would have dire consequences for the region. Unless the government can get its act together and start providing essential services and security, the country will likely spiral into further chaos. The country is already the main thoroughfare for illegal migration exiting the continent of Africa, and it has long been a recruitment ground for terrorists. Both issues could affect Europe if the violence escalates. Migrants and refugees fleeing the country could clog up Europe’s already overwhelmed refugee system, and terrorists could use the country as a base to launch attacks on Europe and other key western interests in the region. Additionally, Libya is a major oil-producing country and a new civil war would disrupt global oil markets already impacted by the War in Ukraine. The country is also experiencing widespread poverty as the government fails to reach real solutions, so the war already impacts it as 75% of its wheat was imported from Ukraine and Russia.

The situation in Libya is extremely unstable, even for a country that is no stranger to conflict. Any further violence would also be a significant setback for efforts to bring peace and stability.
Therefore, the Libyan government along with the international community must come together to find a resolution that will satisfy all parties involved without dictating terms to a country that has
already suffered greatly from outside interference.


Sarah Adams Sarah Adams is an award-winning targeting officer and global threat advisor with extensive domestic and international experience. Previously, Ms. Adams held positions in the government and non-profit sectors and has worked overseas on behalf of the U.S. Government’s intelligence mission in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.