After the demise of the Qaddafi regime in 2011, Libya has been in a state of constant political unrest and related armed violence. The existence of competing governments, and seemingly ever-changing cast of different armed groups- which often switch alliances and seem to operate autonomously- exacerbated the situation and resulted in general uncertainty. Since 2014, there are overlapping ongoing non-international armed conflicts involving the internationally recognized Government of Libya, Libya National Army (LNA), various armed groups and intervening foreign powers.
There are multiple and overlapping non-international armed conflicts in Libya involving the Government and a myriad of armed groups. The non-international armed conflicts emerged in Libya along the following lines:
- The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) is engaged in a non-international armed conflict with the self-declared LNA and affiliated groups loyal to General Haftar, who are aligned with the House of Representatives (HoR);
- The GNA is also fighting against groups pledging allegiance to the Islamic State that is gaining control over Derna and Sirte in 2015;
- The self-declared LNA and affiliated groups loyal to General Haftar, that supports the (HoR) fights against Islamic State and is also engaged in separate conflicts against other armed groups including Derna Protection Force (DPF) and The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC);
- Upon request of the UN-backed Government of Libya, the United States launched a sustained air campaign against the Islamic State group in August 2016 and continues to support the GNA;
- With regard to other foreign interventions, while Turkey is involved in the conflict in support of the GNA, France and United Arab Emirates are involved in NIAC in support of the LNA.
Two criteria need to be assessed in order to answer the question whether a situation of armed violence amounts to a non-international armed conflict.
- First, the level of armed violence must reach a certain degree of intensity that goes beyond internal disturbances and tensions.
- Second, in every non-international armed conflict, at least one side to the conflict must be a non-state armed group which must exhibit a certain level of organization in order to qualify as a party to the non-international armed conflict. Government forces are presumed to satisfy the criteria of organization. For further information, see 'non-international armed conflict' in our classification section.
Intensity of violence
Various indicative factors are used to assess whether a given situation has met the required intensity threshold, such as the number, duration, and intensity of individual confrontations; the types of weapons and military equipment used; the number of persons and types of forces participating in the fighting; the number of casualties; the extent of material destruction; the number of civilians fleeing; and the involvement of the United Nations Security Council. For further information, see 'non-international armed conflict - intensity of violence' in our classification section.
The situation that led to the onset of the conflict in 2014 originated in 2011, when political demonstrations broke out in Libya. The unrest followed the arrest of several lawyers representing prisoners and was inspired by the events that had led to the fall of the regimes of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt shortly before. These popular uprisings started on 15 February 2011 in Benghazi and took place in the context of what we now call the Arab Spring. In Libya, the protests were initially peaceful, but when the Gadhafi regime responded with violence, the resistance also turned violent, took up arms, and demanded regime change. This led to an escalation of tensions and violence that turned into a NIAC. The fighting between Gadhafi's government forces and the opposition (thuwar or revolutionaries), which includeed various tribes, militias and defected government soldiers, reached the required degree of intensity and organisation to be classified as a NIAC by late February 2011. M. Cherif Bassiouni, Libya: from repression to revolution: a record of armed conflict and international law violations, 2011-2013 (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers 2013) at 125-126 and 158-159.
The international community reacted strongly to the events unfolding in Libya at the time. On 25 February, the UN Human Rights Council condemned violence, while an independent international Commission of Inquiry was set up. On 26 February, the UNSC passed Resolution 1970 in order to impose an arms embargo and to refer the situation in Libya to the ICC. The next step was taken on 17 March 2011, when the UNSC adopted Resolution 1973 authorizing member states to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and to take ‘all necessary measures,’ short of foreign occupation, and notwithstanding the arms embargo mandated in UNSCR 1970, to protect civilians from the abuses committed by Gadhafi forces. A coalition of states – which included Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, Qatar, Spain, United Arab Emirates, UK and USA – intervened in Libya. M. Cherif Bassiouni, Libya: from repression to revolution: a record of armed conflict and international law violations, 2011-2013 (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers 2013), pp. 160-164; ‘Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK’s future policy options, Third Report of Session 2016-17’, The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, 6 September 2016, p 6. Since the intervention took place against Libyan state forces and without their consent, the intervention triggered an IAC between the intervening states and Libya. Tristan Ferraro, ‘The ICRC’s legal position on the notion of armed conflict involving foreign intervention and on determining the IHL applicable to this type of conflict’, International Review of the Red Cross (2015), 1227, 1245-1247.
On 27 August 2011, Tripoli was officially in the hands of the thuwar forces, which meant a significant loss for the Gadhafi regime. At that moment, the only stronghold left for Gadhafi was Sirte. Heavy fighting occurred in September and October, which ended on 20 October 2011, when Gadhafi was killed and his regime was definitively overthrown. M. Cherif Bassiouni, Libya: from repression to revolution: a record of armed conflict and international law violations, 2011-2013 (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers 2013), pp. 181-184. This brought to an end the parallel NIAC and IACs that took place between Gaddafi's regime and thuwar forces, supported by several states and NATO.
Since the end of the Gadhafi regime, Libya has been plagued by political unrest and armed violence with competing legislative bodies, divided State security forces and multiple armed rebel groups. In August 2012, the National Transitional Council handed political control to the elected General National Congress (GNC). Originally the GNC mandate was due to expire in February 2014; however, the GNC decided to extend it until the end of 2014, decision that triggered protests in Libya. ‘Libya profile’, Timeline BBC, 09 April 2019.
On 14 February 2014, General Khalifa Haftar announced the establishment of the Libyan National Army (LNA), hoping that this would attract other plethora of militias in Libya, and declared that the interim government was suspended. Anas El Gomati, ‘Haftar’s Rebranded Coups’, July 30, 2019. In mid-May 2014, tensions reached a zenith when heavy fighting broke out in eastern Libya, including Benghazi, against Ansar Al Sharia. This explosion of violence came when General Haftar launched an operation called Operation Dignity against an alliance of Islamist armed groups, including Ansar al-Sharia, using helicopters, fighter jets and ground forces. C. Stephen, ‘Heavy Fighting Breaks Out in Libya as Troops Storm Militias in Benghazi’, The Guardian, 16 May 2014; ‘Rogue General’s Forces Attack Libya Parliament’, Associated Press, 18 May 2014; S. A. Kouddous, ‘In Libya, Fear of All-Out War as Islamist Militias Allied With Parliament Deploy in Capital’, The Washington Post, 22 May 2014. To counter this movement, different armed groups, led by the Misrata Brigades, joined hands in supporting the GNC and formed a coalition called Libya Dawn. The militias aligned with the General National Congress deployed in Tripoli. ‘Civil war in Libya’, Global Conflict Tracker, 15 June 2019; Wolfram Lacher and Alaa al-Idrissi, ‘Capital of Militias: Tripoli’s Armed Groups Capture the Libyan State’, Security Assessment in Northern Africa, Briefing Paper, June 2018, p. 5. These events let to ‘the eruption of full-scale civil war.’ Wolfram Lacher and Alaa al-Idrissi, ‘Capital of Militias: Tripoli’s Armed Groups Capture the Libyan State’, Security Assessment in Northern Africa, Briefing Paper, June 2018, p. 5.
After the contested elections of June 2014, a new legislative body, the House of Representatives (HoR), was supposed to replace the GNC in August 2014. However, part of the GNC, supported by armed militias, challenged the election results and reconstituted itself as a rival legislative body in Tripoli. Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), Government of Libya: Summary. Armed clashes between armed groups supporting respectively the GNC and the HoR escalated during June 2014 and led to the internationally recognised HoR convening in Tobruk instead of Tripoli, which remained under the control of the Libya Dawn coalition, a coalition of powerful militias supporting the GNC. Jose Serralvo, ‘Government Recognition and International Humanitarian Law Applicability in Post Gaddafi Libya’, Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law 2015, p. 9; Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), Government of Libya: Summary.
Despite this situation of chaos and instability, UN-backed negotiations led to the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), which created a new Government of National Accord (GNA) with the Presidency Council, an executive body that arrived in Tripoli in March 2016. International Crisis Group, The Libyan Political Agreement: Time for a Reset, Middle East and North Africa Report No.170, 4 November 2016, p. 10. However, since the HoR rejected the lists of ministers submitted by the Presidency Council, it was never integrated into the GNA, the internationally recognised government of Libya. Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), Government of Libya: Summary; ‘Report of the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya’, HRC, UN doc A/HRC/48/83, 1 October 2021. It is worth highlighting that the HoR based in Tobruk lost its status as the internationally recognized government following the creation of the GNA. Adding to the confusion, note also that the Libyan Supreme Court also invalidated the election on the basis of which the HoR was established, see Sari Arraf, Libya: A Short Guide on the Conflict, A. Bellal (ed.) The War Report 2017, Geneva Academy, p. 3.
The GNA, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, is recognized by the UN as ‘the sole legitimate government of Libya’ and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has called upon the Member States ‘to cease support to and official contact with parallel institutions that claim to be the legitimate authority but are outside the Agreement’. See Security Council resolution 2259 (2015), UN Doc S/RES/2259 (2015), 23 December 2015, § 3 and § 5; see also Security Council resolution 2376 (2017), UN Doc S/RES/2376 (2017), 14 September 2017.
As a result, since then power has been split between two rival governments, the GNA based in Tripoli and the HoR in Tobruk, each allied with different armed groups, among others the LNA on the side of the HoR. Moreover, the GNC continued to reside in Tripoli. As pockets of fighting have been bubbling up across Libya from mid-2014 onwards, NIACs between the forces supporting the two rival governments have been taking place in Libya. For an overview of developments since then, see Report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, UN doc S/2016/1011, 1 December 2016; H. al-Khoei, E. Geranmayeh and M. Toaldo, After Isis: How to Win the Peace in Iraq and Libya, Policy Brief, European Council on Foreign Relations; Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Libya, Including on the Effectiveness of Technical Assistance and Capacity-Building Measures Received by the Government of Libya, UN Doc A/HRC/34/42, 13 January 2017; and Security Council Press Statement on Libya, SC/13749, 26 March 2019. In September 2017, the United Nations proposed a new action plan with amendments to the 2015 Political Agreement, but it was unsuccessful. J. Irish, 'Unveiling New Libya Plan, U.N. Sees Opportunity for Peace', Reuters, 20 September 2017.
On 23 October 2020, after a prolonged period of violent confrontations between the GNA and LNA forces, allied to the HoR, a ‘permanent ceasefire’ agreement for the whole country was signed by both sides under the auspices of the UN. The aim of this ceasefire agreement was the formation of a unity government that would take office with a view to organising national elections and to implement the October 2020 ceasefire agreement. International Crisis Group, CrisisWatch, October 2020. The formation of this Government of National Unity (GNU) in March 2021 was the culmination of the less tense relationship between the GNA and the HoR. However, for classification purposes, this could not yet lead to a declassification of the NIAC between them, as this was a transition to a lasting solution, which did not exist at that time. The GNU has failed to organise elections in December 2021, which led to the militias supporting the GNU and former GNA being at odds again with the LNA/HoR since the end of December 2021. ‘Libya: tensions as armed groups mobilize in Tripoli’, UN News, 21 December 2021; ‘Libya’s parliament to appoint new PM amid rise in tensions’, Al Jazeera, 8 February 2022; ‘UN appeals for calm amid rising tensions in Tripoli’, Africanews, 11 March 2022. The fact that the two parties have come to be diametrically opposed again is also reflected politically in the HoR's appointment of a new PM Fathi Bashagha for the GNU, while the previous PM Abdulhamid Dabaiba vowed to remain in post until national elections are held. Tarek Megerisi, The man from Misrata: Why Libya has two prime ministers (again), European Council on Foreign Relations, 16 February 2016.
In parallel to the aforementioned conflict, both the government of Libya (first GNC, later GNA and finally GNU) and the LNA/HoR are also each engaged in a non-international armed conflict with the Islamic State (IS) and other armed groups notably the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC). In 2015 the Islamic State group took advantage of the security situation in Libya and gained control over several cities, including Benghazi and Sirte. Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), Libya: Summary. Since its establishment, BRSC is engaged in fierce clashes with the LNA over territorial control in the Oil Crescent region, as well as southern Libya. Report of the OHCHR, ‘Abuse Behind Bars: Arbitrary and unlawful detention in Libya’, April 2018, p. 19.
The different NIACs in Libya are mainly taking place within a struggle for power, following the implosion of the country after the toppling of Gadhafi. It is generally recognised that the main actors in these conflicts are, on the one hand, the GNA and, on the other hand, the HoR, militarily supported by the LNA. They fight each other with countless local militias, which can be assigned to one camp or the other. Mikael Eriksson and Elias Bohman, ‘The second Libyan Civil War: Security developments during 2016-2017’, Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), February 2018, p. 13. Furthermore, the Islamic State is party to NIACs in Libya. These actors and the armed conflicts they are party to will be analyzed in turn.
Libyan National Army (LNA)
As aforementioned, in February 2014 the LNA appeared on the scene. On 16 May 2014 General Haftar launched Operation Dignity, which was conducted by the LNA. While at first this operation was meant to target only Islamist groups, it led to the outbreak of a number of parallel NIACs between several armed groups. Indeed, it was not only the Islamists who felt threatened, but also other groups, who saw Operation Dignity as an attempt to shift the balance of power in Libya in favour of former Gadhafi officials. Accordingly, on 13 July 2014, these armed groups launched a counter offensive, known as Operation Fajr (Dawn), in Tripoli against the LNA. Nathaniel Barr and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. ‘Dignity and Dawn: Libya’s Escalating Civil War’, The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague 6, no. 1 (2015), p 10-11.
Operation Dignity immediately received strong support from a variety of Libyan army units and local militias, such as: ‘the Benghazi-based Saiqa; air force units operating from Gamal Abdul El Nasser Air Base near Tobruk; air force units at Benina, Benghazi’s dual-use airport; the Army of Barqa (Jaysh Barqa or Cyrenaica Defense Force); the Baraghitha tribal armed formations under the command of Ibrahim Waqwaq; ethnic Tabu fighters from the southern city of Kufra; and Tuareg in the southwest region of Ubari;’ and Zintani militias. Frederic Wehrey, Ending Libya’s Civil War: Reconciling Politics, Rebuilding Security (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2014), p. 20. Operation Dawn comprised of the Misrata-based Libya Central Shield Force (25.000 to 40.000 troops, 800 tanks and 2.000 machine-gun mounted vehicles), Islamist-aligned militias from Tripoli, the Knights of Janzour militia, various Berber militias, and a brigade from the town of Zawiya (west of Tripoli) that was commanded by hardline Salafist Sheikh Shaaban Hadiya. Wolfram Lacher and Peter Cole, Politics by Other Means: Conflicting Interests in Libya’s Security Sector (Geneva: Small Arms Survey, 2014), p. 51; Nathaniel Barr and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. ‘Dignity and Dawn: Libya’s Escalating Civil War’, The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague 6, no. 1 (2015), pp. 23-24.
Operation Dignity started with two days of air strikes in and around Benghazi, using MiG fighter jets and Mi25 attack helicopters. This was followed by a ground offensive with 6.000 troops clashing with Islamist forces, which in turn triggered retaliatory action by Islamist forces in Benghazi, who fired Grad rockets at Benina airport, an LNA stronghold from which airstrikes were launched. It was also reported that anti-aircraft artillery had been set up to counter LNA air attacks. Fighting in Benghazi further intensified on 23 May 2014, when Islamist militias fired rockets at the headquarters of the special unit of the Saiqa forces. Twenty civilians were wounded by a missile that missed its target. On 26 May 2014, Islamist forces bombed Benina Air Base from positions in Sidi Faraj. Mary Fitzgerald, ‘Libyan Renegade General Khalifa Haftar Claims He is Winning His War’, The Guardian, 24 June 2014; Nathaniel Barr and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross. ‘Dignity and Dawn: Libya’s Escalating Civil War’, The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague 6, no. 1 (2015), p 19; ‘Unknown attackers fire rockets at Benghazi’s airport – security source’, Reuters, 19 May 2014; “Rocket Attack Wounds 20 in Libya’s Benghazi”, News 24, 23 May 2014.
Operation Dignity and LNA also faced strong resistance in their operations in Tripoli. On 13 July 2014, Operation Dawn was launched to drive out Zintani militias who were aligned with General Haftar’s LNA and to gain control over Tripoli. The fighting was so fierce, forcing hundreds of families to flee, that the newly elected HoR, who was not in favour of Operation Dawn, decided to move to Tobruk. In November 2014, the Tobruk-based HoR endorsed Operation Dignity as an operation under the General Chief of Staff of the Libyan Army, Abd-al-Raziq al-Nazuri, which formally created two opposing centers of power: the HoR in Tobruk and the GNC, aligned with Operation Dawn, in Tripoli. It is important to note that General Haftar was appointed as Chief of Staff of the Libyan Army on 2 March 2015. Sari Arraf, ‘Libya: a short guide on the conflict’, A. Bellel (ed.), The War Report 2017, Geneva Academy, June 2017, p 3; Chris Stephen, ‘Libyan militia’s battle for Tripoli airport forces hundreds of families to flee’, The Guardian, 20 July 2014; Bill Humphrey, ‘Theoretical Implications of Moving the Libyan Government to Tobruk’, Arsenal for Democracy, 24 August 2014; Heba al-Shibani, ‘Militias turn Libya’s capital Tripoli into no-go zone for govt, travellers’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 August 2014; ‘HoR Says Operation Dignity Under National Army’, Libya Herald, 17 November 2014; ‘Libya Names Anti-Islamist General Haftar as Army Chief’, BBC News, 2 March 2015; Francesca Mannocchi, ‘Q&A: The two sides of Libya – Abdullah al-Thinni’, Al Jazeera, 12 August 2015.
Despite the UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), which ultimately failed, violence between the LNA and many other militias continued. Drawing its strength from a web of tribal alliances, Haftar’s LNA expanded its presence across central and eastern Libya, with the result that it controls about 70% of Libya's territory. A. Al-Warfalli, 'Libya's Eastern Commander Declares Victory in Battle for Benghazi', Reuters, 5 July 2017. For an overview of the developments in 2017, see Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, UN Doc S/2017/726, 22 August 2017; A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players, European Council on Foreign Affairs, 2016; Mikael Eriksson and Elias Bohman, ‘The second Libyan Civil War: Security developments during 2016-2017’, Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), February 2018, p 13. The LNA advanced into the capital Tripoli in April 2019, despite facing fierce resistance from armed groups loyal to the GNA. Libya profile – Timeline, BBC, 09 April 2019; International Crisis Group, Averting a Full-blown War in Libya, 10 April 2019; International Crisis Group, Stopping the War for Tripoli, Crisis Group Middle East and North Africa Briefing No.69 Tripoli/Brussels, 23 May 2019, p. 2. Between mid-April and mid-May 2019, the LNA repeatedly carried out air and drone strikes against armed groups inside Tripoli and nearby towns such as Zawiya and Tajoura and against pro-GNA fighters on the front lines. In turn, the GNA has used its own small air force to strike at LNA-held areas, such as Qasr Ben Gashir. ‘ACAPS Briefing Note: Libya – Escalation of conflict in the northwest’, ACAPS, 26 April 2019, p. 1; International Crisis Group, Stopping the War for Tripoli, Crisis Group Middle East and North Africa Briefing No.69 Tripoli/Brussels, 23 May 2019, p. 3; ‘U.N. report finds likely use of armed drone in Libya by Haftar or ‘third party’’, Reuters, 8 May 2019.
Acting Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Stephanie Williams, reported in a briefing to the UNSC on 19 May 2020 that, since the launch of General Haftar’s attack on Tripoli in April 2019, fighting had escalated ‘with an unprecedented increase in indirect fire in urban areas and a growing tide of suffering for civilians.’ At that moment, she stated that a million people were in need of humanitarian assistance including 400.000 internally displaced persons and 654.000 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. In addition, 201.000 Libyans had to flee from their homes as a result from the attack on Tripoli and experiencing almost constant bombardment and frequent water and electricity cuts. The fact that the fighting continues to be fierce is also shown by the fact that between 1 January 2020 and 30 June 2020, UNSMIL reported 489 civilian casualties (150 deaths and 319 injured). Furthermore, attacks on hospitals, such as the al Khadra Hospital, and on camps for internally displaced persons and migrants, such as the camp in the al-Furnaj district in Tripoli, are reported. Moreover, both sides continue to get foreign assistance both in terms of advanced weaponry and equipment as well as in terms of mercenaries. Stephanie Williams, ‘Briefing to the Security Council’, UNSMIL, 19 May 2020; ‘Report of the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya’, HRC, UN doc A/HRC/48/83, 1 October 2021, p. 6-9; ‘Civilian casualties report – 1 April-30 June 2020’, UNSMIL, 29 July 2020.
Despite some announcements of a ceasefire, the fighting continued throughout 2020, albeit less intense. Stephanie Williams, ‘Briefing to the Security Council’, UNSMIL, 2 September 2020. This was the result of the peace process set up by the UN and that resulted in a ceasefire agreement in October 2020, which included an agreement on the withdrawal of foreign forces, and the appointment of a new Government of National Unity (GNU) on 5 February 2021. Political tensions rise between the GNU and the HoR, aligned with the LNA. This led to a mobilization of forces in and around Tripoli in December 2021, to the concern of UNSMIL which stated that mobilization ‘could spiral into conflict.’ International Crisis Group, CrisisWatch, October 2020 – February 2022; ‘Why Libya’s election got postponed: A quick guide’, Al Jazeera, 23 December 2021; ‘Libyan parliament committee urges change of interim PM’, Al Jazeera, 24 January 2022.
In its quest for power and influence in Libya, the LNA faced not only the GNA, but also several armed Islamist groups with strong local roots, such as: the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council, the Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shura Council, the Derna Mujahidin Shura Council and Islamic State (IS).
Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council became one of LNA’s main opponents during Operation Dignity. It was founded on 20 June 2014 by some hardline Islamist groups who took advantage of the political vacuum that had engulfed Libya since 2011 to slowly increase their military capacity. It was a response to the launch of Operation Dignity by the LNA which was directed against the Islamist militias in Benghazi. The Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council managed to seize control of Benghazi in July 2014. Consequently, this became an Islamic caliphate that fiercely resisted the LNA. On 5 July 2017, the LNA liberated Benghazi and took over power after 3 years of heavy fighting. This is evidenced by the report of 13000 families being forced to flee from Benghazi and the 6666 destroyed properties in Benghazi as a result of the conflict. Mary Fitzgerald and Mattia Toaldo, ‘A quick guide to Libya’s main players’, European Council on Foreign Relations, 19 May 2016; Cameron Glenn, ‘Libya’s Islamists: Who They Are – Ad What They Want’, Wilson Cneter, 8 August 2017; Sari Arraf, ‘Libya: A Short Guide on the Conflict’, A. Bellal (ed.), The War Report 2017, Geneva Academy, p. 3; ‘Libya: Displaced Benghazi Families Prevented From Return’, Human Rights Watch, 1 February 2018; Kevin Truitte, ‘The Derna Mujahideen Shura Council: A Revolutionary Islamist Coalition in Libya’, Perspectives on terrorism, Volume 12, Issue 5, October 2018, p 6; Abdulkader Assad, ‘Municipality: War has damaged 6666 properties in Benghazi’, The Libya Observer, 4 January 2022.
Hostilities between the Derna Mujahidin Shura Council and LNA started in 2014, at the outbreak of Operation Dignity in Benghazi. Their home base, Derna, was therefore considered to be a center of resistance against the LNA. The city was repeatedly under siege from 2016 onwards. However, the main military campaign of LNA against Derna only started on 7 May 2018. In reaction, the Derna Mujahidin Shura Council dissolved, and a new armed group was formed: the Derna Protection Forces (DPF). Fighting between both sides was very intense. Tens of civilians have been killed as a result of the use of indiscriminate shelling and the use of landmines. UNSMIL reported that the hostilities have forced over 2000 families to flee the city. In February 2019, the LNA took control of the city. Mikael Eriksson and Elias Bohman, ‘The second Libyan Civil War: Security developments during 2016-2017’, Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), February 2018, p 15; ‘Libya: Haftar forces take control of entrance to Derna’, AA, 28 May 2018; Salem Al-Zubayr, ‘The War in Derna: What’s Happening Now, and What’s Next’, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, June 2018, pp. 2-4; Jason Pack, ‘Kingdom of Militias: Libya’s Second War of Post-Qadhafi Succession’, Italian Institute for International Political Studies, 31 May 2019, p 12; ‘Libya: After Prison Escape, Derna Residents Rounded Up’, Human Rights Watch, 8 March 2022.
In sum, on account of the frequency of armed attacks and armed confrontations, the number of casualties, the number of people forced to flee ongoing hostilities, and the types of weapons and military equipment utilized, the required degree of intensity has been reached since July 2014. The fighting has continued unabated and hence, LNA is involved in several non-international armed conflicts in Libya against at least GNA, Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council, the Derna Mujahidin Shura Council, and Islamic State (IS).
Government of National Accord (GNA)
The GNA was created by the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in December 2015. Although the HoR initially agreed to this new institution, of which it would be the legitimate legislative authority, it eventually sided with the LNA and opposed the GNA. Mary Fitzgerald and Mattia Toaldo, ‘A quick guide to Libya’s main players’, European Council on Foreign Relations, 19 May 2016.
While the GNA took the upper hand territorially from LNA in 2016, this changed completely over the course of 2017. The UN-backed government in Tripoli – the GNA –became unable to assert much real influence outside Tripoli and its immediate environs. The GNA had to rely on the support of local and tribal militia including militias from Misrata (such as the Misratan Third Force/13th Brigade), Tripoli-based Special Deterrence Force, Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, and Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG). Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), Government of Libya. Summary; Mikael Eriksson and Elias Bohman, ‘The second Libyan Civil War: Security developments during 2016-2017’, Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), February 2018, p 13. Since April 2017, there was an unprecedented escalation in violence in southern Libya, including air strikes from rival air forces, another indication of ongoing power struggles. Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), UN Doc. S/2017/466, 1 June 2017, §68.
The report of the UN Panel of Experts reveals that Al-Ghweil, PM of the GNA, challenged the Presidency Council’s attempts to constitute a Presidential Guard by creating the National Guard, composed of ‘anti-Government of National Accord’ armed groups from Misrata and Tripoli. Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), UN Doc. S/2017/466, 1 June 2017, §29. The creation of this unit led to a series of armed clashes in Tripoli. Armed groups supporting Al-Ghweil, such as the National Guard, the Al-Marsa al-Kubra Brigade and groups supported by the former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, clashed with groups from Tripoli, such as the Special Deterrence Force, the Abu Salim Brigade and the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade. Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), UN Doc. S/2017/466, 1 June 2017, para.29; Mikael Eriksson and Elias Bohman, ‘The second Libyan Civil War: Security developments during 2016-2017’, Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), February 2018, p 15. From 3 June 2017, the Zintan Military Council appeared to have switched allegiance to the Government of Libya; prior to this date, especially during 2014 and 2015, the Zintanis had been an important constituent part of the Forces of the HoR. Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), Government of Libya. Summary. The GNA declared a state of emergency in September 2018, after dozens of people were killed in clashes between rival militia groups in the city's southern suburbs. The conflict slumbered on and confrontations between GNA and other militias continued. For example, they continued to fight with LNA for control of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) and other regional oil fields. ‘Civil war in Libya’, Global Conflict Tracker, 15 June 2019.
As elaborated in the previous section, fighting between GNA and LNA intensified in April 2019 when LNA launched a military campaign to take control of Tripoli. The offensive faced strong resistance from the GNA affiliated fighters. The hostilities lasted 14 months and costed hundreds of lives. Ramy Allahoum, ‘Libya: The battle for Tripoli explained in 600 words’, Al Jazeera, 5 June 2020. Eventually, under the auspices of the UN, peace talks were initiated which culminated in the ceasefire agreement of October 2020. The GNA then handed over power to the GNU in 2021, but remained present in the background. After the failed elections in December 2021, tensions are rising again, possibly leading to the outbreak of direct confrontations between the GNA and the LNA. International Crisis Group, CrisisWatch, October 2020; Sami Zaptia, ‘Peaceful handover of power ceremony in Tripoli between outgoing GNA and incoming GNU’, Libya Herald, 16 March 2021; ‘Libya: tensions as armed groups mobilize in Tripoli’, UN News, 21 December 2021; ‘Libya’s parliament to appoint new PM amid rise in tensions’, Al Jazeera, 8 February 2022; ‘UN appeals for calm amid rising tensions in Tripoli’, Africanews, 11 March 2022.
The Islamic State in Libya
The Islamic State gained control of Sirte and Derna in 2014 and then took advantage of the existing vacuum situation in Libya at the time. In 2015, the presence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Sirte and Derna further complicated the situation as the group fights both the forces loyal to the GNA and the LNA. In 2016, for example, the Misrata militias, loyal to the GNA, suffered severe losses in confrontations against the IS in Sirte and Derna. Mikael Eriksson and Elias Bohman, ‘The second Libyan Civil War: Security developments during 2016-2017’, Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), February 2018, p 14-15; Mary Fitzgerald and Mattia Toaldo, ‘A quick guide to Libya’s main players’, European Council on Foreign Relations, 19 May 2016. The GNA led by Fayez al-Serraj was the recipient of warring support from the United States of America in its fight against the Islamic State in 2016 and 2017. This military action against ISIS was successful in driving them out of Derna and Sirte in 2016. Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), Government of Libya: Summary.
Subsequently, ISIS group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi urged them to make a stronger presence in Libya and get involved in the ongoing power struggle. In early 2017, several reports indicated that factions of ISIS fighters had been sighted around Sebratha and Sirte, despite having lost a significant proportion of their manpower. Furthermore, in July 2017 the Islamic State group was ejected from Benghazi after three years of fighting and in July 2018 Khalifa Haftar’s forces recaptured Derna, the last Islamist stronghold in the East and the only city in the region which hitherto remained outside his control. Mikael Eriksson and Elias Bohman, ‘The second Libyan Civil War: Security developments during 2016-2017’, Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), February 2018, p 15-16; ‘Libya profile – Timeline’, BCC, 09 April 2019. In January 2019, Khalifa Haftar also launched a new counterterrorism mission in Southern Libya which gave Haftar the opportunity to obtain greater territorial control in the area. Umberto Profazio, ‘Push for southern Libya tests ethnic ties and regional alliances’, 15th March 2019. They continue to claim regular attacks in 2020, 2021 and 2022, taking advantage of the continuing unstable political climate. Bureau of Counterterrorism, ‘Country Reports on Terrorism 2020: Libya’, U.S. Department of State; UNSMIL, ‘United Nations in Libya statement on the ISIL-claimed attack in Sebha City’, UNSMIL, 7 June 2021; International Crisis Group, CrisisWatch, January 2021.
On account of the frequency of armed attacks and armed confrontations, the number of casualties, the number of people forced to flee ongoing hostilities, and the types of weapons and military equipment utilized, the required degree of intensity has been reached since 2014. The fighting has continued unabated and hence, ISIS is involved in a non-international armed conflicts against the Libyan Government and its affiliated armed groups as well as in a NIAC with the HoR/LNA and their affiliated armed groups.
A series of indicative factors are used to assess whether armed groups exhibit the required degree of organization, such as the existence of a command structure and disciplinary rules and mechanisms, the ability to procure, transport, and distribute arms, the ability to plan, coordinate and carry out military operations, the ability to negotiate and conclude agreements, e.g. cease-fire or peace agreements. If the criterion of a minimum organization of the armed group is not fulfilled, there is no armed conflict. For further information, see 'non-international armed conflict - organization' in our classification section.
As presented above, myriad of factional armed groups are active in Libya since 2014. Their fluidity and their shifting allegiance to broader coalitions and umbrella groups hamper an assessment of the degree of organization of most individual groups and the broader collective alliance to which they belong. ‘Civil war in Libya’, Global Conflict Tracker, 15 June 2019. Moreover, the disintegration, internal rivalries, factionalism, and changing nature of the multitude of armed groups operating at the local level make it a delicate exercise. For detailed overview of the key armed players in Libya, see A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players, European Council on Foreign Affairs, 2016; and Wolfram Lacher and Alaa al-Idrissi, ‘Capital of Militias: Tripoli’s Armed Groups Capture the Libyan State’, Security Assessment in Northern Africa, Briefing Paper, June 2018. For instance, in its 2015 report, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights reported that ‘fighters have received little training and do not operate with the appropriate discipline, command and control systems. Those factors have contributed to the indiscriminate nature of the many attacks.’ Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Libya and on Related Technical Support and Capacity Building Needs, UN Doc A/HRC/28/51 undocs.org/A/HRC/28/51, 12 January 2015.
Nevertheless, the groups, alliances and their affiliates were able to sustain hostilities over a period of time, had access to heavy weaponry used in fighting, and at different times controlled territory. Since 2014, there were at least three different fronts in the armed conflict: a conflict between the government of Libya and the self-declared LNA and affiliated groups loyal to General Haftar; a conflict between the government of Libya and Islamic State groups; and a conflict between the LNA and other armed groups - including Derna Protection Force (DPF) and The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC). As indicated in the following paragraphs, some armed groups seem to have a hierarchical command structure and zones of operations, are able to recruit and train members, have the ability to speak in one voice and sign agreements (including cease-fire agreements, and other bilateral negotiations) and hence meet the organizational requirement for the purpose of conflict classification.
Libyan National Army (LNA)
The LNA is an armed group active in Libya and represents the most potent military force which incorporates certain officers from the previous regular Libyan army. Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), LAN. Summary. The LNA is also comprised of various tribal and regional-based armed groups. Led by General Khalifa Haftar, a former official of Muammar Gadhafi’s regime, the LNA emerged in 2014 after the launch of Operation Dignity against Islamist factions in Benghazi. Libyan National Army (LNA), Background. On 2 March 2015 Haftar was appointed by the HoR as chief of Staff of the Libyan Army. ‘Libya Names Anti-Islamist General Haftar as Army Chief’ BBC News, 2 March 2015. Armed groups and political actors across much of western Libya (and some parts of eastern Libya) do not recognise the LNA. Libyan National Army (LNA), Background. The LNA includes the Saiqa Special Forces, led by Wanis Bukhamada; the Omar al-Mukhtar Operations Room, which is fighting in Derna; and affiliated military units in the western and southern part of the country. Madkhalist and Salafist armed groups like the Tariq Ibn Ziyad Brigade and the al-Tawhid Brigade are also operating under its control. Libyan National Army (LNA), Background. The LNA was closely allied to the Zintan Military Council, which commanded a collection of militias from the town Zintan. Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), LNA. Summary. Most recent estimates indicate that the LNA is composed of about 12,000 fighters. Libyan National Army (LNA), Background; Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), LAN. Summary. The LNA and its affiliates remain aligned to the HoR and resist the new unity government (the GNA.) Since 2017 it extended its territorial control in southern and eastern Libya, notably by seizing Benghazi in July 2017. Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), UN Doc. S/2017/466, 1 June 2017, paras.68-73. Reportedly in March 2019, the Kani Brigade, which previously backed the GNA, joined the LNA, becoming the 9th Infantry Brigade. Kani Brigade, Background. As of July 2019, the LNA is on the outskirts of Tripoli, trying to assert control over the capital and to dislodge the internationally recognized GNA.
Derna Protection Force (DPF)
DPF was created in December 2014, following the merger of Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB), Jaysh al-Islami al-Libi (Islamic Army of Libya), and the Derna-branch of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya (ASL). Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), DPF, Summary. The Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC) includes several Islamist armed groups in the eastern city of Derna; the most prominent being the Abu Salim Brigade, an Islamist group founded by former members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), DPF, Summary. Following the rise of the Islamic State Group in Derna in 2015, the DMSC clashed with and ousted ISIS militants from the eastern city, imposing its rule on Derna. Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), DPF-Summary. In 2016, the LNA launched ‘Operation Volcano’ to take control of Derna. After the launch of the LNA’s final offensive to take control of the city in May 2018, the leader of the DMSC Atey al-Shaari announced the dissolution of the group and the establishment of the Derna Protection Force (DPF); ‘essentially a rebranding exercise aimed at sanitizing the DMSC and severing ties with Islamist groups’. Derna Protection Force (DPF):Background. The group has different training camps in Derna and the surrounding areas. Some of these camps have been targeted by Egyptian airstrikes in May 2017, as retaliation for the terrorist attack in Minya. Derna Protection Force (DPF):Background. In May 2018, DPF leader Al-Shaari announced that the group was willing to submit itself to the command of “Libyan army officers”, an apparent attempt to attract support from the Government of Libya in Tripoli; there was no indication that the Tripoli government acknowledged or accepted this offer. Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), DPF-Summary. Though in 2019 the LNA announced that Derna is under its full control, there are still some pockets of resistance in the city. Derna Protection Force (DPF):Background.
The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC)
The BRSC is an umbrella group established in 2014 to defend Benghazi against the ‘Operation Dignity’ launched by General Khalifa Haftar against Islamist factions in the city. It includes several groups, ranging from the revolutionary brigades – such as the February 17th Martyrs Brigade, the Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade and Libya Shield No.1, led by the prominent Islamist commander Wissam Ben-Hamid – to more extremist groups like Ansar al-Sharia Libya (ASL) or those with links to the Islamic State group. Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), Background. Recruitment by the BRSC from Misratah continued until at least January 2017. Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), UN Doc. S/2017/466, 1 June 2017, para.51. In December 2017, Haftar announced that the eastern city was under the total control of his forces. Since then, the group has been inactive, although sporadic terrorist attacks might indicate the continued presence of BRSC sleeper cells in Benghazi. Most of the BRSC militants ousted from the eastern city swelled the ranks of other Islamist-leaning groups, such as the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) and the DPF. Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC), Background.
The Islamic State and its affiliates in Libya
Some armed groups have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in Derna and Sirte. ‘Islamic State militants “seize Sirte airport”’, BBC, 29 May 2015; R. Jawad, ‘How Strong Is Islamic State in Libya’, BBC, 5 February 2015. The first signs of ISIS’ presence emerged in 2014 when the organisation gained a foothold in the eastern city of Derna. Affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in Libya, Background. Then, ISIS found more fertile ground in Sirte, which it had taken over by early 2015. Affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in Libya, Background; and Final Report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), UN Doc. S/2017/466, 1 June 2017, paras.42-47. Following clashes on the outskirts of Misrata in May 2016, the GNA launched an offensive to oust ISIS from Sirte. Misrata militias composed the backbone of ‘Operation Solid Structure (Bunyan Marsous)’, enabling to retake control, in December 2016, of the ISIS stronghold with the crucial support of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), which launched at least 495 airstrikes in Sirte. Affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in Libya, Background. The end of the battle of Sirte meant the end of the territorial dimension of ISIS in Libya. However, many ISIS militants managed to flee the city, heading towards the valleys nearby and regrouping. ISIS maintains a presence in the areas south of Sirte, between Bani Walid, Waddan and Jufra. Affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in Libya, Background. Despite conflicting reports about the number of ISIS militants in Libya, it is thought that the jihadist group maintains a considerable presence. According to a 2018 UN report on ISIS, al-Qaeda and associated individuals and entities, there are between 3,000 and 4,000 ISIS members across Libya. Affiliates of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in Libya, Background.
In relation to the intervention of foreign forces into the conflict in Libya, the UN’s envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame has recently stated that Libya has become ‘a textbook example of foreign interference today in local conflicts. ‘UN envoy: 'Libya a textbook example of foreign intervention', Middle East Monitor, 23 May 2019. In 2019, a military adviser in General Khalifa Haftar’s forces revealed that Egyptian, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and French military forces, as well as security advisers, are currently present in eastern Libya, to support Haftar’s campaign against Tripoli and protect oil fields from attacked by government forces. ‘Libya minister accuses 2 Arab states of bombing Tripoli’, Middle East Monitor, 29 April 2019.
Upon the invitation of the UN-backed Government of Libya (GNA), the United States launched a sustained air operation against the Islamic State group in Libya on 1 August 2016 to drive the group out of its stronghold Sirte. Previously, the United States had already conducted isolated airstrikes against Islamic State group targets in Libya. S. Ackerman, C. Stephen, E. MacAskill, ‘Us Launches Airstrikes Against ISIS in Libya’, The Guardian, 1 August 2016. For the question who has the authority to invite a foreign state to use force in case of contested legitimacy, see the Classification section. The intervention took place with the consent of Libya and thus does not change the classification of the conflict against the Islamic State group as non-international. For further information on the relevance of consent, see 'contemporary challenges - relevance of consent' in our classification section. The validity of the consent can be questioned as there are competing governments in Libya. For a discussion on the possible effects of government recognition on conflict classification, see Jose Serralvo, ‘Government Recognition and International Humanitarian Law Applicability in Post Gaddafi Libya’, Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law 2015, pp.3-39; and Marco Sassoli, ‘The Concept and Beginning of Occupation’ in Clapham A, Gaeta P, Sassoli M (eds) The Geneva Conventions: A Commentary. Oxford University Press, Oxford, p.1406. However, the GNA is internationally recognized including by the UNSC as the sole legitimate government of Libya and thus considered to be capable of providing valid consent. See e.g., Security Council resolution 2259 (2015), UN doc S/RES/2259 (2015), 23 December 2015, § 3 and 5: see also Security Council resolution 2376 (2017), UN doc S/RES/2376 (2017), 14 September 2017. There are reports suggesting that American, British, French and Italian Special Forces had taken part in operations against ISIS in Libya, although their numbers have been much reduced since Sirte was retaken from the Islamists. Kim Sengupta, ‘With Libya on the Brink of another civil war, foreign powers are already jostling for the spoils’, The Independent, 8 April 2019.
Although the United States announced an end to its air campaign after the eviction of the Islamic State group from Sirte in December 2016, further airstrikes were carried out in January 2017. United State Africa Command, AFRICOM Concludes Operation Odyssey Lightning, 20 December 2016; E. Schmitt and M. R. Gordon, ‘U.S. Bombs ISIS Camps in Libya’, The New York Times, 19 January 2017. For detailed information on United States’ airstrikes in Libya, see the information collected by Airwars, a non-profit organization that tracks international airstrikes against the Islamic State group. Also in November 2017, the United States carried out a series of precision airstrikes against the Islamic State group. According to the United States, the strikes were carried out in coordination with the GNA. E. Schmitt, '17 ISIS Fighters Reported Killed as U.S. Ends Lull in Libya Airstrikes', The New York Times, 24 September 2017; 'U.S. Carries Out Air Strikes Against Islamic State in Libya', Reuters, 22 November 2017. See also the press releases issued by the US Africa Command on September 24; September 28; and November 21; and 'A. Plaw and A. Pilch, 'Can Airstrikes Alone Tackle Islamic State in Libya?', Terrorism Monitor, Volume 16-2, 26 January 2018. The US still continues to carry out air strikes against Islamic State-affiliated groups and other groups such as Al Qaeda in southern Libya in coordination with the GNA. ‘US targets Al Qaeda in Libya air strike’, TRT WORLD, 14 February 2019. Hence, the United States is a party to non-international armed conflict by virtue of these airstrikes. For further information on who is a party to an armed conflict, see 'contemporary challenges - who is a party?' in our classification section.
Turkey supports the GNA, supplying drones, weapons and trucks to boost its efforts in the ongoing conflict with General Haftar's forces, which control most of the east and south of Libya. ‘Turkey threatens Libyan strongman Haftar as six citizens detained’, 30 June 2019. It is also reported that groups fighting against Haftar recently received a high-profile delivery of Turkish-made BMC Kirpi armoured trucks and other weaponry from Turkey. Tarek Megerisi, ‘Libya’s Global Civil War’, European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Brief, ECFR/ECFR/291, June 2019, pp.14-15. It was claimed that the Turkish aircraft ‘provided air cover’ and bombed LNA positions in the fight for Gharyan, a strategic town south of the capital, which is now centred by the GNA. ‘Libya: Haftar bans flights, boats from Turkey’, Aljazeera, 20 June 2019. Following this incident, Major General Ahmed al-Mesmari, spokesperson of the LNA, told reports that ‘orders have been given to the air force to target Turkish ships and boats in Libyan territorial waters,’ and that ‘Turkish strategic sites, companies and projects belonging to the Turkish state (in Libya) are considered legitimate targets’. ‘Libya: Haftar bans flights, boats from Turkey’, Aljazeera, 20 June 2019. Moreover, it was indicated that drones made in Turkey have been playing a significant role in Tripoli front line; and there are also persistent rumours that Turkish personnel are operating the vehicles and training Libyans. Tarek Megerisi, ‘Libya’s Global Civil War’, European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Brief, ECFR/ECFR/291, June 2019, pp.14-15. It was also reported that Turkey sent over hundred officers and two thousand Syrian militants to Libya in support of the GNA. Bethan McKernan and Hussein Akoush, ‘Exclusive: 2000 Syrian fighters deployed to Libya to support government’, The Guardian, 15 January 2020; ‘Factbox: Who’s involved in Libya’s war and why’, Reuters, 29 May 2020; Kali Robinson, ‘Who’s Who in Libya’s War?’, Council on Foreign Relations, 18 June 2020. Based on these facts, it could be concluded that Turkey is a party to the non-international armed conflict between GNA and LNA in support of the former.
Egypt launched airstrikes against the Islamic State group and other Islamist groups in Libya in 2014, 2015 and 2017 in response to the killings of Coptic Christians. Egypt supports the self-declared LNA of General Haftar and it does not appear that the GNA consented to these airstrikes. See Maggie Michael, ‘Egypt warplanes hit Libya militias, officials say’, AP News, 15 October 2014; A. Aboulenein, 'Egypt Launches Air Raids on Libya After Christians Killed', Reuters, 25 May 2017; J. Malsin and C. Stephen, 'Egyptian Air Strikes in Libya Kill Dozens of Isis Militants', The Guardian, 17 February 2015. On the relevance of consent see 'contemporary challenges for classification - relevance of consent' in our classification section. On the threshold for international armed conflict, see 'international armed conflict - a low threshold' in our classification section. If undertaken without consent, which appears to be the case, these airstrikes amount to short-lived international armed conflicts between Libya and Egypt. In parallel, when conducting these strikes, Egypt was arguably involved in a NIAC against the Islamist groups it targeted in support of the LNA. Nevertheless, since 2017, there have been no public reports concerning continued military support from Egypt to the LNA, other than providing weapons and political support, and hence it would be doubtful whether Egypt’s involvement continues to meet the threshold required to qualify it as a party to a NIAC in Libya. Tarek Megerisi, ‘Libya’s Global Civil War’, European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Brief, ECFR/ECFR/291, June 2019, pp.5-6.
France officially recognises the GNA, and as recently as September 2018, France publicly supported the GNA ‘as the sole legitimate government of Libya, with Prime Minister Fayez Serraj as the leader of the Presidency Council’. ‘The Conflict in Libya, Testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism’, United States Institute of Peace, 15 May 2019. At the same time, among European states it is the most openly supportive of Haftar, and has maintained close relations with him since 2015. International Crisis Group, Stopping the War for Tripoli, Crisis Group Middle East and North Africa Briefing No.69 Tripoli/Brussels, 23 May 2019. France has reportedly been providing decisive military support to Haftar’s LNA since 2015. Karim Mezran and Arturo Varvelli eds., Foreign Actors inside Libya’s Crisis. Milan: Italian Institute for International Political Studies, 2017, p.67; Paul Taylor, ‘France’s double role in Libya: In backing a warlord, Paris may be dealing itself a losing hand’, Politico, 17 April 2019. It has deployed advisers and Special Forces to the east of Libya, as publicly acknowledged in July 2016 after three French Special Forces soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash near Benghazi. ‘France admits special forces soldiers killed in Libya’, RFI, 20 July 2016; Guma el-Gamaty, ‘Libya conflict: Is France an honest broker?’, Middle East Eye, 28 May 2018. It is reported that France has provided the LNA with military advisers, clandestine operatives, and special force units – elements not provided to the GNA. France has not denied its support for Field Marshal Haftar but instead has suggested that its support is not in favour of one Libyan faction over another. ‘Testimony of Thomas Hill on the Conflict in Libya (3)’, Libya Tribune, 08 June 2019.
In addition, France blocked EU efforts to condemn Field Marshal Haftar’s military assault on the GNA on Tripoli and instead called for a ceasefire but not the withdrawal of LNA forces. Gabriela Baczynska and Francesco Guarascio, “France blocks EU call to stop Haftar’s offensive in Libya.” Reuters 10 April 2019. In turn, the GNA has recently notified that it will no longer engage in bilateral discussions with France. ‘Libya’s UN-backed govt accuses France of supporting Haftar, ends cooperation’, France24, 18 April 2019. On the basis of these reports, and if the personnel deployed by France to support the LNA is undertaking actions related to the conduct of hostilities, France may be involved in one or several non-international armed conflicts in Libya in support of LNA. Provided that France’s military involvement in the territory of Libya takes place without the consent of the government of Libya (the UN-backed GNA), a parallel IAC would exist between Libya and France. The GNA denounced a violation of the sovereignty of Libya as reported in “How the West’s silence emboldened Libya’s Haftar”, France 24, 6 April 2018,
United Arab Emirates
Since 2014, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been strengthening Haftar’s military capabilities, as well as his political support base and international standing. Tarek Megerisi, ‘Libya’s Global Civil War’, European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Brief, ECFR/ECFR/291, June 2019, p. 7; Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), UN Doc. S/2017/466, 1 June 2017, para. 132. The UAE is providing Haftar with a variety of military equipment, including armoured personnel carriers and even aircraft. Tarek Megerisi, ‘Libya’s Global Civil War’, European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Brief, ECFR/ECFR/291, June 2019, p.7; ‘Libya missile strikes point to possible UAE role: UN report’, 6 May 2019. UAE has also built facilities at al-Khadim airbase, near the north-eastern Libyan city of Marj and Haftar’s headquarters at el-Rajma, which is being used to deploy Wing Loong drones that were vital to Haftar’s military successes in Benghazi and Derna, and to his further efforts to maintain control over eastern Libya. Tarek Megerisi, ‘Libya’s Global Civil War’, European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Brief, ECFR/ECFR/291, June 2019, p.7; ‘UAE supports Haftar’s offensive against Tripoli ‘militias’, Middle East Monitor, 3 May 2019.
It is also reported that the UAE has tasked a U.S. private military firm with operating a squadron of aircraft in Libya, to help Haftar maintain battlefield superiority and gain control of more territory. Since Haftar began his advance on Tripoli, there have been series of UAE-linked drone strikes on Tripoli. Tarek Megerisi, ‘Libya’s Global Civil War’, European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Brief, ECFR/ECFR/291, June 2019, p.7. It is reported that the UAE deployed six IOMAX AT-802U Air Tractors and three Wing Loong II drones at Al-Khadim airfield in al-Marj in eastern Libya in 2016. Arnaud Delalande, ‘Forces on the Libyan ground: Who is Who’, Italian Institute for International Political Studies, 28 May 2018. Moreover, the UAE has been accused of backing the LNA on the front line, providing strategic advice and targeting assistance to facilitate precise airstrikes. Tarek Megerisi, ‘Libya’s Global Civil War’, European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Brief, ECFR/ECFR/291, June 2019, p. 8. Following a report by the UN experts investigating missile strikes (‘a Blue Arrow air-to-surface missile’) near Libya's capital which points to possible involvement by the UAE, the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a short statement to say that it ‘denied ownership of weapons found in the Republic of Libya’. Declan Walsh, ‘United Arab Emirates Denies Sending American Missiles to Libya’, The New York Times, 2 July 2019. As a result of these direct support which contributes to LNA’s collective conduct of hostilities and thus directly impacts on the GNA’s military operations, the UAE has been a party to the pre-existing non-international armed conflict between these forces and al-Shabaab under the ‘support-based approach’ proposed by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Since 2014, there have been widespread reports that Russia has provided military assistance to Haftar in the form of advisers, training, and the maintenance of Russian weaponry through the Wagner Group- a private military contractor. Tarek Megerisi, ‘Libya’s Global Civil War’, European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Brief, ECFR/ECFR/291, June 2019, p. 11; and ‘Russia's growing intervention in Libyan civil war’, TRTWORLD, 7 March 2019. Recently, there have been rumours of a Russian military presence in Haftar controlled areas such as the oil crescent, which Moscow may have deployed to benefit from illicit sales and Haftar’s forward operating bases in western Libya. Tarek Megerisi, ‘Libya’s Global Civil War’, European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Brief, ECFR/ECFR/291, June 2019, p. 11. In August 2021, a BBC investigation revealed links between the Wagner Group and the Russian military. Ilya Barabanov and Nader Ibrahim, ‘Wagner: Scale of Russian mercenary mission in Libya exposed’, BBC, 11 August 2021. However, it seems to be premature to conclude that the Wagner Group acts by instruction of Russia. If this would be the case, this Russian involvement in Libya in support of the LNA and causing harm to the GNA would make it a party to the armed conflict under the support-based approach of the ICRC. Nevertheless, from the publicly available information, it is difficult to conclude that Russia’s involvement in Libya in support of LNA would make it a party to the armed conflict.
In addition to providing this material support, Russia blocked on 7 April 2019 a UNSC statement intended to voice opposition to Haftar’s offensive; which suggests that Russia is now coming down harder on his side. Tarek Megerisi, ‘Libya’s Global Civil War’, European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Brief, ECFR/ECFR/291, June 2019, p. 11. However, recently, Russia’s deputy foreign minister in charge of Middle Eastern affairs, Mikhail Bogdanov, argued that Russia is not taking sides on the Libyan conflict. Yacqub Ismail, ‘Russia’s Endgame in Libya’, International Policy Digest, 08 April 2019.
Libya is a party to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions. All parties to the conflict are bound by Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions that provides for the minimum standard to be respected and requires humane treatment without adverse distinction of all persons not or no longer taking active parts in hostilities. It prohibits murder, mutilation, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, hostage-taking and unfair trials. Libya is also a party to Additional Protocol II applicable to non-international armed conflicts. However, Protocol II does not apply between armed groups. All parties are bound by customary international humanitarian law applicable to non-international armed conflicts. Customary international law consists of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on an extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database on customary international humanitarian law. In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of armed conflict. Under human rights law, the territorial state has an obligation to prevent and to investigate alleged violations, including by non-state actors. Non-state armed groups are increasingly considered to be bound by international human rights law if they exercise de facto control over some areas.
- United States of America
- United Arab Emirates
A myriad of armed groups are active in Libya. While some of them are nominally under the authority of the government, they enjoy broad autonomy. A series of armed groups operate and control detention facilities. Many armed groups have local strongholds and are part of shifting and fluid broader collective alliances. Below is a list of the major armed actors in Libya:
- Libyan National Army
- Derna Protection Force (DPF)
- The Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC)
- Islamic State group