The Libyan Civil War, also referred to as the Libyan Revolution or the 17 February Revolution, was an armed conflict fought between forces loyal to Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and those seeking to oust him. After 41 years of authoritarian rule, Gaddafi was overthrown on October 20, 2011. Immediately afterwards, the National Transitional Council (NTC) “declared the liberation of Libya” and the official end of the war. In July 2012, Libya’s transitional government handed over authority to the newly elected General National Congress (GNC); the GNC faced numerous challenges including the September 2012 attack by Islamist militants on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the spread of the Islamic State and other armed groups throughout the country.
Two authorities initially claimed to govern Libya: the Council of Deputies in Tobruk and the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli. After UN-led peace talks between the Tobruk and Tripoli governments, a unified interim UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) was established in 2015, and the GNC disbanded to support it.
There is a significant portion of Libya that is under neither government’s control, and instead has been seized by militant Islamists, terror groups and tribal militias. Many Libyan citizens have been forced to flee to neighboring countries or to make the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
In September 2018, the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) declared a state of emergency in Tripoli. The Libyan National Army (LNA), which is not backed by the UN or recognized as the legitimate seat of government by the international community, launched Operation Flood of Dignity in April 2018, which is ongoing and has killed an estimated 500 people so far. Attempts to establish a unified government have been largely unsuccessful as the House of Representatives (backed by the LNA) and the GNA continue to struggle for power.
Primary Terrorist Presence in Libya –
The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) is a militant Sunni movement that rose out of Iraq, and has now expanded with territories in western Iraq, eastern Syria, and Libya. It has been listed by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization since December 2004. The Libyan branch was formed in November 2014. ISIS has been based in Libya since 2015 but no longer controls territory there. It aims to prevent the reunification of a Libyan state, secure control over the country’s critical resources and establish an Islamic caliphate in Libya (CIA World Factbook).
Ansar al-Sharia was listed as a foreign terrorist organization in February 2014. The Libyan branch of this organization has been involved in terrorist attacks against civilian targets, frequent assassinations, and attempted assassinations of security officials and political actors in eastern Libya. It was also involved in the September 11, 2012 attacks against the U.S. Special Mission and Annex in Benghazi. It officially disbanded in June 2017, but fighters and local elements remain present and mainly aim to implement sharia in the area (CIA World Factbook).
Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is headquartered in Algeria but operates in Tunisia and Libya as well. In January 2019, Eastern Libyan Forces killed Abu Talha al-Libi, a senior commander in AQIM (Reuters).
Other Groups Engaged in the Conflict:
The Libyan National Army (LNA) under General Khalifa Haftar, a military officer formerly loyal to the late Muammar al-Qaddafi. Haftar has raised an army in eastern Libya and his latest march on Tripoli is the culmination of his five-year-long effort to make himself Libya’s leader (Council on Foreign Relations). The U.S. government has publicly supported him but not Operation Flood of Dignity.
Human Rights, Humanitarian and Refugee Crises:
Approximately 1.1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance according to the 2018 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO), with limited or no access to basic commodities and essential services.
IOM and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identified access to health care services and safe drinking water as urgent humanitarian needs among conflict-affected populations in northern Libya (December 2017).
The UN Refugee Agency estimates that approximately 1.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Libya (October 2017).
Libya has seen a massive influx of refugees from war-torn countries, including Syria, as they attempt to make their way across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe (July 2017).
Libya in Recent News
- Trump Backs Libyan Warlord After Saudi Arabia and Egypt Lobbied Him, Wall Street Journal (May 12, 2019)
- Libyan Military Advances Get European Backing, Politico (May 10, 2019)
- Trump Changed U.S. Policy Toward Libya. This is Why it Matters, Washington Post (May 3, 2019)
- Libya Timeline Since Qaddafi’s Ouster, United States Institute of Peace