Libya: the war for the Mediterranean

GNA fighters in Libya

Nearly a decade after NATO’s 2011 onslaught on Libya the war it unleashed threatens to draw in the whole Mediterranean. Already Turkey is militarily committed on the side of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), which has political support from Libya’s former colonial master – Italy – and increasingly Britain and the US. Russia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are militarily committed to the opposition to the GNA, the rival ‘House of Representatives’ government and General Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA). These forces have covert French military support, and Egypt has threatened open intervention to oppose ‘Turkish occupation’. Libya is of crucial strategic importance, situated at the heart of the Mediterranean, adjacent to major underwater gas fields and containing Africa's largest proven oil reserves (OPEC, 2019). The country has become an arena where regional powers struggle to carve out a new order amid the fracturing of NATO and the decline of US imperialist power. TOBY HARBERTSON reports.


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Totalitarian, arbitrary and brutal: Libyans count the cost of NATO war

As Libya heads towards a decade of virtual statelessness, anarchy and humanitarian catastrophe in the wake of the imperialist war of 2011, European leaders have convened a series of emergency summits to try and resolve the crisis. With UNICEF warning of a ‘dire and untenable situation’, there has been no let-up in the fratricidal war between two rival governments representing external interests. Mercenaries are flooding the country while imperialist and regional reactionary politicians stake their claims to prop up their own version of a neo-colonial regime. Ordinary Libyans and African migrants are paying the harshest price for the destruction of the Libyan state.


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Libya: a wasteland created by imperialism

Despite talks in December 2018 between Libya’s two rival governments, bombings and gangland killings continued into 2019, as a UN report described the ‘unimaginable horrors’ of life for migrants. In the eight years since the NATO-led invasion in March 2011, Libya has been turned from a postcolonial state into an anarchic wasteland, fought over by warlords, slave owners, imperialist politicians and oil corporations. Britain’s MPs voted 557 to 13 for the war. They include current Labour Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry. Now British, EU and US-backed forces are stoking the fires of barbarism.


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Libya: The legacy of NATO’s war

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In March 2011, the British Parliament voted to intervene in Libya, opposed by only 15 MPs. Labour ‘left veteran’ Diane Abbott is among those who voted for bombing, as is the current Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith. The legacy of the 2011 NATO war on Libya was thrust back onto the news agenda in May 2017. On 22 May 2017 a British-Libyan, inspired by the Islamic State (IS), carried out an horrific suicide bomb attack at a Manchester pop concert killing 23 people and injuring more than 100. Two days later, 30 people, mainly young children, drowned off the Libyan coast after falling from a small wooden boat carrying 700 people. Together these events illustrate the disastrous legacy of NATO’s war to overthrow the government of Muammar Gaddafi.


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Libya - imperialist puppet government invites imperialist intervention

Five years on from the brutal 2011 NATO assault on Libya, the country is in chaos. There has been no functioning state since the fall of Gaddafi’s government. The Islamic State group (IS) has taken advantage of the chaos. The borders have collapsed, and the country is now a centre of human trafficking, significantly contributing to the flow of migrants to Europe. The exploitation of Libya’s plentiful natural resources – including Africa’s largest oil reserves – has been complicated by the chaos. IS controls 12 major oil fields. There are two governments in Libya which have been fighting for power for more than a year – the House of Representatives (HoR), supported by the Libyan National Army, based in the east and led by Khalifa Haftar; and the General National Congress (GNC) based in the capital Tripoli, and backed by an alliance of militias called Libya Dawn. Many other regional militias, not aligned to either government, also hold swathes of territory. For the European and US imperialists, their war in Libya has not gone to plan.


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Libya war looms

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

Since NATO-led forces overthrew the government of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011 Libya has been torn to pieces by rival militias presiding over separate fiefdoms. Now a coalition of militia and other forces headed by former general Khalifa Haftar intends to crush their rivals: full scale civil war threatens. On 16 May Haftar’s forces attacked jihadist militias in Benghazi using war planes and helicopters; over 70 people were killed and 141 injured. Two days later forces loyal to Haftar attacked the parliament building in Tripoli. Haftar said he was fighting terrorism. Parliament’s leader, Nouri Abu Shamein, called on jihadist militias to repel the attack.


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Libya: oil output collapses

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

The activities of militias and striking workers have reduced Libya’s oil output from 1.4m barrels a day at the start of 2013 to 200,000 barrels in August. As a consequence, Libya’s government and foreign oil companies such as Total, Eni, Marathon Oil, ConocoPhilips and Repsol are losing $100m a day in revenues. Most of Libya’s main oil export terminals were closed in early August by guards paid to protect them. Oil pipelines have been sabotaged. Now the oil multinationals are saying that they plan to sell up and leave Libya.


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Libya: Creating a monster

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013

On 2 April 2013 HMS Kent docked in Tripoli harbour, the first visit to Libya by a Royal Navy warship in 40 years. It hosted a UK Trade and Investment event which saw 11 UK businesses – including BAE, Thales and Babcock International – vie to secure lucrative security contracts. Over 100 Libyan military personnel were in attendance, including the heads of all five armed services and the police. Naval Commander Ben Ripley praised the ‘thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding visit’ and its ‘potential wider benefits for the UK’. On 10 May the British embassy evacuated all non-essential staff from its Tripoli premises, issuing a joint plea for calm with the French and US governments amid political instability sweeping the country – the newly-established US marine unit at Moron Air Base in southern Spain and an AFRICOM special-ops force based in Stuttgart, were both placed on heightened alert. Imperialism has opened Pandora’s box in Libya; it must deal with the consequences.


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Libya: descent into chaos

FRFI 230 December 2012/January 2013

Libya no fly zone 007

A year on from the murder of Colonel Gaddafi Libya has descended into chaos and reaction, which this paper predicted when imperialism launched its attack in March 2011. Housing projects begun under the Gaddafi-led government remain incomplete as ‘foreign contractors refuse to return to a land essentially ruled by shadowy gunmen... The country is earning $1bn every ten days from oil revenues but lacks the administrative capacity to spend it’ (Financial Times 11 October 2012). Apart from security firms, foreign businesses have not arrived, the Chinese have not returned and there is no investment. There is no centrally controlled refuse collection in Tripoli, pensions are unpaid and schools go without books. Libya’s borders are battle zones between rival smuggling gangs. Trees planted as brakes on the spreading Sahara desert are chopped down for their timber.


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Libya: turned backwards

Those who celebrated the removal of the previous Libyan government should read two recent reports. Amnesty International visited 11 detention centres in Libya. In its report Militias threaten hopes for new Libya Amnesty says, ‘Militias in Libya are largely out of control and the blanket impunity they enjoy only encourages further abuses and perpetuates instability and insecurity.’ The most gruesome tortures are recalled, committed in front of Amnesty staff. ‘Not a single effective investigation is known to have been carried out into cases of torture, even in cases where detainees have died after having been tortured at militia headquarters or in interrogation centres formally or informally recognised or linked to the central authorities.’ Some 8,000 people are still missing after the NATO-led war on Libya and over 8,000 former government supporters are in prisons run by militias, many have been murdered.


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Libya torn

As we foresaw, Libya is being rent apart by internal divisions and outside powers competing for spoils from the NATO-led overthrow of the Gaddafi government. On 21 January 2012 thousands of demonstrators stormed the offices of the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Benghazi, accusing it of corruption, delaying reforms and favouring former Gaddafi loyalists. The following day NTC deputy leader Abdel Hafiz Ghoza resigned. The demonstrators accused Ghoza of being a latecomer to defect from Gaddafi. NTC leader Mustafa Jalil said that Libya risks entering ‘a bottomless pit’, adding that ‘hidden hands’ were behind the demonstrations. Some demonstrators demanded that sharia law be instated. Their protest was matched by an Islamist demonstration in Tripoli.


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Libya: the vultures circle

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 224 December 2011/January 2012

NATO said it was going to stop a massacre and then committed one. It has left Libya torn apart between over 50 armed militias; gangs launch frenzied hunts for former government supporters. Black African men, women and children have been rounded up, imprisoned, lynched and disappeared. Meanwhile, the Financial Times devotes an entire page – ‘In a ruinous state: reconstructing Libya’ – to the business opportunities that the devastation offers (18 November 2011).

NATO flew approximately 28,000 sorties, averaging almost 133 a day for nearly eight months, and killed between 50,000 and 70,000 people. Sirte, a town of 100,000 people, is almost deserted and looks like Hamburg after the Allies’ firestorm bombing in July 1943. The murder of Colonel Gaddafi on 20 October was an act of depravity. In Socialist Worker (29 October 2011) the reactionary Alex Callinicos wrote, ‘the West’s role in the dictator’s downfall shouldn’t stop us celebrating.’ Callinicos compares Gaddafi to Mussolini, who like the Italian fascist, was, he says, killed by ‘popular militias’.


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Alex Callinicos asks us to celebrate NATO’s war on Libya

Black Libyan African woman protests at treatment by the NTC in Tripoli’s Martyr’s Square
Photo: Black Libyan African woman protests at treatment by the NTC in Tripoli’s Martyr’s Square

The 29 October edition of Socialist Worker carries an article by the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) leading member Alex Callinicos entitled ‘West’s role in the dictator’s downfall shouldn’t stop us celebrating.’ Callinicos compares Colonel Gaddafi to the Italian fascist Benito Mussolini and says that Gaddafi, like Mussolini, was killed by ‘popular militias’, adding ‘we should have no qualms in joining the Libyan people’s celebrations of their tyrant’s demise’. Callinicos celebrates along with NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen who described the war on Libya as ‘a successful chapter in NATO’s history’ creating ‘a new Libya based on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law’, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said, ‘We came, we saw, he died’, then laughed.


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NATO war on Libya - Eyes on the prize

FRFI 223 October/November 2011

NATO bombing cleared the path to Tripoli. NATO planned to escalate the bombing to an ‘unbearable’ level. Approximately 30,000 bombs and missiles were dropped on Libya in six months; nearly 200 bombs per day. Estimates of the numbers of Libyan people killed are between 50,000 and 60,000. All this was done in the name of United Nations Resolution 1973 ‘protecting civilians’. When forces allied to the National Transitional Council (NTC) entered Tripoli on 21 August, they were accompanied and directed by British, French and other foreign military personnel. This was no victory for the Libyan people. Thus far it is a victory for NATO and imperialism. Trevor Rayne reports.

The World Bank recognised the NTC as the legitimate representative of Libya on 13 September. The UN gave the NTC Libya’s UN seat on 16 September. China and Russia recognised the NTC in early September and on 20 September the African Union issued a statement of recognition, accompanied by an appeal that African migrant workers be protected. With all these official blessings it might go unnoticed that the NTC has been unable to announce a cabinet. The previous NTC cabinet was dissolved on 8 August following the assassination of the NTC’s military chief, General Younes, presumably by an Islamic group that he used to suppress before he defected from being head of the Libyan government’s security forces.


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False victory in Libya


In Libya we are witnessing the premeditated murder of a nation by British, French and US imperialism. The people have not won in Libya; any victory will be that of NATO, the oil companies and imperialism.

We are shown the opponents of the Libyan government celebrating in the Green Square; we are not shown their white European advisers and the British and French mercenaries that guided them to Tripoli. We are shown the NATO-backed rebels ransacking the Bab al-Aziza compound; we are not shown the 144 NATO airstrikes that reduced the compound to rubble before the rebels arrived.

Anti-government forces entered Tripoli on 21 August. The following day the share prices of BP and Royal Dutch Shell rose and have continued to rise. ENI, the Italian multinational oil company with the largest stake in Libya, had its shares leap by 7%. ENI’s boss was to meet the head of the anti-government Transitional National Council (TNC) to discuss restoring oil production.


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Libya: resistance exposes divisions in NATO strategy

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 222 August/September 2011

What was intended as a show of NATO strength is turning into a demonstration of division and weakness. The attackers thought it would take a few weeks to overthrow the Libyan government but the war is now into its fifth month with no victory in sight. The imperialists are negotiating with the government but require a concession on Colonel Gaddafi’s role to save face. Trevor Rayne reports.

From 31 March to 18 July NATO flew 15,669 sorties over Libya, an average of 128 a day, and 5,902 strike sorties when bombs and missiles were launched, 48 per day. By 13 July the Libyan government said that NATO had killed 1,108 civilians in and around Tripoli and wounded 4,537 others. That is, on average, nine civilians killed and 39 wounded each day for 122 days.


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100 days of war on Libya


26 June will mark one hundred days of NATO’s war on Libya. It began with 112 cruise missiles fired from US and British submarines on 19 March 2011. Since then, NATO forces, led by Britain and France, have made 12,070 sorties on Libya, an average of over 120 per day, including 4,569 strike sorties in which missiles and bombs were launched, almost 46 a day. By 26 May the Libyan ministry for health said 718 civilians had been killed and 4,067 wounded; that is, over 10 civilians killed on average per day and 58 wounded. It has cost the British state over £250 million, while it slashes benefits and public services. The working class has every reason to oppose the war, yet there is hardly any opposition to the war in Britain or France.

What we get are articles saying that Libya is ‘turning into the best shop-window for competing aircraft for years’. For example, ‘the Typhoon and Rafale up against each other’, and now the Apache takes on the French Tiger and Gazelle helicopter gunships and British and French ex-special forces mercenaries demonstrate their services to potential buyers.


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Libya: imperialists prepare to break the stalemate


The letter signed by US President Obama, British Prime Minister Cameron and French President Sarkozy published on 15 April 2011 is a statement of their intention that imperialism will remain dominant in North Africa and the Middle East. They say, ‘Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good,’ and thereby intend to demonstrate their power militarily, politically and symbolically by imposing regime change on Libya. Dressed-up in the language of humanitarian intervention, this is naked, brutal rule by armed force.

The three leaders state, ‘The city of Misrata is enduring a medieval siege as Gaddafi tries to strangle its population into submission.’ Typical of the ruling class media has been The Independent (17 April 2011) which carried the headline ‘Misrata becomes Libya’s Stalingrad.’ There are claims that cluster bombs have been fired on Misrata’s people, the Libyan government denies doing this, and we have been shown television coverage of children and others wounded in Misrata’s hospitals and people fleeing the city by boats. On 18 April the Canadian head of NATO’s Libyan operations accused Libyan government forces of taking off their uniforms and ‘hiding on rooftops of mosques, hospitals, schools, that’s where their heavy equipment is positioned’. In the context of a military stalemate between the Libyan government and its opponents, the media coverage can be construed as propaganda preparations for some form of NATO and European ground force intervention. There is no coverage of the use of depleted uranium weapons by the NATO forces and no scenes of suffering in Tripoli’s hospitals recorded for our television screens.


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Imperialist Hands off Libya

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 220 April/May 2011

An immense revolt has risen up across North Africa and the Middle East. Millions of people have taken to the streets to challenge corrupt dictatorships. They are fighting not only rotten local ruling classes, but the entire hold of capitalism and imperialism over their lives. Revolt is the people’s answer to the international capitalist crisis. From Tunis to Bahrain, from Cairo to Sana’a the shout has gone up ‘Enough!’ Their revolt places imperialism in peril. We see in Egypt, Libya and Bahrain how the British ruling class will connive and fight to keep its hold on the region – a region crucial to its power for over 150 years. Workers in Britain are under attack from the same class that wields its armies against the people of North Africa and the Middle East. We must join the revolt against capitalism and imperialism. The risen Arab people are changing the world!


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Carving up Libya


On 31 March the US government announced it would stop its aerial assault on Libya in two days’ time. The head of Britain’s RAF told The Guardian on 4 April that they were planning for six months’ of operations over Libya. While the NATO allies are divided over methods and ends in their war on Libya, neither the Libyan government nor its opponents within Libya seem capable of overcoming the other. With the opposing forces apparently in stalemate, the British government despatched a diplomatic mission to Benghazi, presumably to direct the opposition forces in any forthcoming negotiations.

Evidence of civilian casualties caused by NATO bombs and missiles is increasing. On 30 March the BBC reported that a NATO airstrike had killed seven civilians, mostly children. A team of Russian doctors described how bombs had damaged a hospital in Tripoli and killed dozens of people. The Vatican’s representative in Libya confirmed bomb damage to hospitals and reported some 40 civilian deaths.


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Hands off Libya! Oppose chauvinism!


The general leaning towards barbarity acquires a certain method, immorality becomes a system, lawlessness gets its law givers and club law its law books.' Karl Marx.

British Prime Minister David Cameron announced the start of Operation Odyssey Dawn on 19 March 2011 with the words: ‘We are doing what is necessary, legal and right.’ 112 cruise missiles were fired at Libya from US and British naval vessels. French and British RAF fighter airplanes flew from bases in their home countries to bomb Libya. This is the 46th separate British military operation in the Middle East and North Africa since the Second World War and it was sanctioned by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 proposing ‘all necessary measures’ to stop the Libyan government attacking their opponents.


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Imperialist hands off Libya!

To those in Benghazi and in the British press like The Guardian, who today applaud the UN vote to impose a no-fly zone  'and all necessary measures' to protect civilians in Libya, let them recall Amiriya, Baghdad, on 13 February 1991. In the name of the no-fly zone the US fired missiles on a bomb shelter, incinerating over 400 people, many of them children. The US said they thought that the shelter was a military command site. It had been used as a bomb shelter for some years previously during the Iraq-Iran war. NATO planes enforced a no-fly zone on the former Yugoslavia. Many civilians were killed by cluster bombs - 'anti-personnel devices' as they were called - dropped on Serbia and Kosovo. In Afghanistan wedding parties, funeral processions, even children gathering wood on a hillside for their families, are all targets for US and NATO war planes. Imperialist hands off Libya!


The European and US public have been prepared by the mass media to accept a foreign military intervention in Libya, should the imperialists consider it necessary or opportune. Libya possesses Africa’s largest known oil reserves. Any military intervention will have these as its objective, although it would be conducted under the pretexts of rescuing US or European workers and stopping the appalling bloodshed in Libya. Sanctions have already been imposed and the imposition of a no-fly zone is under consideration; these are preparations for a full blown military intervention as in the former Yugoslavia (1993-95) and Iraq (1991-2003).

On 26 February 2011 the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on the Libyan government for ‘gross and systematic violation of human rights’. The text was drafted by Britain and France. Sanctions include a travel ban on Gaddafi, his family and close associates, a freeze on assets and an arms embargo. The UN calls on the International Criminal Court to investigate suppression of anti-government protesters. In Benghazi attempts are underway to form a rival government.


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