Anyone pondering the influence of intelligence services on the modern world would do well to keep one eye on events in Libya. Since Western forces assisted with the removal of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, they have pretty much abandoned the country to anarchy. The United Nations has been trying to establish the basis of democratic government in the capital Tripoli and elections were planned for the near future. But now a new threat has arisen.
A warlord from Benghazi, General Khalifa Haftar, has ordered his forces to advance on the capital and they have been able to gain ground rapidly. There is already fighting in the suburbs and foreign agency staff are being evacuated. The only functioning international airport at Mitiga has been closed following air strikes. Haftar has announced that he is trying to eradicate “terrorism” in what has now become a standard war cry in the Middle East when one faction moves against another – especially if you hope to get Western support.
Haftar is an old ally of the CIA. He was originally an ally of Gaddafi, but after they fell out, he worked with the CIA to try to overthrow his old boss. For many years he was based in Virginia, not far from the CIA headquarters. When Gaddafi was overthrown, Haftar returned to his old home town of Benghazi. He retained his contacts with the CIA who appear to have supported him with funds and intelligence. They encouraged him to work against the Muslim factions based there. Benghazi is at the centre of Libya’s oil industry and America has been concerned that Muslims militants might get access to Libya’s oil wealth. In 2014, Haftar launched “Operation Dignity” and successfully drove Muslim forces from the oil producing region. This move broadly had the support of the central government who also saw the Muslims as a threat.
But now, under the Trump administration, America is concerned that Muslims may acquire influence in the UN-backed administration in Tripoli. America is also concerned about Russian and Saudi influence. Never a fan of the United Nations, all the signs are that the Trump administration has now decided that what they need is a “strong man” who can take control of the country and who will be a lot easier to direct than a democratic assembly. They hope that Haftar will also allow American companies access to the considerable Libyan oil reserves. Publicly, America is calling for an end to hostilities and the opening of negotiations. But behind the scenes, the CIA is doing nothing to help the UN-backed government in Tripoli to survive.