The legitimate government of Libya accuses France of supporting the military leader, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs denies.
The tone goes up between France and Libya. The Elysee attacked Thursday night the Minister of the Interior of the Libyan national unity government, which had accused France of supporting the “criminal Haftar”, the name of the marshal whose forces launched early April an assault on the capital Tripoli.
These are accusations “completely unfounded”, replied the French Presidency. On the ground, the situation is not so clear.
Fight against jihadists
Everything starts in 2014. Two years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the situation in Libya is becoming more and more sensitive. Al-Qaeda jihadists are seizing parts of the territory, while the fall of Mosul in Iraq signals the rise of Daesh expansionism in the region.
At that time, Marshal Khalifa Haftar appeared on the ground in Libya. This former friend of Gaddafi was finally one of the leaders of the Libyan rebellion that led to the departure of the former dictator. At the head of his own army, Haftar manages to rally various tribes to fight Islamist jihadists.
“France was panicked by the situation and it needed a partner on the spot, at the time Haftar was a small actor and it is quite defensible to come and help him win against Al-Qaida,” says Jalel Harchaoui, researcher at the Clingendael Institute and expert in the region.
In early 2016, a Libyan national unity government (GNA) is set up under the auspices of the UN. This GNA settles in Tripoli, in the West, while Marshal Haftar and his troops control the east of the country, including the city of Benghazi. His first military victories on the ground will allow Haftar to gain credibility in the eyes of foreign countries, including France.
Military and political support
French support first takes on a military aspect. “There are no French soldiers fighting in Libya, but there are military advisers on site who provide assistance with surveillance techniques or targeting of strikes, for example,” says Jalel Harchaoui. In July 2016, France was forced to recognize its role after the death of three members of the French Special Forces in a helicopter crash in the east of the country.
“Haftar took advantage of its security results to build its political project,” says the specialist. “France’s accession to Haftar gave it political and military legitimacy, made it more acceptable on the international scene and encouraged it in its military campaign”, also pointed out in May 2018 in the Middle East Eye magazine the Libyan researcher Guma El-Gamaty, saying that this support “is mainly the work” of the current Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was during the five-year Netherlands in charge of Defense. “Drian is very pragmatic,” adds Jalel Harchaoui.
To bring about a peace agreement in Libya and stabilize the country, the international community is urging the two rivals, GNA Prime Minister Fayez el-Sarra and Marshal Haftar, to sit down at the negotiating table. This is how the two leaders meet twice in France at the invitation of Emmanuel Macron, since the election of the latter, in July 2017 and May 2018.
“We are witnessing a real civil war”
But no agreement is found and the holding of elections in Libya is postponed from month to month. The situation degenerates on April 4, with the assault launched by the Libyan National Army Marshal Haftar on Tripoli and the west of the country. “There is a real civil war, which obviously makes the atmosphere very tense and emotional,” says Jalel Harchaoui.
And while the international community is failing to pass a resolution at the UN to stop the fighting, the Quai d’Orsay assured that it had “sent the message [to Haftar] that there had no military solution “and” that we had to negotiate “.
Last week, France had reaffirmed that it had no “hidden agenda” to put Haftar in power, to which it “will not recognize any legitimacy” if it takes control of Tripoli by arms. Without raising all doubts so far.