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US military enters the fray in Libya to push for elections, exit of foreign forces | Habib Lassoued


TUNIS–Washington has abandoned all its previous reservations and fully entered the Libyan fray to the point of appearing as the main actor in the settlement process, as it presses for the withdrawal of mercenaries and the unification of the army.

In an unprecedented development, the Libyan Joint Military Committee “5 + 5” (JMC) held its first meeting in  the capital, Tripoli, in the presence of US Army General Stephen Townsend, commander, US Africa Command (AFRICOM), in Tripoli and US ambassador Richard Norland, who also serves as US special envoy to Libya. Moreover, the importance of the meeting was increased because five LNA officers are members of the JMC and this was a first open meeting between LNA representatives and the Americans.

The US embassy in Libya described the meeting as “a historic step in bringing Libyans together, particularly in the security sphere.”

“The United States remains committed to facilitating full implementation of the October ceasefire agreement, the full withdrawal of all foreign forces and fighters, as well as the full unification of Libyan military institutions” the US embassy added on Twitter.

Experts said that the meeting highlighted changes in the American role in Libya. Washington is clearly signalling its fully-fledged return to Libya and saying that it insists on the implementation of all the terms of the military agreement concluded on October 23, 2020 and the political deal reached at the Political Dialogue Forum held in Tunisia last November.

Washington confirmed its insistence on the elections being held on their scheduled date of December 24, after the US congress voted by a large majority, September 28, for the “Libya Stabilisation Act”, which stipulates that penalties shall be imposed on individuals who contribute to violence in Libya.

The law also provides for the punishment of those who deploy mercenaries, support militias and violate the arms embargo imposed by the United Nations.

The Act requires the US President to impose sanctions on individuals hindering stabilisation efforts, violating human rights, looting state assets or natural resources and committing war crimes and violating the arms embargo imposed by the United Nations.

It calls on the United States to take a more active role in resolving the conflict, supporting humanitarian assistance, democratic governance, civil society, future elections and improving the financial management of the Central Bank and the National Oil Corporation.

The Act urges the US Agency for International Development to provide humanitarian assistance to individuals and communities in Libya, including health assistance, food, shelter and support for an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The former Vice-President of the Presidential Council of the Government of National Accord, Ahmed Maitig, said, “the US Congress affirmed its support for achieving stability in Libya by approving the stability law.”

Maitig added, that the vote aims to ensure “the success of the elections at the end of December 2021, the unification of institutions and the completion of national reconciliation”.

Participants to the Tripoli meeting, including General Towsend. (US embassy Tripoli)
Participants to the Tripoli meeting, including General Towsend. (US embassy Tripoli)

Libyan researcher, Jamal Shallouf, head of the Silvium Foundation for Research and Studies said he was reserved about the meeting being held at the Mitiga base in the capital, Tripoli, “which is controlled by militias,” and was secured by AFRICOM forces, unlike previous meetings that were held at the committee’s main headquarters in Sirte, which were secured by members of the Libyan National Army. But more important than those aspects, he added, are the announced results, particularly in relation to setting a timetable for the departure of foreign fighters from the country.

Libyan analysts believe that the United States was able to overcome an important psychological barrier, by sponsoring the first meeting of the Joint Military Committee in Tripoli, which paves the way for other meetings in cities in the west of the country, which is still under the control of armed militias. This clearly indicates that Washington does not see an alternative to dialogue between the main protagonists and the unification of the military institution.

Its outlook on the LNA is largely positive, analysts point out, especially in regard to the war on terrorism and securing the sources of wealth, despite its misgivings about over its links to the Russians. But it is equally reserved about the Tripoli authorities’ acceptance of the continued presence of Turkish troops and mercenaries in Libya.

A member of the Joint Military Committee “5 + 5” representing the Libyan National Army, Lieutenant-General Faraj Al-Sawa’, said that the committee’s meeting in Tripoli with US officials was positive.

He added in press statements that the meeting directly addressed the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libyan territory and confirmed the date of the presidential and parliamentary elections at the end of the year.  He revealed that Haftar had ordered, before handing over his duties, as commander-in-chief of the army, the withdrawal of military forces from the city of Sirte, as a goodwill gesture and confidence-building measure towards resolving security problems.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya welcomed the meeting of the “5 + 5” joint military committee in Tripoli.

“This meeting is yet another strong message of unity by the JMC and an indication of strong coordinated efforts, ” it said.

Observers indicate that there is progress on the ground. Najwa Wahiba,  the spokeswoman for the Presidential Council, indicated there are likely to be moves regarding the exit of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya, considering that  their presence “is unacceptable and must end sooner or later.”

The military agreement as well as US and UN positions do not exclude the Turkish forces present in western Libya from call for all foreign troops to leave Libya.  Their exit has become a prerequisite for unifying the military institution and achieving national reconciliation.

Libyan analysts in the capital, Tripoli, told the Arab Weekly that “the US position has frustrated the the hopes of the Prime Minister of the National Unity Government, Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, to extend his term in office and also forced him to accept the timetable for the exit of foreign forces and mercenaries, after all attempts to change the direction of Washington’s positions have failed.”



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