Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK's future policy options Contents

3Future policy

93.Following the general election in 2014, Libya was governed by two competing administrations, one of which, the General National Congress (GNC), was based in Tripoli in the west and the other one of which, the House of Representatives (HOR), was based in Tobruk in the east. When the HOR was ejected from Tripoli in 2014, it lost control of key state institutions such as the National Oil Corporation. In response, the HOR created parallel institutions in the east. This left Libya with two competing national oil companies, which has restricted oil exports, economic growth and tax revenues.193

94.Militias associated with the two administrations have fought an intermittent civil war across Libya since summer 2014. The consequent collapse of internal security and the rule of law engendered ongoing humanitarian, economic and migration crises.194 In addition, various tribes, independent militias and ISIL took advantage of the absence of central government to seize control of portions of Libyan territory.

Government of National Accord

95.The United Nations attempted to address the fragmentation of authority in Libya by brokering the formation of a single Government of National Accord (GNA). The FCO submitted written evidence to our inquiry in September 2015. It stated that the then United Nations Special Representative, Bernardino León, was hoping to “reach agreement between the participants of the political dialogue in time to allow a new Government of National Accord (GNA) to be formed by 20 October 2015.”195

96.The FCO was overly optimistic in its assessment that the GNA would be appointed by October 2015. The Libyan Political Agreement, which detailed the settlement establishing the GNA, was signed in December 2015 following extensive negotiations.196 However, the formation of the GNA was contingent on ratification by the HOR, which retained legislative, appointment and scrutiny functions under the Libyan Political Agreement.197 At the time of writing (September 2016), however, the HOR has not held a vote to ratify the GNA, despite having made several promises to do so.198 When we visited North Africa in March 2016, we heard that some HOR Deputies were boycotting proceedings, that others were unwilling to attend due to the personal danger and that at least one Deputy had been kidnapped. Those barriers to the ratification of the GNA are indicative of the deep political, tribal and religious divisions in Libya.

97.Despite the HOR’s failure to hold a vote on ratification, the United Nations recognised the GNA as the sole legitimate government of Libya in December 2015.199 The GNA conducted its initial meetings in Tunisia, because it was too dangerous for it to meet in Tripoli due to the threat from local militias. In March 2016—six months after the deadline highlighted by the FCO—GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and some of his Ministers relocated to Tripoli, where they assumed control of some Government Ministries.200

Migration: Economic migrants and refugees

98.The lack of effective government in Libya after 2011 weakened border controls and undermined the rule of law. People traffickers exploited this failure of government by smuggling migrants through Libya and across the Mediterranean. The FCO told us that

trafficking networks operating across Libyan territory are mostly criminally controlled and have thrived in the absence of strong central authority. People smuggling is currently perceived within Libyan political circles as a low priority, and is seen by many Libyans as a “Western” problem. The migrants themselves are often subject to violence and abuse, and arbitrarily held in detention centres.201

99.Most migrants who cross the Mediterranean from Libya intend to travel to Italian territory. When it became apparent in 2013 that a migrant crisis had developed in Libya, Italy implemented border patrols and a search and rescue service under a national programme called Operation Mare Nostrum. This scheme was withdrawn in 2014.202 The European Union border control agency FRONTEX assumed responsibility for border patrol functions in November 2014 under Operation Triton.

100.Operation Triton was initially less well resourced than Operation Mare Nostrum. Between October 2014 and April 2015, Operation Triton involved the expenditure of 3 million euros a month on an operation which extended 30 miles from the Italian coastline; Operation Mare Nostrum involved the expenditure of 9 million euros a month on an operation that covered 27,000 square miles of the Mediterranean.203 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) calculated that 30 times as many migrant deaths occurred between January and April 2015 under Operation Triton compared with the same period in 2014 under Operation Mare Nostrum.204

101.The then Minister of State, FCO, Baroness Anelay of St Johns set out the UK Government’s position on Operation Triton in October 2014:

We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. We believe that they create an unintended “pull factor”, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths.205

In line with Baroness Anelay’s statement, the UK contribution to Operation Triton entailed the deployment of a single debriefing officer to Italy in November 2014.206

102.Hundreds of migrants transiting from Libya to Italy drowned in shipwrecks in April 2015.207 In response, the Government abruptly reversed its position on Operation Triton and deployed HMS Bulwark and three helicopters to the Mediterranean. The UK currently deploys “two Border Force patrol vessels” to support Operation Triton.208 In addition, the UK contributed Royal Navy frigates to Operation Sophia, an ongoing EU mission “which focuses on understanding the criminal networks behind the boats.”209

103.The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that some 1 million migrants were present in Libya in June 2016. This estimate comprised 425,000 internally displaced Libyans, 250,000 non-Libyan migrants and 250,000 returnees.210 Most non-Libyan migrants travelled from West Africa, the Horn of Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. The most common countries of origin for non-Libyan migrants were Niger, Egypt, Chad, Ghana and Sudan.211 Between 1 January and 31 May 2016, 47,851 migrants arrived in Italy after crossing the Mediterranean from Libya. A similar number of migrants attempted the crossing over the same period in 2015. Despite the increased resources committed to Operation Triton, however, crossing the Mediterranean is becoming increasingly hazardous for migrants transiting through Libya. The IOM recorded 2,061 migrants as dead or missing between 1 January and 31 May 2016, which showed a 15% increase in fatalities compared with the same period in 2015.212

104.People smugglers have reportedly used search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean to facilitate people trafficking.213 The international community has a duty to rescue migrants in international waters. That means that if people smugglers can ship migrants into international waters, they can contact search and rescue services, which will rescue the migrants and transport them to Europe. Addressing irregular migration across the Mediterranean will require long-term solutions that include the disruption of the business model of people traffickers who seek to profit by exploiting migrants. The establishment of a national authority that can effectively police Libyan territorial waters and turn boats back to Libyan ports is a critical objective. However, it would be unrealistic to hope for the success of such efforts in the short term, because control of the Libyan coastline is contingent on effective nationwide government by the GNA.

105.The FCO must set out and re-examine the evidence base underpinning its assertion in October 2014 that “planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean … create an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing”. It must also assess whether planned search and rescue operations encouraged migrants to cross the Mediterranean in the first half of 2016 in the light of people smugglers’ current methods of operation in relation to international search and rescue. It should support Italian and wider European efforts to secure the agreement of countries of origin to accept, where possible, the repatriation of irregular migrants who have arrived in Europe but do not meet asylum criteria, as well as the need to tackle the main factors fuelling the desire to migrate. Given its role in the conflict and subsequent destabilisation in Libya, the UK has a particular responsibility in relation to migrants and refugees, an issue which has been exacerbated by the collapse of the Libyan state.

Internal security

106.The maintenance of internal security is both a precondition of and obstacle to effective national government in Libya. Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director-General, Royal United Services Institute, pointed out that despite the formation of the GNA

there will not be a single Libyan security force for some time to come. It will be a decentralised state in terms of security provision; a number of different militias in different places…you would still find a large part of the energy of the various different militias and official army focused on defending against each other.214

Professor Joffé commented that

you may well be able to constitute a new institution, and you may even be able to populate it, but until it controls security, it is an irrelevance. How it is going to control security, I really cannot see, partly because of the resistance of General Khalifa Haftar, and also simply because of the existing militias…They are still extremely resistant to any question of external control.215

107.Khalifa Haftar is the commander of the Libyan National Army, which is a relatively well trained and equipped Libyan militia. Despite its name, the Libyan National Army is associated with the HOR in Tobruk. The GNA apparently exerts no control over Khalifa Haftar, who has fought Islamist groups and other militias in Libya since 2014. Khalifa Haftar reportedly encouraged his supporters in the HOR to boycott proceedings to ratify the GNA.216

108.In August 2016, the Libyan National Army clashed with another militia, the Petroleum Facilities Guard, around the Zueitina oil terminal.217 The Petroleum Facilities Guard is associated with the National Oil Corporation based in Tripoli. The oil infrastructure at Zueitina is key to Libya’s oil economy. The Governments of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the United States issued a joint statement of concern on 10 August 2016.218 The statement emphasised that

control of all facilities should be transferred unconditionally and without preconditions or delay back to the legitimate national authorities recognised as such by UN Security Council Resolution 2259. All parties [should] refrain from hostilities and avoid any action that could damage or disrupt Libya’s energy infrastructure…Restoring oil exports is vital to generating revenues that can provide for the essential needs of the Libyan people, including electricity, healthcare, and infrastructure. It is in the interests of all Libyans that they fully support the efforts led by the GNA to provide these key services to the Libyan people.219

109.The GNA can only govern effectively if it controls the militias, but the militias can only be controlled by an effective government. Jonathan Powell told us that that Catch 22 situation is a function of progress on the security track falling behind progress on the political track.220 The challenge for the international community is to identify and promote policies that simultaneously facilitate internal security and political reconciliation.

110.During our inquiry we explored other constitutional options including a return to the monarchy. This idea received occasional but far from universal support from Libyan interlocutors. This proposition has also been floated by Libyans such as the former Foreign Minister Abdel Aziz.221 However, this concept faces profound challenges. The fragility of the carefully crafted process towards a unified government does not need distractions. The immediate crisis means that the international community must focus on establishing the authority of the GNA.

111.The United Nations has brokered the formation of an inclusive Government of National Accord (GNA). Stable government is the sine qua non for the resolution of Libya’s ongoing humanitarian, migrant, economic and security crises. However, regional actors are currently undermining the GNA by flouting the United Nations arms embargo and using Libyan militias as proxies. The GNA is the only game in town. If it fails, the danger is that Libya will descend into a full-scale civil war to control territory and oil resources. The international community must support the United Nations and the people of Libya by uniting behind the GNA; the alternative is political fragmentation, internecine violence, economic collapse and even more human suffering.

ISIL in Libya

112.The FCO told us that “Political instability in Libya has led to a permissive environment for terrorist groups in which to operate, including ISIL affiliated groups”.222 Professor Patrick Porter, Professor of Strategic Studies at the University of Exeter, agreed with the FCO analysis, stating that “a lack of effective government is creating opportunities for the Islamic State.”223

113.Beginning in late 2014, ISIL took advantage of governmental weakness to seize territory and bases in Sabratha, Derna and Sirte. Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director-General, Royal United Services Institute, estimated ISIL manpower at between 3,000 and 6,000 fighters, many of whom are not Libyan. However, he added that

Islamic State seems to be encouraging its supporters in North Africa to go to Libya now, rather than to Syria and Iraq, so the trajectory is probably upwards, but it is still relatively small and weak in strength compared with the accumulation of all the other Libyan armed forces.224

114.Libyan militias initially appeared relatively unconcerned by ISIL’s presence on the ground. The Guardian’s Libya Correspondent, Chris Stephen, told us that ISIL has

inserted themselves, particularly in Sirte, between the two factions…where there is a sort of no man’s land…it is not an existential threat for those two sides. They are more worried about each other. For them, ISIS is a nuisance, but it is not a threat to their future.225

115.In that context, Khalifa Haftar is keen to establish his credentials as a friend of the West and an enemy of ISIL, which he might hope would grant him a similar status with the West to that of the Kurdish Peshmerga. He has commented that “If the international community supports us, and I ask it to do so by lifting the embargo on weapons, then we could eliminate Daesh in Libya definitively and quickly.”226 Khalifa Haftar’s rhetoric in relation to ISIL has not been matched by his actions. In August 2016, for example, he reportedly moved his forces towards an oil refinery which is key to controlling Libya’s oil wealth but which is unrelated to ISIL’s current operations.227

116.ISIL has used its presence in Libya to train terrorists. For example, Sefeddine Rezgui, the gunman who killed Western holidaymakers in Tunisia in June 2015, was trained by ISIL at its base in Sabratha along with the two gunmen who killed 22 tourists at the Bardo museum in Tunis.228 ISIL’s plans may extend beyond terrorism. Vice-Admiral Clive Johnstone, a Royal Navy officer and NATO commander, commented that

We know they [ISIL] have ambitions to go offshore … There is a horrible opportunity in the future that a misdirected, untargeted round of a very high quality weapons system will just happen to target a cruise liner, or an oil platform, or a container ship.229

117.While defeating all manifestations of violent extremism should remain a UK Government priority, the primary objective in Libya should be to support a central authority that can deliver greater stability, address the root causes of extremism and act as an effective partner in the common struggle against militant groups.

Arms embargo

118.The United Nations imposed an embargo on exporting arms to Libya in 2011. That embargo still applies, but it has not been universally observed.230 For example, the United Arab Emirates reportedly supplied Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army with trucks, armoured vehicles and ammunition in April 2016.231 Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director-General at the Royal United Services Institute, highlighted

the division between those who are more aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and those who are not. That brought in external actors from both sides in the Arab world, from Turkey and Qatar on the one hand and Egypt and the UAE on the other. That struggle has gone through periods when it has been relatively quiescent in security terms, and then since 2014 it has become more open.232

119.The provision of political and military support by regional actors to competing local factions has prolonged and intensified internal conflict in Libya.233 GNA Prime Minister Serraj has claimed that external interventions after 2011 led Libya to its current ruinous state. He pointed out that “All states must work only with legitimate institutions according to the Libya Political Agreement.”234 On 16 May 2016, a meeting of Foreign Ministers from 21 countries, the EU, the UN, the Arab League and the African Union issued a joint statement affirming their “commitment to ceasing support to and official contact with parallel institutions. The GNA is the sole legitimate recipient of international security assistance.”235 Signatories must ensure that their foreign policy is in line with the joint statement.

120.In June 2016, the United Nations Security Council belatedly recognised the effect of illegal arms shipments to Libya by authorising the EU to extend the terms of Operation Sophia [see paragraph 102] to include inspection “on the high seas off the coast of Libya, vessels bound to, or from Libya which they have reasonable grounds to believe are carrying arms or related material to or from Libya”.236 The Security Council Resolution was jointly introduced by the UK and France.

121.Regional actors have destabilised Libya and are fuelling internal conflict by exporting weapons and ammunition to proxy militias in contravention of the United Nations arms embargo. We welcome the Anglo-French initiative in the United Nations Security Council to extend the remit of Operation Sophia to include the inspection of suspicious vessels travelling to Libya. The FCO must continue collaborating with United Nations, European Union and NATO partners to maintain the arms embargo and work to influence states in the region to cease arms exports to Libyan militias.

Direct military support

122.The UK could directly support the GNA with British combat troops. British Special Forces have reportedly been deployed to Libya, where they apparently engaged in frontline combat in May 2016.237 It is difficult to square reports of British Special Forces participating in combat with the comment by the Secretary of State for Defence in May 2016 that

we do not intend to deploy ground forces in any combat role. Before engaging in any military operation in Libya, we would of course have to seek an invitation from the Libyan Government, and would also have to involve this Parliament.238

The GNA has not invited the UK to deploy combat troops in Libya and the UK Parliament has not considered the matter.

123.Special Forces operations in Libya are problematic because they necessarily involve supporting individual militias associated with the GNA rather than the GNA itself, which does not directly command units on the ground. For example, British Special Forces reportedly engaged in combat to support a militia from Misrata rather than a Libyan Army unit directly commanded by the GNA.239 When we asked Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Tobias Ellwood whether British Special Forces had been deployed to Libya, he repeated the standard UK Government line that “no Minister ever comments on the role or otherwise of the Special Forces.”240 However, Mr Ellwood acknowledged that the RAF had flown missions over Libya in 2016.241

124.Special Forces missions are not currently subject to parliamentary or public scrutiny, which increases the danger that such operations can become detached from political objectives. For example, French Special Forces apparently supported Khalifa Haftar’s operations against Islamist militias in Benghazi. Le Monde reported in February 2016 that a detachment of French Special Forces was supporting the Libyan National Army from a base at Benghazi airport.242 French President François Hollande confirmed that such a deployment had occurred when he announced that three soldiers had been killed when their helicopter was shot down during an operation near Benghazi in July 2016.243 In other words, French Special Forces facilitated the combat performance of a militia that rejected the authority of the GNA and that prolonged the Libyan civil war, despite the success of the GNA being a stated French Government foreign policy objective. Whilst not hindering the UK Government’s ability to use Special Forces without sanction from or scrutiny by Parliament, this latitude should not be abused to circumvent the normal parliamentary authorisation for military deployments, especially when Special Forces are used in a role more usually performed by Regular Forces.


125.Another way in which the UK could support the GNA is by training new Libyan troops commanded by the GNA to form an effective national army. When we visited North Africa in March 2016, we were told that the UK Government was contemplating deploying British troops in Libya to train Libyan soldiers as part of the Libyan International Assistance Mission.244 The proposed deployment did not take place. The deployment of British troops to a training role in Libya would be problematic, because Libya is currently experiencing a multi-front civil war. Furthermore, the presence of British troops could provide ISIL in Libya with an accessible Western target.

126.The British Army trained some Libyan cadets in the UK in 2014, but this initiative was cancelled when the Libyan trainees committed a number of serious offences in the Cambridgeshire village of Bassingbourn.245 It might be possible for the British Army to train Libyan troops in another state in North Africa, which would require the agreement of the host country.

127.UK forces might play a useful role in training the Libyan Army and security forces, but any such deployment must be configured to ensure that it does not boost anti-Western rhetoric or provide ISIL with a relatively accessible target. British troops should not be deployed to Libya in a training role until the GNA has established political control, stabilised internal security and made a formal request to the UK Government for such assistance, which should then be considered by the UK Parliament.

193 The Libya Observer, Tobruk Parliament’s government sells oil illegally, 25 April 2016

194 FCO (LIB0012) paras 33 to 38

195 FCO (LIB0012) para 22

196 UNSMIL, Libyan Political Agreement, 17 December 2015

197 UNSMIL, Libyan Political Agreement, 17 December 2015, Articles 12 and 13

198 The Economist, Fighting Islamic State in Libya, 17 June 2016

200 For example, the GNA did not take control of the Transport Ministry until late April 2016.

201 FCO (LIB012) para 35

204 FCO (LIB012) para 34

205 HL Deb, 15 October 2014, col. WA41 [Lords Written Answer]

206 HL Deb, 30 October 2014, col. 1310 [Lords Chamber]

207 The Telegraph, UN confirms 800 dead in shipwreck disaster, 20 April 2015

208 FCO (LIB012) para 37

209 FCO (LIB012) para 37

210 International Organization for Migration, Displacement Tracking Matrix Libya, May-June 2016, p1

211 International Organization for Migration, Displacement Tracking Matrix Libya, May-June 2016, p19

212 International Organization for Migration, Displacement Tracking Matrix Libya, May-June 2016, p20

213 Patrick Kingsley, The New Odyssey: The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis, p99

218 FCO, Joint statement on Libya, 10 August 2016

219 FCO, Joint statement on Libya, 10 August 2016

222 FCO (LIB0012) para 28

223 Q410 [Professor Patrick Porter]

224 Q410 [Malcolm Chalmers]

225 Q410 [Chris Stephen]

227 FCO, Joint statement on Libya, 10 August 2016

233 Joseph Walker-Cousins (LIB0008) para 19

235 US Department of State, Ministerial Meeting for Libya Joint Communique, 16 May 2016

236 United Nations, Security Council Resolution 2292 (2016), 14 June 2016

238 HC Deb, 29 February 2016, col. 672 [Commons Chamber]

244 Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair to Foreign Secretary, 15 March 2016

245 FCO (LIB0012) para 20

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

9 September 2016