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Operation Sophia: a failed mission Contents

Chapter 4: The Libyan political context and further phases of the mission

48.The challenges of achieving a political solution in Libya go far beyond the remit of our inquiry. But, as we concluded in our previous report, the absence of a unified government in Libya, able to provide security across the country, has a direct and deleterious impact on the ability of Operation Sophia to move into Phases 2B and 3.85

The security and political situation

49.In December 2015 the UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) was signed.86 This established the Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, led by Prime Minster Mr Fayez al Serraj. The intention was for the GNA to be endorsed by the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk—which would then become the Libyan legislature—but agreement has still not been reached.87

50.Mr Williams told us the security situation in Libya remained “fragile and complex”, and he anticipated that it would “remain difficult for some time”.88 Mr Walker-Cousins said that while “large swathes of the country are pretty much settled”, other areas were “deeply contested … along well-set tribal fault lines”. There was also “a significant breakdown in law and order”, particularly in Tripoli, with “a significant ramp-up in militia violence and criminality”.89

51.Mr Walker-Cousins believed that there was a fundamental problem at the heart of the LPA. He said the GNA had “an impossible task”. It had “no levers or connectivity with the various powers on the ground”, was “highly fractured”, and had not been elected. A “significant majority of Libyans” regarded it as “a puppet government imposed by a set of negotiations led by an outside body, the UN”, and with close ties to militia groups. The HoR “quite rightly, feels that it has some sort of legitimacy and believes that as a body it should represent the Libyan people”, having been “elected in 2014 in a free and fair election that was observed by the United Nations”.90

52.Mr Williams said the Government’s current assessment was that “no one side has the capability to take and hold Libya by force”. Its focus was therefore “trying to encourage a political solution that binds in the various actors and provides stability, and addresses the security challenges”. He told us that “the most positive recent development” was “emerging consensus among moderate Libyans that the way through the current impasse is through a revision to the … Libyan Political Agreement”, but he added that “we need to be realistic about how challenging it will be to reach a new or revised agreement” between the HoR and the State Council (which sits above the GNA). The objective would be to make the LPA “more inclusive”, and to “try to bind in the people, particularly in the east, who have until now rejected it”, which was the reason for the current security situation.91 We note that a key issue will be the role of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who controls much of the east of Libya and is aligned with the HoR.92

Engagement by the international community

53.Mr Walker-Cousins regretted the absence of political leadership on Libya from the West: “No one really wants to own it; it is somebody else’s mess.”93 With regard to the EU’s approach, “at the moment the buck does not stop anywhere; there is no one political node one can go to that has a role to lead engagements on Libya, not just co-ordinate.” Ultimately, “the migration challenges and the humanitarian crisis are all symptoms of that deeply rooted political crisis in Libya”, and this was “where all our efforts should be focused”.94

54.Mr Walker-Cousins said the UN Security Council Resolutions recognising the GNA as the sole legitimate government of Libya had “massively restricted our ability to engage with the real powers on the ground in Libya”. By focusing on the GNA, “a very large piece of the country in the east and the south, which is more aligned to the House of Representatives”, had been “undermined and excluded” by the international community. The EU, the UK, and the US should “rebuild relationships with the HoR and develop genuine trust with that organisation”,95 for example by “deploying expeditionary diplomats alongside the HoR”.96 While divisions in Libya were “very deeply entrenched”, they were “not so entrenched that they cannot be resolved with vision, a strategy and some leadership”.97 Nonetheless, he cautioned: “There is no final end state where everyone will be happy.”98

55.Mr Walker-Cousins said high-level political engagement was a necessary precondition for the success of the EU’s considerable “respectable technical engagement” on migration.99 This was being undertaken by “diligent, resourceful and experienced officials and advisers”,100 but “the chances of having any meaningful success as things are set up, under the political paradigm we have at the moment”, were “very limited.” The EU “and all its constituent parts and subordinate bodies now operating on the ground” were “directed for political purposes to deal with the GNA”, but the GNA was “incapable … of doing much”101.

Discussions with the House of Representatives

56.At the time of writing, discussions on a political solution, based on the LPA, had begun. On 24 April 2017 Mr Ageela Saleh, President of the HoR, and Mr Abdulrahman Sewehli, President of the State Council, met in Rome.102 This was followed by a meeting between Mr al Serraj and Field Marshal Haftar in Abu Dhabi on 2 May. Following the meeting, a statement from Mr al Serraj’s office called for “an expanded dialogue to establish national consensus”.103 However, we note that no joint statement was issued.104

57.On 8 May, at the Ministerial Meeting of the Neighbouring States of Libya in Algiers, the then UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, said that “Field Marshal Haftar’s willingness to negotiate on the basis of the Libyan Political Agreement is a reason for calculated optimism”. He welcomed the appointment of delegations by the HoR and State Council as “encouraging steps forward”.105 We note that the Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, the Foreign Secretary, visited Libya on 4 May to meet Mr al Serraj and Mr Sewehli, to discuss how the UK could support these efforts.106

58.Negotiations between the parties appear subsequently to have stalled. On 14 June Martin Kobler stated that: “The political process in Libya is currently at a halt, and that gives the opportunity for military players to use the disruption to escalate their military operations.”107 Nonetheless, later that month, commenting on the appointment of Mr. Ghassan Salamé as the new UN envoy to Libya, the HoR’s spokesperson, Abdullah Blaiheg, said he expected the new envoy to help to bring the parties together to amend the LPA.108

The implications for Operation Sophia and the renewal of the mandate

59.The mandate for the mission is due for renewal on 27 July 2017. Mr Jones said the Government still believed “the right purpose for the mission is to break the business model of the smugglers”.109 Mr Hobart and Mr Williams acknowledged the “very difficult operating environment”110 in Libya and the limitations of Phase 2A,111 but Mr Hobart said: “We have to do something. We have to try to engage and we have to keep it under review, which we are doing. We have to adjust things as they go along.”112 The EU was reviewing Operation Sophia “to understand how the mandate can be … improved”.113 Given the changes to the smugglers’ business model, “we need to look at the review and see how we can respond in turn”.114

60.The aspiration of the Government, Mr Jones told us, remained to move into the subsequent phases of the mission, “as and when the political and security conditions allow”.115 Phase 3, Mr Hobart said, “would be able to have far greater impact against smuggling groups”,116 and would also consider support for law enforcement operations.117 But to move into these phases, “we need the right partner”.118

61.We concluded in our previous report that it was unlikely that the GNA would prioritise tackling migration, and that it was not clear that it would be willing to allow foreign military personnel to operate in Libyan waters or territory in Phases 2B and 3.119 Mr Walker-Cousins concurred that there was “a significant amount of distrust” in Libya “about our intentions and engagement” on migration. He said that in order to “get more involved close to the shore and on the shore”, the EU “should be dealing with the powers and authorities in Libya that have the legitimacy to authorise those sorts of engagements”, namely the HoR.120 We note that discussions between the HoR and the State Council and GNA, discussed above, could be helpful, although migration is unlikely to be high on the agenda of Libyan political actors in the short term.

62.An improvement in the security situation would also be required for Phase 3 to commence. In this regard we note that the EU Delegation to Libya, the embassies of Member States including the UK, and the EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) in Libya remain in Tunis, to which they were evacuated due to security concerns in 2014.

Conclusions and recommendations

63.If an agreement is reached to modify the Libyan Political Agreement and secure the support of the House of Representatives, this could have a positive impact on security and governance in Libya and provide a stronger partner for the EU to engage with on migration. But migration is unlikely to be at the top of the agenda in Libya, and EU activity against smugglers on Libyan territory is likely to remain politically contentious.

64.We are concerned that the UK and EU Member States have not been sufficiently engaged on Libya at the highest level. We therefore welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Libya, and hope that this marks the beginning of a renewed UK and EU engagement, including with the House of Representatives.

65.In our earlier report we concluded: “Given appropriate political support in Libya—however unlikely that may be—[Operation Sophia] could, potentially, play a more useful role if able to operate in Libyan waters (Phase 2B) and onshore in Libya (Phase 3). In order to keep this possibility open, we recommend that the Member States should review and renew the mandate in summer 2016.” Given the current political and security environment in Libya, we conclude that Operation Sophia is unlikely to move into either Phase 2B or 3 in the short term. We therefore see little reason to renew the mandate of the mission in its current form beyond 2017. We make recommendations on a future mission in the next chapter.

66.The existence of Operation Sophia is not a precondition for EU training of the Libyan coastguard. We recommend that the Government discuss with the EU and its Member States how this activity could be separated from Operation Sophia, were its mandate not to be renewed.


85 European Union Committee, Operation Sophia, the EU’s naval mission in the Mediterranean: an impossible challenge (14th Report, Session 2015–16, HL Paper 144)

86 United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Libyan Political Agreement (17 December 2015): https://unsmil.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/Libyan%20Political%20Agreement%20-%20ENG%20.pdf [accessed 27 June 2017]

87 European Council on Foreign Relations, A quick guide to Libya’s main players (undated): http://www.ecfr.eu/mena/mapping_libya_conflict [accessed 27 June 2017]

92 Field Marshal Haftar commands the Operation Dignity forces, and has been nominated by the HoR as the commander of the Libyan National Army. Guma El-Gamaty, ‘Haftar-Serraj meeting raises hopes, but Libyan factions must compromise’, The New Arab (9 May 2017): https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2017/5/9/haftar-serraj-meeting-raises-hopes-but-libyan-factions-must-compromise [accessed 27 June 2017]

102 Patrick Wintour, ‘Libya’s warring sides reach diplomatic breakthrough in Rome’, The Guardian (24 April 2017): https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/24/libya-warring-sides-diplomatic-breakthrough-rome [accessed 27 June 2017]

103 ‘Libya foreign minister names Khalifa Haftar army chief’, Aljazeera (9 May 2017): http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/05/libya-foreign-minister-names-khalifa-haftar-army-chief-170509154020813.html [accessed 27 June 2017]

104 Aidan Lewis, Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli, ‘Libyan rivals say will calm tensions, but political roadmap unclear’ Reuters (3 May 2017): http://in.reuters.com/article/libya-security-emirates-idINKBN17Z1W0 [accessed 27 June 2017]

105 Reliefweb, ‘Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNSMIL, Statement to the Ministerial Meeting of the Neighbouring States of Libya: “Return to Politics”’ (8 May 2017): http://reliefweb.int/report/libya/martin-kobler-special-representative-secretary-general-and-head-unsmil-statement [accessed 27 June 2017]

106 Foreign and Commonwealth Office and The Rt Hon Boris Johnson, ‘Foreign Secretary visits Libya and Tunisia’ (4 May 2017): https://www.gov.uk/government/news/foreign-secretary-visits-libya-and-tunisia [accessed 27 June 2017]

107 Housam Najjair, ‘Kobler: Libyan players are obstructing a political agreement’, Libya Observer (14 June 2017): https://www.libyaobserver.ly/inbrief/kobler-libyan-players-are-obstructing-political-agreement [accessed 28 June 2017]

108 ‘Libyan Parliament, Presidency Council Welcome Appointment of Ghassan Salame as UN Envoy’, The Tripoli Post (23 June 2017): http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=11152 [accessed 28 June 2017]

110 Q 16 (Edward Hobart)

111 Q 13 (Nicholas Williams)

113 Q 16 (Edward Hobart)

119 European Union Committee, Operation Sophia, the EU’s naval mission in the Mediterranean: an impossible challenge (14th Report, Session 2015–16, HL Paper 144) Also see oral evidence taken on 21 January 2016 (Session 2015–16), Q 5 (Richard Lindsay), oral evidence taken on 17 March 2016 (Session 2016–17), Q 38 (Patrick Kingsley) and oral evidence taken on 9 July 2015 (Session 2015–16), Q 2 (Professor George Joffe)




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