August 2016 – Although some US military decision-makers have recently said that the air raids on Sirte are to be considered “purely tactical” – as also General Petraeus stated on August 4 last – the US operations in Libya which started on August 1 last have evident strategic importance.
Let us provide some data with a view to having a real perception of the situation: the US air actions are led by the Africa Command, AFRICOM, the US structure which since 2008 has been cooperating with all the African countries, except for Egypt, with which it has a separate agreement. Said structure has its headquarters at the Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart.
The AFRICOM ground unit, namely the United States Army Africa (USARAF), has its own autonomous base and command at the Caserma Ederle in Vicenza.
In short, with this air-naval operation in Libya, the North American African Command has three clear strategic goals: 1) excluding the NATO-Europe from its Southern region and forcedly directing it eastwards and south-eastwards, towards China, Russia and, shortly, India; 2) opposing the Chinese and Russian expansion to Africa at geoeconomic and military levels; 3) managing, in the future, the great pan-African unification process, precisely on the basis of the US model.
Moreover, the bombing of Sirte by US aircraft has a further obvious strategic significance: while the Russian Federation has now become the reference point of the Greater Middle East with the next stabilization of Syria, the United States want to mark the Maghreb territory a) with a view to avoiding a Russian action in Libya; b) supporting their regional Arab allies; c) closing down a space to their European allies, uncertain of everything except for the multiculturalist subjection to the “permanent jihad”.
The US operation called Odyssey Lightning consists in supporting only the Government of National Accord (GNA) installed in Tripoli, the only one recognized by the United Nations as opposed to the Tobruk one and its ground forces, which last month advanced against the ISIS positions in Sirte. They are only the Misrata Forces, not fully connected with al-Sarraj’s National Accord.
In spite of its international support, the government in Tripoli is linked to militias, such as the above stated Misrata Forces and the Al Bunyan Al Marsoos “the Solid Structure” – armies which, like all the other local politicians and numerous militias, are all paid only with the funds from the Central Bank of Libya.
And, despite this, al-Sarraj’s government really controls only the coast of Tripoli and two adjacent neighbourhoods.
Furthermore, according to the latest data available, the Central Bank of Libya manages a monetary base of over 115 billion Libyan dinars, but with a quasi-money which is worth approximately twice as much as that monetary base.
It is worth recalling that the “quasi-money” is the share of bank assets which are more easily convertible into cash.
Hence it is easy to imagine that if – as currently happens – the oil flow from the Libyan coast starts again (now that the oil sector analysts predict a rise in the oil price up to 70-80 US dollars a barrel since the second half of this year), the money available to the various Libyan military forces will increase, with obvious negative effects on the peace process and the reunification of the country.
Also the share of Turkish, Saudi, Qatari and even Egyptian aid to their proxies will increase, with a view to avoiding the expansion of the Libyan oil market and promoting their national direct and indirect exports.
Or maybe – as happened with Qatar at the beginning of the inauspicious insurgency against Gaddafi – the issue will be to trade the Libyan oil, possibly magically turning it into “national product.”
Let us revert, however, to the planned air military actions of the US Africa Command.
Five operations put in place on the first day of August and on the first day of the military action Odyssey Lightning, four ones on August 2-3, as well as some ground operations of the US Special Forces to agree with the various factions, while so far the US military activities from the sea have been defined as “precision strikes”, which are also very effective on the ISIS materials and depots in Sirte.
The first mission started from the US amphibious assault ship Wasp, off the Gulf of Sidra, while other aircraft departed from land bases in Italy and initially from Jordan.
The naval group of the USS Wasp also includes the transport dock ship USS San Antonio and the landing ship USS Whidbey Island, while the medium-range missile control system is based in Rota, Spain.
The three US ships host the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, which has also MV22 Osprey aircraft, along with other AV-BB units.
Osprey is a tiltrotor for the deployment of ground forces inside the Libyan territory, while the US Expeditionary Naval Corps also has Super Cobra helicopters, other UH-1Y Venom transport helicopters and the CH-53E Super Stallion ones for troop transport.
Two facts are clear: after the probable cleaning up of the Sirte area, the United States plan to land and typically place boots on the ground, thus betting on a new network of Libyan warlords determined – with the US coordination – to wipe out ISIS from Libya.
Incidentally, the United States have a clear strategic and political interest in avoiding the European allies’ support as much as possible.
This both to prevent terrorist attacks on the EU territory and, above all, to have full tactical and strategic autonomy in Libya.
The other fact is that the United States intend to bet only on Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord while the forces – including the European ones – which support Haftar’s “Operation Dignity”, which are allied with the Saiqa of Benghazi, the militias from Zintan, the militias of the Warshefana and, above all, the guards who control the oil wells, depend weakly from Tobruk.
Not to mention France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, supporting Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army. However, we have reason to believe that the “Operation Dignity” forces could be the real centre of gravity for a future Russian action in Libya – which is the greatest danger for the United States.
In other words, the United States have chosen to support only al-Sarraj’ small government and hence to accept a future splitting of the Libyan territory, at least into two parts.
This is supremely contrary to European interests. Finally the United States have decided to create a bridgehead, through the Tripoli government, which can expand the AFRICOM presence south and east of Libya.
These are all US legitimate intentions which, however, should have been discussed and analyzed together with the now irrelevant European partners, who only see the trees, namely immigration from the Libyan shores, but not the wood, namely the geopolitics which causes and exploits it, also at militarily level. And we will see it in the near future.
The naive automatic pro-American approach of the US European allies, which is a result of the now ceased Cold War, is a strategic danger in itself for the European Union and for the EU Mediterranean countries.
The United States have diverging interests compared to Europe, both in Libya and in the rest of Africa.
And what if – instead of muttering multiculturalist myths – the EU had organized an operational Conference to create and deploy a Spanish-French-Italian military force, with the Russian approval, which could stabilize the coastal areas and wipe out – even with the US aid and support – the Caliphate from Sirte, without blocking the Libyan national reunification process?
Is it possible for a guerrilla army such as ISIS, living in underground shelters and in the maze of urban centres, to be considered a traditional military force “whose actions against the United States and its allies must be prevented”, as the motivation for the Africa Command action reads?
We doubt it, as indeed we doubt that totally abandoning the Tobruk government will be a rational strategic choice.
Certainly the Tobruk government members began to rule from a railway wagon and still have relations with the Muslim Brotherhood but, since last June, there have already been several meetings and negotiations between al-Sarraj’s GNA and some members of the Tobruk Parliament, which could be facilitated by us and supported explicitly by the international community.
Nobody, not even the United States, have anything to gain from a fragmented Libya, with or without the ISIS viper in their bosom.
What about Italy? In her question time at the Chamber of Deputies, the Defence Minister, Roberta Pinotti, said that “so far the US operations have not involved Italy, neither logistically nor for overflying the national territory, and they have developed consistently with the UN Resolution of 2015 and in response to a specific request for support made by the lawful and legitimate Libyan government”.
Hence, in the opinion of the Italian Defence Minister, al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord is the only lawful and legitimate one, even though it is clear to everyone that there exists no government in Libya.
In Italy there was no rational analysis of the protests made by Russia and the Tobruk Government, which could shift bag and baggage to the Islamist-jihadist front of the Libyan insurgency, while Russia asked that the US bombings could take place after a resolution of the UN Security Council.
As a clear result of the AFRICOM overflying operations, since August 4 there have been very harsh clashes between the Tripoli militias – mostly those in Misrata, faithful to al-Sarraj, but paid by others – and the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB).
During said clashes at Ajdabiya, in the “oil crescent”, Haftar’s military have accused the local fighters of having favoured the ISIS jihadists’ escape from Benghazi.
Is therefore possible, in such a complex region where “the friend of my enemy is my friend”, and only on a local basis, to consider only the Government of National Accord in the list of the good ones?
Have we already committed to the Tripoli government without al-Sarraj’s government having yet won the confidence vote of the Tobruk House of Representatives? And what will happen to us if the Tripoli Government of National Accord falls? We will be deprived of credible relations with all the other forces operating in Libya and be exposed to any retaliation, inside and outside our borders.
One of the possible players for us would be Khalifa Haftar’s “Operation Dignity” – supported by some members of the French and British intelligence services – which is expanding to Eastern Libya.
As already said, Haftar’s money comes from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France. Moreover, Russia has already shown its intention to appoint him as its point of reference in the Libyan chaos.
“Operation Dignity” is a real army and Haftar commands it with the iron fist of the true professional of weapons, while the United States are still pushing for a varied and unreliable alliance of Islamic militias to be led by Tripoli -– which is difficult in a situation in which Russia supports Cyrenaica, though still indirectly.
Hence we will have the probable reaction of the jihadist terrorism on our territory without any strategic gain in a country which is so vital for us, namely Libya.
Furthermore, the US air campaign authorized by President Barack Obama for a period of thirty days could not be fully effective against ISIS in Sirte and the militias of Misrata could distance themselves from the al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord.
While it is obvious that an intervention boots on the ground by a European force is not rational, also considering that the EU Member States have diverging interests in Libya, it would be at least useful not to be committed to one single – and not even the strongest – party concerned.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France