The authority of the forces controlled by Fayez Al-Sarraj, the chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, is declining at an alarming speed in Tripoli. There are fears this could lead to a new war in the capital, home to roughly two million people.
An advisor to the Presidential Council of Libya who prefers to remain anonymous said Sarraj had spoken with the United States Africa Command, AFRICOM, and British, Italian and French diplomats in recent weeks about concerns at attacks on the capital, but had received no promises of military intervention to protect his government.
The anonymous source said Al Sarraj was reassured by a visit to British officials in London, but the AFRICOM response was not satisfactory, namely that American forces were not mandated to deal with conflicts between rival Libyan forces in Tripoli.
A British diplomat and a security official also held a meeting in the premises of the Presidential Council to discuss developments.
Diplomats from France and Italy have also been spotted in various meetings with politicians and security officials in Tripoli.
It is suggested that, because France has been supporting General Haftar’s forces in the east, Italy will seek influence and presence in the west, mainly in Tripoli and Misrata.
An intelligence official in Tripoli said Italy will stand firm against any chaos in the capital, especially threats of cutting gas supplies.
Weakened militias clash in Tripoli over football
Some military officers on whom Al Sarraj has been relying to maintain security in Tripoli have been showing a lack of cooperation and response to orders from the Presidential Council, a source close to the ministry of defense has reported.
Signs of disagreements within the Presidential Council forces have been evident for weeks but intensified recently. A few weeks ago, factions of a militia that work for Al Sarraj occupied the premises of the Presidential Guard. An officer with the Presidential Guard said: “we were attacked by militias that follow Sarraj, and they took control of guards and vehicles before they forced us to leave the base”.
Last week, clashes took place near Mitiga International Airport in the capital, and Fathy Al Majbery, Al Sarraj’s deputy, was kidnapped for a couple of hours by a militia loyal to the Presidential Council. The burden of guarding the headquarters of the Presidential Council falls on the shoulders of the competing “retaliation forces”, and the “Tripoli revolutionary brigade”.
The group that follows the Ministry of Interior is weakened by divisions and internal conflicts. The best known of these militias are the “retaliation forces” and “Tripoli revolutionary brigade”.
The Government of the National Accord in Tripoli includes the Ministry of Interior, which is weakened by a lack of resources. A source in the Ministry said they are usually unable to provide fuel for the Ministry’s vehicles due to a shortage of cash; the salaries of most employees had not been paid for two months.
The two forces compete over sharing vehicles and weapons as well as over football. Tajory, the head of the Tripoli revolutionary brigade sponsors the Itihad football club, while Kakli sponsors its historic rival, Ahli football club.
After a recent match between the two teams, clashes renewed between the forces with each militia arresting supporters of the other football club, which increased tensions and forced people to get off the streets of the capital.
Members of the Presidential Council were not able to restore peace between the two groups. The advisor in the Presidential Council said Sarraj had requested his security advisor, Hashim Bisher, to solve the problem, because “there is no time for such clashes while Tripoli is under threat from forces coming from Misrata, Zintan and Tarhuna”.
Opponents of Al Sarraj unite
An alliance was formed recently -- after three months of planning -- between the forces of Misrata, Zintan and Tarhuna with the purpose of taking control of Tripoli.
This group seem to be more coordinated, they want the Presidential Council to give up some of the areas under their control in Tripoli, in exchange for not initiating a war against the “retaliation forces” and “Tripoli revolutionary brigade”.
Another anonymous security official believes that Al Sarraj is in trouble because both “retaliation” and “Tripoli revolutionary” will not accept sharing authority in Tripoli with the armed forces coming from Misrata, Zintan and Tarhuna.
He added: “The alliance of some of the forces of Misrata and Zintan aims to resolve the Presidential Council by force and threatens to take over Tripoli. We fear conflicts in the capital, and in Zawia, which is the home of Mellitah Port for gas and oil exports to Italy and other European countries”.
Misrata and Zintan forces, which currently are allies, had been fighting each other in 2014 to control the capital, and attacked the International Airport. Misrata’s forces then succeeded in expelling Zintan’s forces from the capital. During the last two years, “retaliation” and “Tripoli revolutionary” had expelled Misrata’s forces from areas of their control in Tripoli.
The Minister of Defense poses a real threat to the Government of National Accord, Brigadier Al Mahdi Al Burghothi, and the commander of the western military area, Major General Osama Al Joel, who was appointed by Al Sarraj himself.
Al Burghothi’s forces are based inside Tripoli, whilst Joel’s forces are based in the southern and western areas of Tripoli. Al Burghothi’s forces seem to be more on standby, and it is difficult to predict their future plans.
Joel’s forces seem interested in challenging Al Sarraj’s authority, and most of its members are from Zintan, Joel’s home town. Zintan’s forces aim to spread to the Zawiya coastal city and cooperate with Misrata forces to lay siege to the capital and control its entrances and exits. Joel’s office denies any disobedience to Al Sarraj and any plans to enter Tripoli.
An official in the Libyan intelligence said the Chairman of the Presidential Council is facing the movements of other opponents in the eastern side of the capital, including the Chairman of the Military Council in Misrata, Major General Ibrahim bin Rajib, and the Commander of military intelligence in the same city, Major General Mohammed Qnidi, in addition to the Commander of the Third Force, Jamal Al Turieky.
It was not possible to get any response from the Misrata leadership, which the Presidential Council has accused of trying to force entry to the capital.
Bin Rajib, Qnidi and Turieky have been allies of Al Sarraj and fought under his leadership against his opponents in the south, the centre and the north, including fighting Isis in Sirte in 2016. Most of the military leaders of this operations have been in dispute with the Chairman of the Presidential Council ever since.
Amongst the armed groups disputing with Al Sarraj, and coordinating between his opponents is the group of Bashir Al Baqara known as “the great brigade of Tajora” in the eastern side of the capital. Al Baqara had previously worked under Al Sarraj’s leadership and rebelled against him.
Al Baqara’s brigade owns factories specialising in transforming 4x4 cars into military cars, where 23mm and 14.5mm cannons are installed. During the 25th and 26th June, military vehicles were spotted setting up traps and moving into south west Tripoli from the Bawaba Alhabs, Ozaizia, Sawani, and Rashfana areas.
Consequently, a group of fighters that had previously participated in demolishing Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, named “the military leadership to support the rebels of the southern region” has been gathering in the south of Tripoli.
This group, which was united against Gaddafi, shares the view that the revolution did not achieve what it had called for, and they had to act again to set the revolution on the proper path. They did not approve the Al Sokhyrat agreement that took place between the Libyan forces in late 2015 and resulted in the formation of the National Accord Government led by Al Sarraj.
A source in the higher committee for national security in the Presidential Council said that some forces from the city of Tarhuna were joining with other forces opposing Al Sarraj south and south-east of Tripoli, and coordinating with Zintan’s and Misrata’s forces in approaching the capital from the International Airport side, Qasr bin Ghashir, Qarboli, and Tajora.
The source added that the commanders of the “retaliation forces” and the “Tripoli revolutionary brigade” were notified that if an attack on Tripoli takes place, major countries may not intervene. He said the Presidential Council might be forced to give up Tripoli Airport, which is 30 km south of Tripoli, to the invading forces, on condition of not initiating conflict inside the capital; however, he said, “we know that this step carries endless threats”.