The prime commander of US forces in Africa paid a shock go to to Tripoli final week to take a seat down with officers from either side of Libya’s battle.
Gen. Stephen Townsend accompanied US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland in conferences with interim Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, head of the presidency council Mohammad Younes Menfi and military chief of employees Lt. Gen. Mohammed Haddad.
The pair additionally met with the nation’s joint 5+5 navy committee on Tuesday, marking the primary time the representatives from the rival Libyan sides convened within the internationally acknowledged capital.
A senior US official acquainted with the conferences stated Norland and Townsend additionally mentioned the prospect of navy partnership alternatives with the United States, however emphasised the necessity for a unified Libyan authorities first.
The official, who spoke to Al-Monitor on situation of anonymity, described the conferences as “very productive.”
Why it Matters: Townsend’s go to to Tripoli was the primary by a senior US navy commander since a 2019 offensive led by Khalifa Hifter towards the UN-recognized authorities there plunged the nation into renewed civil warfare.
A UN-backed cease-fire settlement halted hostilities final yr. In March, the rival sides authorised an interim authorities in accordance with a UN political roadmap backed by worldwide stress. Nationwide elections are actually set for Dec. 24.
But Biden administration officers, who’re keen to revive their diplomatic presence on the bottom in Libya, are more and more fearful that wrangling over a constitutional framework could derail the nation’s reunification course of.
Moreover, hundreds of Russian, Syrian and sub-Saharan African mercenaries, in addition to Turkish troops, stay in Libya in violation of the cease-fire settlement. Egypt, Russia and Turkey say they again the UN course of, however stakeholders did not agree on a pathway to take away the fighters throughout a June summit in Berlin.
US officers now privately acknowledge it’s unlikely both Moscow or Ankara will withdraw most of their forces earlier than Libyans go to the polls, and are cautious of disrupting the stability of energy on the bottom at such a delicate time.
“There is no sign these forces plan to try to effect the outcome of any elections,” the senior official told Al-Monitor.
US officials now say the best hope for an exit of foreign fighters is for that to be requested by an elected Libyan government.
“There’s no organization or body that is more capable of bringing about that departure than a strong, unified Libyan government chosen by its own people. And so that’s why elections are so important,” Joey Hood, the State Department’s top official for the region, told reporters following the Berlin conference.
US officials see the potential failure to hold legitimate elections on time as the more immediate threat to Libya’s stability. Renewed large-scale fighting could pose a devastating setback for the political process and invite further foreign intervention.
From AFRICOM’s perspective, the presence of the Kremlin’s Wagner mercenaries in Libya is particularly troubling.
Russia introduced fighter aircraft and radar systems in a bid to tip the scales in favor of Hifter’s offensive last year, a move that US military officials worry could evolve into a tactical problem for NATO if Moscow establishes a permanent presence there.
Townsend last week emphasized to Libyan officials that the departure of even a few hundred foreign fighters from each side before the elections can grease the wheels for larger-scale withdrawals once a new government is in place. On Monday Libya’s interim foreign minister stated experiences of some small-scale departures have been true, calling the move a “modest start.”
Yet as Libya’s politicians and generals jockey for influence, the Kremlin has sought to play both sides. Its Wagner mercenaries — accused leaving a trail of war crimes in Libya, Syria and the Central African Republic — continue to make inroads elsewhere in the region.
Townsend also visited Tunisia and Algeria last week in the latest sign US officials are seeking to reinforce defense ties on the margins of Wagner’s inroads into Africa.
“Things that we can do to try to bolster confidence and security in these locations, including Tripoli, we’re interested in doing that,” the US official said.
Earlier this year, AFRICOM invited Libya’s Lt. Gen. Haddad to its flagship multinational exercise, African Lion. The US military is also looking to continue recent small-scale joint training for Libyan soldiers from both sides, including counter-IED training in the region.
Larger-scale cooperation will have to wait until Libya forms a unified military, officials say.
What’s Next: Mohamed Menfi, who heads Libya’s presidency council, said the body will hold an international conference sometime this month to garner support for a stable political transition.
“Either we succeed in our democratic transition through free, fair, and transparent elections… or we fail and relapse into division an armed conflict,” Menfi instructed the UN General Assembly final month.
Meanwhile there are indicators the Biden administration is planning to show up the stress on Libya’s international gamers.
Speaking to reporters following the Berlin summit in June, Joey Hood expressed confidence that the US “can set the conditions to provide the incentives and maybe other parameters for these forces to leave.”
Last week, the US House of Representatives handed a landmark invoice that will sanction international actors backing Libyan fighters on either side.
A separate measure included within the House’s model of the annual protection spending laws would add the load of US sanctions to the UN’s largely impotent arms embargo on Libya.
Know More: Check out Andrew Parasiliti’s dialog with former UN Envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams.