Emiratis, Saudis, secretly assisting Libyan rebels with air power, says UN

Khalifa HaftarSecret military assistance from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which violates United Nations sanctions, is helping Libya’s eastern-based rebels prevail in the civil war there, according to a new report. Libya has remained in a state of anarchy since 2011, when a popular uprising backed by the West and its allies led to the demise of the country’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Currently the strongest faction in the post-2011 Libyan Civil War is the eastern-based Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA). The commander of the LNA is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of Colonel Gaddafi, who lived in the US under Washington’s protection for several decades before returning to Libya in 2011.

The Tobruk-led Government is ostensibly supported by the United States, but has also received Russian assistance. The status of the group is further-complicated by the fact that, in recent years, its military wing, led by Haftar, operates semi-autonomously. Some believe that Haftar has now stopped taking orders from Tobruk and has aspirations to lead his own armed faction in Libya.

In February of 2011, shortly after the popular uprising erupted in Libya, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1970, which —among other things— forbids the export of war materiel to Libya. The resolution was further-strengthened in 2014 and today remains in place. But the UN embargo did not appear to stop the military domination of Haftar’s LNA. In the past few months, the armed group has managed to extend its control over dozens of urban centers, oil installations and military bases and outposts throughout eastern and central Libya. Today, the LNA is seen as the dominant military authority in the war-torn country.

Now a new report published by the UN suggests that the main reason for the LNA’s military prowess lies in the secret support it receives from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The report was published on Friday by the “Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970”, a panel of experts appointed by the UN to oversee the implementation of the arms embargo. In its annual report, the panel asserts that Haftar’s forces received significant military assistance from the UAE in both ground and aerial support. Specifically, the LNA received nearly 650 armored and non-armored vehicles in April of 2016 alone, as well as helicopters and unmanned drones. The latter are now stationed the Al-Khadim air base, which was built by the LNA specifically in order to house the UAE-supplied aircraft. It is believed that the UAE operates the Al-Khadim air base, which is located approximately 60 miles east of Benghazi, Libya’s second most populous urban center.

The UN report goes on to state that much of the war materiel reaches Libya through ships that sail from Saudi Arabia, and that some Belarus-based companies are also involved in the illicit transfer of helicopters, non-armored vehicles and other items to Libya. It concludes that the materiel assistance provided by the UAE has “significantly increased the air support available to the LNA”, which in turn explains the group’s impressive military performance in the past year. The report’s authors noted that they contacted the government of the UAE in regards to the report’s findings, but received no response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 June 2017 | Permalink

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Russian special forces troops seen in Egypt and Libya, say reports

Khalifa HaftarRussia may have become the latest country to deploy special forces soldiers in Libya, according to news reports citing anonymous United States officials. Late on Tuesday, the Reuters news agency reported that Russian special forces troops had been seen on the border between Libya and Egypt. The news agency said that the information came from “two US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity”. The same article cited unnamed “Egyptian security forces”, who said that a 22-member Russian paramilitary team had set up an operations base in the Egyptian town of Sidi Barrani, which is located 60 miles from Libyan territory.

Libya has descended into a state of complete anarchy since the demise of the country’s dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The Libyan strongman was killed in 2011, as a result of a popular uprising backed by Western powers and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Arguably the strongest faction in the ongoing Libyan Civil War is the so-called Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army. The commander of the Libyan National Army is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of Colonel Gaddafi, who lived in the US under Washington’s protection for many decades before returning to Libya in 2011 to participate in the war. The Tobruk-led Government is ostensibly supported by the US. However, its military wing, led by Haftar, operates semi-autonomously, and some believe that Haftar has aspirations to lead his own armed faction in Libya. Last November, Haftar visited Moscow, where he met with senior government officials, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. There are reports that the Russian special forces troops alleged seen in Egypt are operating in support of Haftar.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for the Tobruk-led government told Russian media that Moscow had promised to provide it with funding and military aid. Earlier this year, it was confirmed that a number of Russian private security contractors were in Libya and were providing services to Haftar’s militias. But there are no confirmed reports of the presence of Russian government troops on the ground in Libya. On Tuesday, Moscow denied the Reuters report and accused “certain Western mass media” of “spreading false information from anonymous sources” in order to “smear Russia”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 16 March 2017 | Permalink

Monitoring continues as Libya’s chemical weapons are shipped to Germany

ISIS LibyaAs United States air strikes and special-forces operations continue in Libya, Libya’s Government of National Accord deputy prime minister, Mussa al-Koni, confirmed on Tuesday that their remaining chemical weapons left over from the Gaddafi era has been shipped to Germany for safekeeping. The process was supervised by the United Nations, based on UN Security Council Resolution 2298 (2016) adopted on July 22. The concern was the Islamic State getting their hands on the chemical stockpile that was stored in the central Jafa area, about 140 miles south of Sirte, where pro-government forces are currently fighting Islamic State militants.

Islamic State forces acquiring CBRN from Africa or producing it while in the region has been a continuous concern. Islamic State and other militant organizations are expanding throughout Africa’s 11.67 million mi². These groups can be very innovative and resourceful. As the Egyptian delegation highlighted in a UN Security Council debate on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction last week, the Islamic State and other groups have already caused destruction in Iraq, and possibly also in Syria by using chemical weapons. The Egyptians and other African countries see a real possibility of these weapons spreading further in Libya and from there to the Horn of Africa or elsewhere on the continent. The final departure of Gaddafi’s stockpile is welcome news, but Islamist militants know how to acquire such weapons, are trying to produce them and know how to cross borders.

African intelligence and law enforcement agencies are alert to these and other new threats. Intelligence reports have indicated groups such as al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) have made multiple attempts to manufacture poison, gas, biological and radioactive agents. Training camps, particularly in the Sahel area, specialized in biological and chemical weapons are known to exist. Many African nations have put their national interests aside to counter cross border Islamist or criminal threats. In late September 2010, Algeria set up a regional intelligence center in Algiers, bringing together the countries of the region to fight against militant groups, including CBRN trafficking. Similar centers around the continent exist like Kenya’s common intelligence centre in Nairobi used for joint training on investigation skills and on ways to protect borders. The center also is used to monitor and address threats posed by militant groups in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan. A more recent regional intelligence center, similar to Kenya’s, was established in Kampla, Uganda, which is supported by the African Union and seeks to prevent possible attacks by militant groups.

Another concern the Centers and domestic African intelligence agencies are investigating is the recruitment of African youth by Islamist groups.  “[The Islamic State] has attracted about 5,000 Africans to join them in Iraq and Syria. Some of them are from the East Africa Community and IGAD regions”, proclaimed the African Union Commissioner for Peace Security Smail Chergui in July 2015.

Author: Scott Firsing is an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington

French government acknowledges it has special forces, spies, in Libya

French special forcesThe death of three French Special Forces soldiers in Libya has prompted the first public acknowledgement by France that its troops are involved in “dangerous intelligence operations” in the North African country. The acknowledgement was made on Wednesday in an official statement issued by Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s Minister of Defense. In the statement, Le Drian said he “regretted the loss of three French officers who expired while on mission in Libya”. The acknowledgement came less than 24 hours after the Associated Press news agency claimed that a helicopter carrying French troops had been shot down in Libya. The report quoted unnamed Libyan officials as saying that the helicopter had been shot down by an Islamist militia in the outskirts of the city of Benghazi, in eastern Libya.

Paris has previously acknowledged the presence of French warplanes in Libya, which it says are only involved in reconnaissance operations. It is also known that France has set up a forward operating base in Niger, close to the southern Libyan border. But the French government has never before acknowledged the presence of French troops or intelligence operatives on Libyan soil. During the uprising that deposed longtime Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, there were persistent rumors of daring operations by French commandos and intelligence operatives, which were never confirmed. In February of this year, French newspaper Le Monde claimed that French troops and spies were active in Libya. In a leading article titled “France’s Secret War in Libya”, the French daily said that President François Hollande had secretly authorized operations by elite special forces and officers of the DGSE, France’s General Directorate for External Security. But France’s Defense Ministry refused to comment on Le Monde’s allegations, while Laurent Fabius, who was then France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, denied the newspaper’s claims, saying that France did not have the means to intervene militarily in Libya.

Speaking shortly after Wednesday’s disclosure by the Defense Ministry, President Hollande said the three special forces soldiers had died while “carrying out perilous intelligence operations” in Libya. In a subsequent interview on the Paris-based France Info Radio, French government spokesman Stephane Le Foll admitted that French operatives are indeed active in Libya. Asked whether the Defense Ministry’s statement offered such an acknowledgement, Le Foll responded: “French special forces are [in Libya], naturally, to offer assistance and to ensure that France has a presence wherever the struggle against international terrorism is taking place”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 July 2016 | Permalink

Senior Islamic State fighters are relocating to Libya, says official

ISIS LibyaSenior members of the Islamic State are moving from Syria and Iraq to Libya, according to a Libyan intelligence official who spoke to the BBC. Since 2014 and the outbreak of the Second Libyan Civil War, the North African country has been engulfed in a multipolar struggle for dominance between rival armed groups and alliances. Among them is Libya Dawn, a loose coalition of former al-Qaeda-linked militants, ethnic Berbers, members of the pro-Egypt Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the al-Shorooq Force, an Islamist militia from Libya’s northwestern coastal city of Misrata. Libya Dawn troops have been engaged in ground-combat against Islamic State forces, which currently control Libya’s north-central coastal region.

The area ruled by the Islamic State includes the cities of Bin Jawad and Sirte —the latter being the birthplace of Libya’s late ruler Muammar al-Gaddafi. Some believe that loyalists of Gaddafi’s regime in Sirte, including members of his extended family, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and are actively supporting the militant group. Meanwhile, the armed factions that surround the territory controlled by the Islamic State, which include the Tobruk-headquartered Libyan National Army, are at war with each other as much as with the Islamic State itself.

On Wednesday, Ismail Shukri, head of intelligence for Libya Dawn in Misrata, spoke on BBC television’s flagship current-affairs program Newsnight about the current status of Islamic State forces in northern Libya. He told the program that his informants in Islamic State-controlled territory were reporting “an influx of foreign fighters” from Iraq and Syria. The majority of the settlers had arrived “in recent months”, said Shukri, and were located in Sirte. They appeared to be senior Islamic State military and civilian officials, who had “long-term importance to the Islamic State”. When asked why these Islamic State members were pouring into Libya, Shukri said they viewed the North African country “as a safe haven” and were relocating there in order to escape the military offensive by international forces in Iraq and Syria. Shukri told the BBC that nearly three out of four foreign Islamic State members in Sirte were from Tunisia, with remaining numbers consisting of Egyptian, Algerian and Sudanese citizens. There were also several Syrians and members of Iraq’s Baathist armed forces during the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, he said.

Rumors have circulated for several months that Libya Dawn forces are preparing a major ground offensive against the Islamic State. There are also reports that Western countries are engaged in negotiations with groups fighting the Islamic State in Libya, over the possibility of providing intelligence support and air cover for a ground assault. However, Shukri refused to speculate about future military campaigns.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 February 2016 | Permalink

Gaddafi’s spy chief could be executed before revealing Libya’s terror past

Abdullah al-SenussiA group of American, British and Irish citizens are pressuring their respective governments to prevent the impending execution of Libya’s former intelligence strongman. Abdullah al-Senussi, 65, led Libya’s intelligence services during the regime of the country’s late dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi. Last week, however, he was sentenced to death by a court in Tripoli for his role in “inciting genocide” during the 2011 civil war that toppled Gaddafi’s regime. American, British and Irish officials are being urged to intervene to stop Senussi’s execution, so that he can help shed light on Libya’s role in international terrorist plots in the 1980s and 1990s.

Senussi rose rapidly through the ranks of Gaddafi’s regime in the 1970s after marrying the Libyan leader’s sister-in-law. Eventually, he became one of Gaddafi’s most trusted aides, escorting him on most international trips and seeing to the medical needs of the dictator. Throughout that time he is believed to have led at various times Libya’s internal security agency, its external spy organization, and the country’s military intelligence agency. It is unclear however, whether he actually held any official posts in the Libyan government, especially after 1977, when Gaddafi abolished official titles and declared that his country was a Jamahiriya —a “state of the masses” not ruled by officials, but by “revolutionary” popular councils and communes.

During Senussi’s reign, especially in the 1980s, Libya deepened its connections with militant groups in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, prompting some European and American officials to describe him as “the world’s most wanted man”. On Tuesday of last month, Senussi was among nine former Gaddafi aides and officials to be sentenced to death by a court in the Libyan capital. They include one of Gaddafi’s sons, Seif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, as well as the late Libyan dictator’s Prime Minister, Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi. Ironically, the sentence imposed on Gaddafi’s son cannot be implemented, as he is being kept prisoner by a militia in western Libya, which has refused to surrender him to the central government in Tripoli since 2011. Senussi however, is being held in Tripoli, having been captured at the Nouakchott International Airport in Mauritanian in March 2012 in what is believed to have been a successful French-led intelligence operation.

Critics of Libya’s past dealings with terrorist groups believe that the jailed former spy director is aware of crucial details relating to the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270 people in 1988. He is also thought to possess information relating to Libya’s support for the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The militant group is said to have received training, weapons and cash from the Libyan government in the 1980s and 1990s. Victims of IRA operations and their families have continued to pressure London to intervene to prevent Senussi’s execution since his extradition to Libya from Mauritania in 2013. The Libyan government has said that it intends to execute Senussi in September.

Links revealed between UK spy agencies and Gaddafi-era Libya

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.orgTony Blair and Muammar Gaddafi in 2007
British spy agencies had close operational links with their Libyan counterparts during the rule of Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, and even allowed Libyan spies to operate on British soil, according to documents. The Libyan government files, unearthed in the North African country following the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, allegedly reveal a degree of cooperation between London and Tripoli that goes far beyond what has been publicly acknowledged. According to London-based newspaper The Guardian, which saw the documents, intelligence agencies from the two countries launched a series of joint operations between 2006 and 2011, aimed at political enemies of the Libyan ruler, many of whom were thought to have links with al-Qaeda. In an article published on Friday, The Guardian said that the Security Service (commonly known as MI5), invited Libyan intelligence operatives to Britain and allowed them to spy on enemies of the Gaddafi regime who were living there, having been granted political asylum by the British government. The paper said that the Libyan intelligence officers were even allowed to “intimidate a number of Gaddafi opponents” who were trying to organize anti-Gaddafi campaigns on British soil. In return, the Libyan government allowed MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) access to captured anti-Gaddafi dissidents in Libya, while the latter underwent interrogation that almost certainly involved torture. The British paper said the unearthed documents, which come straight from the archive vaults of the Gaddafi government, are being used in a lawsuit filed in Britain against MI5, MI6, as well as against a number of British government departments, by former anti-Gaddafi dissidents. The plaintiffs, all members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which tried to depose Gaddafi in the years prior to his death, claim that evidence against them was obtained through torture in Libyan prisons. They also claim that British intelligence agencies knew they were being tortured when they cooperated with the Libyan intelligence services that had captured them. In 2014, a former senior leader of LIFG, Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, won the right to sue the British government over his claim that he was tortured by Libyan intelligence operatives with the cooperation of British and American intelligence agencies. In 2012, another prominent Libyan political dissident, Sami al-Saadi, was awarded £2.2 million ($3.5 million) by a British court, after claiming that he underwent torture in Libya following his abduction in a joint British/Libyan/American intelligence operation.