Webinar Recap: Chaos in Libya: Mercenaries, War Crimes and Foreign Powers

Washington, DC – The New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs held a webinar on Friday, June 12th, 2020 regarding the conflict in Libya.  The panel included expert speakers: Emadeddin Badi (Atlantic Council), Jalel Harchaoui (Clingandael Institute), Emily Leslie (NYCFPA) and Pervez Bilgrami (Foreign Policy expert).

The webinar was moderated by newly-appointed NYCFPA Principal Director, Justin Russell. The panel was well-attended by local Washingtonians, and by attendees from all over the world to join in on this discussion of events unfolding in Libya as recently as this week.

Jalel Harchaoui began the discussion with his analysis of the Libya conflict in its regional context.  He began by discussing the notion of the Libya conflict as a newly internationalized civil war. Contrary to reporting that implies the conflict in Libya is a civil war that has recently become internationalized, states interfering in Libya have been documented from the beginning.  Rather, the proxy aspect of the Libyan civil war has not changed at least for the last five years.  The change currently being seen is the encouragement that actors feel based on the perceived aloofness of the United States.

What has changed in the conflict has been the mode of action through a combination of clandestine moves in the last year: 1) The United Arab Emirates bombing of Tripoli; 2) Turkey’s use of drones and dozens of intelligence officers in Tripoli to intervene; and 3) Russian mercenaries sent into Libya under the guise of plausible deniability. 

Turkey has further intervened in a bold and candid format that is a combination of clandestine and overt moves.  The reasons for these actors have been 1) a legitimate concern about conventional security – fear of physical intervention, and 2) ideological security when states worry that the wrong opinion could spread quickly through their population and create chaos. 

Lastly, Egypt’s role has been two-fold. On the one hand, worrying about conventional security and on the other hand, the side that cannot ignore the ideological aspect and the role of its Gulf sponsors. Egypt has been torn between two ideologies, one relating to the realism associated with Moscow or the ideological obsessions with Abu Dhabi.  This is a question that will likely not be resolved until the battle of Sirte.

Emily Leslie followed with an in-depth look at the human rights violations and war crimes surrounding the conflict. Armed groups and security forces have continued with impunity, war crimes, and indiscriminate human rights violations.  She cited violations of international law as well as humanitarian law including war crimes, hostage taking, freedom of rights, and women’s rights.  Large numbers of civilians have been killed and/or injured indiscriminately due to inaccurate explosive weapons, airstrikes, destruction of homes, abduction by militias, and human trafficking with the most vulnerable citizens having been exposed to rape and forced labor.  The list of violations of tens of thousands looks bleak, and this list of human rights violations continues to grow. 

Emadeddin Badi focused on the use of mercenaries in the conflict in Libya. Though international intervention is not new, what’s exploded has been the transfer of mercenaries toward Libya, specifically when and which ones have been fighting for money versus fighting for advancement of policy agendas.  Since last year, most of the mercenaries have been GNA-supporting Syrian mercenaries to assist agaisnt the Haftar offensive in December 2019.  However, what has not been as widely publicized is Haftar’s lack of manpower, and therefore dependence on Sudanese mercenaries. Haftar has had a manpower shortage by design.  Russia has contributed Wagner mercenaries towards Triploli’s front line, and had a multiplier effect from September to November enabling the LNA advance, and playing an instrumental role in the Tripoli offensive.  The GNA has tried and was able to recruit Chadean mercenaries, but not nearly as large as the amount of the Sudanese for the LNA.  Most of these mercenaries have been fighting for money, though the Wagner mercenaries have been transferred to advance the agenda of the Kremlin.  The UAE has fallen behind while Russia’s mercenaries have increased their influence and involvement.

Pervez Bilgrami concluded the series of presentations with his coverage of the U.S stance in Libya.  Thus far the U.S. position has been largely ambiguous due to interests in oil and their alliances with the actors.  The U.S. stance has in part been affected by the participation of Russia.  The Russian intervention has been a bit concerning for the United States. The U.S. has two options going forward: either supporting the Government of National Accord or remaining ambiguous.  In his view, the U.S. will have to take a more present position favoring the GNA to move forward out of this conflict.

The presentations were followed by an in-depth question and answer segment. If you were unable to attend this event, you can watch a recording of the webinar here.

For updates on future event updates, please visit nycfpa.org or e-mail [email protected]

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