(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
In an interview with French news channel iTélé on Friday, General Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the self-proclaimed “Libyan National Army” (NLA), said it was “unthinkable” for eastern Libyan forces to join the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) until its armed wing has been disbanded.
Speaking on his views of the GNA’s military operations room against ISIS, Haftar said, “on this unified command centre, I would like to stress that Mr Serraj relies on militias and we refuse them. An army cannot unify with militias so they must be dismantled. It’s unthinkable to work with these armed factions.”
Haftar whose militia is loyal to the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) in eastern Libya said that he does not currently have any ties to Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s unity government.
“Firstly, we have no links with Mr Serraj and the Presidential Council which he leads is not recognised by the parliament (in the east),” he said.
Under the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), which was signed on December 17, 2015 by all parties in Libya, the HoR was designated as the unity government’s parliament and its members were required to conduct a symbolic vote of confidence to endorse the unity government in January, however they have yet to do so.
Haftar has repeatedly expressed his disregard for the Libyan Dialogue, the United Nations, and the new unity government, which was established to aid in establishing national reconciliation and unite Libya’s various political and armed factions vying for power and control of the country since the ousting of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Members of the HoR have been in disagreement on whether to uphold their end of the LPA and endorse the GNA, with HoR members objecting to article 8 of the agreement which stipulates that the Presidency Council is to assume the function of the Supreme Commander of the Libyan army.
Some HoR members, including Aguila Saleh, the president and speaker of the HoR, want article 8 dropped from the LPA as they are of the opinion that General Haftar is the legitimate Commander of the Libyan army.
However, according to the LPA, in which the HoR agreed to all of its articles at the time of signing, the Presidency Council is to assume the functions of the Supreme Commander of the Libyan Army, a function independent of the vote of confidence.
On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry, said that the “House of Representatives must take a vote on the GNA and honour the Skhirat agreement,” using another term for the LPA.
In addition, Haftar told iTélé that his forces are preparing to launch an offensive against ISIS in Sirte.
Haftar announced his offensive against Sirte over two weeks ago, despite warnings from Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj to hold off on any separate campaigns against ISIS.
“Daesh does not have the capacity to face the Libyan armed forces, but the battle could take time,” Haftar said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. “If the international community supports us, and I ask it should do so by lifting the embargo on weapons, then we could eliminate Daesh in Libya definitively and quickly.”
On Monday, during a meeting in Vienna between over 20 nations about Libya, the international community pledged their support of the GNA and agreed to partially lift the arms embargo placed on Libya in order to assist the unity government in their fight against ISIS.
It appears, however, that Hafter is currently not in the process of attacking Sirte. Instead, last week he launched Operation Volcano in the coastal city of Derna in order to allegedly liberate the city from terrorism and Islamist control. Derna’s Shura Council has openly opposed Haftar, and in April claimed that they were able to drive out ISIS from the city without the help of Haftar’s militia.
In a television interview on Tuesday, Haftar said that his main goal is to rid Libya of Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood whom he labels as terrorists.
Haftar remains to be a divisive figure in Libya and is pushing the country toward even more fragmentation. It is clear that if Haftar does not get the position he wants in the new GNA, he will continue to obstruct Libya from moving forward as a unified country.
On February 14, 2014, Haftar attempted a coup d’état, whereby he took control of Libya’s main institutions before announcing on television that he had suspended the General National Congress, the government and the Constitutional Declaration.