Turkish forces training armed militia members in Tripoli.
The official spokesperson of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Major General Ahmed al-Mismari confirmed that issue of the armed militias in Libya was one of the main obstacles facing the safe political path of the Libyan crisis.
(LIBYA 23 May 2021) – In a recent media interview with Egypt’s Hafryat News, Major General Ahmed al-Mismari said the armed forces and militia members that control the entire west of Tripoli, are still present with full weaponry and they represent a serious threat to Libya’s stability and sovereignty. He said that this issue was one of the most dangerous facing the political settlement, as it was a central point for the efforts of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission.
According to al-Mismari, the meeting that brought together the Commander-in-Chief of the LNA, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, with Chancellor Aguila Saleh, Speaker of the House of Representatives (HoR), in Al-Qubah was only a consultative meeting to discuss the most important and latest developments in the Libyan arena, and assess next steps. He said this was especially so in light of the changing situation on the political tracks and efforts to reduce the risk of the Muslim Brotherhood to the country due to its cooperation with armed militias in Libya.
Hafryat News: It seems important for Libya to achieve the unification of the military establishment and the nomination for the Minister of Defense post. What are the most significant challenges to reaching?
Ahmed al-Mismari: What you are talking about in your question, regarding the issue of unification of the Libyan military establishment, is a path which we started since 2017 in Cairo, and we have reached positive results, identifying some important criteria around which the goal of unifying the military institution can be centered. A major obstacle to achieving this is the presence of militias and their control over the capital—it is not possible to turn a blind eye to internationally-classified entities through the UN Security Council, such as takfiri and terrorist militias. These groups are working tirelessly against the idea of the effective presence of the Libyan armed forced, and do not wish at all to hand over their equipment and weapons to the army. I therefore say very frankly: The presence of these militias and mercenary forces stands against stability in Libya and undermine all efforts to unify the military, as the sole authority authorized to carry arms and to preserve national sovereignty on its soil.
As for the nomination of the Minister of Defense, it is a purely governmental affair, and it is away from my specific remit. However, there are clear obstacles identified by Abdul Hamid Dbaiba, Prime Minister of the interim Government of National Unity (GNU) in Sirte, during his statements on 10 March. Here he revealed the obstacles faced by the government of the nomination of the Minister of Defense, and referred to international interference that hinder this matter, as well as internal tensions, which stand in the way of achieving this.
In his speech to his forces on Libyan territory, the Turkish Defense Minister [Hulusi Akar] praised their role in stabilizing the situation on Libyan territory, land, sea and air. However, the Libyan Foreign Minister, Najla al-Mangoush, spoke repeatedly about the need for the exit of all foreign forces, mercenaries and militias, following the principle of the sovereignty of the Libyan state. How do you read the developments in light of this?
There is no doubt that the statements by the Foreign Affairs Minister [Najla al-Mangoush] regarding the need to exit militias and mercenary forces from all Libyan territory—according to the principle of the nation’s sovereignty—was fully consistent with the outputs of the 5+5 military dialogue in Geneva, Tunisia and Hurghada. The Geneva statement was issued on 23 October 2020, in addition to the outcomes of the Berlin Conference, where all political tracks stressed that it was necessary and imperative for all foreign forces, militias and foreign mercenaries to leave. The forces of foreign countries, in particular Turkish army units, are located within Libyan territory.
Ankara does not want to activate the issue of the exit of its forces, unless it feels it has achieved its interests, and the completion of guarantees to achieve its economic and political objectives—all of which are connected through its military presence in Libya. This may impact negatively on the level of relations between the two countries, both in the medium and long term.
How can you describe the presence of militias and mercenaries throughout Libyan territory, particularly in western Libya and Tripoli?
Armed militias, whether Takfiri militias or extremist militias affiliated to Sadiq al-Gharyani, or criminal and regional militias, all control the entire west of Tripoli, and are currently operating with full weaponry. They poses a serious threat to the stability of Libya, especially as some of these militias have been granted seeming “legitimacy” through the previous Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, which had assigned tasks to these armed groups. Therefore, this file is one of the most dangerous files facing the political path to resolve the Libyan crisis, and is a central point for the efforts of the 5+5 Joint Military Committee.
I emphasize that it was the danger these militias posed to the Libyan state that prompted the Libyan armed forces to launch Al-Karama Operations as their main objective.
Persistent efforts are being made by the 5+5 Joint Military Committee, through many files, and the opening of the coastal road as one of its key goals, because of the economic and strategic importance of this road. What is the situation now? What are the main challenges that hinder the opening of the coastal road?
What should be mentioned in the matter of the efforts of the 5+5 Military Committee, and the resulting subcommittees concerned with the tasks of clearing mines and remnants of war in facilitating and securing the opening of the coastal road, is that they are directly related to the main and specific tasks: ceasefire, exit of all foreigners, dissolving militias, and the hand over of weapons.
These points represent the key challenges facing the 5+5 Joint Military Commission. Militia forces are now demanding large sums of money, and are setting prerequisites, so that the efforts to open the road do not succeed. The members of the 5+5 military committee affiliated with the forces of the LNA General Command provide a daily report to the LNA’s Commander-in-Chief on developments and what has been achieved. In my assessment, the Libyan armed forces are fully ready and prepared to open the coastal road and hand it over to the Joint Military Committee—but only after ensuring its security and the safety of the Libyan citizen.
The Media spokesperson of the House of Representatitives (HoR) had revealed a meeting between Chancellor Aguila Saleh and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar recently. Did the meeting address the path of the GNU, especially about the situation in Benghazi and the efforts of the LNA?
The meeting that gathered Field Marshal Haftar and Chancellor Saleh in Al-Qubah was a consultative meeting, in which the debate reacted on the most important and recent developments in the Libyan arena. This was a meeting to accurately assess the situation, and the next steps, especially in light of the changing situation on the political field and the ongoing efforts to reduce the risks posed to Libya by the Muslim Brotherhood’s cooperation with armed militias in the country.
The meeting of the interim GNU in Benghazi has been stalled, following protocol measures that the government plane failed to adhere. How do you assess the incident? And when can the government hold its meeting in Benghazi?
The issue of the GNU plane was blown out of proportion by the hostile media, as if it was done to prevent the government from visiting the city of Benghazi.
However, what happened was that the plane carried 83 armed elements as a protection force for the government, and their arrival was preceded by the [publishing of the video which showed] verbal provocation by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbaiba when he said that Benghazi was returning to the homeland. This expression provoked the citizens in Benghazi, especially families of martyrs, and members of the armed forces. Therefore, it upset everyone when the GNU sent the armed members, which seemed more like a combat squad, and sent to a safe and stable city.
My view is that there were errors in the coordination of this visit. In any case, the Libyan citizens of Benghazi await the visit of the ministers of the GNU during the coming period.