By Chris Nineham
This is set to be the start of the biggest Western military operation on Libyan territory since the 2011
The US has launched a sustained bombing campaign around Sirte in Libya in a new escalation of the War on Terror. US officials are reported to be briefing that they plan to take a greater role in Libya as part of a long-term campaign against Islamic State.
In any case, this is set to be the start of the biggest Western military operation on Libyan territory since the 2011 bombing campaign which removed the Ghaddafi regime, killed tens of thousands and broke up the Libyan state. The result has been five years of chaos and civil war as at least four regional governments have fought for influence and overall control.
Announcing the attacks, US officials and members of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) stated that US fighters had been ‘invited in’ to help the government in its struggle against IS. There is an Orwellian ring to such claims. Prime Minister Sarraj and his administration were imposed on the country earlier in the year, by, you guessed it, the United States and its allies. The Prime Minister designate was taken to Tripoli from exile in Tunisia in a Saudi aircraft carrier and was holed up for months in a naval base in the capital’s port, because it was judged too dangerous for him to travel in a hostile country.
Even now, after months of arm twisting by the NATO powers, Sarraj’s GNA is not recognised in large parts of the country, including, according to some reports, in most of Tripoli. The east of the country is controlled by forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar who does not recognise the GNA and is fighting his own campaign against IS.
The curse of oil
The attacks on IS, who occupy some of the most important oil and gas producing areas in the country, have to be seen against this background. They come at a time when IS control appears to be weakening rather than strengthening, and interestingly, just a day after the New York Times announced an agreement between the GNA and the Petroleum Facilities Guards to reopen three eastern ports that haven’t been shipping oil for eighteen months. The paper reported that the National Oil Company estimates that nationwide oil production could increase by 150,000 barrels a day, from about 400,000 barrels a day, within two weeks.
The new offensive by the US is part of an attempt to secure hegemony in one of the most important oil and gas producing countries in the world. Libya has the largest crude oil reserves in Africa, and the fifth largest gas reserves. Its location so close to Europe makes it particularly important strategically for the Western powers. The forces that recapture Sirte and the Sirte Basin to its South – the location of 80% of proven reserves – will control the Libyan economy.
Western military escalation in Libya has been under discussion for months now. It was agreed in principle at the recent Warsaw NATO conference. As well as securing Western control over the oil, a friendly and effective government in Libya is important to EU countries to help stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean into Europe. The assault is also likely to be a response to the ramping up of the Russian air offensive in Syria.
This kind of neo-colonial offensive can only pile further misery on to the Libyan people who have suffered a social meltdown as a result of the last. It will entrench divisions and intensify violence. We must step up our efforts to break our governments’ obsession with military solutions.