Libya plagued by the war decade after US-backed forces ousted Gaddafi

Driving home late at night, Nosaiba Drera’s heart beat faster when the soldiers motioned for him to stop.

Drera, a doctor returning home from a busy night shift in the Libyan capital Tripoli, was at the forefront of the fight in the war-torn North African country, battling a virus machine. CT scanner rotates only a few hours before.

But now many fearful scenarios played out in his mind.

“I refused to open my window because I was scared,” he told NBC News via Facebook Messenger. “But you learn how to deal with them.”

Being detained by militiamen brandishing weapons at makeshift obstacles is part of the new normal, Drera, 26, said sadly.

During the “Arab Spring” uprisings that spread throughout the region, Libya descended into civil war in 2011, shortly after its former dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, was overthrown with the help of an international coalition that included the States United.

Now, the country’s long-term observers say it is on the verge of collapse when two factions, backed by rival foreign powers, fight to lead the oil-rich nation.

Meanwhile, millions of Libyans like Drera feel caught in the middle.

Libya remains torn between the internationally recognized government of Prime Minister Fayez Serraj in Tripoli and the US military strongman and passport holder Khalifa Haftar, who controls the oil-rich East.

Turkey has provided financial and military support to the Serraj administration, while Russia and Egypt back Haftar, sending a stream of mercenary fighters and weapons to aid him in his bid to gain more territory, according to regional experts.

The calls for a ceasefire are getting louder.

This week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov joined the Arab League and the European Union to urge a pause in hostilities, offering a ray of hope to Libyans like Drera, who are fed up with the fighting.

But still the civil war continues, drawing a scene crammed with foreign powers, as Libya remains a hot spot for potential conflicts across the region.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi escalated tensions last weekend when he ordered his army to be ready to carry out any mission outside the country, adding that Egypt had a legitimate right to intervene in neighboring Libya. .

Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in Athens, Greece on January 17, 2020.Reuters Archive

The main goals of any intervention, he said, would include protecting the more than 1,000 km (621 mi) stretch of Egypt’s western border with Libya, achieving a ceasefire and restoring stability.

Arab foreign ministers were quick to convene an emergency meeting on Tuesday and quickly made it clear that they would spearhead any new battle in Libya, favoring a political solution, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a release.

There are many reasons for foreign powers to take an interest in Libya. A member of OPEC, Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa and can offer strategically located military bases along the Mediterranean Sea.

Meanwhile, millions of Libyans face food and gasoline shortages, a stagnant economy, and feel alienated as their country falls into a free political fall.

“This conflict is less and less about Libyans,” said Mohamed Eljarh, Tobruk-based Libyan affairs specialist and co-founder of Libya Outlook, an investigative firm.

“For many Libyans, this is the most vulnerable we have been,” he added. “I am of the opinion that we are heading towards an escalation in Libya.”

Fighters loyal to the internationally recognized Libyan government celebrate after regaining control of the city in Tripoli.Ayman Al-Sahili / Reuters

The past few weeks have marked a turning point in the complex conflict.

In a series of quick victories, the Tripoli-based government, with Turkish support, regained most of north-western Libya under its control, while Haftar’s forces, with the help of Russia, had been trying to take the capital .

Last week, the United Nations expressed “alarm” over the use of mercenaries, foreign fighters mostly paid from Russia, Syria and Sudan, and said that foreign actors had contributed to the escalation of the conflict.

The use of mercenaries allows Russia to deny its involvement in Libya, said Nathan Vest, a Middle East specialist at RAND Corporation, a group of experts based in the United States.

“It has become an integral part of Russia’s geostrategic strategy book, which operates in a gray zone environment, where they are reluctant to deploy conventional forces,” he said.

“They don’t really fool anyone, we know that Russia is operating in this space.”

The United States Command for Africa has also repeatedly accused Moscow of trying to “tip the balance in its favor in Libya” by sending mercenary soldiers and fighter jets to the country.

Russia has denied such claims.

Russia’s Special Representative to the Middle East and North Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said in an interview published this month on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry that the allegations that Russia commissioned mercenaries they were false and “largely based on falsified data”.

The UN also warned that it was concerned that Turkey would deploy Syrian fighters as mercenaries in Libya.

In many ways, the tensions between Turkey and Russia in Libya mirror those unfolding in nearby Syria, where the two powers support opposing sides in another protracted civil war.

“In general, I think [Russia’s] objective [in Libya] it is to secure a prominent place at the table for postwar settlement loot, including some military-based rights, “Vladimir Frolov, a Russian foreign affairs analyst, told NBC News.

“Another part of the game is to maintain some pressure on Turkey to secure Turkish concessions in Syria.”

Since the death of US Ambassador Chris Stevens in the eastern city of Benghazi in 2012, the United States has been embroiled in the Libyan conflict.

Stevens’ death led to a damning investigation into the Obama administration’s handling of the attack and affected the then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

Although there are no American boots on the ground in Libya, last year President Donald Trump lent his support to Haftar and said he recognized his “important role in the fight against terrorism and the security of Libya’s oil resources.”

But in recent months, Trump appears to have stopped publicly supporting the moustached military man, who lived in Virginia for 20 years, and welcomed calls for a ceasefire.

A member of the security forces is at the reported site of a mass grave in the city of Tarhouna.Mahmud Turkia / AFP – Getty Images

The instability in Libya is also leading to a humanitarian crisis.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed surprise this month at the discovery of at least eight mass graves near the western city of Tarhuna.

It is unclear how recent the graves are, but the UN chief called for a full investigation and the return of the bodies.

Europe has also maintained an interest in Libya, largely to stem the flow of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa crossing the Mediterranean Sea to southern Europe.

Seeing her country grow more unrecognizable every day, Drera said Facebook groups and social media were helping her and other Libyans navigate their cities safely, avoiding the militia, road blocks and areas bombed.

As power outages now extend to 17 hours a day and critical infrastructure is sinking, some are even whispering that life was easier under Gaddafi, he said.

Others try to cope, continuing with wedding celebrations and family reunions, but most are tired of the war.

“Although it is sad, most people only want the bare minimum,” he said. “A feeling of stability”.

Reuters contributed to this report.