LNA: Who supports it and who equips it? Soon after the death of Gaddafi in 2011, a temporary government mainly made up of Western-supported rebels called the National Transitional Council took over Libya. In 2012, the National Transitional Council was dissolved and replaced by the Government of National Accord with support from the United Nations. In 2014, the political parties in power since 2012 lost their mandate following controversial elections. They refused to recognise the results of said elections and instead voted to unilaterally extend their power for at least one more year. Since then, the country has been cut in two and is in the middle of its second civil war since 2011!
The Western half of Libya is controlled by the General National Congress (GNC/GNA) which is still supported by the international community despite not having respected the results of the 2014 elections. This faction rules from Tripoli. The Eastern half of Libya is controlled by the House of Representatives (HoR) which won the 2014 elections and is established in Tobruk. The General National Congress accuses the House of Representatives of being dominated by pro-Gaddafi supporters. The House of Representatives accuses the General National Congress of giving into an Islamist agenda and refusing to recognise the results of the 2014 elections.
Enter Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar. Khalifa Haftar was a Libyan officer who took part in the military coup that brought Gaddafi to power in 1969. His military curriculum had previously seen him go through Egyptian and Soviet military academies. In 1973, he led the Libyan expeditionary corps that entered the Yom Kippur war against Israel on the Egyptian side. By 1986, he was leading the Libyan forces involved in the Chadian-Libyan conflict. Made prisoner by the Chadians in 1987, he was released on behalf of the United States of America. The Americans flew him and some of his men to Zaire where he joined the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, an anti-Gaddafi structure financed by the CIA. In 1990, Haftar and 300 of his men were welcomed to the United States of America as refugees. From there, they piloted and guided various attempts at toppling Gaddafi.
By 2011, Haftar was back in Libya as number 3 of the newly established Libyan Army which was created at the same time as the new national government (National Transitional Council). However, in 2014, Haftar fell out with the Libyan government when it refused to recognise the result of the elections. He instead, pledged his support to the rebel House of Representatives of Tobruk. He has been leading the armed forces of this faction since 2015.
From 2015 onwards, Haftar first consolidated his hold on Eastern Libya, fighting against militias and gangs loyal to Al-Qaeda and ISIS that had taken over swathes of Eastern Libya including the city of Benghazi. Once successful in ejecting the jihadis from strategic areas, his forces turned against those loyal to the internationally recognised government of Tripoli. Haftar also travelled a lot to cultivate his personal links and stir up support for the cause he defends. He travelled to Egypt, Russia, Jordan, Greece and the UAE. He also met with French and German ministers… While some of his troops have been accused of War Crimes several times, Haftar has gained the support of many foreign backers.
A tale of two armies
In 2012, when the GNA took over the ruins of post-Gaddafi Libya, work got underway to rebuild the Libyan Armed Forces. They merged remnants of the old Libyan army and various rebel militias and created the Libyan Army. Said Libyan Army inherited a blend of hardware left over from the Gaddafi period with the addition of some Western systems that had been supplied to the rebels during the 2011 Civil War. In 2014, as a new Civil War erupted, the Libyan Armed Forces split between the GNA and the HoR. Forces loyal to the GNA retained its Libyan Army name while the rebel units that pledged allegiance to the HoR adopted the Libyan National Army (LNA).
The Libyan Army (loyal to the GNA) is a melting pot of militias, warbands, jihadi groups, Touareg fighters and volunteers. It fields between 6,000 and 8,500 men and is supported by between 9,000 and 13,000 Syrian jihadis/militiamen.
The Libyan National Army (LNA, loyal to the HoR) looks in better shape, on paper at least: It seems that when Haftar defected to the House of Representatives side, most army units followed him. The LNA has a more professional structure and has a manpower of roughly 7,000 regular servicemen. The LNA can also count on roughly 18,000 various militiamen and irregulars: MadKhali (Salafi) militiamen, warbands and the Al-Kaniyat militia which has been sanctioned for War Crimes by both the EU and the US… Several thousand foreign mercenaries also fight for Haftar: They mainly come from Sudan (4,000 men) and Chad. One should also mention the 800 to 1,200 Wagners servicemen from Russia fighting on Haftar’s side.
All said and done, there are around 20,000 foreign fighters in Libya, supporting one side or the other. A recent UN report called this a “textbook case of foreign intervention.”
It is also worth nothing that both sides make use of jihadi militiamen…
On the 4th of April 2019, Khalifa Haftar announced that his Libyan National Army was mobilising to attack Tripoli. This prompted US SOCOM to fly planes from Greece to Libya. Less than 12 hours later, US military and civilian personnel started evacuating from Libya.
Haftar’s offensive was painfully slow and a GNA counter-offensive had brought both sides to a grinding standstill by June 2019.
The GNA and Turkey inked a deal and Ankara pledged to support the Libyan Army on the 27th of November 2019. Haftar reacted by relaunching his offensive on Tripoli on the 12th of December. The Turkish response was swift as Turkish troops landed in Libya as soon as on January the 2nd 2020. Despite this, on January the 6th, the Libyan National Army managed to capture Sirte. 5 days later a Russian and Turkish brokered cease-fire was announced.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted a Libyan peace conference in Berlin on the 19th of January. It involved several European nations as well as Russia, Turkey and the USA. It also involved several African countries and representatives from the United Nations and the African Union. All participating parties signed a 55-point communique. 7 days later, Haftar’s forces shattered the cease-fire and advanced again, gaining ground on GNA troops. Both sides met in Geneva for further talks on the 3rd of February as well as on the 18th of February but failed to reach a compromise.
Haftar’s forces gained more ground up until the 13th of April when the GNA’s Libyan Army, now reinforced by Turkish troops and logistics as well as by Syrian auxiliaries, launched a large-scale counterattack. By May 2020, the GNA visibly had the upper hand as Haftar’s troops were vacillating between retreat and rout, abandoning vast quantities of hardware as they yielded ground. The GNA also launched an offensive toward Sirte. Moscow reinforced Wagner’s troops in Libya toward mid-May. Those Russian mercenaries seem to have managed to stem the LNA retreat and bring the Libyan Army offensive to a standstill, saving Haftar’s forces in the process.
Who supports who?
- The UAE. Abu Dhabi considers Haftar a trusted partner capable of curbing the spread of political Islam, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. The UEA has been Haftar’s main financial backer, providing funds and weaponry. Abu Dhabi has also provided LNA troops with direct air support.
- Egypt. Cairo’s aversion to the Muslim Brotherhood has meant that it found in Haftar a natural ally. Cairo has provided the LNA with money, hardware, training facilities and air support.
- France. While France officially supports the UN-backed GNA, in reality, France diplomatically supports Haftar. French SF activity has been reported in Libya as far back as in 2016 when Francois Hollande was still president. President Macron is carrying over the same policy. As such, French advisors and weapons are often sighted in Eastern Libya.
- Russia. Officially on the UN side (GNA). In reality, one of Haftar’s (LNA) main backers. Moscow has provided hardware, spares and logistics as well as 800-1,200 Wagners operator. Russian support doesn’t stop at military technical support and weapons supplies: Moscow has also printed Libyan currency (Dinars) for the faction’s international commercial transactions and has provided Haftar’s forces with medical aid.
- Saudi Arabia is financially backing the LNA. Riyadh dislikes the Muslim Brotherhood almost as much as Egypt does.
- Jordan supplies the LNA with logistical support (Training and vehicles).
- Sudan has sent up to 3,000 fighters to fight on behalf of the LNA: Khartoum is firmly on the LNA side.
- Israel. Mossad has supplied training for senior LNA officers in Egypt, including military tactics, intelligence-gathering, analysis and command & Control procedures. Israeli officers were reportedly present in LNA-controlled areas between August and September 2019 to train Haftar’s militias on street warfare tactics.
- Turkey. Logistical support as well as advisors on the ground, air defences, armoured vehicles and drones along with their operators. Turkey trains and pays Syrian jihadis to fight in Libya on behalf of the GNA. Turkey has signed a Maritime Boundary Treaty with the GNA. This treaty extends Turkish EEZ by infringing on Cypriot waters. The deal has been condemned by nearly everybody on the diplomatic arena, including Israel (which has economic ties and interests with Cyprus) and Washington.
- Qatar supports the GNA diplomatically.
- Washington officially supports the GNA: It supported its creation back in 2015. USAFRICOM met with GNA officials on the 22nd of June 2020. However, Haftar is a US citizen and worked for the CIA for a long time. President Trump praised Haftar for his role against Islamic terrorism back in April 2020. The majority of American allies in the region back the LNA. One might think Washington would openly support Haftar if he wasn’t already supported by… Moscow!
- Italy has tried to remain neutral in Libya and has officially supported UN efforts for a cease-fire. However, Italy has interests in Libya (oil) which are linked to the survival of the GNA. As such, Rome has expressed its displeasure at France’s support on the ground to the LNA.
As one can see, the international community tends to support Haftar despite the fact his faction (HoR) and his army (LNA) fight the authorities supported and recognised by the United Nations! When Haftar announced his offensive on Tripoli back in April 2019, the world community tutted and wagged a finger… Meanwhile, LNA backers were pouring weapons and hardware into Libya in violation of a UN arms embargo that has been in place since 2011!
Equipping the LNA: Timeline
Streit Typhoon MRAP (4X4). Produced by the UAE and supplied by the UAE.
Boragh AMV Armoured Mortar Vehicle. Produced by Iran. Procured and supplied by Sudan.
Fath Safir 4X4 equipped with Taka 107mm rocket launcher. The Safir is produced by Iran. The Taka is a Sudanese version of the Chinese Type 63 multiple rocket launcher. Supplied by Sudan.
Soviet-era Mi-8 Hip helicopters. Supplied by Egypt.
Soviet-era MiG-21MF Fishbed. Supplied by Egypt.
Soviet era SPG-9 recoiless rifle. Supplied by Sudan
Soviet-era Mi-24P (Hind-F gunship) and Mi-24V (Hind-E Anti-Tank platform). Supplied by the UAE. Most probably acquired from Belarus.
BAE Caiman MRAP. Produced by the USA. Procured and delivered by the UAE.
Igirigi APC. Produced by Nigeria. Acquired and supplied by the UAE.
Schiebel Camcopter S-100. Produced by Austria. Operated by UAE servicemen on behalf of LNA.
CAIG Wing Loong UAV. Produced by China. Operated by UAE servicemen on behalf of LNA.
Orlan-10 UAV. Produced by Russia. Operated by Wagner personnel on behalf of LNA.
UH-60M Blackhawk. Produced by the USA. Operated by UAE pilots in the SAR role on behalf of the LNA.
AT-802i Air Tractor. Produced by the USA. Operated by UAE pilots on behalf of the LNA.
GBU-12 Paveway II. Manufactured in the USA. Used by the UAE AT-802i.
Soviet era Il-18 (Coot). Chartered by the UAE from Moldova on behalf of the LNA.
Soviet era Il-76 strategic airlifter (Candid). Chartered by the UAE from various sources on behalf of the LNA.
Norinco HJ-10 (BA-7 Blue Arrow) AT missiles for Wing Loong UAVs.
Soviet-era BRDM-2 Combat Reconnaissance/Patrol Vehicle. Purchased from Ukraine by the UAE and subsequently given to the LNA..
JAIS N35 multipurpose MRAP (4X4 variant). Produced and supplied by the UAE.
KrAZ Kuguar (Cougar) APC. Ukrainian made Streit Cougar. Procured and delivered by the UAE.
KrAZ Spartan APC. Designed by the Streit Group. Made under license in Ukraine. Procured and delivered by the UAE.
KrAZ Cobra Armoured Car. Designed by the Streit Group. Made under license in Ukraine. Procured and delivered by the UAE.
MSPV Panthera T6F APC. Produced and supplied by the UAE.
M-30 Howitzer (122mm). Manufactured and supplied by Russia.
Norinco AH4 155mm howitzer. Chinese built. Operated by UAE personnel on behalf of LNA.
Norinco GP-1A 155mm laser-guided ammunition for AH4 howitzer.
Qods Mohajer-2 UAV. Manufactured by Iran. Acquired and supplied by Sudan.
MiG-23. Supplied by Russia from surplus stock to be used as spares for Libyan MiGs operated by LNA.
Soviet-era AN-26 Curl. Chartered by the UAE from an unknown source on behalf of the LNA.
J8 Jeep (Wrangler JK). Manufactured in the USA. Acquired and supplied by Egypt.
Fateh-4 Mine clearing platform. Egyptian-made and supplied.
MSVP Panthera F9 APC. Produced and supplied by the UAE.
Nimr II Armoured Vehicle. Based on GAZ Tiger. Produced and supplied by the UAE.
KADDB Al-Wahsh APC equipped with Snake Head Turrets. Both vehicles and turrets are produced by Jordan. The vehicle is based on a Czech Tatra chassis. Supplied by Jordan.
Dassault Falcon 900. French platform. Owned and operated by the UAE. Sometimes used by Haftar himself.
Deidre Class Offshore Patrol Ship. Irish built. Acquired by the UAE from Ireland and renamed Al-Karama.
RPG-32 Nash-Shab. Designed by Russia and built under licence by Jordan. Supplied by Jordan.
Al-Mared 8X8 APC. Built by Jordan on the basis of a Tatra chassis. Supplied by Jordan.
Mbombe 6X6 IFV. Manufactured in South Africa. Purchased and supplied by Jordan.
TAG Terrier LT-79 Armoured Car. Based on Toyota Land Cruiser 79. American made. Acquired and supplied by the UAE.
FMG-148 Javelin. Manufactured in the USA. Rumoured to have been operated by French personnel.
Pantsir S-1 AAA. Russian made. Operated by UAE and Libyan operators. subsequently used by Wagner personnel.
MiM-23 Hawk. American made. Operated by UAE personnel at Al-Qadim Air Base.
Pantsir S1M. Russian Made. Operated by Wagner personnel. Shot one Italian and one American MQ-9 Reaper.
CAIG Wing Loon II UAV. Operated by UAE servicemen on behalf of LNA.
Yabhon United 40 UAV. Chinese made. Supplied by the UAE.
Soviet-era Mi-8 Hip Air Ambulance. Flown by Egyptian pilots on behalf of the LNA.
AS332L Super Puma helicopter. French made. Operated by South African Private Military Company Lancaster 6. Flown by Western Mercenaries.
SA 341 Gazelle helicopter. French made. Operated by South African Private Military Company Lancaster 6. Flown by Western Mercenaries.
Mirage 2000. French made. Operated by Egyptian pilots from Sidi Barrani AB in Egypt.
Pilatus PC6 ISR. Swiss made. Operated by South African Private Military Company Lancaster 6. Flown by Western Mercenaries.
Madera MRC-1250 RIBS. Fast outboards made in the Netherlands. Chartered by Lancaster 6 from a Maltese arms dealer.
Norinco Type 56 Assault Rifle. Chinese made based on Soviet AK-47. Supplied by the UAE.
Norinco Type 80 Machine Gun. Chinese made based on Soviet PKM. Supplied by the UAE.
Norinco W85 Heavy Machine Gun. Chinese made. Supplied by the UAE.
Norinco Type 69 RPG. Chinese-made based on Soviet RPG-7. Supplied by the UAE.
120mm MP62P8 and MP62P10 mortar rounds. Made in Serbia. Purchased and supplied by the UAE.
Spare parts for T-72, T-55, BMP-1 and 2S1 Gvozdika supplied by Russia.
Orsis T-5000 sniper rifle. Russian made. Operated by Wagner.
Dassault Falcon 900DX. French platform. Owned and operated by the UAE.
T-55E. Soviet made. Supplied by Egypt.
Soviet-era T-62M and T-62MV. From Russian surplus stock. Supplied by Russia.
Valkyrie MRAP (Ural-432007-0111-31 “Shchuka”). Dubbed “Wagner Wagon”. Solely used and operated by Wagner.
INKAS Titan-S 4X4 APC. Manufactured and supplied by the UAE.
INKAS Titan-S 6X6 APC. Manufactured and supplied by the UAE.
GAZ Tigr-M. Russian made. Operated by Wagner.
Soviet-era M37 82mm mortar. Supplied by Russia.
Soviet-era M1943 120mm mortar (SAMOVAR). Supplied by Russia.
M-74 120mm mortar. Made in Serbia. Purchased and supplied by the UAE.
D-30 122mm Howitzer. Operated by Wagner.
2A65 MSTA-B 155mm Self Propelled Howitzer. Operated by Wagner.
G5 155mm howitzer. Made in South Africa. Supplied by the UAE.
LRSVM Morava self-propelled multiple rocket launcher. Made in Serbia. Supplied by the UAE.
Soviet-era 9M113 Konkurs ATGM. Supplied by the UAE.
9M113 Kornet ATGM. Made in Russia. Purchased and supplied by the UAE.
Soviet-era ZU-23-2CP AAA. Purchased from Poland by the UAE and subsequently handed over to the LNA.
Soviet-era S-125 Neva SAM. Acquired by the UAE from Belarus and subsequently handed over to the LNA.
Soviet-era P-18 VHF Early Warning Radar. Operated by Wagner.
Groza-S counter-UAV electronic warfare station. Made in Russia. Operated by Wagner.
Zala 421-16E VTOL UAV. Made in Russia. Operated by Wagner.
MiG-29S Fulcrum. Ex-Russian Air Force. Operated by Wagner.
Su-24M Fancer. Ex-Russian Air Force. Operated by Wagner.
AN-32 Cline transport aircraft. Chartered by the UAE on behalf of the LNA.
Dassault Falcon 50EX. French made. Owned and operated by the UAE.
Gulfstream G550. American made. Owned and operated by the UAE.
Ural 4320 multipurpose truck. Made in Russia. Operated by Wagner.
KamAZ 6X6 truck. Russian made. Operated by Wagner.
KamAZ 8X8 truck. Made in Russia. Operated by Wagner.
AK-103 assault rifle. Russian made. Operated by Wagner.
POM-2 anti-personnel mines. Russian made. Operated by Wagner.
Soviet-era PMN-2 anti-personnel mines. Operated by Wagner.
MON-50, MON-90, MON-100 and OZM-72 anti-personnel mines. Operated by Wagner.
TM-62 and TM-83 anti-tank mines. Operated by Wagner.
ML-8 anti-lift detonators. Russian booby-traps. Operated by Wagner.
The list above was compiled from research materials published by https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/. They identified each of the vehicles and weapon system/platform listed above through open-source pictures and videos.
This impressive and varied arsenal might be a supply and maintenance nightmare waiting to happen, but short-term, coupled with Haftar’s numerical superiority, it should have handed the LNA a victory in Tripoli. The problem here is that the hardware is as good or effective as its operators. Haftar’s militiamen were unable to take Libya’s capital at its weakest. Worse, when the GNA counter-attacked in May 2020, bolstered by battle-hardened Syrian jihadis and advised by Turkish officers, the LNA crumbled away, yielding strategic ground and leaving behind large quantities of weapons and hardware. In the Donbass, Russia has shown that volunteer units and militiamen can be wielded effectively against a regular army given they are motivated and receive the correct support, training and leadership on the ground. Maybe Haftar’s foreign fighters lack discipline and motivation. They certainly lack efficient and decisive leadership. The LNA definitely lacks correct training, as illustrated by Libyan officers sent to Jordan to be trained in operating the Pantsir and coming back to Libya within a matter of weeks, “certified” on the platform, right on time to get slaughtered by Turkish drones…
Still… One man’s loss is another man’s treasure as illustrated in June 2020 when US troops managed to spirit an abandoned Emirati Pantsir S1 out of Libya!
What’s next for Libya?
It seems the fate of the country won’t be decided by its own citizens as Libya has become, just like Syria, a battleground for foreign armies and a tool wielded by geopolitical players to try and gain leverage in the global diplomatic arena. 2020 saw the conflict escalate dramatically, with Turkey entering the fray on the side of the GNA and Moscow responding in kind, increasing its support to Haftar and sending in high-end hardware and more men. Both the HoR and the GNA (and their respective armies) have reached a diplomatic and military stalemates.
Several countries have stakes in the Libyan conflict:
Italy and France both want a share of Libyan oil production. France is also fighting an Islamist insurgency in Sahel and sees it as a logical step to also fight that war in Libya (albeit undercover).
France, Cyprus, Greece and Israel on one hand and Turkey on the other are at odds over the Maritime Boundary Treaty signed between Ankara and the GNA as the new Turkish EEZ infringes on Cypriot waters that are rich in oil (Cyprus and Israel have a treaty in place to explore and exploit those oil deposits together).
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE oppose the Muslim Brotherhood organisation. They are also at odds with both Turkey and Qatar over various issues. At the same time, Turkey and Qatar enjoy flourishing diplomatic and military cooperation.
Ankara is making use of its past as colonial power to wield influence on the territories of the defunct Ottoman Empire. It can be seen in Crimea/Ukraine, it can be seen in Syria, in Nagorno-Karabakh and also in Libya: The LNA is made up of various Arab Tribes while the Libyan Army counts a fair amount of ethnic Turcik militiamen…
Russia is in the process of ramping up its influence and military and diplomatic clout in both the Middle-East (Syria) and Africa (CAR, Libya). Gaining two military bases in Syria (Tartus and Hmeimim) has greatly expanded Russia’s footprint across all spectrums. A military base in Northern Africa, just across the Mediterranean from the European underbelly, would also be of great strategic importance.
A quick look at the map shows that Turkey and Russia compete in the same geographical arena. It is not surprising as their respective spheres of influence have clashed since the times of the Ottoman and Russian empires! We may now be faced with a Syrian scenario in Libya where months of relative calm on the front may be shattered by sudden -violent and bloody – offensives initiated by one side or another. Each of those campaigns being followed by intense diplomatic activity from the international community… All for nothing as Ankara and Moscow hold the cards and always end up settling their differences in private and signing cease-fire treaties while reinforcing the respective sides they support… Until the next offensive… Through that optic, it is not difficult to see the Libyan conflict being linked (in Turkish and Russian minds) to the Syrian one as well as being linked to the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and (soon, maybe) in the Donbass…