The wave of uprisings in the Middle East has changed the history of the region. The so-called Arab Spring has brought the Arab Winter. The revolution, which started as a fight against the Qaddafi regime, has made Libya a failed state. The death of the country’s leader Muammar Qaddafi caused chaos in the country and triggered a struggle between different parts of the Libyan society. Libya has become yet another country entrapped in the 4th Generation conflict.

History of the Country

Libya has a long history. Throughout ages, the territory of the country was a melting pot of various nations: Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs. With the advent of Arabs, Islam spread over the country. From the 16th century, Libya became a part of the powerful Ottoman Empire (“Lybia Profile,” 2017). The Ottomans ruled the country almost until the beginning of World War I. The territory of the modern Libya became a coveted prize for the newly established Italian country. The race for colonies among European countries made Libya another victim of Italy. Only during World War II, allied powers ousted the Italian rule from the country.

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Libya became an independent state in 1951 (“Lybia Profile,” 2017). Three independent regions, Fezzan, Cyrenaika and Tripolitania, united under the rule of the pro-American king Idris al-Sanusi (El-Gamaty, 2016). The King of Libya started to export oil from the country to the Western World and faced growing opposition lead by Muammar Qaddafi. The opposition toppled the king’s rule in 1969 (“Lybia Profile,” 2017). Colonel Qaddafi became the new head of the country, introducing state-socialism and pan-Arab agenda. The whole era of the country’s history was associated with the name of Qaddafi, who was ousted and killed during the Arab Spring. The main anti-Qaddafi force, called the National Transitional Council, was recognized by the International Contact Group on Libya as the legitimate representative of the country. The National Transitional Council (NTC) has proclaimed liberation from the 40-years-long dictatorship of Colonel Qaddafi. However, many military groups refused to ground arms and continued to operate inside the country. The NTC proposed them to register within the new government; however, some of them did not accede to the offer.

The new wave of people’s disaffection with the government activity started when the Al-Qaeda militias of the Ansar al-Sharia made an assault on the US Consulate in Benghazi in 2012. The security vacuum formed after the end of the Qaddafi rule was now evident, and the NTC could not do anything to stop violence. Moreover, the NTC’s mandate to rule the country expired in February 2014. Instead of calling legitimate elections, the government made a decision to extend the authority of the NTC until the end of the year. The General of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Khaftar urged the NTC to abolish and hold democratic elections. However, the government rejected the demand.

History of the Conflict

Instability in the country, the lack of the rule of law, and external turmoil in the region led to the fueling of the conflict in Libya in 2014. The conflict started on May 16, 2014, when General Khalifa Khaftar announced a full-scale armed operation “Dignity” aimed at resignation of the NTC and holding new elections. Two days later, the group headed by Khaftar assaulted the building of the NTC in the capital of the country, Tripoli. As a result, elections were held in June and supported by the Khaftar group. The Council of Deputies defeated other candidates and was internationally recognized as the official government of the Libyan state. The main rival of the Council of Deputies was the Islamist groupings of the General National Congress.

In response to the defeat in the national elections, Islamists launched an operation aimed at capturing the capital of the country. Forty days after, they captured Tripoli and refused to recognize the Council of Deputies as the legitimate authority of the country. The latter left Tripoli and moved to a small town Tobruk in the eastern part of the country. The state started to fall apart, as various militant groups began to seize cities and territories of Libya. In particular, the Tuareg forces captured south-west Libya; the Islamic State took control over the strategic oil-rich cities; the Shura Council of Mujahideen ousted the Islamic State from the city of Derna, and local forces of the Misrata District controlled the territory on their own (Bhardwaj, 2015, p. 84).

In order to reconcile the parties and bring peace to the country, the UN launched negotiations between the rival parties of the Libyan conflict. Under the facilitation of the organization, a cease-fire agreement was signed in December 2015. The UN Security Council has also endorsed the Government of National Accord as the only unified legitimate executive power in the country. However, the coalition government exists only on paper, as the Tobruk government has not approved the existence of the united Government of National Accord yet.

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Type of Insurgency

The conflict in Libya is multilayered and involves many factions, actors and parties. However, there are no truly national actors in the conflict. The players are mostly internationally-backed, local-supported or even city-representing forces trying to gain control over the country (Fitzgerald & Toaldo, 2016). Moreover, there is a point in dividing all players into political actors, armed groups and jihadists while analyzing the conflict.

The political actors are three governments operating now on the territory of Libya, namely the Government of National Accord, the General National Congress and the Council of Deputies. The General National Congress consists mainly of the representatives of the Islamist Justice and Construction Party, the local party of Muslim Brotherhood’s in Libya. The aim of the government is to build Islamic state with Sharia law. However, the Justice and Construction Party condemns violence and claims to have peaceful and democratic origins. It calls all parties of the conflict in Libya to agreement. The Council of Deputies in eastern Libya is highly dependent on the General Khalifa Khaftar and his group Libyan National Army. This Council has a strong pro-western orientation, declaring human rights and liberties, rule of law and democracy the highest standards for any modern state. The unified government must have been a compromise between those two political parties of Libya. However, General Khaftar accuses the General National Congress of radical Islamism and fundamentalism and refuses to form a single government (Chivvis & Jeffrey, 2014, p. 57).

There are also three major non-state actors that influence the situation in Libya. The first one is the local brunch of the Islamic State, militants of which want Libya to become a part of the Pan-Islamic Caliphate under the rule of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi within the shortest possible period of time (Narbone, Favier, & Collombier, 2016, p. 42). The second one is the Al-Quaeda affiliated Ansar-al Sharia. The fundamentalist Islamist organization also aims to establish Caliphate with Sharia law without any specific period. The third group is Toureg militia, tribal Berber people aiming to protect their lands and save the autonomy of the region of Fezzan.

Key Actor Strategy

The aims of the key players also vary. The goal of the Council of Deputies and its armed wing the Libyan National Army is to take control over the country and prevent its rival to win the conflict. The second player, the general National Congress has more space to maneuver, as it can act either as a separate unit or through the Government of National Accord. Both of them are using the 3rd and the 4th generation warfare. The governments are still able to combat directly against technical machines. In general, those actors of the conflict are not violent towards local population. The tribal forces of Tuareg militia are willing to save the autonomy for their lands. Ethnically different from most Libyans Tuaregs are also clashing local Tebu tribe, which is not involved in the Libyan conflict. Thus, the conflict has tribal and ethnic pattern (“Guide to Key Libyan Militias,” 2016).

The real violent actors in the conflict are the Islamic State in Libya and Ansar al-Sharia. Sabotage, mass killings, and terrorist attacks are their methods of waging a war in Libya. The Islamic State took control over the main oil fields and pipelines. The notorious video of beheading of Christians on the Libyan coast that was released by the militants proves the cruelty and zero toleration from the jihadists’ side. The organization makes profit in Libya by selling drugs, human trafficking and smuggling. Ansar al-Sharia, for example, assaulted the US Consulate in 2012. Such military groups are a vivid example of the 4th generation warfare.

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Actor’s Structure, Supporters, and Operations

Nowadays Libya is mostly Islamic state. Thus, almost all member parties of the conflict are men. Christians comprise a small share of the country’s population. However, different groups refer to various versions of Islam. The most radical groups support such organizations such as the Islamic State and Ansar al-Sharia. The Egyptian’s variant of Islam and pan-Arabism is embodied in the General National Congress and its supporters. The views of the Council of Deputies on religion are the lightest version of religious affiliation.

However, the demography of the Libyan conflict is more complicated than it may seem at first. Libya is the country where geography matters. Three ancient provinces coincide with the political views. The eastern part, Cyrenaica, is under control of the Tobruk government; the north-western part, Tripolitania, is now formally ruled by the National Accord Government, which mostly consist of the representatives of the Justice and Construction Party. The south-western part of the country, or the territories of the historical Fezzan province, is controlled by the Tuareg tribe.

All actors except Tuareg militants are organized similarly to the states. Hierarchy, subordination, and bureaucratic apparatus are common for radical Islamists and three governments of the country. Moreover, the long-lasting conflict contributed to the formation of the idea of formation separate state ministers, banks and other governmental bodies by various governments (El-Gamaty, 2016). That is another complexity of the conflict in Libya. Furthermore, all groups operate with the help of external patronage. The Khalifa Khaftar group receives assistance mainly from Europe and America; the General National Congress gets help from Arab and Muslim countries (Egypt, UAE, Turkey, and Qatar).

Violence, brutality and bloodshed always accompany civil wars, conflicts and struggle for power. Physical violence can be seen everywhere on the streets. The highest its form, terrorism, aims to influence people’s minds psychologically. Terrorism is widely used by fundamentalist Islamists in the Libyan conflict. The Islamic State is guilty of religious violence, and Tuareg tribes are involved in ethnical violence.

Current Status of the Conflict

Libya today is a divided failed state with an ongoing conflict. The revolution, which marked the beginning of a new era in the country, brought Libya to chaos, anarchy and political vacuum. The united government is the chance to stop the painful process of disintegration of the Libyan state. However, until now General Khalifa Khaftar has not approved the unification of the two main rival governments. The delay of the process only helps other militant groups to win the some positions and detains the reconciliation and peace process. The national interest of the Libyan state is overshadowed by the regional and local ones.

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To some extent, the situation in Libya today is the repercussion of the colonial past. The artificially united provinces of Cyrenaika, Tripolitania and Fezzan seem to have more differences then anyone could suggest. Therefore, it is not surprising that at the height of the globalization process in the world, the regional principles, more distinct and unifying, prevail over the national ones. The collapse of Libya as well as the rise of the Islam in the Middle East is the backlash to globalization. “Back to the roots” will be a motto of the 21st century Lybia.

The strong international support of various actors and groups make the conflict in Libya a proxy one. The players in the Libyan conflict are mostly non-state and do not pursue the purpose of protection of the national interests. Directly or indirectly, many regional states are involved in the ongoing struggle in Libya. Moreover, the methods and tactics of waging war also prove that Libya is a prime example of the 4th generation conflict.


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