France Playing Both Sides of the Political Divide in Libya

On 7 October, the Misratan-led Bunyan al-Marsus (BM) forces fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in Sirte launched a fresh assault against the Third Residential area (which includes the Hay al-Gizah and 600 Flats areas), the redoubt of the remaining ISIS fighters. BM forces succeeded in splitting the enclave, and have reportedly moved tanks and armoured cars into this gap, although BM fighters continued to face resistance and have found explosive devices in many buildings. The Bunyan al-Marsus media official, Ali al-Mabrouk, said “the forces of Bunyan Marsus made some advances and completely trapped the 600 block area in Sirte.” At least 8 BM fighters were killed in this latest advance; 560 have been killed since fighting began in May, with more than 2,750 injured.

On 6 October, US AFRICOM announced that it has conducted 210 sorties since the start of US air support operations on 1 August. Although the Misratan Military Council (MMC) is supporting the Government of National Accord (GNA) and conducting the anti-ISIS operation in Sirte nominally via under the GNA’s auspices, MMC Head Beit al-Mal has indicated unhappiness with the US air support, saying it is still ineffective. However, Beit al-Mal said Misrata would respond if Haftar’s forces advanced further west or tried to keep oil revenues for themselves. Jeff Davies, from the US Department of Defence, said that US air support has exceeded its planned timeframe since Operation Odyssey was launched on 1 August, as it was only expected for a few weeks but it is now going into its third month.

Recently, Haftar’s envoys have been received by high level officials in several European capitals, indicating that Haftar’s leverage is growing. After the controversial regional powers meeting on Libya — which took place in Paris on 2 October — ended without agreement, Haftar’s envoy Ali al-Gutrani, former boycotting PC member, and Eissa Aribi, head of the HoR’s energy committee, met with the Italian FM Paolo Gentiloni on 5 October in Rome. Gentiloni stressed the need for the PC to make compromises with Haftar if it is to succeed. Additionally, Mohamed Al Dairi, the former foreign minister in the HoR’s government, visited officials in Brussels in late September, before going on to Paris.

On October 4, French FM Jean-Marc Ayrault, publicly called for Haftar to be “left a place” in the future unified national government. This indicates a new alignment between the French Foreign Minister and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, reportedly a keen supporter of Haftar, who supported him with French Special Forces in Benghazi for several months. France’s playing both sides of the political divide in Libya is coming under criticism at the highest levels of European policy-making.

Libya-Analysis is the most read independent English-language blog on Libyan affairs. It is run by Jason Pack, founder of EyeOnISISinLibya.com and researcher of World History at Cambridge University