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Marshal Haftar ricoches in the Sahara

The echoes of the Libyan desert, these days, resonate to Paris. On 16 January, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the master of Cyrenaica (the eastern part of Libya), launched his self-proclaimed Libyan national army (NLA) to the south of the country. The goal of this offensive, according to his spokesman, is to "Purifying the region of terrorist and criminal groups" – the red thread of Haftar in all its conquest operations. But by disrupting Fezzan's fragile military, political and economic balance, the strong man of eastern Libya revives local conflicts, irritates his opponents in the West and upset foreign armed groups who have settled locally in the country. for the chaos that followed the collapse of the Muammar al-Qadhafi regime.

The ANL seems to be Sebha, the capital & # 39; from southern Libya, to have entered. Collisions were reported in the vicinity of Ubari and his troops would surround the city of Mourzouq. The three main locations of Fezzan will probably, at least temporarily, come under the control of the city. Fighting would also rage around the oil field of El Sahara, whose production has stopped for two months. "Even if nobody in the South really likes Haftar, the fight against insecurity is popular with a tired population and the anti-terrorism speaks to Westerners," explains the researcher Jerome Tubiana (1). To counter the advance of Haftar on Wednesday, the authorities of Tripoli have appointed a new military governor for Fezzan: Ali Kana, a former Gaddafist officer of Tuareg.

French satisfaction

Once again France, despite its official support for the national unity government of Fayez el-Serraj (based in Tripoli), has awarded a reward to the indocile Marshal Haftar. "Recent ANL operations have eliminated important terrorist targets [dans les premiers jours de l’offensive, l’ANL a indiqué avoir tué un cadre d’Al-Qaeda au Maghreb islamique, ndlr] and can permanently hinder the activity of traffickers still active in this region, between the Sahel and the Mediterranean ", said Tuesday the spokesman for the Quai d & # 39; Orsay. "In recent years, all attacks on Cyrenaica and the oil-rich Crescent, especially those of Islamist groups, are from the south, and the primary goal of Haftar is to clean these basic ridges, explains a local actor. Among these groups were Chadian rebels who preferred to return to Chad. "

According to various observers, the ANL paradoxically relies on Sudanese mercenaries to fight in Fezzan. In Mourzouq, the Touboue community, a black minority of Libya, would have long suffered discrimination, oppose their advance. "The Toubous are the rising force, they have ramifications in the Sahara, marginalized and despised under Gaddafi, the Libyan Toubou have become powerful and inevitable since the revolution: those of Mourzouq at least have a faint picture of the arrival of Haftar and his allies, explains Ali Bensaad, professor at the French Institute for Geopolitics. As for Chadian, tiraille rebels, more specifically Goranes and Zaghawas, they have been able to recharge their batteries for years in the Fezzan. Haftar is interrupting them. & # 39;

One of the Chadian armed groups on Libyan soil, the Union of Resistance Forces, moved south a few weeks ago. "The UFR was not directly chased by the fighting, but they thought this was the right time to leave, Jerome Tubiana details. They entered the Chadian territory without much resistance: garrisons would have refused to fight. " The leader of the UFR, Timan Erdimi, is a close relative of President Idriss Deby, belonging to the Zaghawa ethnic group, like most of the Chadian army cadres. His men were able to penetrate 400 kilometers through the country before they were attacked … by the French Air Force.

Resort in Darfur?

Sunday, then again Tuesday and Wednesday, Mirage 2000 bombed the "Barkhane" force from N & # 39; Djamena a column "About fifty pickups," put "Inactive" about twenty vehicles, according to a statement from the personnel of the armies. "France intervened at the request of the Chadian authorities to prevent the invasion of armed elements from Libya", has commented commentary on the French Foreign Ministry. The mandate of operation Barkhane, whose headquarters is in N & # 39; Djamena, is nonetheless limited to the fight against terrorism. The decision to save the Tsadian regime, the most important military partner of Paris in the Sahel, is therefore a political choice – that the Elysee would not respond.

"France is very involved in this struggle, it has no interest in shaken Chad, the Chadian army is the only real Saharan force on which it can lean against the jihadists," Ali Bensaad explains. Has the UFR convoy really threatened the power of Idriss Déby? In 2008, troops of the same Timan Erdimi arrived at the doors of the Presidential Palace in N & # 39; Djamena after a lightning attack from Sudan. "The situation has nothing to do: not only has the geopolitical context changed, but the 201 UFR does not have the same logistical, human and material resources as ten years ago", sweeps a connoisseur from Chad: "The rebels were more likely to settle in a mountain sanctuary in the Ennedi desert." where the French bombs stopped them. The UFR could now take refuge in neighboring Darfur. "If its armed forces are still operational, as the UFR claims, it could also try to capture symbolic targets in north-eastern Chad, where President Déby's stronghold is", Jerome Tubiana believes. Unless France prevents this insult from its old ally.

(1) Co-author of a report on cross-border crime in southern Libya for the Small Arm Survey Institute in December 2018.

Celian Macé


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