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Base map by Koen Adams of onestopmap.com, with territorial control by Evan Centanni. All rights reserved.
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Background summary by Djordje Djukic; timeline by Evan Centanni and T.H.
Included in this free article:
- Concise summary of events in Libya since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011
- Detailed timeline of conflict, changes to territorial control, and political events since 2011, with each mentioned location illustrated on the map above
|The final stage of Libya's first civil war|
The Libyan Civil War started with opposition protests against the rule of Muammar Gaddafi, lasting from 15 February through 23 October 2011 and ending with the death of Gaddafi and the victory of pro-opposition forces.
Despite initial claims by opposition activist groups that 30,000-50,000 people were killed, most of them civilians whose deaths were caused by Gaddafi’s forces, the estimates were afterwards reduced greatly. A later official estimate established that only 4,700 rebels and their supporters and a similar number of Gaddafi loyalists were killed. An additional 2,100 people were missing, and the number for civilian fatalities was not given, but was no longer claimed to be in the tens of thousands.
Following the end of the war, an interim government was formed in November 2011, and the first public elections took place in January of 2012. However, what followed was a country-wide breakdown of law and order as former rebel groups seized local power in individual places. Many of these groups refused to pledge allegiance to a unified military command, instead reporting to local military councils that became de facto local governments. The rival militias frequently clashed with each other over territory, while vigilante revenge killings and looting and robbery of the civilian population also took place. In addition, 7,000 people accused of being Gaddafi supporters, mostly civilians (including women and children), remained imprisoned and were subjected to torture. A pro-Gaddafi armed group called the Green Resistance also sprung up conducting hit-and-run attacks against the former rebel groups.
Weapons proliferation also became an issue, with many former Gaddafi-era weapons stockpiles being plundered. This influx of weapons into private hands had effects ranging far beyond Libya's borders, contributing to the strength of separatists who took over northern Mali in 2012, as well as the religious extremist fighters who soon usurped the separatist revolution. before being beaten back by a French intervention.
During this time, religious radicalism was on the rise in Libya, and on September 11, 2012, extremists attacked the US consulate in Benghazi, killing four Americans. Among the dead was the United States ambassador, Christopher Stevens, as well as two CIA agents.
On 23 December, 2013, the General National Congress (GNC), the legislative authority of Libya elected in July 2012, unilaterally extended its mandate by one year based on one interpretation of the 2011 Constitutional Declaration. Thus they refused to hold new elections that had been expected to happen in January 2014. Following this, public protests against the GNC took place, and General Khalif Haftar proclaimed the dissolution of the GNC. Discontent with the GNC stemmed from it allegedly being dominated by religious conservatives, suppression of inconvenient debates, imposition of gender segregation, and pushes for the introduction of Islamic law as the official basis for national law.
On the morning of 16 May, 2014, general Haftar’s forces attacked religious hard-line militias in and around Benghazi, ultimately sparking what some now call the Second Libyan Civil War. On 25 June, new legislative elections were held for the Council of Deputies (also known as the House of Representatives). Nationalists and liberals won the majority of the seats in the elections. However, a religious conservative block calling itself the new GNC, and made up of politicians who were on the loosing side of the elections, took advantage of support from a coalition of militias known as Libya Dawn to take control of Libya’s capital city of Tripoli. Subsesequently, the newly-elected Council of Deputies moved its seat of power to the eastern city of Tobruk and gained the backing of Haftar’s part of the Libyan National Army.
Over the following year, the GNC set up its power base in the western part of the country, controlling Tripoli, Misrata, Zliten and several other towns. The internationally-recognized Council of Deputies established itself in the east and south of the country, with its de facto capital in Tobruk and control over most of the country’s oil fields. Allied forces also controlled a string of towns in the mountains southwest of Tripoli. A force of Tuareg fighters reportedly allied with Libya Dawn took control of the southwestern sliver of Libya, while contesting the area’s largest town of Sabha with Tebu fighters aligned with the Tobruk government. Local forces took control of the former Gaddafi stronghold of Bani Walid, among unconfirmed allegations that the town's new administration was made up of Gaddafi loyalists.
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Overall, between January 1, 2014, and July 21, 2015, one estimate said that 3,934 people had been killed in violence throughout the country. The multi-sided conflict continues today despite multiple attempts to strike a peace deal between the rival governments.
CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
The following is a detailed timeline of important events related to conflict, territorial control, and politics in Libya from 2011 to the present.
Part I: An Unstable Peace
2011.10.24 The former rebels of the National Transitional Council declared the Libyan Revolution complete, after defeating the forces of former national leader Muammar Gaddafi, receiving recognition from the UN as Libya's legitimate government, and finally tracking down and killing Gaddafi himself. The civil war had lasted about eight months, resulted in thousands of deaths, and left the country in control of a patchwork of local militias.
2012.01.23-25 Local fighters took control of Bani Walid, once a Gaddafi stronghold, after a dispute with revolutionary government forces. A ceasefire deal recognized the local groups as the legitimate administration of the town.
2012.09.11 A pair of attacks in Benghazi , later attributed to the religious extremist group Ansar al-Sharia, killed the US ambassador and three other US personnel.
2012.10.24 Government forces and fighters from Misrata seized control of Bani Walid from local forces after a series of aggressions between rival militias from the two towns.
2013.06.08-15 Clashes erupted between pro-government forces and opposing groups in Benghazi.
2013.07-08 Government-appointed oil security chief Ibrahim Jathran went rogue, using his forces to seize control of the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil export terminals while advocating for a decentralized government and eastern autonomy. At some point, the Zueitina oil terminal and Tobruk's Hariga oil terminal also came under the control of Jathran's rebels.
2013.10.10 Libya's prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was briefly kidnapped, in what he afterwards called an attempted coup.
2013.10 By the end of October, Libya's crucial oil industry had been brought nearly to a standstill, as a variety of opposition fighters and protesters from around the country blocked key infrastructure sites from operating.
2013.11.03 A collection of important officials unilaterally declared the formation of an autonomous government for eastern Libya, called Barqa in Arabic, or Cyrenaica by its traditional English name. The movement boasted the support of Ibrahim Jathran and his oil port blockade.
2013.11.21 Various militias, still operating in Tripoli since the revolution, agreed to leave the capital city and allow the government to assume control.
2014.01.18-29 During clashes in Sabha, fighters described as Gaddafi loyalists captured a military base before being driven out by government forces over a week later (ACLED).
2014.02.14 Major General Khalifa Haftar of the Libyan army declared the government "suspended" after the parliament's religious conservative majority voted to make sharia the basis of national law, while also extending its own term another year. However, Haftar's coup claim would be ignored by the government for the next several months.
Country Name: |
• Libya (English)
• Lībyā (Arabic)
• State of Libya (English)
• Dawlat Lībyā (Arabic)
Capital: Tripoli (official); Tobruk (de facto HQ of UN-recognized government)
2014.03 Rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran attempted to sell a shipment of oil from one of the ports his Cyrenaican rebels controlled, only for the ship to be seized by US Navy forces near Cyprus and returned to the Libyan government. Meanwhile, the parliament ousted Prime Minister Ali Zeidan for failing to prevent the ship from leaving the rebel-held port, replacing him with Abdullah al-Thani.
2014.04.07 Jathran's eastern rebels returned the Zueitina and Hariga (Tobruk) oil terminals to government hands as part of a political deal.
Part II: Return to War
2014.05.16-19 In what some describe as the beginning of Libya's second civil war, rogue general Khalifa Haftar's "Libyan National Army" began what he called "Operation Dignity", attacking several religiously conservative militias associated with the governing coalition in Tripoli. An attack in Benghazi was followed days later by the storming of the parliament in Tripoli. Meanwhile, a military base in the eastern city of Tobruk pledged its allegiance to Haftar's army. In the following days, Haftar would gain the support of much of the military and about a third of the parliament.
2014.06.02 Renewed fighting broke out in Benghazi between Haftar's forces and powerful religious militias nominally allied with the government in Tripoli. The struggle for control of the major eastern city would continue for over a year.
2014.06.03 Ahmed Maiteeq assumed the position of prime minister after a disputed parliamentary vote to oust al-Thani. Maiteeq was escorted into the office by the Libyan Central Shield, a religious conservative militia from Misrata, against the orders of al-Thani. Maiteeq would step down six days later after his election was ruled unconstitutional by Libya's supreme court.
2014.06.25 In a UN-backed bid to de-escalate the political crisis, the parliament decided to call new elections, rather than follow through with its controversially extended term. Voter turnout was low, and the results would not be officially announced until nearly a month later.
2014.07.02 Ibrahim Jathran's rebels returned the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals to the control of Prime Minister al-Thani's government.
2014.07.13 With religious conservative candidates believed to have performed poorly in the June election, the Libyan Central Shield and an allied conservative militia launched "Operation Libya Dawn", a battle for control of the Tripoli airport (held by the Haftar-alllied Zintan Brigades). The battle would continue for more than a month, while the conservative coalition would grow progressively larger, gain the support of the Muslim Brotherhood, and come to call itself "Libya Dawn" after the name of its inaugural mission.
2014.07.21 The results of the June election were announced, giving secular delegates a majority over the religiously-oriented coalition that had dominated the previous parliament.
2014.07.31 The Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, a new coalition of hardline religious militias including Ansar al-Sharia, the group linked to the 2012 US embassy attack, reportedly took control of most of Benghazi from Haftar's forces. This came a day after Ansar al-Sharia declared Benghazi to be an "Islamic emirate" (a traditional word for a Muslim principality). The group was also said to control of the nearby town of Ajdabiya.
2014.08.04 The newly-elected parliament convened for the first time. Because of ongoing battles in Tripoli and Bengazi, the new government instead met in the far-eastern city of Tobruk, a stronghold of General Haftar. The new government would come to be permanently based out of Tobruk and nearby Bayda. The parliament would at one point be based aboard a rented ferry docked at Tobruk's port, while the number of representatives in attendance would decline to just 115 out of 200 members by September.
2014.08.13 The new Libyan parliament voted to revoke official sponsorship from all regional militias, including both sides involved in the battle for the Tripoli airport.
2014.08.19-20 The western towns of Nalut and Kabaw, followed by Tarhouna, rejected the authority of the new eastern-based parliament, declaring their support for the Libya Dawn forces besieging Tripoli's airport. Representatives from major western towns including Misrata, Khoms, and Zliten also expressed opposition to the new parliament.
2014.08.23 Despite enduring airstrikes of mysterious origin, Libya Dawn forces attained full control of the Tripoli airport, after more than a month of on-and-off fighting that virtually destroyed the facility. A day later, they reportedly controlled the entire city of Tripoli, where they called for the previous, conservative-dominated parliament, known as the General National Congress (GNC), to return to power.
2014.09.01 A week later, the GNC parliament had partially reconvened in Tripoli with the support of Libya Dawn, and appointed its own prime minister, Omar al-Hassi. Hassi would be a direct rival to Abdullah al-Thani, who had been once again chosen to lead by the new parliament in Tobruk. The Haftar-backed parliament in Tobruk remained the UN-recognized government of Libya, while the competing parliament in Tripoli would have the support of militias controlling much of the country.
|Map of IS Control in Syria, Aug. 2015 |
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2014.10.29 Pro-Tobruk forces claimed to be in control of most of Benghazi, after weeks of renewed heavy fighting (ACLED).
2014.11.05-07 Libya Dawn-backed Tuareg fighters, with help from Misrata, captured the Shararah oil field in southwestern Libya from pro-Tobruk militias (ACLED).
2014.11.22 Haftar-backed fighters from the Tebu ethnic group drove Libya Dawn out of southern Libya's Ubari region (ACLED). However, fighting would flare up again the next year between pro-Tobruk Tebu fighters and pro-Tripoli Tuareg militias.
2014.11.23 Tobruk-aligned fighters from Zintan reportedly captured the western mountain town of Kikla after more than a month of battles against other regional militias associated with Libya Dawn (ACLED).
2014.12.13 Omar al-Hassi's Tripoli-based government backed a new Libya Dawn operation to capture the Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil terminals from Ibrahim Jathran's militias, now allied with the al-Thani government in Tobruk.
2014.12.08-10 Forces of General Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) captured two towns west of Zawiya, but Libya Dawn soon pushed them back again (ACLED).
2014.12.19 A Libya Dawn-oriented Misratan militia seized Brak airbase (but not the rest of the town), located in southern Libya (ACLED).
Part III: The War in 2015
2015.01.07 The "Islamic State" organization (IS) based in Iraq and Syria officially established a branch in Libya, after one militia in Derna declared allegiance to IS in October (ACLED).
2015.01.10 UN-backed negotiations to be held in Geneva regarding the conflict in Libya were announced to include representatives from the Tripoli parliament and the allied Libya Dawn militias as well as General Haftar's Operation Dignity forces.
2015.01.16 Libya Dawn (GNC) declared a ceasefire with Tobruk-aligned forces in the lead-up to peace talks in Geneva the following week.
2015.01.22 Forces allied with General Haftar and the Tobruk government seized the central bank in Benghazi.
2015.01.24 Ansar al-Sharia leader Mohamed al-Zahawi was killed in Benghazi clashes.
2015.01.27 IS-affiliated gunmen attacked the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli; fighters loyal to the GNC Tripoli government fought back against the gunmen.
2015.02.04 An oil field in Mabrouk, one of Libya's largest, was stormed by alleged IS militants.
2015.02.08 IS-aligned fighters claimed to have captured Nawfaliya, a town near Sidra oil terminal, in fighting with Libya Dawn forces. Over the next few months, control the town would apparently go back and forth between the two groups (ACLED).
2015.02.11 UN-backed peace talks were held in Ghadames, with the aim of forming a unified government between the General National Congress of Tripoli and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives.
2015.02.11-13 Fighters claiming to be IS members moved into the city of Sirte, seizing parts of the city without resistance (ACLED).
2015.02.20 IS-affiliated militants detonated car bombs in Qubbah, in what was believed to be retaliation to airstrikes by the Egyptian military on nearby IS-controlled Derna.
2015.03.02 The Tobruk parliament appointed General Haftar the official commander of the Libyan armed forces.
2015.03.03 The Mabrouk and Bahi oil fields were reported seized by religious extremist fighters, possibly from IS.
2015.03.06 Representatives from Tobruk and Tripoli met in Morocco for another round of UN-brokered peace talks, with additional sessions planned in Algeria and Belgium.
2015.03.11 It was reported that fighters from Haftar's pro-Tobruk army had captured several towns just south and west of Tripoli (ACLED).
2015.03.24 Islamic State militants attacked government soldiers in Sirte and Benghazi, killing fighters loyal to both the Tripoli government and the internationally recognized government in Tobruk.
2015.03.27 Libya Dawn fighters loyal to the GNC government in Tripoli reportedly withdrew from positions near Ras Lanuf and Sidra oil ports, which they had been trying to capture from the Tobruk-aligned oil security forces. They initially claimed to still be in control of nearby Bin Jawad, but the Tobruk government was soon reported to have retaken the town after Libya Dawn fighters withdrew.
2015.04.01 Libya Dawn aircraft reportedly bombed an airport in Zintan.
2015.04.05 Pro-Tobruk forces claimed control of western town of Aziziyah, after two days of clashes with Libya Dawn militias (ACLED).
2015.04.12 Unidentified militants attacked South Korea’s embassy in Tripoli.
2015.04.13 IS-affiliated militants attacked the Moroccan embassy in Tripoli.
2015.04.18 Libya Dawn forces in two suburbs of Tripoli confronted General Haftar sympathizers there.
2015.04.22 Libya Dawn militias withdrew from the town of Zahra, near Tripoli, after clashes with Haftar's LNA forces (ACLED).
2015.05.29 IS militants seized the airport in Sirte (Ghardabiya Airbase).
2014.05.31 IS fighters reportedly took control of Hawara town near Sirte after local leaders surrendered to a week-long siege (ACLED).
2015.06.09 IS fighters captured a power station in Sirte, virtually completing their control of the town (ACLED).
2015.06.09-11 The forces of IS were pushed out of Derna after a falling-out with other hardline religious militias.
2015.07.05 Hardline militia Ansar al Sharia captured a neighborhood in Benghazi from Haftar's Tobruk-aligned Operation Dignity forces.
2015.07.12 IS fighters captured Wushka village in a push towards Libya Dawn-dominated Misrata (ACLED).
2015.07.27 A spokesperson for the Tobruk government claimed that "all the oil fields" in Libya were under the control of his government's military. No specific information was given on the Mabrouk and Bahi fields, which were captured by likely IS fighters in March.
2015.07.31 Shura Council forces in Derna forced IS fighters out of an area just south of Derna.
2015.08.01 Fighting was reported between the Tobruk-loyal military and IS forces in Ajdabiya (ACLED).
2015.08.08-09 Shura Council religious hardliners from Derna - reportedly with air support from the Tobruk-based military - battled with IS fighters just south of the city (ACLED).
2015.08.13 Sudanese rebels groups from that country's Darfur region were alleged to be fighting on the side of General Haftar in Kufra (ACLED).
2015.08.10-15 A local group in Sirte, cheered on by ultraconservative religious leaders, rose up against IS control of the city, leading to several days of fighting (ACLED).
2015.08.14-15 IS forces claimed to have captured an army post in Benghazi, but were repelled the next day by Haftar's army (ACLED).
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Graphic of Libyan flag is in the public domain (source).