A region in turmoil. Kabul fall, a view from Libya: conversation with Ali Hamouda

By Vanessa Tomassini.

This story originally appeared on the Italian “Strumenti Politici”.

The concern is growing over the radical groups supporting the Taliban internationally, especially in North Africa, where young democracies are already fighting against terrorism and emerging jihadist groups. A particular case in Libya, where the unification process of the military establishment is achieving good results, but where the institutions are still weak due to the lack of legitimacy as they have not gone through the vote. Today we analyze differences and possible aspects on which Islamist propaganda could leverage in Libya with Dr. Ali Hamouda, a top expert in conflict resolution, consultant to the United Nations and observer of the Libyan dynamics, specialized in implementing projects to support dialogue and local communities.

Ali Hamouda

How do the Libyans see the Taliban taking over Kabul?

“First of all, it must be said that there are different opinions on the events in Afghanistan among Libyan public opinion. Some Islamists support the Taliban, especially those who believe in applying Sharia law in Libya. That’s why they celebrate the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul and the withdrawal of US troops from the country. But these represent a minority of Libyan society. Then there are small resistance groups who say they are fighting for their country, which take Afghanistan as an example. These groups are mainly looking the Taliban has now won after so long, over twenty years. But the majority of Libyans are against terrorism and see the Taliban as an extremist and radical group. They are genuinely concerned about the impact that NATO and US withdrawal will bring, leaving Afghanistan in such a mess.”

The controversial Libyan Mufti al Ghariani, like other Islamists in different Arab countries, celebrated the “liberation” of Afghanistan from the West, calling on Libya and the Arab nations to do the same; what effect do these words have among Libyans and in North Africa?

“The Mufti al-Ghariani words affect the young Libyans who will see it as a victory of the Muslims against the Kafir, the unbelievers, after so many years. At the same time, Islamists and extremist groups in Libya feel satisfied. The Taliban’s rise lifts their morale and gives them hope. It also restarts the discussion between Islamists and Secularists as it happened in 2012. After Afghanistan fall into Taliban, these talks have begun again and have taken the public stage in the last two weeks.”

We saw that the Kabul army quickly “crumbled.” Libya currently has no real national army. Doesn’t that scare you?

“The two cases are different, and I don’t see at all that the two situations are comparable. The Libyan people fought terrorism by themselves. After the war, they got some international support, but not on a par with the support Afghans have received in the past twenty years. Even in the fight against terrorism, the situation in Afghanistan and Libya is very different. Both sides, the Libyan fighters of the two parties, fought against Daesh. We saw it in Sirte with the Al Bunyan Al Marsus operation, where the soldiers demonstrated outstanding skills and abilities in fighting terrorism. Likewise, in Benghazi, Derna, and southern Libya, the LNA has shown the world that it can fight terrorists despite little support from the international community. Libyans are capable of fighting terrorism. For this reason, we are not worried about the possibility that an extremist group could take control of the country as it did in Afghanistan”.

How is the process of unification of the military establishment proceeding?

Regarding the process of unification of the military establishment, I genuinely believe that the members of the Joint Military Committee (JMC 5 + 5) are really working as ten, as one group. But there are indeed many challenges they face. The problem is not only the members of the two sides who are ready to collaborate, but the Libyan conflict has taken on an international dimension, so we must remember that there are actors making resistance and slowing down this process. But I hope that we will get out of this stalemate soon, especially if Libya can go to vote because I believe that the unification of the army cannot take place without having only one legitimately elected government. Unfortunately, the lack of legitimacy has allowed foreign forces and mercenaries to infiltrate Libyan bodies. Still, when we have one president, I believe that everything will be more straightforward, and we will see things proceed faster”.

Isn’t there a risk that the situation will precipitate in Libya if the actors involved, such as Russia and Turkey, leave without creating the right conditions first?

“These forces in Libya were fighting each other along with the internal parties, not like in Afghanistan where the Americans supported the Kabul army against the Taliban. But we in Libya have Wagner and other mercenary groups in the ranks of the LNA, fighting with the LNA. On the other hand, we have the Turks who jumped on the scene after the agreement reached with Fayez al-Serraj and who fought to push back the LNA forces. So today, there is no reason for either side to stay in Libya. The war is over, and we have a ceasefire. Mercenaries and foreign forces have not and are not stopping the fight. The only problem is the trust between the two sides. The Wagner or the Russians will not leave without being sure that the Turks will do the same and vice versa.

Furthermore, as far as African mercenaries are concerned, their gradual withdrawal will not harm neighboring countries. Unlike the fighters deployed by Russia and Turkey, these African groups do not have such an organization to schedule a gradual exit. Therefore, the international community should not worry about their departure but reach agreements with their countries of origin, whose governments like Sudan and Chad are afraid of being attacked by these armed gangs. Here, the international community should find a solution for their problems, organize a dialogue, and solve their problems peacefully once they returned homeland. It is not up to Libya to do this or to guarantee their gradual return to their countries of origin”.

How does the image of the United States and NATO emerge from this Afghan experience?

“The exit of the United States and NATO in this way, after twenty years, and after all these efforts by the Americans, generally speaking, shows two things. The first is that the United States can destroy a country, but it cannot rebuild a Nation; the second is that after all the support provided, the United States may abandon any allied government or institution at any time and without notice. That could have a negative impact on the confidence in Washington in allied countries or those that follow American strategies.”

The same planes today in Kabul were in Tripoli in 2011. Also, in that case, NATO and the United States participated in the aggression against Libya, then abandoning the Libyans after the fall of Gaddafi. So are they just miscalculations or a destabilization strategy?

“The fact that we see the same aircraft means nothing to me, just the fact that they are probably coming from some base in the Middle East. Indeed, what is happening may suggest the interpretation of the US intervention aimed at stabilizing other countries and obtaining advantages for Washington. Some have this reading of the American role in the international conflict. As for Libya, I do not think we can apply this reading, as the revolts in Libya started by the population against the Gaddafi regime, subsequently obtaining international support. I believe that the situation in Libya is the result of miscalculations by the Americans. Most European countries are struggling economically and cannot support Libyans in building their own Country. I believe that the Democrats understood this and that their return to power is an opportunity to correct the mistakes made in the past.”

Europe is concerned about the migrants’ waves from Afghanistan now, more than from Libya. So, what’s going to happen?

“The problem of migrants from Afghanistan is a direct responsibility of the countries that intervened in Afghanistan in 2001. Those fleeing and fearing the Taliban return were collaborating with the international community in building a modern state in Afghanistan, in the fight against extremism, or the field of cooperation and humanitarian aid. All this from the point of view of the Taliban helped the colonization, the infidels. That is why they are in danger today. Concerning the migratory waves from Libya, Europe has direct responsibility towards those countries of origin from which the migrants come. Rather than spending all this money in Europe, on European borders, or by funding the Libyan Coast Guard, it should have funded projects in their African countries of origin to give these peoples hope of being able to live at home. I believe that if they had spent these resources in their countries of origin, they would have achieved better results”.

Libya also has ties to Afghanistan; several Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) members have fought there. Who are these characters, and what role do they play in Libya today?

“Although we do not share the same values ​​with Islamists, in particular with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, nor a shared vision on how to build the Country, as they are inclined to use violence to make their opinions prevail, we must clarify that the LIFG was not involved in the civil war in Afghanistan, but only against the Soviet Union. Only Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden have supported and fought alongside the Taliban. Still, some LIFG actors we see are celebrating the Taliban’s victory like Hassan Issadi and others, enthusiastic about what they define as America’s defeat. That raises many questions about the LIFG ideology. They have shown once again that they do not believe in the values ​​of democracy, respect for human rights, and women’s rights. LIFG played a role in Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) and the 2019 war, with Abdel Hakim Belhadj receiving support from other countries for some militias involved in the conflict. Their media also promote a discussion against the LNA while supporting militias, especially Islamist ones”.

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