Libya Slipping Into Chaos, Raising Concern of the West

Western diplomats are increasingly concerned that the fighting raging in Libya will severely damage the coastal oil infrastructure, the economic lifeblood of the country.

They appeal for calm as Libya descends into a bloody civil war with rival sides battling for control of the hugely lucrative Libyan oil terminals. The call comes after the Islamist-led Benghazi Defense Brigades captured the oil export terminals at Sidra and Ras Lanuf.

The terminals were taken from the control of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the head of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), a force that dominates in eastern Libya and enjoys Russian and Egyptian support.

Haftar captured the oilfields in September, and the presence of the LNA appeared to have brought enough security to the oil crescent for production to rise from 200,000 barrels a day to close to 700,000.

The oil terminals had been shut for the previous two years while under the control of the rival Petroleum Facilities Guard. The LNA was reported to be concentrating forces around the port of Brega, still under its control, in order to mount a counterattack, with Haftar willing to call up fresh airstrikes if possible from the United Arab Emirates.

The ambassadors of Great Britain, the United States and France urged all sides to recognize that the oil installations were under the control of the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) and revenues must be sent to the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

The violence has also had political consequences, with Libya’s eastern parliament voting to withdraw its support for a UN peace deal and the UN-backed government in Tripoli. The eastern parliament is close to Haftar and its vote suggests it believes the Benghazi Defense Brigades are working with the Tripoli government.

The loss of the oilfields is also a blow for Haftar’s prestige and has shown the LNA is not as strong as it was sometimes perceived. Following the death of former ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has descended into chaos, with no central government.

The Islamic State has taken advantage of the situation to conquer vast swaths of land in the country, mostly in coastal regions where many criminal gangs indulge in illegal migrant trafficking.

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