Tag Archives: Libya

Pentagon Helps Out As Americans Evacuate Libya

Over the weekend, the United States decided to close out their embassy in Tripoli, Libya. The remaining personnel were then taken by truck convoy overland to Tunisia. The Pentagon helped escort the vehicles on their five hour journey. I wrote a short piece on the operation for War is Boring as details were still unfolding, but most of the informed speculation turned out to be correct.

MV-22B Ospreys from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response sit on the ramp at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy as Task Force Tripoli prepares to depart for a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation in the early hours of 26 July 2014.

MV-22B Ospreys from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response sit on the ramp at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy as Task Force Tripoli prepares to depart for a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation in the early hours of 26 July 2014.

The force for this Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) consisted of an airborne quick reaction force provided by Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR), three F-16 fighters, and an unspecified number of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets.

The SPMAGTF-CR contingent, reportedly called Task Force Tripoli, consisted of twenty-four troops in two MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotors, supported by KC-130J Hercules tankers. This task force should not be confused with the Marine task force that took part in the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Back in May, the Marines had been forward deployed to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy for just this sort of contingency. SPMAGTF-CR was created in the aftermath of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012 for exactly these sort of operations. The Marines shadowed the convoy in order to respond to any attacks. Some eighty additional armed Marines were in the vehicles as part of the embassy contingent, which totaled over one hundred and fifty people. The Marines were likely Embassy Security Guards and members of Fleet Antiterrorism Security Teams (FAST).

Less information is available on the F-16s and ISR assets. The F-16s reportedly flew from Aviano Air Base in Italy. The aircraft were likely from one of the squadrons of the 31st Fighter Wing based there. The jets also received support from KC-135R tankers, no doubt also operating from USAF bases in Europe. An unspecified number of unmanned aerial vehicles – which could include the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper, or RQ-4 Global Hawk – also kept an eye over the entire operation. The USAF has unmanned ISR platforms based in Europe and in neighboring Niger. There has also been an eyewitness image of a Navy EP-3E spy plane, likely from US Sixth Fleet, flying over Tripoli during the operation.

The Department of State has described the evacuation as a “temporary staff relocation” and said repeatedly that it hopes to return to Libya at the earliest possible convenience. However, the embassy in Tripoli had already been working with a reduced staff after the 2012 Benghazi incident. Libya has been wracked by violence since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with the central government exercising little, if any control over a plethora of militias. Islamist terrorist groups have also taken advantage of the instability in the country.

Recently, militia infighting forced the closure of Tripoli’s airport and destroyed almost a dozen planes on the tarmac. This skirmish no doubt influenced the decision to close the diplomatic mission. Separately, militias allied with General Khalifa Hifter have essentially laid siege to Benghazi in hopes of routing Ansar al-Sharia, a terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  There is no clear end to the violence in sight.

US Forces Capture Individual Linked to Benghazi Attack

Yesterday, the Pentagon announced that US military and law enforcement personnel cooperated to capture Ahmed Abu Khatallah in Libya. Khatallah is said to be a key figure in the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. Few details have been offered in regards to the operation. Reports have suggested that 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, better known as Delta Force, and members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hostage Rescue Team performed the raid. Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said that no casualties of any kind were sustained on either side or among innocent bystanders and categorized the mission as a “success.” Rear Admiral Kirby declined to go into any further details on the capture itself.

US Special Forces "interdict a target vehicle" during training at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 2012.

US Special Forces “interdict a target vehicle” during training at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 2012.

Khatallah was then reportedly whisked out of Benghazi, Libya where he was captured and placed in Department of Justice custody. The Pentagon declined to say where Khatallah was being held, but said he would be tried in a US court over the 2012 attack. Khatallah is described as being central to the attack on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi on 11-12 September 2012. During the attack, US Ambassador to Libya J. Christoper Stevens and three other Americans were killed. The circumstances of the incident and the US military’s response, codenamed Operation Jukebox Lotus, continue to be controversial among certain domestic political factions.

This is at least the second raid in Libya in the last 12 months to capture a figured accused of terrorism by the US government. American commandos launched another raid last October to capture Abu Anas al Libi. Libi was wanted in connection with the 1988 Pan Am flight 103 bombing and other crimes. The Obama administration has been criticized in recent years for its reliance on targeted strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles rather than attempting to capture terror suspects. The raid last October and this operation yesterday have been cited as examples of a possible shift in policy. American drone strikes continue in other parts of the world, however, suggesting that this might not necessarily be the case.

US Marines Go to Italy as Libya Edges Toward a New Civil War

Libya appears to be teetering on the brink of a new civil war three years after an international intervention helped rebels topple Moammar Gadhafi. Since then, the country’s new authorities have been unable assert its authority and demobilize various independent militias. These armed groups have openly challenged the government on numerous occasions, kidnapping domestic and foreign officials and attempting to sell oil from their own personal fiefdoms.

Members of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response board a KC-130J at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, as they prepare to return to their base in Spain on 1 March 2014.

Members of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response board a KC-130J at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, as they prepare to return to their base in Spain on 1 March 2014.

The US sent 200 Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR) to Italy last week as this recent crisis began to unfold. Today it was reported that additional aircraft were deployed to bolster the force at Naval Air Station Sigonella. The Marines could use their MV-22B Ospreys and KC-130J Hercules aircraft to evacuate Americans from the embassy in Tripoli and elsewhere in the country. SPMAGTF-CR was created last year after the infamous attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012. The Marines’ focus is on being able to rapidly assist American diplomatic facilities in hotspots and evacuate personnel to safety. I wrote a longer piece about the Marines’ initial deployment for War is Boring. The US may have also been keeping an eye on Libya with manned or unmanned aircraft, including drones launched from a recently constructed facility in Niger. I have also just written a piece on Niger’s increasing importance in the region, which will only increase if Libya continues to be unstable.

This new crisis reached a head when forces reportedly loyal to General Khalifa Hifter attacked the seat of parliament. Hifter, who had lived in exile in the United States until Gadhafi’s ouster, claims he is trying to rid the country of the Muslim Brotherhood, who he accuses of being a puppet of the large international organization. Islamist political parties came to power earlier this year. The country’s previous prime minister Ali Zidan resigned in March and then his interim successor Abdullah al-Thinni, who had been defense minister, resigned in April. Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood party has in turn accused Hifter of being a reactionary in league with former members of Gadhafi regime.

The conflicting ideologies and the open violence are indicative of the trouble Libya has had in finding common ground after Gadhafi’s departure. The country’s various factions appear to be choosing sides for a broader conflict, but this does not necessarily mean those alliances will have any lasting effect. Al Qaeda aligned groups have vowed to fight Hifter’s forces, but may not necessarily join with forces aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood.

This latest crisis has already caused delays in international efforts to try and develop a professional and objective national security force for Libya that could wrest control away from the largely autonomous militias. Libya’s international partners may also find their allegiances split. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Algeria have all shut down their embassies. American Marines in Italy could conduct their own evacuation mission at any time.

Phoenix Express 14 Features More European than African Participants

This year’s annual Phoenix Express maritime security exercise has kicked off in Greece. Naval forces from Algeria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United States are currently conducting the in-port portion of the exercise at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre (NMIOTC) on Souda Naval Base, near the city of Chania.

Moroccan and Libyan personnel conduct medical training with the US military at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre in Greece during Phoenix Express 14.

Moroccan and Libyan personnel conduct medical training with the US military at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Centre in Greece during Phoenix Express 14.

Six of the ten participants this year are European nations, if one includes Malta. The island nation is a member of the European Union, but is just over 200 miles from Libya and less than 200 miles from Tunisia. Phoenix Express’ focus on the Mediterranean Sea means that European nations regularly outnumber African participants in the exercise. There are only five African nations on the Sea compared to more than twice as many European nations.

However, European participation also highlights how important African security is to the bigger picture in the region, especially with regards to drug trafficking and illegal immigration. The continuing instability in Libya is particularly worrisome for nations in Southern Europe. France, Italy, and Greece have repeatedly sparred over how best to tackle the issue. As already mentioned, Greece is hosting the in-port phase of the exercise. The at-sea phase, scheduled to begin on May 24th, will be coordinated from a Combined Maritime Operations Center in Sigonella, Italy. France, who is currently engaged in a number of interventions in Africa, is conspicuously absent from this year’s exercise despite having participated in the past.

As usual, this year’s Phoenix Express exercise will focus on maritime interdiction operations (MIO) training. The training events in-port will include helicopter operations and safety, damage control and firefighting, deck seamanship, navigation, search and rescue (SAR), and small boat training. The underway component at sea will focus on further enhancing interoperability. Medical training will also be provided. The exercise is scheduled to wrap up on June 2nd.

Phoenix Express 14 will mark the eighth iteration of the exercise, which began in 2005 as a US European Command event run by US Naval Forces Europe (NAVFOREUR). After the creation of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008, the exercise changed hands and is now run by US Naval Forces Africa (NAVFORAF). The commander of NAVFORAF is dual-hatted as the commander of NAVFOREUR, making the change in responsibility in this case almost entirely administrative.

US Navy SEALs Take Control of Oil Tanker in the Mediterranean Sea

Last night, US Navy SEALs boarded an oil tanker in international waters southeast of Cyprus. The ship, the Morning Glory, which is flying under the North Korean flag, took on oil at the port of As-Sidra in Libya on March 8th. The oil was loaded onto the ship by a militia seeking greater autonomy for the country’s eastern portion, Cyrenaica. The oil was proprety of the Libyan government’s The North Koreans have denied any connection to the vessel and have since canceled its registration with their country.

A map showing the regional divisions of Libya, with Tripolitania in the northwest, Fezzan in the southwest,  Cirenaica (Cyrenaica) in the east. As-Sidra, which is close to the boundary between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica is highlighted.

A map showing the regional divisions of Libya, with Tripolitania in the northwest, Fezzan in the southwest, Cirenaica (Cyrenaica) in the east. The port city of As Sidrah (As-Sidra), which is close to the boundary between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, is highlighted.

The incident is the latest in a series of serious confrontations between Libya’s fragile government and militias who continue to operate with virtual autonomy in various areas of the country. Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan had said the country’s navy had prevented the tanker from leaving the area last Monday. The tanker actually evaded capture and moved further into the Mediterranean Sea. Libya’s parliament responded by ousting Zeidan in a vote of no confidence. Separatist militiamen have been in control of As-Sidra’s oil terminal since last July. The hope is that the US raid will act as a deterrent to future attempts to export the oil independently.

The operation, reportedly conducted at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriot governments, is part of a noticeable uptick in special operations forces raids on the continent. Last October, a raid was launched into Libya that resulted in the capture of Abu Anas al Libi, wanted in connection with the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, as well as other terrorist attacks.

Navy SEALs attached to Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) reportedly conducted the raid, which was launched from the USS Roosevelt, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. The SEALs took control of the ship from Libyan rebels, but a team of sailors from the USS Stout, another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, will supervise the transit of the tanker back to Libya. There was no official information on what SEAL team was involved in this operation, but the use of the word “attached” suggests that they may have come from outside of Europe and then been placed under the operation control of SOCEUR’s Naval Special Warfare Unit Two (NSWU-2) for the actual mission. It is also worth noting that the decision was made to place the SEALs under the control of SOCEUR rather than Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA) and its assigned Naval Special Warfare Unit Ten. SOCEUR and SOCAFRICA are both located in Germany.

Security Assistance News from the Sahel, Gulf of Guinea, and North Africa

Providing assistance to national security forces has long been one of the key elements of international assistance to developing nations broadly.  The basic concept is that professional militaries and police forces can help instill a sense of confidence in governments, making them more stable as a result.  The stability in turn promotes development in other areas.  Essentially, more security equals more stability, when in turn equals more development.

Libya

This is definitely the goal behind the announcement last year to work on the development of a so-called “General Purpose Force” in Libya, where the central government has been largely ineffectual following the ouster and killing of the country’s former leader, Moammar Gadhafi, in 2011.  The various militias in the country that helped overthrow the previous regime continue to hold significant power, especially at the local level, and act with relatively impunity.  In addition, the lack of a functional national security apparatus has meant that much of the country has slipped into what might be described as an under-governed state.  Concerns about terrorists using these regions to establish bases of operation have been voiced by Libya’s neighbors, as well as partners farther afield.

Last week, Libya’s interm Prime Minister Ali Zidan said that almost eight hundred personnel had either been sent to Europe recently or were on their way as part of the new General Purpose Force effort.  Four hundred had already deployed to Turkey, and another four hundred were to go soon to Italy.  Another four hundred are scheduled to eventually travel to Britain.  In total, some eight thousand Libyan personnel are expected to go through twenty-four week training programs in Europe, with additional support provided by the United States.  Zidan also said that there are currently some five thousand Libyan personnel around the world receiving training.  Countries providing training for Libyan forces were said to include Algeria, Britain, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Persian Gulf states, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United States.

Gulf of Guinea

Also last week, Maritime professionals from West Africa, Europe, South America, and the United States met in Lagos, Nigeria to finalize the exercise plan for this year’s iteration of Obangame Express, a US maritime cooperation exercise held in the Gulf of Guinea.  Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Spain, Togo, Turkey, and the United States will participate in Obangame Express 14, which is the fourth iteration of this exercise.

The exercise is designed to help improve regional capabilities to deter piracy and drug smuggling, as well as other maritime contingencies.  As the threat of piracy has reduced in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia, attention to the problem has turned to the Gulf of Guinea, where it remains a serious issue.  Last November, the were reports of a proposal to base US Marines afloat to help address the problem.

Somalia

Today, the German government announced its intention to contribute troops to the European Union training mission in Somalia.  Germany had previously been involved in the training of Somali security forces when the EU mission was located in Uganda.  When the EU moved the operation to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu last May, the Germans dropped out of the program, citing the increased risk of operating there.  The EU had relocated the program as a gesture meant to affirm its support for the central government in Somalia.

Germany, which has some five thousand personnel taking part in nine international missions, has been urged recently by other European powers, notably France, to become more involved in such efforts.  The bulk of Germany’s international commitment is its three thousand personnel in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.  Last week, Germany also announced it would be increasing the size of its contribution to international peacekeeping efforts in Mali.

These announcements potentially signal a change in German foreign policy, which has since the end of the Second World War traditionally been inclined to avoid international commitments where there is a significant potential for violence and casualties.  This month, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said earlier this month that “Germany, with all its diplomatic, military and aid capacity cannot stand by when its help is needed”.  Steinmeier is a member of the country’s Social Democrat party, which entered into coalition with the conservatives led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.  It has been suggested that this new coalition has been instrumental in these changes in German foreign policy.

Nigerien Minister Suggests France, US Should Intervene Again in Libya

In an interview with Radio France Internationale broadcast today, Nigerien Interior Minister suggested that France and the US should consider an intervention into Libya to address terrorism in that country’s southern region.  Massoudou Hassoumi said southern Libya had become “an incubator for terrorist groups” and that the countries who supported the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi should “provide an after-sales service.”

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing AQIM areas of influence in Mali, Algeria, and Libya, as of 22 February 2013

Since the ouster and execution of Gadhafi in 2011, Libya has suffered from chronic instability as various militias continue to operate with impunity.  The US, France, and other countries provided materiel support to various armed opposition factions, along with a sustained air campaign that allowed them to take control of the country.  The new central government has largely failed in its attempts to get these factions under control.  For instance, four Egyptian diplomats were abducted last week in what was said to be a reprisal for government action against a prominent militia leader.

Terrorism is indeed a growing threat in Libya.  The US Department of State designated two groups in Libya as both Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) and Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) last month.  Militant groups have also looted Libya for weapons, with man-portable surface-to-air missiles being among the weapons thought to have been taken. Efforts to train Libya’s national security forces to respond to these threats are scheduled to begin this year.

The potential threats posed by absence of government control in Libya is well known.  Tuareg insurgents in Mali were originally located in Libya and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have also used Libyan territory as a staging ground for attacks in neighboring countries. Niger has already been involved in increasing international precense to counter such activities in the region.  Both the US and France conduct drone reconnaissance operations from the country.

However, the US so far has declined to deploy significant numbers of troops to the region, preferring to support other countries and otherwise rely on unmanned aerial vehicles and special operations forces to conduct raids on isolated targets.  France is also finding its military strained by interventions in Africa, despite having a clear interest in expanding its ability to respond to threats on the continent.  Its primary focus has shifted to Central African Republic, with the hope that other European nations will be able to assist in countries like Mali.  The Netherlands recently began deploying peacekeepers to that country, and Germany announced today that it would look to increase its training mission there.