In 2011, NATO intervened in Libya with an aerial bombing campaign that rapidly brought about the downfall of the oppressive Gaddafi regime. Unfortunately, things have not gone smoothly since then. Libya has been through multiple governments and much strife over the past few years, but Western news outlets are largely ignoring the conflict — unsurprising given its complexity and the lack of a clear “good guy.” This article will attempt to provide a condensed overview of the current situation in Libya but will not advocate for one particular side. In the aftermath of the NATO intervention, Libya was unable to unite around a single government. As a result, numerous factions vie for power in the country, and allegiances shift on a frequent basis.
Two different governments
Libya’s original governing body was the General National Council (GNC), which was relatively unpopular. In 2014, elections to replace the GNC were held, but the Libyan Supreme Constitutional Court (based in Tripoli) invalidated the results, allowing the GNC to stay in power. The newly-elected legislators, known as the Council of Deputies (CoD), refused to accept the court ruling and relocated themselves to Tobruk, a city on Libya’s Northeastern coastline. The Council of Deputies is also known as the Tobruk-led government after its new base of operations. It is backed by the powerful Libyan National Army (LNA), which contains many remnants of Gaddafi’s regime.
In an attempt to consolidate the CoD and GNC into one political entity and end the infighting, the Government of National Accord (GNA) was created. Most of the GNC members accepted the deal, but the CoD did not. The result: Libya is split, with the eastern and southern portions being nominally controlled by the CoD and the western half by the GNA. The CoD contains many who were loyal to the old Gaddafi regime, while the GNA is home to players on the more revolutionary side of the spectrum. The GNA is officially recognized as the government of Libya by the UN, but the CoD also has powerful backers such as Egypt.
Jihadist and Islamist groups
Like in the Syrian Civil War, the power vacuum allowed Islamic militants to gear up and join the fight. ISIS, which has ravaged Iraq and Syria, also operates in parts of Libya, attacking government forces on both sides. Other smaller Islamic groups also operate in Libya, and while none control vast swaths of territory anymore, they do pose a serious threat to the security of Libya.
Tribes and other local forces
In addition to Islamic militants, there are some local militias which are not primarily religious and merely exist to further the interests of their members. The Tuareg ethnic militias, which seized the opportunity to establish their own sphere of influence, are a great example. The Tuaregs militias control a swath of Southwestern Libya and are a main player in the conflict. The National Salvation Government, composed of GNC remnants, is also worth noting. While its territorial holdings are very small compared to the GNA and CoD, it does contest the GNA in key Western cities such as Tripoli.
By this point, you should be able to make sense of the above map, which shows that Libya is still highly fragmented but key players are emerging. If the CoD and GNA can unify, it is conceivable that the other forces could be suppressed or eliminated, but for now, both governments remain defiant.