This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
Libya is teetering on the verge of its worst crisis since the 2011 overthrow of the Qaddafi regime.
Last month, forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar launched a brazen assault on the sitting national congress in Tripoli, accusing the Islamist-dominated Parliament of being complicit with hostile militias and of fostering terrorism.
Proclaiming an anti-Islamist offensive to rid the country of what he calls foreign-sponsored terrorism, Haftar called for the suspension of Parliament and for a new council to take over running the country. Haftar had reportedly been planning the coup attempt for over a year, quietly solidifying his military power to gain political authority. While the Parliament remains intact and has approved new Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq in a vote of confidence, the situation remains tenuous. Now General Haftar’s chosen tactic appears to be to use extralegal force to attack Islamist militias in hopes of garnering support for a future electoral bid.
A member of the small band of military officers who took part in the 1969 coup that installed Muammar Qaddafi, Haftar was later captured in Libya’s war with Chad in the mid-1980s. Apparently sour on Qaddafi, in Chad he was reportedly part of a unit of commando soldiers trained and organized by the United States to overthrow the Qaddafi regime. After the Chadian government itself fell in 1990, Haftar was granted asylum in the United States, where he spent twenty years in Virginia—just miles from CIA headquarters—as an active figure in the Libyan opposition movement.
Haftar was a leader of the military wing of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) throughout the 1990s, which he claims received assistance from the CIA. According to historian Dirk Vandewalle, US and French support enabled the military wing of the NFSL, the so-called Salvation Forces, to carry out a number of attacks against the Qaddafi regime over the years. The Salvation Forces were one of the few clandestine groups that reportedly had the capacity to target Libyan government officials traveling outside Libya.