Who is the man behind the new insurgency in Libya?

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Libya is descending into another bout of factional warfare.

This affects Europe because an unstable Libya is an open door for migrants to use into Europe.

NATO nations like Britain have a particular responsibility, because their militaries were part of operations that led to the fall of Gaddafi and the chaos that followed.

The key name this time is Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar.

The one-time officer in the Gaddafi army became a coup plotter against him then an exile in Virginia for two decades, before returning to post-Gaddafi Libya and building himself up in to a warlord in the east of the country.

He is backed by the military strongman next door in Egypt, Abdel Fattah al Sisi, and has support from Moscow too in the shape of mercenaries and money.

And he has been steadily consolidating his power, most recently pushing south to seize the oilfields of southern Libya.

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Who is the man behind the new insurgency in Libya?
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Khalifa Haftar was once an officer in the Gaddafi army

He has been sufficiently emboldened by all this to order an advance west towards Tripoli.

His military forces are in the classic Libyan mould. Militia on “technicals” pickup trucks with heavy guns welded onto their backs.

He has been painted as a secularist, a scourge of jihadism. In truth he has co-opted a diverse array of supporters among them Salafists and Islamic fundamentalists.

Who is the man behind the new insurgency in Libya?
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Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011

Post-Gaddafi Libya has shattered into a kaleidoscope of factions, sects and groupings jostling for influence and control.

In the west there is the UN-backed government of National Accord in Tripoli but its grip on power is weak.

The warlord Haftar’s ultimate ambition is presumed to be taking over the entire country.

But he is not yet in a position to do so. His forces are already encountering stiff resistance in their advance west, according to reports on the ground.

But that has not stopped him trying and he has been encouraged in these efforts by the silence of much of the international community.

Who is the man behind the new insurgency in Libya?
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Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar (l) and unity government PM Fayez al-Sarraj

France in particular seems attracted by the prospect of a military strongman emerging as the basis for a new political initiative to build a more united stable Libya. Other big powers are not convinced.

Haftar’s latest offensive followed an effort by the UAE to broker a deal between him and the government in Tripoli.

The collapse of those efforts persuaded Haftar to take the military option it seems.

In previous offensives he has persuaded rivals to fold and join his forces through a mixture of arm twisting and the promise of influence.

The early signs are those tactics are not working this time round. A more likely outcome is a protracted military struggle undermining progress towards a political solution that will bring even greater instability on Europe’s exposed southern border.