Libya Weekly Recap Archive

This page displays summaries of all ISW Libya Weekly Recaps from June 2011 to November 2011; click on the month to read its entire recap.

June 2011

International Pressure Increases for Qaddafi's Exit

In the beginning of June, South African President Jacob Zuma visited Tripoli where he met with Qaddafi to discuss a ceasefire deal brokered by the African Union. Russia announced that it would act as a mediator between NATO and Qaddafi and pressure the Libyan leader into leaving power. China increased its diplomatic involvement in the Libyan conflict, scheduling a meeting between the countries' foreign ministers, in Beijing to, according to a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, "Exchange views on how to reach a political resolution to the Libya crisis." At the end of June, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Muammar Qaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, and his intelligence chief and brother-in-law Abdullah al-Sanusi.

NATO Extends and Intensifies Air Campaign

NATO extended its mission in Libya for at least 90 days and the alliance resumed airstrikes in Tripoli after a three day bombing lull in the capital for South African President Jacob Zuma’s meeting with Qaddafi. However, following a speech by outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, where he bluntly chastised some NATO member states for not possessing the capabilities or political will to prosecute the conflict, disagreement surfaced over the long-term viability of operations in Libya.

Political Turmoil in Washington

Congressional criticism of President Barack Obama increased amid growing frustration that Congress has not been approached to approve U.S. involvement in Libya, pursuant to the War Powers Act.  The White House resisted invoking the War Powers Act and obtaining Congressional authorization for ongoing operations; however, both houses of Congress introduced resolutions approving of the continuation of the current mission for another year.

Rebels Make Small Gains in the West

Early in June, Rebels seized the towns of Bir Ayyad and Yafran after more than three months of low intensity fighting in the western mountains. The towns are located roughly sixty miles southwest of Tripoli, though the mountainous territory will make any advance on the capital city very difficult. Rebels fighting in the Nafusa Mountains south of Tripoli pushed closer to the capital and made several small gains, but displayed their lack of discipline when they retreated from a captured military base, south of Zintan, following rumors of the loyalist troops' return.

July 2011

U.S. and Britain Recognize Rebels

On July 16, the United States extended formal diplomatic recognition over the weekend to the National Transitional Council (NTC), the Benghazi-based rebel government. Late in July, Britain joined the U.S. and France in recognizing the NTC as the legitimate government of the Libyan people.

Rebels Bogged Down in the East

In mid-July, the rebels launched an expansive attack on the coastal city of Brega. The new launch co-incided with increased NATO airstrikes against loyalist forces in Brega, although NATO denied any coordination. The rebel offensive would later become bogged down due to an extensive network of mines laid down by government forces.

August 2011

Assassination of rebel military leader Abdel Fatah Younis

The death of rebel military chief of staff General Abdul Fattah Younis, who was assassinated on July 28 by unknown assailants, raised questions about the integrity and cohesion of the rebel forces. In response to the killing, the NTC Chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil announced the dismissal of the Council’s 14-member executive board on August 9. Rebels units such as the February 17 Martyrs Brigade and the Abu Obeida al-Jarrah Brigade have been accused of the killing, but no firm evidence has emerged to implicate a specific faction.

Libyan Rebels Capture Tripoli

Six months of fighting culminated with a concerted rebel charge on Tripoli, Libya's capital. Fighting in Tripoli began on August 20, when several restive neighborhoods rose up against the Qaddafi regime as a prelude to the rebel attack. Opposition forces quickly advanced on the city from the west and south, coordinating their movements under the cover of NATO airstrikes.

September 2011

NTC Transition

National Transitional Council envoys negotiated with tribal elders early in the month to persuade the remaining loyalist forces to surrender before the September 10 deadline. NTC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril arrived in Tripoli on September 8, marking the first appearance of a senior NTC leader within the city. Internal disputes over the future role of Islam in a democratic Libya surfaced exposing further fissures among the rebels. Later in the month, the National Transitional Council failed to appoint a new Executive Board, despite previous promises to reform the Council’s governing cabinet. NTC officials stated the Board’s reformation would be postponed until Libya was entirely liberated, though the lack of rebel military progress has threatened to undermine the Council’s authority.

Weapons Proliferation Threat

American security officials expressed increasing concern over the fate of the Qaddafi regime’s weapon stockpiles, particularly the stores of an estimated 20,000 surface-to-air missiles. Many of the loyalist arms caches were left unguarded as the rebel forces advanced towards Tripoli, including the armory of the elite Khamis Brigade.

High Profile Visits to Libya

British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to Libya on September 15, making appearances before jubilant crowds in Tripoli and Benghazi. The two leaders praised the progress of the Libyan opposition and the National Transitional Council (NTC), though both cautioned that much work remained to be done within the country. A US Senate delegation visited Tripoli on September 29. Senators John McCain, Mark Kirk, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio met with NTC leaders and toured Martyrs’ Square, expressing their support for the Council and emphasizing American interest in Libyan business opportunities.

Remaining Loyalist Strongholds

Loyalist forces successfully defended the towns of Sirte and Bani Walid, resisting rebel attempts to take the final strongholds. Rebel fighters advanced towards Sirte from the south and east, reportedly seizing the city’s seaport on September 27 and recapturing the airport the following day. However, loyalist sniper fire and rocket attacks have prevented opposition forces from holding territory inside Sirte and rebel fighters remain over a mile from the city center.

October 2011

The National Transitional Council Announced the Executive Board’s Cabinet Appointments

The National Transitional Council announced the Executive Board’s long-awaited cabinet appointments this week, though the Council did not make many changes to the ruling body. Mahmoud Jibril remained Prime Minister and assumed the position of Foreign Minister, previously held by Ali al-Issawi. However, Jibril promised to step down the moment NTC forces capture the loyalist holdout of Sirte.

Endgame in Sirte and Death of Qaddafi

Rebel fighters finally crushed the loyalist opposition in Sirte on October 20 after a week’s worth of fighting around the last two remaining pockets of resistance. That same day Interim Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril officially announced that Muammar Qaddafi had died in the fighting around Sirte. Rebels engaged a convoy of veichles and successfully detained Qaddafi, who was attempting to flee the city. He died in their custody soon after. It is unclear whether Qaddafi perished from wounds he sustained before his capture or after. The rebels have also killed or captured other members of Qaddafi’s family and high-level regime officials. The Misratan rebels that transported Qaddafi’s body back to their city put it on display in a meat locker for four days, alongside those of his son Mutassim and army chief Abu Bakr Younis. The NTC buried the three of them in a secret desert location after a modest Islamic ceremony at dawn on October 25.

Arms Control Agenda

The National Transitional Council and international partners continued to address the dangers of weapons proliferation within Libya. A Canadian delegation visited Tripoli on October 11 to assess the status of unsecured small arms and heavy weapons, and Canada and the United States have each pledged $10 million to assist in arms control efforts.

Declaration of Liberation

On Sunday, October 23, Mustafa Abdel Jalil spoke before a crowd in Benghazi and declared Libya’s liberation. He promised that the NTC would start the transitional timeline that the Council laid out in August. Jalil declared, “We take the Islamic religion as the core of our new government. The constitution will be based on our Islamic religion.” Because of the religious tone of Jalil’s speech, NTC officials reassured western powers over their commitment to democracy and human rights.

November 2011

The Race to Capture Saif al-Islam

As Saif al-Islam languished in Libya’s southern desert, different groups competed to bring him to justice. The International Criminal Court (ICC) continued its indirect negotiations, hoping to take Saif into custody. Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asserted that a group of South African mercenaries had also contacted Saif and offered to bring him to a country that does not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction.

Election of Abdel Rahim al-Keib

On November 1, the NTC elected Abdel Rahim al-Keib to replace Mahmoud Jibril as Prime Minister. Despite having spent the last few decades abroad, the council counted him as a representative of Tripoli. The NTC elected him with 26 out of 51 votes, selecting him over eight other candidates.

End of NATO Operations

Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen visited Tripoli and met with NTC leadership to mark the end of NATO operations on October 31.  Rasmussen declared Operation Unified Protector as “one of the most successful in NATO history.”

NTC Struggles to Control Militias and Guard Missile Stockpiles

TThe NTC continues to struggle with securing the country’s arms depots and reclaiming weapons from the militias. Tripoli witnessed several violent incidents that raised concerns over the NTC’s control of militias.

Libyan Oil Comes Back Online

Libya’s oil industry restarted more operations and generated steadily rising output levels. Even as oil production increases, recovery estimates remain mixed. The National Oil Corporation (NOC) asserted Libya would export 7 million barrels in November, roughly a fifth of the country’s pre-war levels. However, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released new estimates predicting Libya would only produce around 1.17 million bpd by the end of 2012 and would not reach full output until well into 2013 due to damage at production facility and oil export terminals.