Libya: Did Haftar really seize an Algerian border post?

By Akram Kharief
Posted on Saturday, 26 June 2021 09:31

Tripoli government forces clash with forces led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, south of Tripoli, Libya, in May 2019. Hazem Ahmed/AP/SIPA

On 19 June, a pro-Haftar Libyan channel announced that an Algerian border post had been captured. On the ground, however, nothing of the sort has been observed. However, the Tuareg brigades that set up a buffer zone along the border still have a strong hold on the area and nearby localities.

The Berlin conference on Libya has taken place and the country is now preparing for its 24 December presidential election.

Meanwhile, Marshal Khalifa Haftar – commander-in-chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA), a coalition of militias that control the eastern and part of the southern areas of Libya – used this occasion to provoke Algeria, sending a message to international actors involved in trying to find a resolution to the crisis.

Hasty announcement

On 19 June, the pro-Haftar Libyan television channel Libya Al Hadath dropped a bomb by announcing that the border post at Issine, the southern crossing point between Libya and Algeria, had been captured.

A few moments later, General Ahmed al-Mismari, spokesman for the LNA, announced “the start of an anti-terrorist operation in southern Libya”, without specifying the region where it would take place. This was followed by another hasty announcement from other pro-Haftar media, which reported that the border between the two countries had been closed.

“This media operation is one of the Haftar camp’s bluffs, one that is directed against Algeria.

This story was picked up by foreign media, including Al Jazeera, and became a quasi-truth, including in Algeria, where it caused a stir in public opinion. Faced with silence from the Algerian authorities, some argue that Algiers is incapable of responding to Haftar’s provocations.

Meanwhile, others have pointed out that Egypt bears some responsibility for this military manoeuvre and have brought up the fact that Haftar’s emissaries and the head of the Egyptian services in Cairo had met two days prior.

Relatively calm

In reality, it was relatively calm at the border. However, the LNA did regroup in Sebha and Tamenhint in the centre-south, and participate in operations to pursue groups believed to be members of the Islamic State, a little further south.

However, the Tuareg brigades – under Ali Kana’s leadership – that set up a buffer zone along the Algerian border, still have a strong hold on the area and nearby localities, including Ghat, Mourzouk and Ubari. In fact, multiple sources in the area have confirmed that LNA forces are no longer present in the region.

Libya specialist Jalel Harchaoui, a researcher at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, said “this media operation is one of the Haftar camp’s bluffs, one that is directed against Algeria.”

The researcher confirms that LNA troops in the southern part of the country have received reinforcements, as several brigades have arrived in the Sebha region. However, he also affirmed that nothing is taking place at the border with Algeria.

Psychological warfare

According to some, this false announcement is an act of psychological warfare, in response to Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s interview with Al Jazeera. During this interview, the Algerian President stated that his country had publicly declared, in early 2020, that the LNA’s takeover of Tripoli was a line in the sand not to be crossed.

This message was a warning from Algeria, which – at the time – was prepared to use all means, including the military, to prevent Haftar from achieving his goal.

Although Algiers has not yet officially reacted to the announcement of Issine’s capture by Haftar’s forces, the coming weeks promise new tensions between the marshal and Algeria.

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