Libya was swept by a fierce battle between Khalifa Haftar’s forces and militias from west of the country over the weekend (11-12 March). The battle focused on Libya’s biggest oil port Sidra and nearby Ras Lanuf, which is a key refinery. Together they are the gateway to the vast Oil Crescent, a number of oil fields stretching hundreds of miles through the Sahara desert containing Africa’s largest reserves.
Mr. Haftar’s forces started air strikes against militias around the oil ports. As the battle was raging, Washington claimed that Russia was trying to “do a Syria” in Libya, rooting for Khalifa Haftar, a marshal and the principal commander of one of the sides in the ongoing Second Libyan Civil War. American officials claim that Russians are helping Mr. Haftar get control of the main source of wealth.
Seizing control of the glittering Oil Crescent has become the main focus of the civil war that is now in its third year. Americans fear that the Russian involvement in the conflict will make Mr. Haftar a very likely beneficiary. The chief of the Pentagon’s Africa command, General Thomas D. Waldhauser, said in his testimony to the Senate’s foreign relations committee that “Russia is trying to exert influence on the ultimate decision of who and what entity becomes in charge of the government inside Libya.”
Given the recent developments and the lack of unity, Europe fears that Libya is heading for a break-up, which will only accelerate chaos and perpetuate the migrant crisis. Libya already is a funnel for migrant smugglers and the arrivals in Italy from the country are already projected in 2017 to surpass 2016’s 180,000 people, which was already a record number.