War, Imperialism and Libya: After the War, the War (part 2)

In the second part of his blog on Libya, Gary Littlejohn looks at Gaddafi’s plans to establish a pan-African currency independent of the French ‘African’ franc (CFA). It was these plans, he argues, that posed a serious threat to Western interests on the continent; Gaddafi’s elimination quickly became an ambition of the intervention in Libya in 2011.

By Gary Littlejohn

An email to Hillary Clinton, citing a sensitive source, stated that ‘Qaddafi’s government holds 143 tons of gold and a similar amount in silver… This gold was…intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan gold dinar.  The plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA).’  For those not aware of this, the CFA ensures that France has considerable influence on the monetary policy of its former colonies in Africa, an arrangement that has now existed for decades (see Sylla Ndongo here).

However, this replacement for the CFA was only intended to be the first stage of this Libyan initiative. From early this century, Gulf Arab OPEC countries had begun to invest their petro-dollars in sovereign wealth funds, rather than entrust them to US and UK money markets. This meant a loss of control of a huge amount of liquidity (trillions of dollars) that the London and New York money markets relied upon. 

In the months and even years prior to the US decision to destroy the Gaddafi government, Gaddafi had been proposing that Africa adopt the ‘Gold Dinar’. It was to include Arab OPEC countries for their sales of oil on the world market. Gaddafi seems to have forgotten about or been unaware that Saddam Hussein’s decision to use the Euro instead of the US dollar to sell oil was a factor in the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

As President of the African Union in 2009 Gaddafi had already called upon African oil producers to sell oil in Gold Dinars. Angola and Nigeria were also at this time moving to create their own sovereign wealth funds, and so the threat to the US dollar and Western financial markets was clear. It should not be forgotten that this was at a time when these financial markets were still trying to recover from the financial crisis of 2007-08.  Establishing a common gold-backed currency for such trade would have seriously weakened the position of the IMF and World Bank. It would also have implemented an earlier decision of the Pan-African Parliament in 2004 to create an African Economic Community with a gold-backed currency by 2023.  Writer  F. William Engdahl has written that it was little ‘wonder that French President Sarkozy, who was given the up-front role in the war on Qaddafi by Washington, went so far as to call Libya a “threat” to the financial security of the world.’

If there was any doubt that the military intervention in Libya was always intended to result in regime change, then Wikileaks has provided documentary evidence from Hillary Clinton’s email files.  One of the most important documents is an email from Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC) forwarding an email from one of her staff which lists Clinton’s ‘Libya’ activities before and after the beginning of the military intervention. It is dated 2 September 2011, and describes activities starting in February 2011.  The staffer’s email text opens with the statement:

HRC has been a critical voice on Libya in administration deliberations, at NATO, and in contact group meetings — as well as the public face of the U.S. effort in Libya. She was instrumental in securing the authorization, building the coalition, and tightening the noose around Qadhafi and his regime.

A clear indication of Clinton’s intentions comes from the remarks about her visit to Geneva on February 28 2011, over two weeks before the military intervention started:

February 28 — HRC travels to Geneva, Switzerland for consultations with European partners on Libya. She gives a major address in which she says: “Colonel Qadhafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts, which violate international legal obligations and common decency. Through their actions, they have lost the legitimacy to govern. And the people of Libya have made themselves clear: It is time for Qadhafi to go — now, without further violence or delay.” She also works to secure the suspension of Libya from membership in the Human Rights Council.

Libya in the aftermath of 2011: the ‘benefits’ of chaos

While the spread of Libyan arms across North Africa has been subject to comment and analysis, there has been a series of allegations on various websites that the USA has organized the transfer of some of the captured arms from Libya to Syria via Turkey. Indeed, it is claimed in some quarters that the death of the US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi was connected to dealings with those involved in such arms transfers.  Ambassador Stevens and others died in an attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi on September 11 2012.  If true, such allegations suggest that the failure to develop a proper arms reduction and reconstruction process was as much a product of this hidden agenda as it was a result of lack of foresight. Such a conclusion would contradict the results of 8 official investigations into the US deaths at Benghazi in this attack, including one lasting two years and costing about $7 million.

Christine Lamb in The Sunday Times of London on 9 December 2012 claimed that the US was running a covert programme to arm Syrian rebels with heavy weapons from Libya and that State Department officials were in daily contact with Syrian rebels using Skype. Among the Libyan weapons mentioned were SA-7 missiles.  On 9 May 2013 Washington’s Blog made a series of claims about the US arming the rebels and explicitly linked this to the death of Ambassador Stevens and others in Benghazi.  

If such allegations have any validity, then they illustrate that the ongoing chaos in Libya had great benefits for the US in facilitating support of rebels in Syria. An additional benefit was a financial one: sovereign wealth funds, if not frozen, could be managed by Western financial institutions. During 2016 there was a court case in London concerning the management of such a fund by Goldman Sachs. The Libyan Investment Authority’s case was that the fund had been mismanaged, and compensation was claimed. The case was notable for the fact that 98 per cent of $1.3 billion had been lost, and also because unconventional methods including prostitutes had allegedly been used to secure the contract to manage this fund. 

Unintended Consequences

One of the potential benefits from ousting the Gaddafi government might well have been increased Western participation in, or even control over, the Libyan oil industry. By and large this has not happened, owing to the ongoing military conflict, and indeed Libyan oil output has suffered as a consequence of the difficulties of producing and exporting oil.  General Khalifa Haftar – an important player in current military efforts to control Libya’s oil, and a leading commander of Gaddafi who then broke with him and spent the twenty years prior to March 2011 in suburban Virginia – has managed to make himself relevant to Western governments by controlling access to the major oil fields and providing many of the ground troops that ousted so-called Islamic State (IS) from Sirte early in December 2016.  IS had grown rapidly in the chaotic conditions following the overthrow of Gaddafi and had come to pose a serious threat to the major oil fields. Haftar’s effectiveness in driving IS back has meant that he could not be ignored as a key player in Libya. This proved to be most inconvenient because he was a leading figure in the Tobruk administration that formed a rival government to the Government of National Accord (GNA) which is sponsored by the UN.

The result has been that various governments, including the USA, France, the UK, Italy and even Germany have sent troops into Libya with varying degrees of public acknowledgement of their presence, and they have evidently cooperated with Haftar’s forces in driving IS out of Sirte. There is even radio traffic evidence of Western air support for Haftar’s forces including air strikes.  Given that the GNA has had great difficulty during 2016 in establishing itself in Libya, the support for Haftar’s forces has been kept ‘low profile’ insofar as this is possible. This is because the very countries supplying such military support are officially strongly supportive in public of the GNA. Meanwhile Haftar paid two visits to Moscow in the autumn of 2016, managing to play Russia off against the EU which is now keen to gain Haftar’s support for the GNA in Tripoli.  Russia now feels that through Haftar it may manage to regain some influence in Libya.


The ongoing foreign military involvement in Libya clearly shows that Libya is seen as merely an object to be controlled for financial and mineral resource purposes, and probably for arms transfers.  The welfare of Libyans has always been secondary for those countries that have continued meddling.  This is not to claim that foreign perceptions of Libya are in any way an adequate explanation of events there.  The activities of Khalifa Haftar, for example, indicate that Libyan agency produces outcomes that are not those intended or wished for by the intervening, imperial powers. Rather these blogs have indicated that the reasons for foreign intervention were not those publicly claimed. Lack of knowledge or forethought on the part of the intervening countries does not explain the ongoing difficulties now faced by Libya. These difficulties are in part the result of trying to use Libya to increase control of both financial and mineral assets. With new interests and players, the imperial scramble for riches on the continent continues.

Gary Littlejohn was Briefings and Debates editor of the Review of African Political Economy from 2010 to 2015. He is the author of Secret Stockpiles: A review of disarmament efforts in Mozambique, Working Paper 21, Small Arms Survey, Geneva, October 2015.

Featured photograph: Egypt’s president Nasser receiving Libya´s leader Muammar Gaddafi between September 1969 and September 1970.


  1. I enjoyed Gary’s blog, and note that he concludes by emphasising that ‘the activities of Khalifa Haftar, for example, indicate that Libyan agency produces outcomes that are not those intended or wished for by the intervening imperial powers’. Indeed. If I may add a brief summary of recent events in Libya to underline this point?

    Gary argues that ‘General Khalifa Haftar – an important player in current military efforts to control Libya’s oil, and a leading commander of Gaddafi who then broke with him and spent the twenty years prior to March 2011 in suburban Virginia – has managed to make himself relevant to Western governments by controlling access to the major oil fields and providing many of the ground troops that ousted so-called Islamic State (IS) from Sirte early in December 2016. .. Haftar’s effectiveness in driving IS back has meant that he could not be ignored as a key player in Libya. This proved to be most inconvenient because he was a leading figure in the Tobruk administration that formed a rival government to the Government of National Accord (GNA) which is sponsored by the UN’.

    The background to this situation is that, in May 2014, Haftar launched Operation Dignity against Islamist militants in Benghazi and the east. On 2 March 2015, Haftar was made commander of the forces of the internationally recognized Tobruk government on 2 March 2015. Also in March, Libya’s elected parliament, the House of Representatives (HoR) – which had replaced the GNC – appointed him commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA).

    In February 2016, after a year of little progress, the LNA pushed the Islamist militants out of much of Benghazi. By mid-April this had been followed up by further military action that dislodged the Islamists from their strongholds outside Benghazi and as far as Derna, 250km east of Benghazi. In June, the president of the HoR, Agilah Saleh, declared martial law, a de facto state of emergency, in the eastern region and appointed the LNA chief of staff, Abdulrazeq al-Nadhouri, as military governor for that region. Since then, al-Nadhouri has replaced several elected civilian heads of municipal councils with military governors.

    In August 2016, Haftar declared that he no longer supported the UN-endorsed, so-called Government of National Accord (GNA), which led the United States and allies to argue that he was jeopardizing the stability of Libya. But, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt continued to support him and, in fact, in secret, the UAE, British, French, and US air forces have assisted Haftar’s forces, according to leaked air traffic control recordings.

    In September 2016, the LNA launched operation ‘Swift Thunder’, seizing the key oil terminals of Zueitina, Brega, Ras Lanuf and Sidrah, in the oil-rich heartland locally known as the Oil Crescent, from the Petroleum Facilities Guard – an armed group aligned with the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA). In recognition of this, the Speaker of the HoR and supreme commander of the armed forces, Agilah Saleh, promoted Haftar from Lieutenant-General to Field Marshal.

    In November 2016, Haftar made a second trip to Russia to meet with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu. It was reported that he was seeking weapons and Russia’s backing, but Russia was holding off, pending the new Trump Administration. On 26 December, however, it was reported that Russia had now thrown its weight behind Haftar, saying he must have a role in the leadership of Libya. Since then, there have been significant further developments.

    In February, Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s UN-backed government, let it be known that Haftar had refused to meet him in person in Cairo for Egypt-backed talks to discuss possible amendments to the UN-backed agreement signed that gave birth to the fragile government in Tripoli. That deal gave no role in Libya’s future to Haftar, whose forces control much of the country’s east. Consequently Haftar has persistently refused to recognise the authority of the UN-backed GNA since it started working in the Libyan capital.

    But the army commander has now established himself as a key player, especially after seizing the country’s key oil terminals in September 2016. In March 2017, al-Sarraj arrived in Tripoli together with other leaders of the Government of National Accord (GNA), but they were unable to gain recognition from the elected parliament based in the eastern city of Tobruk, which supports Haftar.

    However, a month or so later, in early May 2017, al-Sarraj flew to meet Field Marshal Haftar in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for only the second time since Sarraj was named prime minister-designate after a UN-backed deal in late 2015. Al-Sarraj and Haftar met ‘thanks to international and Arab mediation’, according to LANA (the Libyan news Agency), which is loyal to the Tobruk-based parliament, after a first meeting in January last year. They were expected to discuss army-related amendments to an agreement signed by the Libyan factions in Morocco in December 2015, according to Abu Bakr Baeira, a member of the eastern parliament. Libyan television broadcaster 218 reported that the two held talks ‘in private’ after posing for a photograph together. Emirati officials did not immediately comment.

    Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a close ally of Haftar, is scheduled to visit the UAE on 3 May. It is unclear if he will be part of the talks, but it seems likely. Watch this space!

  2. For those who are interested in the imperialist presence in Libya behind the scenes, it is not just in the north of the country that there is a significant footprint. Far to the south, the US has been consolidating its para-military and intelligence presence in the Sahara and the Horn of Africa over the last few years; and one of its many bases is in Libya..

    Documents recently released by the US Command Structure Africom, under a freedom of information request, reveal that a “contingency base” was set up around 2015 at al-Wigh, a Saharan desert oasis near Libya’s borders with Niger, Chad, and Algeria, to add to and complement other such bases, including its core base far to the east in Djibouti, from which it operates in the Yemen as well as across the Horn of Africa. The al-Wigh base is positioned near smuggling routes from Niger and Chad, used by thousands of migrants attempting to reach the African coastline, and in a region where gun-runners move weapons between Libya, Niger, Chad and Mali. It is listed as a “non-permanent” facility and its current status and force size is unknown. However, the documents show that the US command structure in Africa, Africom, set out plans to convert many “contingency locations” into ‘semi-permanent bases’ for use by rapid US reaction forces.

    While it is not known if the Libyan base is still operational, the outgoing Africom commander, Darryl Williams, said last year that such sites were central to strategy: “We have very austere, lean, lily pads, if you will, all over Africa now.” The report, by TomDispatch (which I downloaded on 4 May 2017 from the MiddleEastEye.net site, reveals the projection strategy of Africom, based in Djibouti, and shows dozens of permanent and semi-permanent installations across the continent and concentrates of on 2014 plans for operations in 2015, where Africom lists 36 outposts in 24 African countries. The locations include bases in Mauritania, as well as a network of sites across Africa’s tropical belt. According to the report, an Africom spokesman said the number had in fact risen to 46 in 2017, including “15 enduring locations”.

    Mattia Toaldo, a senior research fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations, said the base’s existence, if confirmed, would be no surprise, “given that that specific triangle between Libya, Niger and Algeria is a key location to control both jihadist movements and smuggling routes”.
    He said other international powers also had a presence in the area: “The French have an important base in Madama, just across the border in Niger,” he said, an area rich with people-smuggling routes. “The timing of the creation of the base is also interesting – 2014 saw the meltdown of the Libyan government, extensive fighting and eventually the rise of IS.”

    Africom’s 2017 “posture statement” states the greatest threat to US security in Africa is “violent extremist organisations” – but also notes the presence of China and Russia on the continent. “Parts of Africa remain a battleground between ideologies, interests, and values: Equality, prosperity, and peace are often pitted against extremism, oppression, and conflict,” it says. “The strategic environment includes instability that allows violent extremist organisations to grow and recruit from disenfranchised populations. “Flexible posture through our cooperative security locations and contingency locations, provide response options during crises.”

    These documents were released not long after the US President Donald Trump said that the US had no business in Libya – “I do not see a role in Libya. I think the United States has right now enough roles. We are in a role everywhere”, Trump said on 21 April, adding that his country’s priority in Libya was the Islamic State. The reports also come shortly after it was revealed that the US has stationed military personnel at a base outside Benghazi, where they form part of a multi-national force aiding Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his forces. A series of intercepted transmissions, reported by Middle East Eye, showed US, British and UAE pilots flying over Benghazi. However, some coordinates mentioned in these transmissions suggested a much wider area of operations than the northern coast.

  3. At mid-night on 5 July 2017, General Haftar’s forces declared victory in the battle for Benghazi, Libya

    David Seddon writes (on 6 July), ‘General Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army has been fighting for control of Libya’s second city for three years. Haftar launched his ‘Operation Dignity’ in Benghazi in May 2014, promising to crush armed groups blamed for a wave of assassinations and bombings.

    Last night, at midnight on 5/6 July 2017 he announced that his forces had taken full control of Libya’s second city Benghazi from rival armed groups. Before he spoke, LNA forces made rapid progress through the seafront district of Sabri, using heavy artillery to blast their way through some of the final pockets of resistance.

    Then – “Your armed forces declare to you the liberation of Benghazi from terrorism, a full liberation and a victory of dignity,” Haftar announced, wearing a white uniform for his televised speech. “Benghazi has entered into a new era of safety and peace.”

    The battle for Benghazi between Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) and an array of rival armed groups has been part of a broader conflict since Libya slipped into turmoil following the 2011 fall of President Mu’ammar Gaddafi. Over three years his forces have clashed with rival armed groups as well as with former anti-Gaddafi rebels resisting what they saw as an attempt to re-impose autocratic rule.

    The LNA suffered heavy losses, which its own officials put at more than 5,000 men. Parts of Benghazi have been wrecked by heavy shelling and air strikes. In Sabri, where the LNA advanced on Wednesday, deserted streets were littered with debris and the shells of rusting cars. Some buildings have been destroyed and others peppered with holes from bullets and shrapnel.

    But this victory marks a major advance for the one-time commander in Gaddafi’s army, who has slowly gained ground in eastern and southern Libya in defiance of a UN-backed government that is struggling to extend its influence from the capital, Tripoli. Having seized a string of key oil ports and southern air bases since last year, Haftar has made little secret of ambitions to enter Tripoli, where he portrays his rivals as beholden to militia rule.

    Haftar’s critics accuse him of dragging Benghazi into a war that he has used to establish military control over much of eastern Libya, but he has backing from foreign powers including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and has cultivated closer ties with Moscow. He does not recognise the authority of the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli and instead backs the rival parliament based in the country’s far east
    Though weak, the UN-backed government in Tripoli retains the formal support of most Western powers. In May, the Libyan foreign minister said Haftar must accept civilian rule in order to play a role in the future of the North African country. “Haftar must first accept to work under a civilian authority and officially approve the political deal” that gave rise to the power-sharing authority, Mohamed al-Taher Siala told the AFP news agency. It is highly unlikely, now that he has taken Benghazi that he will acquiesce.

    The LNA has gradually grown bigger and better equipped but is still heavily dependent on alliances with local brigades and tribes. As they have after past retreats in the battle for the city, rival armed groups may fall back on using guerrilla tactics against Haftar’s forces. The struggle for Libya is by no means over, despite this significant victory.’

    David Seddon 6 July 2017

  4. Readers of this blog may be interested to know that in September 2017 leaked emails purportedly between UAE ambassador to the US Yousef Otaiba and then-US national security adviser Susan Rice suggest that the United States knew about illegal arms shipments to rebels in Libya. “MBZ asked me to inform you that we will be sending ‘equipment’ to our friends in the western part of Libya in the next 2-3 days,” wrote Otaiba, using an acronym for Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. “They will arrive in a UAE cargo aircraft and will be escorted by a UAE military contingent, just to insure safe passage. He just wanted me to give you a heads up this will be happening so that no one is caught off guard,” he added. Rice responded with “Roger. Thanks”. The emails raise questions about US knowledge of – and acquiescence in – UAE intervention in Libya’s civil war. The UN has kept Libya under an arms embargo since the 2011 uprising that drove then leader Muammar Gaddafi from power, but the Security Council report details a “general increase in direct foreign support to armed factions in Libya”.

    There is also evidence in a report produced by a UN panel of experts, of helicopters, including a Russia-made Mi-24 Hind gunship, and a single-engine light attack plane in eastern Libya after they were transferred from the UAE to the Libyan National Army (LNA). The heavily armed Mi-24 Hind helicopter was one of four models exported by Belarus to the UAE in 2014. It is operating alongside a US-produced light attack aircraft (an AT-802i) originally developed to fight fires, but converted into a counter-insurgency and strike aircraft. The manufacturer, Texas-based Air Tractor, has exported 48 aircraft to the UAE and at least one of these has found its way to Libya, the report found.

    A delivery of more than 90 armoured personnel carriers and more than 500 other vehicles is reported to have been made to the LNA in the eastern city of Tobruk in April 2016. The vehicles came from the UAE via a cargo ship from Saudi Arabia. There have been other reports of combat aircraft being operated by Haftar’s forces, but the UN report is the first authoritative confirmation of their origin.

    This information suggests a concerted effort, by the UAE, with, it seems, support or encouragement from the USA, to provide weapons to the man previously considered ‘unacceptable’, General Haftar. It seems entirely possible that in the near future, he will be identified, not only covertly but openly, as someone ‘one can do business with’ and even as the potential ‘saviour’ of the Libyan revolution.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.