Renegade general fighting Ansar al-Sharia in Libya

With the Libyan government ineffective, paralyzed, and racked with rivalries, Islamic extremists have taken over large tracts of territory and the government has been powerless to stop them.

The government's inability to secure the streets and protect people from AQ affiliated militas has led to the rise of a vigilante force of sorts, led by General Khalifa Haftar, one of the leaders of the war against Gaddafi.

Haftar has not said he is trying to overthrow the government, although Libyan authorities are accusing him of trying to do so. He has taken on the largest and most deadly Islamist militia because the army - that we have supposedly been training for 3 years - is absolutely incapable of fighting them.

The flashpoint has been Benghazi as several clashes between Haftar's forces and Ansar al-Sharia have resulted in dozens killed and hundreds wounded.


Dressed in military uniform, Hafter - whom the speaker of parliament accused of plotting a coup - said his troops had temporarily withdrawn from Benghazi for tactical reasons.

"We'll come back with force," he told reporters at a sports club in Abyar, a small town to the east of Benghazi.

"We've started this battle and will continue it until we have reached our goals," he said.

He said government and parliament had no legitimacy as they had failed to achieve security. "The street and the Libyan people are with us," he said, adding that his troops were spread out in several parts of eastern Libya.

In Tripoli, parliamentary speaker and military commander-in-chief Nuri Abu Sahmain said Hafter was trying to stage a coup.

"(LNA) members who have carried out the clashes in Benghazi are out of the control of the state of Libya and they are trying to attempt a coup for their own interests," Abu Sahmain said in a televised news conference.

A Health Ministry official said the death toll had risen to 43, with more than 100 wounded. Haftar said 60 militants and six of his soldiers were killed, and 250 militants and 37 of his men wounded.

Libyan news website Ajwa Belad said late on Saturday 75 people had been killed and 141 wounded, citing official data.

A worker in a hospital that received at least 40 corpses said: "More bodies are coming in from areas outside Benghazi.

Authorities extended the closure of Benghazi's Benina airport on Saturday. Egyptair halted flights to Benghazi until the security situation improved, an Egyptian security official said.

The Libyan army declared a no-fly zone after Haftar's forces used at least one helicopter during Friday's fighting, according to a statement on the chief of staff's website.

Ansar al-Sharia's leader Ahmed Abu Khattala, is under sealed indictment in the US for leading the attack on our diplomats in 2012. Following that attack, Benghazi residents kicked the terrorist group out of Benghazi but they have since returned with a vengeance. The militia controls large parts of Benghazi, setting up checkpoints and even dispensing food to the hungry. They do not recognize the legitimacy of the Libyan government and are looking to make the country into an Islamic state.

Why can't the government do anything about them?

Since the 2011 civil war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi after 42 years of one-man rule, Libya has been unable to impose authority over brigades of former rebels who refuse to disarm and have carved out regional fiefdoms.

Benghazi, the cradle of the NATO-backed uprising against Gaddafi, in particular has struggled to curb violence and stem attacks blamed on Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist group that Washington designates as a terrorist organization.

Haftar, a leading figure in the 2011 uprising that ousted Gaddafi, stirred rumors of a coup in February by appearing in military uniform to call for a presidential committee to be formed to govern until new elections.

Libya's government is fragile and the parliament almost paralyzed by rivalries, with little progress to full democracy made since 2011. A planned new constitution is still unwritten and the country is on its third prime minister since March.

U.S. and European countries are helping build up the regular army but Libya's armed forces and government cannot control the brigades of ex-rebels and militants who once fought Gaddafi.

It may be that Haftar wants to take over the government. It wouldn't be very difficult. But battling Ansar al-Sharia is a big enough task at present to keep he and his men occupied for the foreseeable future.


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