June 27, 2014 | Policy Brief

Operation Dignity: New Fighting Grips Libya

Co-Authored by Nathaniel Barr

Former Libyan army general Khalifa Hifter launched “Operation Dignity for Libya” on May 16 in Benghazi, promising to “cleanse the city of terrorists.” Since then, clashes have increased in frequency and intensity between Hifter’s forces and Islamist militias, with various armed factions throughout the country choosing sides in the conflict. On June 15, Hifter launched a fresh
ground and air offensive against Islamist strongholds in the city. 

Since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi’s dictatorship, Libya has effectively been ruled by a patchwork of militias, with the central government struggling to extend its writ within the country. It has struggled to even exercise basic sovereign functions in its own capital city, Tripoli.

As a result of the weak central government and diffusion of power, large parts of the country have been mired in internecine conflict, raising concerns that Libya could serve as a safe haven for jihadist militants. In particular, Benghazi—where Hifter’s offensive is now concentrated—has long been an epicenter  for jihadist activity.

Until Hifter’s offensive, Benghazi was controlled by various Islamist militias, including Ansar al-Sharia, which the U.S. State Department has designated a foreign terrorist organization. It is unclear whether Hifter’s offensive will impact the security environment.

The most optimistic scenario is that Hifter successfully dismantles Benghazi’s Islamist militias, and enables the central government to establish order in a city that has long been outside of its reach. But there are also risks that Hifter will himself serve as a force for instability.Regardless of the outcome, Hifter’s offensive is likely to reshape Libya’s political landscape. 

The map and timeline provide details on the current situation in Libya — both measure significant activity since the June 15 escalation in Hifter's campaign. Click here for the full version of either the map or timeline.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 
Oren Adaki is a Research Associate at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.