Tripoli Airport Attacked as UN Pull Staff from Libya

Heavy fighting forces the closure of Tripoli’s airport and convinces the United Nations to pull out.

Benghazi, Libya in the early morning sunlight, September 22, 2013
Benghazi, Libya in the early morning sunlight, September 22, 2013 (UNSMIL/Iason Athanasiadis)

Security deteriorated in Libya on Monday when a rocket attack forced the closure of Tripoli’s international airport and the United Nations evacuated their staff from the country.

Fighting also intensified in the eastern city of Benghazi, the hotbed of the 2011 uprising against the regime of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi. A retired military general, Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, has launched a private campaign against Islamists militants there.

Haftar, who was a colonel in Gaddafi’s army, fell out with the former strongman after his 1987 defeat in Libya’s war against Chad. He later moved to the United States where it is believed he was trained by the CIA.

Troops loyal to Haftar stormed Libya’s parliament in May, demanding the legislature’s suspension in order to put down the unrest that has lingered since Gaddafi was toppled and killed three years ago and which has given rise to radical Islamist groups. He earlier attempted a coup in February that was dismissed by the authorities in Tripoli.

However, the interim government has struggled to assert its authority in especially the east and south of Libya where independence movements have sprung up. Former rebels and tribal militias that fought against Gaddafi’s army have refused to disarm, carving out fiefdoms of their own instead that are susceptible to corruption and weak to resist traffickers and terrorists who use the Libyan deserts as transit routes and a staging ground for attacks elsewhere in the region.

An election late last month saw just 18 percent of Libyan turn out to vote, revealing widespread apathy and disillusionment three years after Libya’s “Arab Spring” revolution triggered a long civil war and Western military intervention.

The Arab and NATO powers that came to the rebellion’s aid in 2011 have largely shied away from lending support. France and the United Kingdom, which were among the most vocal in calling for intervention when Gaddafi threatened to bombard civilians, have played virtually no role in Libya’s reconstruction while policymaking in the United States is stymied by political fighting over the September 11, 2012 attack on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi that left four Americans, including an ambassador, dead. Opposition Republicans accuse the Democratic administration of initially portraying what turned out to be a premeditated assault as a spontaneous riot.

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