Full interview with Marshal Haftar, LNA’s General Commander
– June 2019. Interview by The Libyan Address Journal, Isa Abdul Qayum
– In light of the latest developments in the Libyan file, I took my papers and went to Rajma, the Headquarters of the General Command of the Libyan National Army, where there is the office of one of the most important men in Libya today, I mean Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. I found him, as usual, busy with receiving and bidding farewell to his guests; guests from all sorts of tendencies and nationalities.
He welcomed me, and we delved, without introductions, into a long and deep discourse that touched upon almost everything. He was at times listening, at times inquiring, and answering with utter frankness.
He pointed to a chair next to his, ordered a coffee. I sat down and took out my notebook, and proceeded to flip its pages. He seems to have anticipated the first question, so he brought out a report related to the European Union and gave it to me.
The report expressed concerns regarding the relationship of Faiz Sarraj and his government with militias and the infiltration of his forces by persons and leaders accused of terrorism and human trafficking. The report lamented the hijacking of GNA decision-making by two groups: corrupt businessmen and the Muslim Brotherhood. The European report advises caution from further engagement with Sarraj on grounds of the futility of such an engagement. I folded the report, and turned to him and said:
Q: Field Marshal, sir, let us start with this report. Are you counting on a serious European position, at this stage?
First and foremost, we count on the efforts of our own soldiers and officers, and on the support of the Libyan people, who never failed us, from the very beginning of our war on terror, and our efforts to retrieve our nation.
However, the European position remains important for us. Perhaps our truthfulness in dealing with them, and what they see on the actual ground, is what has motivated them to write such a report. We want them to understand the longing of the Libyan people for changing their lived reality, and for exiting this crisis. Such change begins with the war on terror, the dismantling of militias, and the ending of this phase of the hijacked authority that lacks proper authorization by the people.
Q: I interrupted him saying: Do you see that happening through only the military Operation ‘Dignity Hurricane’, recently launched?
No, the solution must be through the political track, and with the participation of all Libyans. The military operation takes aim at inexecrable realities that could not be addressed by any other means. Such realities include: the presence and spreading of terrorist leaders, and their recruitment activities through cells inside Tripoli, the presence and spreading of militias, and their control over the funds that belong to the Libyan people at the Central Bank of Libya, as well as their practice of highway robbery, kidnapping, blackmail, the growing of activities by criminal groups, Organized-crime gangs who trade in human beings, and the smuggling of oil and fuels, and also the presence of groups of politicized Islam that sabotage political life and spoil its atmosphere, and even implement foreign agendas that conflict with the interests of the Libyan people.
This is the part that we aim at with our military operation, anything else, the Libyan people will find solutions for, using dialogue and discussion, through peaceful, political, and democratic means.
Q: Since you are talking about the military track, and even though I know it is difficult to ask for details of ongoing military operations, but in general, how are things going at the fighting fronts in Tripoli?
The situation is excellent. I ask the Libyan people not to pay any attention to the rumors that claim that we may withdraw or even think of stopping at this stage. Military operations will NOT stop before we accomplish all our objectives. The morale of the army is high, and their leaders know very well that they are accomplishing a grand and historical national duty. They have clear and frank orders. They know that Libya is in danger, and that there is no retreat from the duty of saving her.
They draw their fighting spirit from their trust in God, and from the support of the Libyan people with all their cities, tribes, elites, and institutions.
After finishing the military task in Tripoli, these men will be devoted to the protection of our borders, shores, and skies. The atmosphere for political work and discourse, with all its details will be more conducive. Such work and discourse will then have better circumstances for success. That contrasts with the circumstance of the previous eight years. The military operation will result in the removal of the factors that led to the failure of the political track, and that led to all the economic, social, legal, and security catastrophes.
Q: Is it possible to know the features of what comes after the liberation of Tripoli, and the completion of the military task that you talked about?
Generally and naturally, we will enter a transitional period that is, this time, both clear and disciplined. It is important that during this transitional period several basic tasks are accomplished, in order to prepare the ground for the permeant phase. For example, the dismantling of all militias, disarming them, and giving guarantees to those who cooperate in that regard.
The dismantling of all bodies generated by the Skhirat Accord, which has not only expired and failed in finding an exit from the crisis but actually created several other crises.
Q: Field Marshall, Sir, what do you mean preparing the ground for the permanent phase?
I mean preparing for a phase that is permanent and normalized, and upon which the State can stabilize, so it can launch into reconstruction, development, and the removal of the debris of long years of stagnation.
Amongst the tasks of such a phase are the formation of a new constitutional committee, and a proposed referendum law, rebalancing the oil sector and its revenues, addressing the challenges facing people, and making their lives easier, and especially addressing the liquidity crisis, and commencing the unification and proper management of state institutions, after years of chaotic divisiveness caused by previous bodies, through their illegal struggle for power, and their reneging on commitments, and their being manipulated by militias from before and after the ‘Fajr Libya’ terrorist operation that was launched by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The whole world now knows that it was that operation that divided the institutions of the state, and led to the catastrophes that Libya has been suffering.
Q: So, the main pillar will be a national unity government that will be tasked with ordering our household and preparing for the permanent phase, according to a democratic track that culminates in a constitution and elections?
Yes, this is precisely what I mean. We will have a transitional phase that will be managed by a national unity government that will immediately start working upon liberating Tripoli. And if, for any temporary logistical and security reasons, it has difficulties, it may also start working from any other city like Benghazi, or any other stable and secure city in the West, East, or South, until Tripoli is ready for moving in. As you know, we do not discriminate between cities or regions. We see a single and unified Libya.
Q: There are people who raise doubts about the intentions of the army towards such ideas?
(Smilingly) They should first raise doubts about those who flipped on democracy using arms and came back to power through the militias of ‘Fajr Libya’, duly designated as terrorist by the Parliament. They occupied the capital and imposed a government with the force of arms.
It is more appropriate for such people to raise doubts about the Presidential Council that refused to hand over authority after the Skhirat Accord expired three times, and after the passing of many legal judgments against it and against its decrees, because it has no legal status, and its alliance with militias to stay in power.
They should raise doubts about those who empower terrorist groups and militias and grant them safe havens and money and allow them to destroy the State and its institutions. As for the Army, it is the same Army that protected the last elections in 2014, and that committed to all international initiatives regarding new elections. The Army is the one who will guarantee and protect the establishment of the new Libyan State, God willing. It is not the army who failed to meet its commitments regarding elections which were supposed to happen in 2018, and which were then postponed to the beginning of 2019. No, it was the Presidential Council that withheld funding of the Electoral Commission, as per its Chairman’s own statements, and that also failed to protect it and allowed it to be destroyed by terrorists.
It also objected to the Referendum Law and created difficult predicaments regarding constitutional foundations. At other times, it used the excuse of security circumstances and a host of other excuses that they kept coming up with.
Elections were our demand from the beginning, and we agreed to them, and we demanded them in the Abu Dhabi I and II meetings, in Paris I and II, and in Palermo Italy as a solution for the legitimacy crisis. This was the demand of the majority of Libyans, as per opinion polls. But, what happened? What happened is that this government which we regarded as an enlightened government of national accord, returned to where its militias were, and where the non-constitutional and so called ‘State Council’ (controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, lately classified by the Parliament as a terrorist organization) was, and reneged on everything we had agreed upon. In summary, they are the obstructers of the process using all sorts of chaotic excuses, as explained.
Q: Field Marshall, sir, let us move to the international position. How do you see it, or how do you evaluate it, in light of the Army’s control over the majority of Libyan soil, and security of Oil, and the extent of popular support that it enjoys, as per the latest opinion polls run by respected international organizations?
The international stance is largely supportive of the Army, directly and indirectly. Those who do not support us, still sent us assurances that they understand the stance of the Army and its movements. On the other hand, we speak to them frankly about our ideas for the phase beyond the liberation of Tripoli, which is always a subject for discussion with Libyan personalities and tribes. We see that these are good ideas that do not conflict with the common interest of these countries with Libya and do not in any way obstruct them. On the contrary, they positively intersect in ways that serve the interest of our peoples and our nations, that preserve sovereignty, and that deepen official, popular, and economic relations and such.
Q: What about the regional position, especially that of neighboring countries?
Also, the regional position is excellent. In addition to special relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Kuwait, Tunis, and Chad, we have noted important developments in our relations with Algeria and Sudan. We believe that, day by day, they have started to understand the nature of the movements of the Army, and its contribution in supporting the people in their striving to exit from the current suffocating situation to a transitional phase, and then to a permanent phase that ends all suffering, God willing.
This is what you will see soon, after the liberation of Tripoli. Similarly, I wish Sudan and Algeria stability during this critical period.
Q: There are some personalities from neighboring countries, such as the leaders of the Tunisian Nahda movement, who talk in a provocative and inflammatory way that raises fears of the control of Tripoli by the Army. In your view, why is this the case?
First of all, what the army is doing is a purely internal Libyan matter. We will definitely not permit reading it in any other way that violates the principle of national sovereignty. Personalities such as the ones you mention do not even represent their own countries or peoples, and are simply beholden to foreign agendas hostile to Libya. I believe that concerns, when present, stem from fearing the escape of terrorists and criminals from Tripoli upon their defeat to some neighboring countries, just as hundreds of terrorist and rebels escaped from such countries in previous stages and killed hundreds of Libyans through suicide and combat operations in Benghazi, Derna, the South, and other cities and regions of ours.
Here, I emphasize that the shortest cut towards removing such fears is direct cooperation with the Libyan National Army and Libyan security agencies in order to end the security threats caused by such groups towards the security of our region. This is a common interest for all those who understand the concept of security. We are neighbors and kin and between us, there are strong relations and sound agreements that can be invoked in order to remove all concerns and exaggerated confusions. Instead, we should have common work for the benefit of our peoples, and against terror only.
Q: Did you see the initiative proposed by Faiz Sarraj lately?
(He smiled again, before he answered, and said): I do not believe that he has anything to say. He is a shaken man, and his decision is not in his hand.
I have experienced dealing with him and have come to know him well over the past several years, and I have talked to him directly, as you know. Truly, he does not know what he wants, and is not able to sign any agreement. He always unconsciously gives you the impression that he is terrified of something unknown, intensely and to an indescribable extent.
Anyway, the initiative, in addition to lacking any seriousness and any clauses that address the causes of the crisis, does not actually belong to Sarraj, but is merely an echo of the repetitive discourse of Ghassan Salame. Initiatives have no meaning unless they are brave and carry clear clauses that address the causes of the crisis and its very roots. Therefore, his initiative is of no value and our response to it is the same as our response to what Salame has said before.
I repeat, we are not against political solutions, nor against the democratic process, nor against elections. On the contrary, we see elections as the best path forward, as in all countries of the world. The ABC of democracy is arbitration exclusively through the ballot box, not arbitration through an alleged ‘consensus’ that has been forcibly imposed upon Libyans in the lobbies of hotels. We believe all these values and institutions of a civil and modern state cannot live in the shadow of terrorist control and groups like Qaida, LIFG, the Muslim Brotherhood, militias and gangs of organized crime, smuggling, kidnapping, and the predators of public funds.
After the liberation of Tripoli, we will directly address the Libyan people about all these matters. We will place things on the right track, a track that serves the interests of Libya and Libyans, and that preserves the unity of its territory and the cohesion of its people, and that invests their wealth, which is currently daily smuggled by the millions by land, air, and sea, at the hands of gangs led by international and local fugitives. By the way, such people constitute the majority of those whom we fight in Tripoli today. This is not a secret, and is well known to the United Nations and the international community.
Q: You mentioned Dr. Ghassan Salame, the Representative of the General Secretary of the United Nations. How is your relationship with him these days, considering his stances and pronouncements which are seen as being spasmic towards you?
In general, I respect him and value him, for he is a cultured Arab nationalist.
However, lately, his information seems truncated and he does not give the Army its due, even though, we supply him with whatever information he wants in total openness. His reports to the Security Council and some of the confusing reports of his mission make us believe that cooperating with him is of no benefit.
However, during our last meeting, he denied reports of his discourses, and affirmed that they were taken out of context, and that he will work at clarifying matters. On my part, I frankly also told him that I am still hoping that cooperation between us can continue and develop towards prospects of resolving the crisis, and that I would not like to treat him like previous envoys.
Q: I know how hectic your schedule is, and I have tried to be brief, as much as possible, however, a few days ago, I was on a visit to the city of Ghat. I found to be in a disastrous state. I found the people suffering. They asked me to convey the message that their city is one of the main gateways of our homeland, and they are asking for more attention to them and their region.
First of all, I thank God for their safety from the calamity of the flash floods, which I followed with serious concern. I issued orders that they must be aided, and those orders were implemented.
Perhaps you have seen the convoys of air that we sent to their desert camps. This is our duty, without any bragging. We urge the executive authorities to speed such aid. I believe the Transitional Government is seriously striving to offer what it can to our people. There, we also cooperate with the Government to secure aid convoys, by land and air. Our operations in Tripoli did not distract us from paying attention to this region of our homeland in the far South West.
I thanked him for granting me the time and for his frankness. I folded up my papers, and left, with a promise that we will meet again soon to pursue the rest of the dialogue. Whenever I meet people in the street, they express the desire to know more details about what is happening, and what will happen. Undoubtedly, the Libyan people are counting on a transformation that only the army is capable of: ending the chaos, the militias, the terrorist groups, and gangs, and preparing Libya for the phase of stability, and transitioning to Rule of Law through transparent elections, and under a civil and fair constitution, so as to reach the dream of a stable and reasonably prosperous life, safety and security, in which we culture can thrive, and in which the wheels of the economy and development can turn. We meet again soon.
For The Libyan Address Journal, Isa Abdul Qayum | Rajma, June 19th, 2019