Libya and U.S. Policy




Updated February 12, 2021
Libya and U.S. Policy
Libyans Reach Truce, Look to Elections
Figure 1. Libya: Areas of Influence
Ten years after a 2011 uprising toppled longtime
authoritarian leader Muammar al Qadhafi, Libya has yet to
make a transition to stable governing arrangements.
Militias, local leaders, and coalitions of national figures
backed by competing foreign patrons have remained the
most powerful arbiters of public affairs.
Conflict re-erupted in Libya in April 2019, when a coalition
of armed groups led by Qadhafi-era military defector
Khalifa Haftar known as the Libyan National Army
movement (LNA, in Arabic: “Libyan Arab Armed Forces,”
LAAF) leveraged support from Russia, the United Arab
Emirates, and Egypt to attempt to seize the capital, Tripoli,
from the interim Government of National Accord (GNA)
and local militias. With Turkish military support, the GNA
and western Libyan militias forced the LNA to withdraw.
Libya has remained divided since, with opposing forces
separated by a line of control west of Sirte (Figure 1).
From April 2019 through December 2020, fighting between
LNA forces, GNA supporters, and anti-LNA militias killed
more than 500 civilians and displaced more than 200,000
people according to United Nations (U.N.) estimates. U.S.
and U.N. officials have condemned “persistent” weapons
shipments to Libya as violations of the U.N. arms embargo.

2011 Uprising topples Muammar al Qadhafi.
Since 2020, new multilateral diplomatic initiatives have
2012 Parliamentary elections. Transitional cabinet seated.
sought to achieve a ceasefire among warring Libyan
2014 Constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections.
groups, reduce foreign interference, and relaunch political
Disputed results fuel conflict. U.S. diplomats depart.
reconciliation. Meeting in Berlin in January 2020, Libyan
2015 International mediation yields agreement to form
rivals and foreign powers agreed to a 55-point agenda,
Government of National Accord (GNA).
including the establishment of a GNA-LNA Joint Military
2016 Parliament withholds endorsement of GNA. Islamic
Commission (JMC, or “5+5” because of its ten members) to
State forces defeated in Sirte with U.S. military support.
consult on requirements for a ceasefire. After U.N.-backed
2018 Libyan National Army consolidates control in east Libya.
talks succeeded in October 2020 in establishing an interim,
2019 Libyan National Army launches offensive against Tripoli.
90-day ceasefire, U.N. officials selected and convened a 75-
2020 U.N. supports ceasefire negotiations, selects Libyan
member Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) to restart
Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) members. LPDF agrees
the country’s disrupted political transition.
to roadmap, plans December 2021 elections.
Meeting under U.N. auspices, LPDF members agreed that
2021 LPDF selects Interim Executive Authority members.
Libya would hold a constitutional referendum prior to
Source: Prepared by CRS using media and social media reporting.
national parliamentary and executive elections on
Tobruk to serve as chairman of the Presidential Council,
December 24, 2021 (the seventieth anniversary of Libyan
with southerner Musa Al Koni and westerner Abdullah Al
independence). The LPDF also adopted rules for the
Lafi as his deputies. Misratan engineer and former Qadhafi-
selection of an interim executive authority to govern until
era official Abdul Hamid Dabaiba was chosen as Prime
the elections and oversee preparations. The Biden
Minister-designate. Dabaiba must now propose a cabinet
Administration supports maintaining the ceasefire and has
for a vote of confidence by the House of Representatives
pledged to assist in preparations for the planned elections.
(HOR, Libya’s interim parliament, last elected in 2014).
Interim Executive Authority Selected
Should HOR members reject Dabaiba’s nominees, the
On February 5, members of the LPDF voted to select
LPDF may reconvene to consider the cabinet nominations.
members for an interim three-person Presidential Council
Though many key actors have released statements
and interim Prime Minister. Choosing from lists that each
welcoming the LPDF’s decisions, Libyan factions and their
drew members from Libya’s western, eastern, and southern
foreign supporters appear to retain deep differences in their
regions, the LPDF narrowly selected a list of less well
preferred models for governance for the country, military
known figures over a list that included serving officials.
command arrangements, resource sharing, the role of Islam
The LPDF chose Mohamed Menfi of the eastern city of
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Libya and U.S. Policy
in public life, and Libya’s international partnerships. Recent
Conflict Hampers COVID-19 Response
protests have demanded better services and economic relief.
Years of division and conflict have weakened the Libyan
The United States and European leaders have jointly called
health care system’s ability to mitigate risks from the
“on all current Libyan authorities and actors to ensure a
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). In August 2020,
smooth and constructive handover of all competences and
then-Acting UNSMIL head Stephanie Williams called
duties to the new unified executive authority.”
“fragmented governance” a “serious obstacle to the
Security Conditions Remain Tense
COVID-19 response,” but UNSMIL reported in January
2021 that it expected COVID-19 response plans would be
According to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya
(UNSMIL), “
consolidated in the near future. Libyan officials have
a de facto truce” prevailed in central Libya as
reported more than 126,000 cases of COVID-19 and nearly
of January 2021, and LNA forces have fortified positions
2,000 COVID-19 deaths, but there are clear limits in testing
along a front south and west of Sirte. The October 2020
and gaps in public health monitoring capacity.
ceasefire agreement called for the departure of mercenaries
and foreign fighters along with the suspension of foreign
U.S. Policy and Outlook
training and the departure of trainers. However, as of
U.S. officials engage Libyans and monitor U.S. aid
February 2021, mercenaries reportedly remain in Libya,
programs via the Libya External Office (LEO) at the U.S.
including forces affiliated with the Wagner Group of
Embassy in Tunisia. For years, U.S. diplomats and officials
Russia. On January 22, 2021, press reports citing U.S.
have emphasized political solutions to Libya’s conflicts, but
officials reported that Wagner Group mercenaries were
have not convinced or compelled Libyans and their various
constructing sophisticated defensive fortifications in LNA-
patrons to disengage from confrontation. U.S. diplomats in
controlled central Libya. Both sides have recruited and
July 2020 stated U.S. “opposition to all foreign
deployed Syrian militias. Turkish military advisers continue
interference,” while engaging with all sides in an “active
to train and assist GNA forces in accord with a 2019
neutrality” approach. U.S. officials support the UNSMIL-
Turkey-GNA security agreement. Weapons shipments to
led negotiation processes and (as noted) have called on all
both sides reportedly continue.
parties in Libya and foreign governments to support the
U.N. officials estimate that as many as 1.2 million Libyans
decisions reached by the LPDF. Officials identify
will require some form of humanitarian assistance in 2021.
counterterrorism as the top U.S. priority in Libya, and
Recent U.N. data has identified more than 574,000 foreign
balance Libya-related concerns with other U.S. goals in
migrants, more than 316,000 internally displaced persons,
relation to foreign actors.
and nearly 44,000 refugees in Libya. Migrants remain
The U.S. military supported U.S. diplomatic initiatives and
especially vulnerable to extortion and other abuses.
monitored and reported on the activities of Russian
U.N. Recommends Ceasefire Monitoring Mission
mercenaries and military equipment in Libya during 2020.
In December 2020, U.N. Secretary-General António
U.S. forces have conducted intermittent targeted strikes
Guterres recommended that the Security Council amend
against terrorist targets in Libya (most recently
UNSMIL’s mandate to include support for a ceasefire
acknowledging strikes in September 2019) citing authority
monitoring mechanism. Guterres relayed the request of the
under the 2001 AUMF as well as constitutional authorities.
Libyan JMC for “unarmed, non-uniformed individual
According to UNSMIL, as of 2021, the Islamic State
international monitors to be deployed under the auspices of
organization and Al Qaeda fighters have been
the United Nations.” According to the Secretary-General,
“operationally weakened” in Libya but remain a threat.
Libyan interlocutors “have also conveyed their firm
The U.N. Security Council has authorized financial and
position that no deployment of foreign forces of any kind,
travel sanctions on those responsible for threatening “the
including United Nations uniformed personnel [i.e.
peace, stability or security of Libya,” obstructing or
peacekeepers], should occur on Libyan territory.” In
undermining “the successful completion of its political
February, the Security Council directed the Secretary-
transition,” or supporting others who do so. In parallel to
General to deploy an advance monitoring mission.
these U.N. measures, U.S. executive orders provide for U.S.
UNSMIL is a “special political mission” and receives U.S.
sanctions on those threatening peace in Libya.
financial support indirectly through U.S. funding for the
Congress has conditionally appropriated funding for
United Nations via the Contributions to International
transition support, stabilization, security assistance, and
Organizations (CIO) account. Former U.N. Iraq and
humanitarian programs for Libya since 2011. During the
Lebanon envoy Ján Kubiš began serving as U.N. Special
116th Congress, the House passed the Libya Stabilization
Envoy for Libya and head of UNSMIL on February 8.
Act (H.R. 4644), which would have authorized future U.S.
Oil Sector Recovers, Finances Strained
assistance, provided a legislative basis for U.S. sanctions,
Libya has the largest proven crude oil reserves in Africa,
and established new reporting requirements. In December
but conflict challenges and neglected infrastructure threaten
2020, Congress allocated not less than $30 million in
the energy sector’s operations. As of February, Libya
FY2021 aid for “stabilization assistance for Libya,
produced more than 1 million barrels of oil per day, down
including support for a United Nations-facilitated political
from 1.4 million barrels per day in 2011. Oil revenues
process and border security” under P.L. 116-260.
accrue to a National Oil Corporation account in accordance
Christopher M. Blanchard, Specialist in Middle Eastern
with an U.N.-brokered agreement. Since 2011, public debt
has deepened and currency reserves have declined. Millions
Affairs
of Libyan households depend on public sector employment
IF11556
and subsidies, which dominate state spending.
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Libya and U.S. Policy


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https://crsreports.congress.gov | IF11556 · VERSION 10 · UPDATED