On April 4, 2019, Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) coalition that has controlled eastern Libya with foreign military and financial support since 2014, ordered forces loyal to him to begin a unilateral military operation to secure the capital, Tripoli. Tripoli is the seat of the Government of National Accord (GNA), an interim body recognized by the United States and United Nations (U.N.) Security Council as Libya's legitimate governing entity. In response to the pro-LNA offensive, pro-GNA and other anti-Haftar elements in western Libya have mobilized. Fighting is ongoing south of Tripoli, but the conflict has devolved into a tactically fluid stalemate in which neither side has a clear military advantage. According to U.N. Special Representative and U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) head Ghassan Salamé, "reliance on external support is a conflict driver" in spite of a U.N. arms embargo, and "armed drones, armored vehicles and pick-up trucks fitted with heavy armaments, machine guns, recoilless rifles and mortar and rocket launchers have been recently transferred to Libya with the complicity, and indeed outright support, of foreign governments."
Libyan parties to the conflict have rejected outsiders' calls for an unconditional ceasefire. Some western Libyan parties (including GNA leaders Prime Minister-designate Fayez al Serraj and Deputy Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Maitiq) reject future political engagement with Haftar and insist that the LNA withdraw to status quo ante positions. Armed anti-Haftar groups reportedly further reject the premise that Haftar could have a future national security leadership role, an idea which underpinned pre-April U.N. reconciliation plans. Haftar and the LNA refuse to withdraw and reject calls to replace Haftar as the leader of eastern Libya-based military forces.
On June 16, GNA Prime Minister-designate Serraj proposed a new political negotiation arrangement and the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections by the end of 2019, echoing elements of the pre-April U.N. plan. Officials of the LNA-backed eastern Libyan government rejected the proposal, vowing that LNA operations will not cease until the LNA militarily controls Tripoli. Key Libyan figures are making their respective cases internationally, apparently seeking to shift the external balance of opinion in a way that might decisively affect the internal balance of power. No major new international initiatives to reach a settlement have been revealed, although key European and Arab leaders continue to mutually consult, and U.S., U.N., and other foreign officials welcomed a brief, fragile truce during Eid al Adha observations in early August. International powers appear to share a desire to avoid the worst effects of continued fighting but also appear to differ on how to defuse the situation and whether or how to hold actors accountable.
The U.S. government initially called for the LNA to immediately cease its operations against Tripoli. However, President Trump then personally engaged Haftar and acknowledged Haftar's counterterrorism and energy security efforts. The U.S. government since has reiterated its support for an inclusive political settlement and an end to escalation, while positioning the United States as a neutral arbiter willing to engage with all sides.
As of mid-July, U.N. officials reported that there have been a minimum of 400 civilian casualties, including 106 civilian deaths. The World Health Organization then-placed the overall casualty count since April 4, including combatants and civilians, at 1093 deaths and 5,752 wounded. U.N. officials since have condemned "indiscriminate" airstrikes resulting in additional civilian deaths and injuries. More than 105,000 people have been internally displaced by the fighting, with aid agencies estimating that more than 100,000 civilians are in immediate front-line areas, with an additional 400,000 within 1 KM of the front lines.
The LNA's moves and counter-mobilizations by the GNA and other western Libyan forces directly challenge the stated preferences of the Security Council and the U.S. government, posing complex questions for U.S. policymakers and Members of Congress, including: