Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy
June 26, 2020
Libya’s political transition has been disrupted by armed non-state groups and threatened by the
indecision and infighting of interim leaders. After an uprising ended the 40-plus-year rule of
Christopher M. Blanchard
Muammar al Qadhafi in 2011, interim authorities proved unable to form a stable government,
Specialist in Middle
address security issues, reshape the country’s finances, or create a viable framework for post-
Eastern Affairs
conflict justice and reconciliation. Insecurity spread as local armed groups competed for

influence and resources. Qadhafi compounded stabilization challenges by depriving Libyans of
experience in self-government, stifling civil society, and leaving state institutions weak. Militias,

local leaders, and coalitions of national figures with competing foreign patrons remain the most
powerful arbiters of public affairs. An atmosphere of persistent lawlessness has enabled militias, criminals, and Islamist
terrorist groups to operate with impunity, while recurrent conflict has endangered civilians’ rights and safety. Issues of
dispute have included governance, military command, national finances, and control of oil infrastructure.
Key Issues and Actors in Libya. After a previous round of conflict in 2014, the country’s transitional institutions
fragmented. A Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital, Tripoli, took power under the 2015 U.N.-
brokered Libyan Political Agreement. Leaders of the House of Representatives (HOR) that were elected in 2014 declined to
endorse the GNA, and they and a rival interim government based in eastern Libya have challenged the GNA’s authority with
support from the Libyan National Army/Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LNA/LAAF) movement. The LNA/LAAF is a coalition
of armed groups led by Qadhafi-era military officer Khalifa Haftar: it conducted military operations against Islamist groups
in eastern Libya from 2014 to 2019 and upended U.N. mediation efforts by launching a surprise offensive in April 2019,
seeking to wrest control of Tripoli from the GNA and local militias.
Fighters in western Libya rallied to blunt the LNA’s advance and leveraged Turkish military support to force LNA fighters
and foreign mercenaries to withdraw from northwestern Libya in May and June 2020. Inconclusive fighting has continued
since then near the coastal city of Sirte and the Al Jufra air base in central Libya, despite multilateral demands for a ceasefire.
Turkey has indicated its support for further GNA advances, and Egypt has warned that it would intervene if its leaders
conclude Egyptian interests are threatened (see sources in report). LNA forces and local partners control eastern Libya and
key oil production and export infrastructure directly or through allies. They and GNA supporters continue to compete for
influence and control in the southwestern parts of the country.
Foreign actors, including U.S. partners in Europe and the Middle East, have long found themselves at odds over Libya’s
conflict, and several countries have provided increased military assistance to warring Libyan parties since April 2019 in
violation of a longstanding U.N. arms embargo. According to U.S. officials, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates arm the
LNA. Conflict dynamics have shifted over time because of weapons shipments to both sides, the presence of Russian-
national private contractors and Syrian and other foreign fighters among LNA forces, Turkey-GNA maritime and security
agreements, and Turkish deployments of soldiers, equipment, and Syrian mercenaries on behalf of the GNA.
Conflict, COVID-19, and U.S. Responses. Since April 2019, fighting has killed more than 2,600 Libyans (including
hundreds of civilians), and fighting in June 2020 has displaced nearly 28,000 people in western and central areas. More than
650,000 foreign migrants also are present in Libya and remain vulnerable. In 2020, U.S. and U.N. officials have condemned
new weapons shipments to Libya and called for a humanitarian ceasefire to allow Libyans to address the threats posed by the
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Humanitarian access and national oil production remain restricted.
State Department officials have condemned what they regards as “toxic foreign interference” and have called for “a sovereign
Libya free of foreign intervention.” In March 2020, U.S. officials called on Libyans to cease fighting, bolster public finances,
and prioritize support to the health system in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Visiting Libya in June 2020, U.S.
Ambassador Richard Norland and U.S. Africa Command Commander General Stephen Townsend told GNA officials that
“all sides need to return to U.N.-led ceasefire and political negotiations.” U.S. diplomats engage with Libyans and monitor
U.S. aid programs via the Libya External Office (LEO) at the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia. Congress has conditionally
appropriated funding for transition support, stabilization, security assistance, and humanitarian programs for Libya since
2011, and is considering proposals to authorize additional assistance (H.R. 4644 and S. 2934).

Congressional Research Service

link to page 5 link to page 6 link to page 7 link to page 7 link to page 7 link to page 14 link to page 15 link to page 15 link to page 16 link to page 18 link to page 18 link to page 19 link to page 21 link to page 22 link to page 22 link to page 23 link to page 25 link to page 25 link to page 27 link to page 28 link to page 30 link to page 30 link to page 31 link to page 31 link to page 32 link to page 32 link to page 6 link to page 8 link to page 9 link to page 29 link to page 36 link to page 38 link to page 38 Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Overview ......................................................................................................................................... 1
Libya and COVID-19 ...................................................................................................................... 2
Status of Conflict and Diplomatic Efforts ....................................................................................... 3
Key Issues in Libya’s Troubled Transition ............................................................................... 3
Conflict Developments Since April 2019 .................................................................................. 3
Political Dynamics and Considerations ................................................................................... 10
Oil, Fiscal Challenges, and Institutional Rivalry ............................................................................ 11
Oil Cutoff and Market Forces Create Fiscal Pressure .............................................................. 11
Rivalries Persist Among Key Libyan Institutions ................................................................... 12
Sanctions and Arms Embargo Provisions ...................................................................................... 14
U.N. Security Council Measures ............................................................................................. 14
U.S. and European Sanctions .................................................................................................. 15
Arms Embargo Enforcement and Violations ........................................................................... 17
Human Rights and Migration ........................................................................................................ 18
Non-State Actors Violate Human Rights with Impunity ......................................................... 18
Flows Decline, but Migrants Face Risks and Abuse ............................................................... 19
U.S. Interests and Approaches ....................................................................................................... 21
Administration Policy and Initiatives ...................................................................................... 21
Counterterrorism Operations and Strategic Competition ........................................................ 23
U.S. Foreign Assistance and Humanitarian Aid ...................................................................... 24
Congress and Libya ....................................................................................................................... 26
Debate in the 116th Congress ................................................................................................... 26
Possible Scenarios and Issues for Congress ............................................................................ 27
If ceasefire initiatives show promise... .............................................................................. 27
If ceasefire initiatives falter and conflict intensifies... ...................................................... 28
Outlook .......................................................................................................................................... 28

Figure 1. Libya’s Post-Qadhafi Transition, 2011-2020 ................................................................... 2
Figure 2. Libya’s Warring Coalitions .............................................................................................. 4

Table 1. Libya Map and Facts ......................................................................................................... 5
Table 2. U.S. Foreign Assistance for Programs in Libya .............................................................. 25

Appendix A. Libyan History, Civil War, and Political Change ..................................................... 32
Appendix B. Investigations into 2012 Attacks on U.S. Facilities and Personnel in
Benghazi ..................................................................................................................................... 34
Congressional Research Service

link to page 38 Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Author Information ........................................................................................................................ 34

Congressional Research Service

link to page 6 link to page 9 link to page 8 link to page 36 Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Libya’s 2011 uprising and conflict brought Muammar al Qadhafi’s four decades of authoritarian
rule to an end. Competing factions and alliances—organized along local, regional, ideological,
tribal, and personal lines—have jockeyed for influence and power in post-Qadhafi Libya, at times
with the backing of rival foreign governments. In 2018, Ghassan Salamé, then-Special
Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General (SRSG) and head of the U.N. Support Mission in
Libya (UNSMIL), argued that Libyans were struggling to overcome a political “discourse of
hatred” and “mutual exclusion” that had prevented the completion of the country’s transition to
date.1 This discourse is in part a legacy of Qadhafi’s decades of divisive rule and in part a product
of the divisiveness, insecurity, and zero-sum competition that have followed his downfall.
Although some observers attribute Libya’s divisive politics to simple binaries—“Islamist versus
secular,” “east versus west,” “tribe versus tribe,” “urban versus rural,” “ethnic majority versus
ethnic minority,”2 or “old-regime officials versus newly empowered groups”—many of these
factors and others often interact to shape local and national dynamics. Since 2011, Libyans have
endorsed a series of transitional arrangements in two national elections, a constitutional drafting
assembly referendum, and local elections (Figure 1), but rates of participation have declined over
time, and the intended tenure of all national level elected bodies have expired. The net result has
been a de facto accrual of transitional leaders with competing, ever weaker claims of legitimacy.
As their political struggle continues, allied militias are locked in a cycle of violent confrontation.
A brief conflict between Libyan rivals in 2014 and years of subsequent tension and mediation left
a U.N.- and U.S.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) with de jure control of key
institutions in 2016, but the GNA’s administrative and security weaknesses limited its
effectiveness in the capital—Tripoli—and beyond. A rival interim government has operated in
eastern Libya since 2014, with leaders of the House of Representatives (HOR) elected in 2014
operating from Tobruk. HOR leaders back the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA)/Libyan
Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) movement that has taken control of most of Libya’s east and south
(Table 1). Inclusive U.N. mediation created the GNA, but the self-organized government in the
east and the LNA have refused to endorse GNA leaders (Figure 2).
Among the range of external actors seeking to shape events in Libya, the United States has at
times acted unilaterally and directly to protect its national security interests. Other countries have
done the same. At the same time, the United States and other external parties have expressed
support for multilateral initiatives to encourage compromise and consensus in support of Libya’s
transition. The outbreak of LNA-GNA conflict in April 2019 derailed U.S.-backed U.N. plans to
help Libyans end the extended post-2011 transition.
For the United States and other outsiders, key issues related to post-Qadhafi Libya have included
 transnational terrorist and criminal threats emanating from Libya;
 the security and continued export of Libyan oil and natural gas;
 Libya’s role as a transit country for Europe-bound refugees and migrants;
 the security of weapons stockpiles and unconventional weapons materials; and
 the country’s orientation in various region-wide political competitions.
For background on Libya’s history and political development through 2011, see Appendix A.

1 Remarks of SRSG Ghassan Salamé to the United Nations Security Council, March 21, 2018.
2 Libya’s population includes an Arabic-speaking majority and Amazigh, Tuareg, and Tebu ethno-linguistic minorities.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Figure 1. Libya’s Post-Qadhafi Transition, 2011-2020

Source: CRS.
Libya and COVID-19
On March 26, the U.N. Security Council expressed concern “at the possible impact of the
COVID-19 pandemic” in Libya and called on parties to the conflict “to de-escalate the fighting
urgently, to immediately cease hostilities and to ensure unhindered access of humanitarian aid
throughout the country.” 3 In April, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
(OCHA) judged that, “Libya is at high risk of the virus spreading, given its levels of insecurity,
weak health system and high numbers of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons.”4
Comprehensive data on the incidence of COVID-19 in Libya is lacking. The World Health
Organization (WHO) reported on June 24 that Libyan National Centre for Disease Control data
indicates that the number of COVID-19 cases in Libya has more than doubled since June 11, with
639 confirmed cases (mostly in the south).5 GNA officials and their eastern rivals have imposed
different curfews and restrictions in their respective areas of control, and humanitarian
organizations and U.N. officials have reported that the conflict and curfew measures have
hampered humanitarian access in some areas.
The capacity of the Libyan health system to provide critical care and the ability of authorities to
control movements of people across the country’s borders are limited, particularly in southern
areas of the country. In March, the U.S. government made $6 million available to assist in the
humanitarian response to COVID-19 in Libya, and U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland addressed
authorities across Libya to urge them to cease fighting, pay salaries, and facilitate flows of critical
medical supplies in the context of the pandemic.6 On April 10, Acting UNSMIL head Stephanie
Williams said continued conflict was “reckless” and “inhumane,” adding that it is “stretching the
capacity of local authorities and the health infrastructure that is already decimated.”

3 Permanent Mission of Germany to the U.N., U.N. Security Council Press Elements on UNSMIL, March 26, 2020.
4 Briefing by U.N. Secretary-General Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, April 1, 2020.
5 WHO Libya, Health Response to COVID-19 in Libya, Update # 9, June 25, 2020.
6 U.S. Embassy in Libya, A message from the United States to Libya’s leadership, March 27, 2020.
Congressional Research Service

link to page 8 Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Status of Conflict and Diplomatic Efforts
Key Issues in Libya’s Troubled Transition
After years of rivalry and conflict, many Libyan actors make claims to some degree of political
legitimacy and possess some means to assert themselves by force, but none have consolidated
enough political support or military force to credibly provide national leadership or ensure
durable security on a national scale.
In this context, key post-Qadhafi political issues for Libyans have included
 the relative powers and roles of local, regional, and national government;
 the weakness of national government institutions and security forces;
 the role of Islam in political and social life;
 the involvement in politics and security of former regime officials; and
 the proper management of the country’s large energy reserves, related
infrastructure, and revenues.
Factors that have shaped the relative degree of conflict, mutual accommodation, and
reconciliation among Libyan factions since 2014 include
 the relative ability of numerous factions to muster sufficient force or legitimacy
to assert dominance over each other;
 the inability of rival claimants to gain exclusive access to government funds
controlled by the Central Bank or sovereign assets held overseas;
 the U.N. arms embargo, U.N. mediation, and the application of U.N. sanctions;
 political, financial, and military interference by external actors; and
 the threats posed to Libyans and others by extremists, such as the Islamic State.
Some foreign observers have praised the role of the United Nations and some other third parties
in promoting national reconciliation, but have argued that continuous and reinforcing efforts are
needed to engage all Libyan actors with influence or direct control over security, natural
resources, infrastructure, and sources of revenue if stability is to be achieved.7 Various Libyans
have at times accused the U.N. and other third parties of unwarranted interference in Libya’s
domestic affairs, particularly when they perceive outside interventions to undercut their interests
or serve those of their rivals.8
Conflict Developments Since April 2019
Libyans have avoided full mobilization into civil war, but since April 2019 conflict has raged
between rival coalitions of armed groups with thousands of personnel (Figure 2). Foreign powers
arm parties to the conflict in violation of a U.N. arms embargo, providing weapons, advice,
funding, and other support (see textbox below).9 Years of division and conflict already have
weakened the Libyan health system’s ability to mitigate COVID-19-related risks.

7 E.g., International Crisis Group, “Restoring UN Leadership of Libya’s Peace Process,” September 18, 2017.
8 E.g., Reuters, “Libya’s Haftar Rules Out Tripoli Ceasefire, Dismisses U.N.-Led Talks: Newspaper,” May 26, 2019.
9 For information about the evolution of armed groups and profiles of current combatants, see Tim Eaton, Abdul
Congressional Research Service

link to page 9
Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Figure 2. Libya’s Warring Coalitions

Source: Prepared by CRS. Identification of foreign supporters based on press accounts. Subject to change.
In April 2019, the LNA launched a surprise military campaign in western Libya, seeking to wrest
control of Tripoli from the GNA and local militias. The LNA assault on Tripoli began on the eve
of a planned U.N.-facilitated National Dialogue conference that had been intended to chart a new
course for the country’s political, economic, and security arrangements. The LNA and its backers
have billed their campaigns since 2014 as an effort to save Libya from despotic criminal militias
and Islamist extremists; critics paint the LNA as the abusive vanguard of a foreign conspiracy to
install a pliant military dictatorship and suppress hard-won democratic self-determination.
Fighting since April 2019 has killed more than 2,600 Libyans, including hundreds of civilians,
and fighting in June 2020 displaced 28,000 people in western and central areas, bringing the total
displaced to more than 401,000.10 LNA forces and partners control much of Libya’s territory (see
map in Table 1) and key oil production and export infrastructure directly or through local
partners; GNA supporters and anti-LNA groups retain control of the capital and the northwest.
LNA forces made minimal gains in their assault on Tripoli, until support from Russian private
military contractors with air defense equipment enabled some LNA advances in late 2019. In
November 2019, Turkey signed a maritime demarcation agreement with the GNA and activated
new security cooperation arrangements.11 Turkish government infusions of air defense support,
drones, uniformed advisors, equipment, and weapons, bolstered GNA defenses through January
2020, reestablishing stalemate conditions.12 According to U.S. officials, both sides have recruited
and deployed Syrian militia fighters.13

Rahman Alageli, Emadeddin Badi, Mohamed Eljarh, and Valerie Stocker, The Development of Libyan Armed Groups
Since 2014: Community Dynamics and Economic Interests
, Chatham House (UK), March 17, 2020.
10 Non-governmental organization and International Organization for Migration estimates.
11 The Turkey-GNA maritime agreement could discourage private sector involvement in Eastern Mediterranean energy
exploration and pipelines and appears to be further complicating regional actors’ security calculations. Selcan Hacaoglu
and Firat Kozok, “Turkish Offshore Gas Deal with Libya Upsets Mediterranean Boundaries,” Bloomberg, December 6,
2019; Soner Cagaptay and Ben Fishman, “Turkey Pivots to Tripoli: Implications for Libya’s Civil War and U.S.
Policy,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, December 19, 2019; and, International Crisis Group, Turkey Wades
into Libya’s Troubled Waters,
April 30, 2020.
12 See CRS Report R44000, Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief, by Jim Zanotti and Clayton Thomas.
13 Frederic Wehrey, “Among the Syrian Militiamen of Turkey’s Intervention in Libya,” New York Review of Books:
NYRDaily (blog), January 23, 2020; State Department Briefing on Russian Engagement in the Middle East, May 7,
2020; and Kareem Fahim and Zakaria Zakaria, “These Syrian militiamen were foes in their civil war. Now they are
battling each other in Libya,” Washington Post, June 25, 2020.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

In January 2020, renewed multilateral diplomatic initiatives sought to achieve a ceasefire between
Libyan combatants as a precursor to restarting political reconciliation efforts. Russia and Turkey
engineered a temporary truce, but did not achieve a formal ceasefire or comprehensive settlement.
Table 1. Libya Map and Facts

Land Area: 1.76 mil ion sq. km. (slightly larger than Alaska); Boundaries: 4,348 km (~40% more than U.S.-Mexico
border); Coastline: 1,770 km (more than 30% longer than California coast)
Population: 6,890,535 (July 2020 est., in 2015 the U.N. estimated 12% were immigrants), ~49% <25 years old
GDP PPP: $61.97 bil ion; annual real % change: 64% (2017 est.); per capita: $9,600 (2017 est.)
Budget: $27.1 bil ion (2020 est.)
Public Debt: $69.8 bil ion (January 2020 est.)
Foreign Exchange Reserves: $77 bil ion (October 2019 est.), $124 bil ion (2012 est.)
Oil and natural gas reserves: 48.36 bil ion barrels (2018 est.); 1.505 tril ion cubic meters (2018 est.)
Source: Congressional Research Service using data from U.S. State Department, Esri, United Nations, and
Google Maps. Country data from CIA World Factbook, Libyan government, United Nations, June 2020.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Meeting in Berlin, Germany, on January 19, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security
Council along with other key foreign actors made joint commitments with a goal of durably
ending the conflict. Participants consulted with leading Libyan figures in Berlin, but GNA and
LNA leaders did not commit to a ceasefire or formally sign the 55-point Berlin Communiqué (see
text box below). Notable aspects of the agreement include a call for a durable cessation of
hostilities, a pledge of mutual respect for the U.N. arms embargo, and a set of shared post-conflict
governance, economic, and security goals.
Berlin Communiqué: Select Commitments
Meeting in Berlin, the governments of Algeria, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Turkey, the Republic of
the Congo, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States, together with representatives of
the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and the Arab League, made several pledges, including:

reaffirming their “strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity
of Libya,” saying jointly that “only a Libyan-led and Libyan owned political process can end the conflict and
bring lasting peace” and that “there can be no military solution in Libya.”

“refraining from interference in the armed conflict or in the internal affairs of Libya.”

calling for “the termination of all military movements by, or in direct support of, the conflict parties, in and
over the entire territory of Libya, starting from the beginning of” a U.N.-facilitated and monitored ceasefire
process, “leading to a comprehensive and lasting cessation of all hostilities including air operations over the
territory of Libya.”

endorsing a U.N.-assisted “comprehensive process of demobilization and disarmament of armed groups and
militias in Libya and the subsequent integration of suitable personnel into civilian, security and military state

committing “to unequivocally and ful y respect and implement the arms embargo” and to strengthen joint and
individual monitoring mechanisms.

calling for “the establishment of a functioning Presidency Council and the formation of a single, unified,
inclusive and effective Libyan government approved by the House of Representatives.”

envisioning an end to Libya’s transition “through free, fair, inclusive and credible parliamentary and
presidential elections organized by an independent and effective High National Elections Commission.”

supporting “the establishment of unified Libyan national security, police and military forces under central,
civilian authority.”

stating that “it is of utmost importance to restore, respect and safeguard the integrity, unity and lawful
governance of all Libyan sovereign institutions, in particular the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), the Libya
Investment Authority (LIA), the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and the Audit Bureau (AB).”

stressing “that the National Oil Corporation (NOC) is Libya’s sole independent and legitimate oil company”
and urging “all parties to continue to guarantee the security of its installations and refrain from any hostilities
against all oil facilities and infrastructure.”

creating an International Fol ow-Up Committee (IFC) to meet at the senior official level monthly to monitor
progress and “exert leverage where necessary” and at the expert level in four technical working groups
focused on security, political reconciliation, economic and financial reform, and respect for international
humanitarian law.
The ful text of the Berlin communiqué is available in U.N. Document S/2020/63.
To establish a ceasefire and operationalize the security aspects of the Berlin agreement, the GNA
and LNA were asked each to nominate five appointees to a U.N.-sponsored “5+5” Military
Committee. U.N. SRSG and UNSMIL head Ghassan Salamé facilitated initial rounds of 5+5 talks
but resigned in March as mediation faltered (see textbox below). U.N. officials hosted an initial
round of political talks, but the High State Council (HSC) and HOR set preconditions on their
delegates’ participation that limited discussions.14 Economic talks were held in Cairo. U.N. and

14 UNSMIL’s plans for the political dialogue call for 40 delegates be drawn from among the membership of the High
Congressional Research Service

link to page 9 link to page 9 Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

U.S. officials have condemned post-Berlin weapons shipments to both sides and have rejected the
shutdown of oil and other infrastructure. Amid a flurry of diplomacy, an International Follow-Up
Committee continues to meet, bringing external parties together for additional consultations.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL)
The U.N. Security Council created UNSMIL as an integrated special political mission in September 2011
(Resolution 2009) “at the request of the Libyan authorities to support the country’s new transitional authorities in
their post-conflict efforts.” UNSMIL’s mandate directs it “to exercise mediation and good offices in support of the
Libyan political agreement’s implementation; the consolidation of governance, security and economic
arrangements of the Government of National Accord and subsequent phases of the Libyan transition process.”
UNSMIL staff experts engage with Libyan national and local officials and monitor and report on politics, human
rights conditions, security, and economic development. The Security Council has amended UNSMIL’s mandate
over time, most recently through Resolutions 2486 (2019) and 2510 (2020), the latter of which directs UNSMIL to
undertake tasks ascribed to it in the Berlin Communiqué operationalization agreement.15
In June 2017, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres named Ghassan Salamé of Lebanon as his Special
Representative (SRSG) and head of UNSMIL. After political talks stalled and arms shipments to Libya continued,
Salamé resigned on March 2, 2020, citing the negative effects of stress on his health.16 Former U.S. diplomat and
UNSMIL deputy head Stephanie Wil iams became Acting SRSG and UNSMIL head after Salamé’s resignation. Since
March, she has engaged frequently and directly with Libyan and international officials in pursuit of a ceasefire. The
United States reportedly has blocked two candidates proposed to replace Salamé.17
U.N. officials developed a draft ceasefire arrangement for the parties’ consideration in February,
but conflict developments subsequently altered the dynamics on the ground. Using Turkish
advisory support and unmanned combat aerial vehicles, GNA forces and GNA-aligned Syrian and
local militia fighters forced the LNA to withdraw from northwestern Libya beginning in April. By
June 2020, the conflict’s frontlines had shifted south and eastward from Tripoli (see map, Table
, toward the western outskirts of Sirte and Al Jufra air base, from which Russian-origin LNA
aircraft continue to operate, allowing them reach into western and southwestern Libya. The LNA
has dispatched reinforcements toward Sirte.
Following the LNA’s withdrawal, Egypt—which has been seen as an LNA ally/sponsor, as
discussed below—engaged LNA leaders and officials of the interim government and HOR in
Cairo, endorsing a political initiative originally proposed by HOR Speaker Aqilah Saleh and
announcing proposed parameters for a ceasefire. The Egyptian proposal called for the removal of
all foreign mercenaries from Libya and for the surrender of militia weapons. Reactions broadly
mirrored the conflict’s prevailing coalitions.
GNA officials, backed by Turkey, have pledged to continue their advance to Sirte. Turkish
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Tripoli in June, and news reports claim that Turkey
and GNA officials have discussed plans for future Turkish military use of Libyan facilities.18 The

State Council (HSC), the House of Representatives (HOR), and U.N.-selected Libyan figures. The selection of
delegates has become fraught. The HSC named its delegates shortly after the Berlin meeting. U.S.-sanctioned, pro-
LNA HOR leader Aqilah Salah has insisted on controlling HOR delegate selection, presumably in a bid to exclude pro-
GNA HOR members. Some anti-LNA members of the HOR argue that U.N. mediators should have no right to appoint
delegates. Author discussions with HOR members, Washington, DC, February 4, 2020; and, Lisa Schlein, “UN-
Mediated Political Talks on Libya End in Disarray,” Voice of America, February 29, 2020.
15 See, and U.N. Document S/2020/63, Annex II to the Letter Dated 22 January
2020 from the Permanent Representative of Germany to the U.N. Addressed to the President of the Security Council.
16 U.N. News Center, “Declaring Commitment to ‘Peace and Stability’ for Libya, Top UN Envoy Steps Down as Stress
Takes Its Toll,” March 2, 2020.
17 Associated Press, “UN envoy holds Libya cease-fire talks with team from Haftar’s eastern forces,” June 4, 2020.
18 Orhan Coskun, Tuvan Gumrukcu, “Turkey eyes Libya bases for lasting military foothold: source,” Reuters, June 15,
Congressional Research Service

link to page 9 Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

LNA’s foreign backers, namely Egypt, several of the Arab Gulf states, and Russia, are calling for
a freezing of the conflict lines but have threatened to prevent further GNA (and Turkish) gains.
 On June 20, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi visited Sidi Barrani Airbase in
western Egypt (see map, Table 1). Sisi told assembled air force and special forces
personnel to “be prepared to carry out any mission, here inside our borders – or if
necessary, outside our borders.”19 He added “Any direct intervention by Egypt now has
international legitimacy, whether under the U.N. charter on self-defense or at the
discretion of the only legitimate elected authority in Libya: the Libyan parliament.” Sisi
specifically identified the central Libyan city of Sirte as a tripwire, saying “some think
they can trespass on the Sirte or Al Jufra frontline. This for us is a red line.”
 Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab League members expressed
support for Egypt’s position at a special virtual ministerial meeting on June 23. In an
address to his counterparts in the meeting, Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry criticized
foreign aggression in Libya and said, “This aggression cannot be left undeterred. When
Egypt discloses its various options in dealing with the Libyan crisis, this must be taken
with due seriousness. Egypt would not hesitate to take all actions needed to prevent
terrorist groups and armed militias from taking control of Libya.”20
 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on June 23, that Russia sees “no option but
an immediate cease-fire. And the resolution of all other issues on the basis of a
negotiation process in line with the understandings set out in the declaration of the Berlin
conference.”21 Having held phone consultations with the foreign ministers of Turkey and
Egypt, Lavrov said, “Both ministers underlined that everyone should acknowledge that
there can be no military solution to this conflict, parties should return to the negotiating
table and seek a solution that would be acceptable to all.”
Meeting on June 22, UNSMIL and the Arab League, as co-chairs of the International Follow-Up
Committee for Libya formed under the Berlin agreement
expressed their profound alarm at the serious ongoing military escalation around Sirte, and
renewed their calls on the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National
Army (LNA) to de-escalate immediately, cease all hostilities and military movements, and
swiftly conclude the ongoing negotiations within the intra-Libyan 5+5 Joint Military
Commission (JMC) with a view to reaching a formal, comprehensive, and permanent
cease-fire agreement under U.N. auspices.22
U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland and AFRICOM Commander Gen. Stephen Townsend visited
western Libya on June 22 and met with Prime Minister-designate Sarraj and Minister of Interior
Fathi Bashaga along with other GNA security officials.23 Ambassador Norland said, “External
actors should stop fueling the conflict, respect the UN arms embargo, and uphold commitments
made at the Berlin Summit.” General Townsend said that he and the Ambassador “emphasized to
the Libyan delegation that all sides need to return to UN-led ceasefire and political negotiations
because this tragic conflict is robbing all Libyans of their future.”

2020; and, Associated Press, “Turkey Says Will Work With Italy for Libya Peace, Slams EU,” June 19, 2020.
19 Mahmoud Mourad, “Egypt has a legitimate right to intervene in Libya, Sisi says,” Reuters, June 20, 2020.
20 Middle East News Agency (Cairo), “Egypt Minister Says 'Terrorists' Not To Take Control of Libya,” June 23, 2020.
21 Elena Teslova, “Russia urges Libyan warring sides to declare cease-fire,” Anadolu Agency (Turkey), June 23, 2020.
22 International Follow-Up Committee on Libya, Third Senior Officials Meeting, Co-Chairs Statement, June 22, 2020.
23 U.S Embassy to Libya, U.S. Ambassador and AFRICOM Commander Stress Need for Military Pause, June 22, 2020.
Congressional Research Service

link to page 27 Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

On June 25, France, Germany and Italy called on “all Libyan parties to immediately and
unconditionally cease fighting and to suspend the ongoing military build-up throughout the
country.”24 Algeria repeatedly has offered to help mediate, and remains engaged on all sides.
The Roles and Concerns of External Actors in Libya
Several external actors seek to influence Libya’s political and security trajectory. Libya’s immediate neighbors have
been most directly affected by the unrest and persistent insecurity in the country. Foreign fighters from Chad,
Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Niger, and Mali have travelled to Libya to support various armed groups over time,
including factions aligned with the GNA, LNA, Islamic State, and Al Qaeda. Some foreign combatant flows (e.g.,
from Sudan and West Africa’s Sahel region in support of the LNA) appear rooted in Qadhafi-era networks. Libya-
based Islamist extremists and criminal organizations have created security challenges and/or been linked to attacks
in several of these countries since 2011. Turkey and various Arab states have taken opposing positions with regard
to the conflict since April 2019, with the United Arab Emirates25 and Egypt26 (and to a lesser extent Jordan and
Saudi Arabia) supporting Haftar and the LNA, while Turkey27 and Qatar28 support the GNA and some western
Libyan militias. The governments of UAE and Egypt oppose Turkey’s intervention and express concern about
Islamist armed groups and Muslim Brotherhood figures operating among some anti-LNA forces.29 Turkish officials
describe Haftar as a “putschist” and directly criticize governments backing the LNA.30 The governments of
neighboring Algeria and Tunisia have called for an end to external intervention in Libya, and for an intra-Libyan
political process to resolve the conflict, although some individual politicians in both countries appear supportive of
one side or the other.
Across the Mediterranean, European countries have shared concerns about the transit of migrants from Libya and
the presence in Libya of terrorist groups. France, the United Kingdom, and Italy each support the implementation
of the Berlin Communiqué and continue to engage with Libyan parties in support of Resolution 2510, but have
appeared to differ in their approaches to the LNA-GNA conflict over time. France has prioritized counter-
terrorism, and has called for a return to dialogue, observed shortcomings in both the GNA and LNA ranks, and
questioned the motives and behavior of some anti-LNA forces.31 French (U.S.-origin) weapons were found at an
LNA outpost overrun by GNA forces in July 2019. French-Turkish tensions over Libya have increased notably in
2020, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying France wil not tolerate Turkey’s role in Libya and Turkish
Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu accusing France of seeking to divide Libya and of acting as a colonial power.32
Italy has been the European country most directly affected by migration flows from Libya and has cooperated for
migration control purposes with western Libyan forces who are now opposing the LNA. In June 2020, Italian
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio visited Tripoli and expressed hope that the United States would use its
relationships with Turkey and Egypt to deescalate the conflict.33 U.K. officials criticized Haftar’s offensive when it
began and have since spoken in favor of political negotiations.34
Russia had close ties to the Qadhafi government and has been more active in cultivating relationships with Libyan
actors since 2014. Russian officials portray their efforts as even-handed and open to all sides in Libya, but their ties
with Haftar and the LNA appear to be more robust. These ties may serve a range of purposes, including
addressing Russian counterterrorism concerns, restoring Russian military ties to Libya, and balancing Western
European and U.S. influence. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) continues to express concern over Russian
military and mercenary activity in Libya (see “Counterterrorism Operations and Strategic Competition” below).

24 Joint Declaration, June 25, 2020.
25 UAE Minister of State Anwar Gargash, Twitter (@AnwarGargash), May 1, 2019, 10:45 PM.
26 Office of the Presidential Spokesman, Facebook, May 9, 2019.
27 Reuters, “Turkish Military Units Moving to Libya, Erdogan Says,” January 5, 2020.
28 Reuters, “Qatar foreign Minister Says Libya’s Haftar Obstructing Dialogue Efforts,” April 16, 2019.
29 WAM (UAE), “UAE participates in Arab League meeting on Libya, GERD,” June 24, 2020.
30 Reuters, “Turkey vows more support to secure gains in Libya conflict,” Reuters, June 4, 2020.
31 Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, “France Is in Libya to Combat Terrorism,” May 2, 2019.
32 Reuters, “France ‘will not tolerate’ Turkey's role in Libya, Macron says,” Reuters, June 22, 2020; and, “FM
Çavuşoğlu slams French President Macron for remarks on Libya” Daily Sabah (Istanbul), June 25, 2020.
33 Francesca Sforza, “Di Maio’s Move: ‘A European Plan To Rebuild Libya,’” La Stampa (Turin), June 25, 2020.
34 “Khalifa Haftar Can Still Be Part of Future Libya Government, Says Hunt,” Guardian (UK), May 7, 2019.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Political Dynamics and Considerations
At first glance, the conflict in Libya appears to pit two primary factions and their various foreign
and local backers against each other in a relatively straightforward contest for control over
territory, resources, and the organs of state power. However, beneath the surface, complicated
local concerns, foreign agendas, personal grudges, ethnic and tribal identities, profit motives, and
ideological rivalries shape politics and security. The principal Libyan coalitions each suffer from
internal divisions and political legitimacy deficits exacerbated by the extended, fractious nature of
the transition period. Foreign powers have manipulated Libyans’ divisions and needs to pursue
their own goals, raising the transnational stakes of intra-Libyan conflicts. These factors have
repeatedly complicated negotiations, undermined security, and frustrated mediation efforts.
Past attempts to achieve consensus and motivate Libyan leaders to drop objections to the
completion of the transition have been unsuccessful. The key outstanding issues include the
security sector leadership, terms for government decentralization, the representation of various
groups in national government bodies, and mechanisms for managing state finances, distributing
energy sector proceeds, and ensuring adequate service delivery. Differences over security
arrangements and their intersection with politics have proven particularly intractable. The threat
of more intense, foreign intervention-fueled conflict could alter some Libyans’ calculations and
motivate them to deescalate. At the same, the logic of foreign competition and parties’ insistence
on nonnegotiable red lines could preclude progress and drive conflict toward de facto partition.
Since April 2019, western Libya-based militia forces have helped GNA authorities resist the
LNA’s assault, but these militias’ reluctance to relinquish weaponry and abandon lucrative
corruption schemes was one of the biggest obstacles to the GNA’s efficient operation and
authority prior to the recent conflict.35 GNA figures such as Interior Minister Bashaga had made
partial progress in reining in some militia actors during 2018 and 2019. However, resumption of
conflict has re-empowered and emboldened many local armed groups, some of whom question
the GNA’s authority, reject compromise with the LNA, and challenge Bashaga’s authority.36
Turkey has stiffened the GNA’s resistance, but amplified Emirati and Egyptian concerns.
The LNA/LAAF and Khalifa Haftar have sought to harness the shared security and political
concerns of a diverse coalition of supporters since 2014, but the unity of their movement remains
in question.37 Haftar’s authoritarian leadership style and political ambitions alienate some
Libyans, and forces under his command stand accused of several violations of international
humanitarian law. Haftar and LNA officials do not distinguish between their opponents,
suggesting that their enemies are “terrorist militias and criminal gangs.”38 Salafist and tribal
militias participate in LNA operations, as do mercenaries from Sudan, Chad, and other countries.
The LNA’s battlefield setbacks in 2020 may lead to recriminations and divisions, though further
GNA advances toward eastern Libya could generate some solidarity among eastern factions.
Forces opposed to the LNA channel nationalist sentiment and appeal to the anti-authoritarian
principles of 2011 uprising to motivate their forces and recruit supporters. Some Islamist actors,
including Muslim Brotherhood supporters, actively oppose the LNA, but they do not exclusively

35 See Wolfram Lacher and Alaa al-Idrissi, “Capital of Militias: Tripoli’s Armed Groups Capture the Libyan State,”
Small Arms Survey Briefing Paper, June 2018.
36 Xinhua (China), “Libya’s Interior Minister Says Armed Groups Obstruct Security Services,” February 24, 2020.
37 David Kirkpatrick, “A Police State with an Islamist Twist: Inside Hifter’s Libya,” New York Times, February 20,
38 Statements by LNA Spokesman Ahmed al Mismari, July 17, 2019.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

control the overall anti-LNA movement or the GNA. LNA information operations often describe
former adversaries of the LNA’s campaigns in Benghazi and Derna as extremists. The locally
organized nature of anti-LNA forces creates potential fault lines between them. Tribal politics
shape both coalitions, but remain particularly relevant in Libya’s south and east.39
Political leaders aligned with Haftar in eastern Libya claim political legitimacy stemming from
Libya’s 2014 election, but the LNA has stifled most political opposition in areas under its control.
In April 2020, Haftar gave a speech asserting a popular mandate for political control over the
country, but has since acknowledged the enduring relevance of the interim government and the
HOR. Egypt has stated its view that the HOR could legitimately invite the Egyptian military to
intervene in Libya if necessary.40 Members of the HOR have realigned themselves since 2014,
with dozens of members active outside LNA territory and opposed to pro-LNA HOR leaders.
Oil, Fiscal Challenges, and Institutional Rivalry
Oil Cutoff and Market Forces Create Fiscal Pressure
Conflict and instability in Libya have taken a severe toll on the country’s economy and weakened
its fiscal stability and reserves since 2011. As of 2018, the U.S. government estimated that Libya
had the largest proven crude oil reserves in Africa and the ninth largest globally. As of October
2019, the hydrocarbon sector supplied 91% of the government’s fiscal revenue, and, according to
the World Bank, were “just enough to cover the high wage bill and subsidies.”41 In May 2020,
UNSMIL described the situation as “increasingly tenuous,”42 and reported that, “with a looming
budget deficit of 26 billion dinars ($18.5 billion at official rate) in 2020, the Central Bank of
Libya has imposed austerity measures including limits on foreign exchange. All of this has led to
a loss of income, food shortages and price spikes, including supply chain disruptions.”43
Oil dependence makes state revenue vulnerable to energy market changes and conflict-related
disruptions. Nevertheless, state financial obligations to the population have increased since 2011,
with public spending on salaries, imports, and subsidies all having expanded.44 As of 2018,
Libyan officials had identified more than 1.75 million state employees (equivalent to more than
25% of the population) and estimated that salaries then consumed nearly 60% of the state
budget.45 Government payments to civilians and militia members across the country have
continued after conflict resumed in April 2019, and, until January 2020, Central Bank authorities
had simultaneously paid salaries for forces and state employees on both sides of the conflict.
Salary payments have slowed since in light of the curtailment of oil exports (see below).
Since 2011, oil production disruptions and global market forces intermittently have caused oil
exports and/or revenue to plummet, with follow-on negative effects for state finances.46 Periods

39 See Alison Pargeter, “Haftar, Tribal Power, and the Battle for Libya,” War on the Rocks (online), May 15, 2020.
40 Mahmoud Mourad, “Egypt has a legitimate right to intervene in Libya, Sisi says,” Reuters, June 20, 2020.
41 World Bank, “Macro Poverty Outlook—Libya,” October 2019.
42 U.N. Document S/2020/360, Report of the Secretary-General on UNSMIL, May 5, 2020.
43 U.N. Document S/2020/41, Report of the Secretary-General on UNSMIL, January 15, 2020.
44 Salaries and subsidies reportedly consumed 93% of the state budget as of September 2016. Statement of SRSG
Martin Kobler to the United Nations Security Council, September 13, 2016.
45 “Serraj Spokesperson Promises 2018 Budget Details Will Be Revealed Next Week,” Libya Herald, April 9, 2018.
46 E.g., International Monetary Fund, “Arab Countries in Transition: Economic Outlook and Key Challenges,” Oct. 9,
2014; Sudarsan Raghavan “As oil Output Falls, Libya is on the Verge of Economic Collapse,” Washington Post, Apr.
16, 2016; and World Bank, “Libya’s Economic Outlook–April 2017 and Macro Poverty Outlook—Libya,” Oct. 2019.
Congressional Research Service

link to page 9 Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

of fighting near the central oil crescent region (see map in Table 1) and intermittent shutdowns of
pipelines by militias, terrorist attacks, and labor and property disputes each have generated
temporary disruptions and production declines at different times. In January 2020, the LNA and
entities in territory under its control instituted a nearly complete cutoff of national oil production,
sending a shockwave through the country’s public finances. Oil output declined from more than 1
million barrels per day to less than 100,000 barrels per day. The withdrawal of LNA forces from
northwestern Libya was followed by a brief resumption of output from southwestern Libya, but
production there has remained disrupted.
To cope, Libyan officials have drawn on state financial reserves, which had rebounded from
previous shocks thanks to oil revenue and foreign currency exchange taxes. The GNA removed
national fuel subsidies in October 2019, but serious challenges remain, and public salary
payments have been limited. Declines in global oil prices suggest that even under conditions of
resumed oil production, prevailing market conditions could still reduce revenue and amplify
fiscal pressure. The Finance Ministry projected in February that reserves could drop to as low as
$63 billion by June 2020.47 In June, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland estimated
revenue losses since mid-January at more than $5 billion.48 In March, the GNA approved a $27.2
billion budget for 2020.
Rivalries Persist Among Key Libyan Institutions
Disputes over leadership of key national institutions such as the Central Bank, National Oil
Corporation (NOC), and Libya’s sovereign wealth fund—the Libya Investment Authority
(LIA)—and its subsidiaries continue. These opaque but consequential rivalries have reflected the
country’s underlying political competition over time and have created financial risks for the state
that will likely outlast the conflict. U.N. Security Council Resolution 2509 (2020) expresses
“concern about activities which could damage the integrity and unity of Libyan State financial
institutions and the National Oil Corporation (NOC),” and stresses “the need for the Government
of National Accord to exercise sole and effective oversight over the National Oil Corporation, the
Central Bank of Libya, and the Libyan Investment Authority as a matter of urgency, without
prejudice to future constitutional arrangements pursuant to the Libyan Political Agreement.”
Central Bank of Libya. Central Bank officials in Tripoli and the eastern city of Bayda have
become embroiled in the rivalry between the GNA Presidency Council and the HOR, with the
United States and other backers of the GNA Presidency Council recognizing the Tripoli-based
Central Bank as legitimate.49 In May 2016, the Bayda-based branch of the bank moved to issue its
own currency and accessed secured assets held at the branch, leading the U.S. government to
warn against actions not authorized by the GNA Presidency Council that could undermine
confidence among Libyan consumers and international trading partners.50 When the HOR
nominated a replacement for Tripoli-based Central Bank Chairman Sadiq al Kabir in December
2017, the High State Council (HSC) protested the nomination, noting that it hadn’t been
consulted pursuant to Article 15 of the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), which provides
for appointments to select sovereign positions. UNSMIL also rejected the move, but the HOR

47 “Conflict Could Drive Libya Currency Reserves to 2016 Levels,” Bloomberg News, March 9, 2020
48 State Department, Special Briefing via Telephone with Richard Norland, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, June 4, 2020.
49 Ministerial Meeting for Libya Joint Communiqué, May 16, 2016.
50 See U.S. Embassy Libya, Statement on Central Bank of Libya, May 25, 2016; and Hassan Morajea and Tamer El-
Ghobashy, “Libya’s Central Bank Needs Money Stashed in a Safe; Problem Is, Officials Don’t Have the Code,” Wall
Street Journal
, May 13, 2016.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

confirmed Mohammed Shukri as head of the Bayda-based branch in January 2018. HOR leaders
have since asserted their view that Al Kabir’s continued tenure is illegitimate.
The Tripoli Central Bank invalidated Bayda-issued dinar coins in late 2017, but Bayda branch
officials continued to print paper currency and issue loans to the eastern Libya-based rival
government through 2019. In January 2020, UNSMIL reported that “while debt directly managed
by the Central Bank of Libya decreased to 56 billion Libyan dinars (~$39.5 billion), that of the
parallel non-recognized Central Bank branch in eastern Libya increased to 43 billion Libyan
dinars (~$30.3 billion), resulting in an overall gross domestic product-to-debt ratio of 150 per
cent.”51 In March 2020, the Bayda branch said future borrowing by the eastern government would
be limited to loans to pay state employee salaries.52 GNA officials on April 1 restated their
willingness to proceed with internationally backed efforts to unify the Central Bank institutions
and to audit and reconcile accounts. Nevertheless, in May, UNSMIL reported to the Security
Council that, “lack of cooperation on the part of the Libyan authorities in facilitating the
international audit review of the structure of the Central Bank also narrowed opportunities for the
unification of that bank.”53 U.S. officials are encouraging Libyan Central Bank leaders to meet,
unify the institution, and proceed with an internationally supported audit to increase transparency
and public confidence in state finances.54
National Oil Corporation. Disputes involving the NOC also have ebbed and flowed since early
2016. In April 2016, the U.N. Security Council blacklisted an oil tanker that had taken on
hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil sold by national oil company officials operating in the
east, but the sanctions were withdrawn at the GNA Presidency Council’s request. Since March
2014, the U.N. Security Council has approved third-party military operations to interdict ships
named by the U.N. Libya Sanctions Committee as being suspected of carrying unauthorized oil
exports. Tripoli-based NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla has called for the NOC to be depoliticized
and wrote in June 2017 that he and his colleagues “intend to remain neutral until there is a single
legitimate government we can submit to.”55
In September 2019, authorities in eastern Libya attempted to assert control over local operations
of the Brega Petroleum Marketing Company, which distributes fuel in country, claiming that the
company was not making sufficient jet fuel available. NOC Chairman Sanalla countered that
“fuel supply to the Eastern and Central regions is more than adequate for civilian purposes. The
real motive behind this attempt is to set up a new illegitimate entity for the illegal export of oil
from Libya.”56 In response to the eastern authorities’ moves, the U.S. government, France,
Germany, Italy, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom said
We fully support Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) as the country’s sole
independent, legitimate and nonpartisan oil company. Now is the time to consolidate
national economic institutions rather than break them apart. For the sake of Libya’s

51 U.N. Document S/2020/41, Report of the Secretary-General on UNSMIL, January 15, 2020.
52 Reuters, “East Libyan central Bank Says It Will Not Lend to Parallel Govt Any More,” March 11, 2020.
53 U.N. Document S/2020/360, Report of the Secretary-General on UNSMIL, May 5, 2020.
54 U.S. Ambassador Richard Norland comments in Al Wasat (Libya), “Exclusive Q&A: U.S. Ambassador to Libya
discusses Efforts to End Fighting, Coronavirus Response,” April 5, 2020.
55 Mustafa Sanalla, “How to Save Libya From Itself? Protect Its Oil from Its Politics,” New York Times, June 19, 2017.
56 Carla Sertin, “Partitioning Oil Sector Will Put Libya’s Integrity ‘at Grave Risk’: NOC Chairman,” Oil and Gas
Middle East, September 22, 2019.
Congressional Research Service

link to page 36 Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

political and economic stability, and the well-being of all its citizens, we exclusively
support the NOC and its crucial role on behalf of all Libyans.57
In March 2020, interim government officials in eastern Libya imported fuel from the United Arab
Emirates outside the channel of the NOC, in light of disruptions to domestic refining because of
the LNA-supported shutdown of national oil production.
Libya Investment Authority. A long-simmering dispute between rival board members and
chairmen has paralyzed the LIA—Libya’s sovereign wealth fund—for several years.58 The LIA’s
assets reportedly exceed $60 billion, much of which remain frozen pursuant to U.N. Security
Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 (2011), as modified by Resolution 2009 (2011). Legal
proceedings in several jurisdictions have addressed disputes over the management of LIA assets
and payment of fees. Libyan courts at times have intervened to overturn appointments and
authorizations of LIA officials. U.N. reporting notes that Tripoli-based LIA officials have asserted
control of the management of LIA assets, but the rival eastern government “has a parallel board
of trustees, which in turn appointed a board of directors.”59 The U.N. Sanctions Committee panel
of experts recommended in December 2019 that Member States be directed to freeze the assets of
LIA subsidiaries, but LIA officials report that the Sanctions Committee has declined to alter its
implementation guidance regarding subsidiaries.60 In March 2020, a court in the United Kingdom
recognized Ali Mahmoud Hassan Mohamed as the LIA’s lawful chairman in the view of U.K.
law, a decision that may have implications in other jurisdictions.61
Sanctions and Arms Embargo Provisions
U.N. Security Council Measures
Prior to and following the outbreak of conflict in Libya in 2011, the United Nations, the United
States, and other actors adopted a range of sanctions measures intended to convince the Qadhafi
government to end its military campaign against opposition forces and civilians. The measures
also sought to dissuade third parties from providing arms or facilitating financial transactions for
the benefit of Libyan combatants. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 established a travel ban
on Qadhafi government leaders, placed an embargo on the unauthorized provision of arms to
Libya, and froze certain Libyan state assets.
After Qadhafi’s death in October 2011 (Appendix A), U.N. and U.S. sanctions measures were
modified but remained focused on preventing former Qadhafi government figures from accessing
Libyan state funds and undermining Libya’s transition. Asset-freeze measures changed to give
Libya’s new transitional leaders access to some state resources, but some limitations also
remained in place to ensure that transitional authorities transparently and legitimately
administered funds. U.S. Treasury officials issued a series of general licenses that gradually
unblocked most Libyan state property and allowed for transactions with Libyan Central Bank and
Libyan National Oil Company. U.N. arms embargo provisions were modified over time, but

57 Joint Statement on Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC), September 22, 2019.
58 Libya Herald, “Tripoli and Malta LIA Handover to PC/GNA Interim Steering Committee,” September 9, 2016.
59 Final Report, Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), U.N. Document S/2019/914.
60 Final Report, Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011), U.N. Document S/2019/914;
and, Sami Zaptia, “LIA seeks Minor Changes to UN Asset Freeze to Mitigate Losses,” Libya Herald, March 9, 2020.
61 Sami Zaptia, UK Court Confirms Ali Mahmoud Hassan Mohamed as lawful chairman of the Libyan Investment
Authority, Libya Herald, March 25, 2020.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

remained in place in a bid to ensure that the transitional government had authorized weapons
transfers to Libya.62
When fighting broke out among Libyan factions in 2014, the Security Council moved to expand
the scope of the modified sanctions provisions to allow for the targeting of actors who were
contributing to the conflict. Resolution 2174, adopted in August 2014, authorized the placement
of U.N. financial and travel sanctions on individuals and entities found to be “engaging in or
providing support for other acts that threaten the peace, stability or security of Libya, or obstruct
or undermine the successful completion of its political transition.” Resolution 2174 strengthened
the arms embargo provisions by requiring advance approval by the sanctions committee for
transfers of arms. Resolution 2213, adopted in March 2015, expanded the scope of sanctionable
activities related to the standards articulated in Resolution 2174. At present, modified sanctions,
arms embargo, and oil sale related provisions of Resolutions 1970, 2009, 2095, 2174, 2362, 2441,
2473, and 2526 remain in force. A U.N. sanctions committee oversees implementation.63
The U.N. Security Council has recognized the GNA as Libya’s governing authority since
December 2015, in an effort to confer international legitimacy on its leaders and encourage
unification efforts. Resolutions 2259 (2015), 2278 (2016), 2362 (2017), and 2441 (2018)
expressed support for the GNA as the sole legitimate government of Libya and urged Member
States to comply with Security Council efforts to enforce asset freeze, travel ban, and arms
embargo measures. These resolutions further authorized the provision of security assistance to the
GNA for counterterrorism purposes. Resolution 2509 (2020) does not refer to the GNA as Libya’s
sole legitimate government, but calls on Member States “to cease support to and official contact
with parallel institutions outside of the [2015] Libyan Political Agreement.”
U.S. and European Sanctions
In February 2011, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13566, declaring a national
emergency and blocking the property under U.S. jurisdiction of the government of Libya,
Qadhafi, his family, and other designated individuals. The Obama Administration modified U.S.
sanctions measures in support of the Libya Political Agreement in April 2016. The amendments
(issued in Executive Order 13726) were based on President Obama’s finding that
the ongoing violence in Libya, including attacks by armed groups against Libyan state
facilities, foreign missions in Libya, and critical infrastructure, as well as human rights
abuses, violations of the arms embargo imposed by United Nations Security Council
Resolution 1970 (2011), and misappropriation of Libya’s natural resources threaten the
peace, security, stability, sovereignty, democratic transition, and territorial integrity of
Libya and thereby constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security
and foreign policy of the United States.
Under the modified executive order, property under U.S. jurisdiction may be blocked and entry to
the United States may be prohibited for individuals and entities found to be engaging or to have
engaged in a range of actions, including threatening the peace, stability, or security of Libya and

62 Resolution 2009 of 2011 allowed an exception to the arms embargo for the supply, sale, or transfer to Libya of “arms
and related materiel of all types, including technical assistance, training, financial and other assistance, intended solely
for security or disarmament assistance to the Libyan authorities and notified to the Committee in advance and in the
absence of a negative decision by the Committee within five working days of such a notification.” Resolution 2095
(2013) further exempted the supply of nonlethal military equipment, training, and financial assistance for security and
disarmament assistance to the Libyan government from notification requirements under the embargo.
63 See
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

obstructing, undermining, delaying, or impeding the adoption of or transfer of power to a
Government of National Accord or successor government. The Obama Administration placed
related sanctions on former GNC government prime minister Khalifa Ghwell and HOR leader
Aqilah Saleh in April and May 2016 for obstructing the implementation of the LPA.
President Trump has extended the national emergency with respect to Libya, most recently for
one year on February 20, 2020.64 In February 2018, the Trump Administration announced
sanctions targeting six individuals accused of illicit oil smuggling from Libya and a number of
related entities.65 In September 2018, the Administration placed sanctions on Ibrahim Jadhran, an
eastern Libya-based militia commander responsible for several attacks on oil facilities in central
Libya,66 and, in November 2018, placed sanctions on Salah Badi, a western Libya-based militia
commander responsible for attacks on Tripoli.67
The European Union (EU) consolidated its sanctions on Libya in January 2016.68 In April 2016,
the EU imposed sanctions on Saleh, Ghwell, and GNC official Nuri Abu Sahmain. The EU last
extended its sanctions for six months in March 2020.69
U.S. Travel Restrictions on Libyan Nationals
Libya is among the countries identified in Executive Order 13780 of March 2017, which restricts the entry of
nationals of certain countries to the United States, with some exceptions. In September 2017, the Trump
Administration issued further guidance on the entry restrictions, and suspended the entry to the United States of
Libyan nationals as immigrants and non-immigrants in business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2)
visa classes.70 The Administration’s fact sheet on the changes stated:
Although it is an important partner, especial y in the area of counterterrorism, the government in Libya
faces significant challenges in sharing several types of information, including public-safety and terrorism-
related information; has significant inadequacies in its identity-management protocols; has been assessed
to be not ful y cooperative with respect to receiving its nationals subject to final orders of removal from
the United States; and has a substantial terrorist presence within its territory. Accordingly, the entry
into the United States of nationals of Libya, as immigrants, and as nonimmigrants on business (B-1),
tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas, is suspended.71
In April 2018, President Trump issued a new proclamation updating the September 2017 actions, and stated
Though remaining deficient, the State of Libya (Libya) is taking initial steps to improve its practices. DHS
and State are currently working with the Government of Libya, which has designated a senior official in
its Ministry of Foreign Affairs to serve as a central focal point for working with the United States. DHS
and State presented Libya with a list of measures it can implement to rectify its deficiencies, and it has
committed to do so. Despite this progress, Libya remains deficient in its performance against the

64 Notice of February 20, 2020: Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Libya, FR Doc. 2020-03810.
65 U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Sanctions International Network Smuggling Oil from Libya to Europe”
February 26, 2018.
66 U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Sanctions Militia Leader Responsible for Multiple Attacks on Libyan
Oil Facilities,” September 18, 2018.
67 U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Sanctions Militia Leader Responsible for Multiple Attacks on Libyan
Capital,” November 19, 2018.
68 EU Council Regulation (EU) 2016/44, Concerning Restrictive Measures in View of the Situation in Libya and
Repealing Regulation (EU) No 204/2011
, January 18, 2016.
69 European Council, Council Decision (CFSP) 2020/458, March 27, 2020.
70 The White House, “Fact Sheet: Proclamation on Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting
Attempted Entry into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats,” September 24, 2017.
71 Ibid.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

baseline criteria, and the Secretary recommends at this time against removal of the entry restrictions
and limitations on that country and the other countries currently subject to them.72
President Trump left the restrictions on Libya in place in January 2020, acting to impose tailored entry restrictions
and limitations on nationals from six additional countries. The United States issued 1,445 B-1, B-2, and B1/B-2
visas to Libyan nationals in FY2016, which was approximately 62% of the total number of U.S. visas issued for
Libyans that year.73 The Administration has issued some nonimmigrant visas on a case-by-case basis. In FY2019,
the United States issued 96 B-1 and B-1/B-2 visas to Libyan nationals out of 968 overall nonimmigrant visas of all
Arms Embargo Enforcement and Violations
In May 2020, Acting SRSG and UNSMIL head Williams warned the Security Council of “an
alarming military build-up as a result of the uninterrupted dispatch by the foreign backers of
increasingly sophisticated and lethal weapons, not to mention the recruitment of more
mercenaries to both sides of the conflict.”75 U.S. military officials have decried the transfer of
Russian combat aircraft to Libya since May 2020, and U.S. Ambassador to Libya Richard
Norland has speculated that continued operation of these aircraft could lead Turkey to deploy F-
16 aircraft to Libya, which could pose complications for U.S.-Turkey end-use agreements.76
Under current U.N. Security Council resolutions, arms transfers to Libya may occur provided the
GNA approves and the transfer is notified to the U.N. panel established pursuant to Security
Council Resolution 1970. In practice, unauthorized arms transfers to Libya continue to take place,
as documented in reports produced by the Resolution 1970 Sanctions Committee and its Panel of
Experts. The Panel of Experts report released in December 2019 documents lethal and nonlethal
foreign support in violation of the arms embargo for armed groups from across Libya.77
Resolution 2509 extended the Panel of Experts’ mandate to March 15, 2021.
In June 2016, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2292 authorizing member states to assist
in the maritime enforcement of the arms embargo and has since amended and extended that
authority, most recently through June 5, 2021, under Resolution 2526. The EU previously
authorized its migration-focused naval mission in the Mediterranean to assist in arms embargo
enforcement, but later reduced both the migration and arms embargo focused aspects of the
operation amid dissent over migration issues among member states.
The EU relaunched maritime security operations in support of arms embargo enforcement in the
eastern Mediterranean under the new Operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI on April 1, 2020.78

72 Proclamation 9723 of April 10, 2018, Maintaining Enhanced Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting
Attempted Entry into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats
73 State Department, Report of the Visa Office 2016.
74 State Department, Nonimmigrant Visa Issuance Statistics, FY2019.
75 Acting SRSG Stephanie Williams, Briefing to the Security Council, May 19, 2020.
76 Norland said, “The introduction of those aircraft could just as easily lead to the Turks bringing in F-16s, and that’s
the last thing that anybody needs in this part of the world.” State Department, Special Briefing via Telephone with
Richard Norland, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, June 4, 2020.
77 According to the report, “The conflict that started on 4 April 2019 was a trigger for the supply of new military
equipment to the participants to the conflict.... The transfers to Libya were repeated and sometimes blatant, with scant
regard paid to compliance with the sanctions measures. The Panel identified multiple cases of non-compliance with the
arms embargo in support of both parties to the conflict....” See U.N. Document S/2019/914, op cit.; and Declan Walsh,
“In Libya, Toothless U.N. Embargo Lets Foreign States Meddle with Impunity,” New York Times, February 2, 2020.
78 EU Council, Council Decision (CFSP) 2020/472, March 31, 2020. “Irini” is Greek for “peace.”
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland said in April 2020 that the United States supports the
operation and understands that it “has not only a maritime dimension but also a satellite
surveillance dimension so it should be possible to monitor arms embargo violations, not only on
the maritime borders, but also across Libya’s land borders as well.”79
Turkey has expressed concern about the IRINI operation’s objectivity and scrutiny of shipments
to LNA forces.80 IRINI vessels have engaged at least one ship being escorted by Turkish military
vessels.81 EU officials in June said they would seek additional cooperation from NATO, which
operates Operation Sea Guardian in the eastern Mediterranean.
Human Rights and Migration
Non-State Actors Violate Human Rights with Impunity
Average Libyans have faced tenuous economic and security circumstances for much of the post-
2011 period amid unreliable state salary and subsidy support, weak state service provision and
law enforcement, inflationary pressures, and hard currency shortages. Economic hardship has
amplified the negative effects of deteriorations in local security and the weakening of the rule of
law. In March 2018, then-SRSG Salamé decried to the U.N. Security Council what he described
as “an economic system of predation” and “plundering.” The U.N. Panel of Experts documented
indiscriminate use of explosive ordnance, human trafficking and migrant smuggling, abuses in
detention centers, assassinations, and kidnapping among other human rights abuses in its
December 2019 report.
The 2019 State Department report on human rights conditions in Libya notes the GNA’s “limited
effective control over security forces” (some of which are deputized militias) and concludes that,
in 2019,
Impunity from prosecution was a severe and pervasive problem. Divisions between
political and security apparatuses in the west and east, a security vacuum in the south, and
the presence of terrorist groups in some areas of the country severely inhibited the
government’s ability to investigate or prosecute abuses. The government took limited steps
to investigate abuses; however, constraints on the government’s reach and resources, as
well as political considerations, reduced its ability or willingness to prosecute and punish
those who committed such abuses.
In June 2020, the U.N. Human Rights Council approved the creation of a Fact-Finding Mission to
Libya (FFML) to investigate and preserve evidence of human rights abuses. In the wake of
intense conflict in northwestern Libya, evidence has emerged of deliberate mining and booby-
trapping of civilian homes south of Tripoli,82 extrajudicial killings in the city of Tarhuna,83 looting
and forced displacement by anti-LNA forces,84 and the murder of migrants.85

79 Al Wasat (Libya), “Exclusive Q&A: U.S. Ambassador to Libya Discusses Efforts to End Fighting, Coronavirus
Response,” April 5, 2020.
80 AFP, “Turkey criticizes EU’s Operation Irini to contain arms shipments to Libya,” June 19, 2020.
81 Lorne Cook, “Why is Turkey the key to unlocking a NATO-EU naval operation?” Associated Press, June 17, 2020;
and AFP, “EU says NATO talks on Irini not prompted by Turkey incident,” June 13, 2020.
82 Human Rights Watch, Libya: Landmines Left After Armed Group Withdraws, June 3, 2020.
83 Declan Walsh, “U.N. Expresses Horror at Mass Graves in Libya,” New York Times, June 13, 2020.
84 Ulf Laessing, “’'Numerous' reports of looting in retaken Libyan towns, UN says,” Reuters, June 7, 2020.
85 Statement by Yacoub El Hillo, Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, on the killing of migrants southwest of Tripoli,
May 29, 2020.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Flows Decline, but Migrants Face Risks and Abuse
Weak governance and conflict transformed Libya into a major staging area for the transit of non-
Libyan migrants seeking to reach Europe from 2014 through 2018. Data collected by migration
observers and immigration officials suggested that many migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have
transited remote areas of southwestern and southeastern Libya to reach coastal urban areas for
onward transit to Europe. Others, including Syrians, have entered Libya from neighboring Arab
states seeking onward transit to refuge in Europe and beyond. According to the U.N. Panel of
Experts, as of December 2019,
Human trafficking and migrant smuggling to and through Libya onward to Europe remains
profitable, but the trade has all but collapsed compared with the pre-2018 period. Changing
regulations in neighbouring countries and localized clashes along trafficking routes have
forced changes to established routes in order to avoid these barriers. This makes migration
to Libya longer, costlier and more dangerous. The volume of cross-border traffic into Libya
through Chad and the Niger has dropped significantly over the past two years.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that nearly 654,000 migrants are in
Libya, alongside more than 401,000 internally displaced persons and more than 48,000 refugees
and asylum seekers from other countries identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR).86
In total, more than 11,000 migrants arrived by sea to Italy in 2019, with the vast majority having
departed from western Libya. At least 1,262 died in transit in the central Mediterranean.87 By
comparison, in 2016, at least 181,436 migrants arrived by sea to Italy and at least 4,851 died on
the central Mediterranean route, in what IOM estimates was the deadliest year for migrants ever
recorded in the Mediterranean.88 Observers attribute declines in migrant crossings and deaths to
efforts by Italian and European Union authorities to work with government and nongovernment
figures inside Libya to prevent migrant departures and patrol coastal waters (see textbox below).89
Some critics of the European approaches allege that the policies provide financial benefit and
bestow political importance and security influence on unaccountable local militia groups, who
may threaten the human rights and security of migrants subject to detention and economic
hardship in Libya.90 A patchwork of Libyan local and national authorities and nongovernmental
entities assume responsibility for responding to various elements of the migrant crisis, including
the provision of humanitarian assistance and medical care, the patrol of coastal and maritime
areas, and law enforcement efforts targeting migrant transport networks. Violence and insecurity
in Libya complicate international attempts to assist Libyan partners in these efforts and to
improve coordination among Libyan stakeholders. Airstrikes and shelling since April 2019 have
killed and injured migrants in western Libya.91 Internal movement restrictions, limited local

86 IOM Libya, “Monthly Update—April 2020,” May 7, 2020, and UNHCR, “Libya Update,” June 19, 2020.
87 IOM Missing Migrants Project data, and ‘Arrivals to Italy’ as reported by IOM authorities as of December 2019.
88 IOM Missing Migrants Project data, and ‘Arrivals to Italy’ as reported by IOM and national authorities.
89 Declan Walsh and Jason Horowitz, “Italy, Going It Alone, Stalls the Flow of Migrants. But at What Cost?” New York
, September 17, 2017; Giovanni Legorano and Jared Malsin, “Migration from Libya to Italy, Once Europe’s
Gateway, Dwindles After Clampdown,” Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2019.
90 Sudarsan Raghavan, “Returned to a War Zone: One Boat. Dozens of Dreams. All Blocked by Europe’s Anti-Migrant
Policies,” Washington Post, December 28, 2019.
91 In July 2019, an airstrike attributed by U.N. investigators to “aircraft belonging to a foreign State” destroyed a
facility being used by an anti-LNA militia to house detained migrants and store weapons. The strike killed 53 migrants,
including 6 children, and wounded 87 others. Press reports attributed the strike to a UAE aircraft. Libya: U.N. News,
“U.N. report Urges Accountability for Deadly Attack Against Migrant Centre,” January 27, 2020; and Declan Walsh,
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

resources, and public fear of infection may make migrants present in Libya even more vulnerable
in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Select European and International Responses
European countries have worked for years to limit the trafficking of individuals from Libya to southern Europe and
have acted at times to save the lives of migrants at sea. In May 2015, the European Union created a naval force
(Operation EUNAVFOR MED SOPHIA) “to break the business model of smugglers and traffickers . . in the
Southern Central Mediterranean and in partnership with Libyan authorities.”92 The force was inaugurated in June
2015 and began training Libyan coast guard and naval forces in 2016. Ships assigned to the mission saved
approximately 50,000 lives at sea and operated until disputes in 2019 over the landing and disembarkation of
rescued migrants led some EU member states to suspend support and withdraw their forces.93 As noted above,
the EU has replaced Operation EUNAVFOR MED SOPHIA with Operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI, which is to
concentrate operations in the eastern Mediterranean and focus on supporting arms embargo enforcement, with a
secondary authorization to assist migrants and disembark them in Greece.
In parallel to naval operations and training, the EU Trust Fund for Africa supports programs designed to protect
migrants along the central Mediterranean route and to provide related management assistance in Libya. The EU
funding supports Libyan municipalities that host migrants in Libya, and has engaged in border security support
programming with few tangible results.
A joint EU, African Union (AU), and U.N. Task Force works to improve migrant protection along migration routes
to, from, and in Libya. With support from this Task Force, IOM has facilitated the return of more than 50,000
migrants to their home countries from Libya through a voluntary humanitarian returns program since December
2017.94 The Task Force also has supported UNHCR-led evacuations of more than 5,700 refugees from Libya as of
March 2020. Some observers remain critical of the arrangements and report that some evacuees remain
COVID-19 concerns are shaping Libyan and international approaches to migration challenges. Libya’s Arab
neighbors have closed formal border crossings, but informal flows into Libya, particularly across southern borders,
reportedly have continued.
The State Department’s June 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report designated Libya as a
“special case” for the fifth year in a row in light of its weak governance and ongoing conflict. The
Trump Administration also added Libya to the list of countries prohibited from receiving U.S.
security assistance without a waiver under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act. The (TIP) report
says Libya’s “lack of institutional capacity, as well as lack of Libyan law enforcement, customs,
and military personnel, especially along its borders, hindered authorities’ efforts to address human
trafficking crimes.” According to the report, “Trafficking victims—including men, women, and
children—are highly vulnerable to extreme violence and other human rights violations in Libya
by government officials and non-state armed groups, including physical, sexual, and verbal
assault; abduction for ransom; arbitrary killings; inhumane detention; and child soldiering.” The
report notes GNA cooperation with UNHCR repatriation efforts, but concludes that
The government did not have any policy structures, institutional capacity, widespread
political will, or resources to proactively identify and protect trafficking victims among
vulnerable groups, such as foreign migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers; women and

“In Libya, Toothless U.N. Embargo Lets Foreign States Meddle with Impunity,” New York Times, February 2, 2020.
92 Council of the European Union, Decision (CFSP) 2015/778, May 18, 2015. The force was inaugurated in June 2015.
93 For one perspective on the mission and related debates, see Arturo Varvelli, “Commentary—Reboot Time: Operation
Sophia and Italy’s Tortuous Libya Policy,” European Council on Foreign Relations, February 7, 2020.
94 African Union, “The AU-EU-UN taskforce Renews Its Commitment to Rescue Stranded Migrants and Refugees in
Libya,” February 24, 2020.
95 Sally Hayden, “Europe’s Harsh Border Policies Are Pushing Refugees All the Way to Rwanda,” Foreign Policy,
February 20, 2020.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

girls in commercial sex; and children recruited and used by government-aligned militias or
other armed groups.
U.S. Interests and Approaches
Administration Policy and Initiatives
Terrorist organizations active in Libya and the continuing weakness of Libya’s national security
bodies and government institutions pose a dual risk to U.S. and international security. Whereas
U.S. intervention in Libya in 2011 was motivated largely by concern regarding threats posed to
Libyans by the Qadhafi government, U.S. policy since has been defined by efforts to contain and
mitigate the negative effects of state collapse, support transition efforts, and resolve conflict.
The level and extent of U.S. involvement has varied. When Libyan-based extremist groups have
threatened the security of neighboring countries in North Africa and/or Europe, the United States
has militarily intervened. Operations by Libyan partner forces, backed by U.S. military strikes,
succeeded in ending the Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS/ISIL) organization’s control over territory in
central and western Libya during 2016, but little parallel progress has been made toward
achieving durable political reconciliation.
Foreign intervention has intensified conflict in Libya, and, as of June 2020, appeared to risk
bringing several U.S. partner countries into conflict while extending Russian influence in the
country. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may shape conflict and political developments in
Libya and/or create new concerns for outside actors.
Otherwise, U.S. initiatives have sought to address humanitarian, governance, and development
concerns, including concerns involving abuses of migrants trafficked through Libya, other human
rights violations, and law of armed conflict violations by Libyan armed groups and foreign
militaries.96 U.S. and Libyan officials generally share concerns about threats from extremists, the
weakness of state institutions, and flows of migrants, refugees, and contraband within and across
Libya’s largely un-policed borders. However, LNA forces and their supporters in eastern Libya
oppose U.S. support for the LNA’s western Libya-based rivals, and U.S. counterterrorism
cooperation and stabilization and transition assistance remains limited in LNA-controlled areas.
Trump Administration officials have called for an end to foreign meddling and for ceasefire
negotiations and efforts to strengthen the Libyan state. U.S. partners countries such as the United
Arab Emirates, France, Italy, Egypt, and Turkey have continued to intervene, however, creating
varying degrees of discord in several U.S. bilateral relationships and prompting U.S. officials to
consider how best to resolve Libya-related concerns while pursuing other objectives. In remarks
and testimony in February 2020, U.S. officials referred to balancing “a broad range of equities” in
addressing Libya as part of “deep and complex relationships” with other U.S. partners.97
With regard to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, for example, the United States pursues
Libya-related objectives along with objectives related to Gulf security and regional peace.
Similarly, with regard to Turkey, the United States pursues Libya-, Syria-, and NATO-related

96 Ibid.
97 Testimony of Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker before the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, February 12, 2020; and, Senior State Department Official on U.S. Engagement with Libya,
Special Briefing, Washington, DC, February 28, 2020.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

objectives simultaneously. According to a senior State Department official, “Libya is not the
defining issue in those relationships necessarily, but they have heard our message.”98
Libya’s natural resources and economic potential may provide future opportunities for
strengthening U.S.-Libyan trade and investment ties, but circumstances have not allowed such
ties to flourish. U.S. officials periodically have expressed concern about maintaining flows of
Libyan oil to international markets, but fluctuations in global oil supply and demand ultimately
determine the relative geo-economic importance of Libyan oil.
Following the outbreak of conflict in April 2019, U.S. messaging varied,99 but since late summer
2019, U.S. diplomats and officials have met with Libyan antagonists and their foreign backers in
support of a ceasefire and expressed support for parallel U.N. mediation efforts. In June 2020,
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker emphasized that “the U.S.
calls on all sides to lay down their arms.”100 According to U.S. officials, the Administration’s
immediate priority is to achieve a ceasefire agreement; then security, political, and economic
discussions can resume. In support of progress in these tracks, U.S. diplomacy has sought to build
consensus in three areas: (1) the disarmament of militias and the integration of Libyan security
services; (2) the transparent, non-corrupt administration of Libyan state finances; and (3) efforts
to isolate violent extremists.
In June, Ambassador Norland described the U.S. approach as emphasizing the importance of
following the LNA’s withdrawal from northwestern Libya with a durable ceasefire and a return to
political negotiations that reflect what he described as “political ferment” going on among
Libyans in favor of ending the conflict.101 In a press briefing, Norland said,
… it’s time for all mercenaries and all foreign forces to begin to de-escalate and depart
Libya. If there’s one motto we’re applying to the situation now, it’s “Libya for the
Libyans.” Now, when you talk about Turkey, we have to recall that the real escalation in
this conflict began with the intervention by Wagner forces from Russia in October, and the
Turkish intervention was in reaction to that. So now that the situation on the ground has
been roughly evened out, again, our message is that foreign intervention should stop, it
should de-escalate, and the Libyan parties should be allowed to come to the negotiating
table. We don’t believe Libya wants to be occupied by any foreign element, whether it’s
Russian or Turkish or even an ideological movement.

98 Senior State Department Official on U.S. Engagement with Libya, Special Briefing, Washington, DC, February 28,
99 U.S. statements prior to the outbreak of conflict in 2019 emphasized the importance of U.N.-led dialogue efforts as a
precursor to steps to end the transition, including national elections. Shortly after the LNA operation began, Secretary
of State Michael Pompeo stated that the United States government opposed the offensive and urged its “immediate
halt.” Secretary Pompeo said “forces should return to status quo ante positions,” and said, “all involved parties have a
responsibility to urgently deescalate the situation.” The White House subsequently announced that President Trump
had spoken by telephone on April 15 to Haftar, and said that the President had “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s
significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources.” The White House further said that President
Trump and Haftar had “discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.” See
Joint Statement on Libya, March 1, 2019; Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo on the Situation in Libya,
Washington, DC, April 7, 2019.
100 State Department, Briefing with Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker, June 11, 2020.
101 State Department, Special Briefing via Telephone with Richard Norland, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, June 4, 2020.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Counterterrorism Operations and Strategic Competition
As of mid-2019, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) identified containing instability in Libya as
one of its six main lines of effort in Africa.102 AFRICOM leaders also have worked at times to
support U.S. diplomatic engagement with Libyan counterparts and have accompanied U.S.
diplomats and facilitated their travel to the country. The U.S. military worked closely with
western Libyan militia forces that now oppose the LNA in driving the Islamic State group from
the central Libyan town of Sirte in 2016.103 AFRICOM withdrew U.S. military personnel from
Libya in response to deteriorating security conditions in April 2019.
Periodic U.S. airstrikes in coordination with the GNA target suspected Islamic State (IS, aka
ISIS/ISIL) or Al Qaeda (AQ) personnel, mainly in remote central and southern areas of the
country.104 In September 2019, AFRICOM conducted a series of strikes on IS targets in southern
Libya, which it asserted killed more than 40 suspected terrorists. Defense officials estimated that
IS-Libya had approximately 100 personnel active in Libya at the end of 2019.105 The State
Department reported in June 2020 that,
Since the 2016 expulsion of ISIS from Sirte, the group has lacked a concentrated, physical
presence in Libya, instead spreading into smaller groups with a presence in both urban
environments and the sparsely populated desert districts of Jufra, Sebha, and Murzuq. In
southern Libya, where terrorist groups operated most freely, forces aligned with the LNA
conducted operations against AQIM and ISIS. All acknowledged terrorist attacks by ISIS
in 2019 were conducted against LNA forces or against civilian targets in areas under LNA
control. The LNA undertook CT efforts in areas under its control. ...The GNA’s
effectiveness was constrained both by the lack of control it exerted over national forces
and by its diminished geographic reach.106
In conjunction with counterterrorism strikes, the U.S. government at times has worked with GNA
officials and other Libyan security figures to determine the scope of their need for (and ability to
absorb) potential security assistance.107 In 2014, the Obama Administration shelved plans to
create a Libyan General Purpose Force to secure government installations and critical

102 Statement of Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, AFRICOM Commander before the Senate Committee on Armed Services,
February 7, 2019; and Lead Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations (LIG-OCO), Report to Congress
on East Africa and North and West Africa Counterterrorism Operations, October-December 2019, February 2020.
103 U.S. Africa Command, “AFRICOM Concludes Operation Odyssey Lightning,” Stuttgart, Germany, Dec 20, 2016.
104 President Trump’s December 2019 letter to Congress consistent with the War Powers Resolution acknowledged
U.S. strikes against IS targets in Libya. Like the Obama Administration before it, the Trump Administration has
described U.S. strikes against IS and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) targets in Libya as authorized by the
2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF, P.L. 107-40) and has stated that the strikes are taken “at the
request and with the consent of the GNA in the context of the ongoing armed conflict against ISIL and in furtherance of
U.S. national self-defense.” See Text of a Letter from the President to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and
the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, December 11, 2019; and, Report on the Legal and Policy Frameworks
Guiding the United States’ Use of Military Force and Related National Security Operations, December 2016 and March
2018. Also see CRS Report R43983, 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force: Issues Concerning Its Continued
, by Matthew C. Weed.
105 LIG-OCO, Report to Congress on East Africa and North and West Africa Counterterrorism Operations, October-
December 2019, February 2020, p. 37.
106 State Department, Country Reports on Terrorism - 2019, June 19, 2020.
107 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) General Joseph Dunford said in May 2016 that the United States is
“already working very closely with the GNA to determine what assistance they may require.” Lisa Ferdinando,
“Dunford: U.S. Working with Libya to Assess Possible Needs in Counter-ISIL Fight,” DoD News, Defense Media
Activity, May 3, 2016.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

infrastructure as conflict broke out among Libyans.108 In 2018, U.S. officials announced Libya
would join the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) program and signed a series
of agreements and memoranda of intent for border and airport security programs. In November
2019, GNA officials visited Washington, DC to launch a U.S.-Libya Security Dialogue. Past
efforts have involved engagement with European partners in planning for potential security
assistance to the GNA.109
In January 2020, AFRICOM Commander Gen. Stephen Townsend restated the Command’s
commitment to countering violent extremist organizations, including the Islamic State and Al
Qaeda, in Libya and other parts of Africa, and described Libya as a potential venue for
competition with other global powers.110 At the same time, however, the Department of Defense
has sought since late 2018 to reorient AFRICOM’s personnel and missions to reflect a global
focus on “great power competition,” as opposed to counterterrorism.
What such a shift would mean for DOD activities in Libya is uncertain. AFRICOM asserted in its
2019 posture statement to Congress that Russia is “invok[ing] Qaddafi-era relationships and debts
to obtain economic and military contracts ... aimed at accessing Libya’s vast oil market, reviving
arms sales, and gaining access to coastal territories.”111 In December 2019, AFRICOM told the
DOD Inspector General “the growing Russian military presence in Libya threatens future U.S.
military partnerships and counterterrorism cooperation by impeding U.S. access to Libya.”112
In January 2020, General Townsend told Congress that Russian private military contractors “with
strong links to the Kremlin” were then “leading the fight” for the LNA, and said that Russian
contractors in Libya “almost certainly” downed an unarmed U.S. drone “using sophisticated
Russian air defense system” in November 2019.113 AFRICOM also judges that the Russian
presence creates challenges for U.S. counterterrorism operations and has said any future Russian
anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) operations from the Libyan coast could present security
challenges in the Mediterranean. In May and June 2020, AFRICOM released images showing
Russian-origin aircraft operating in and around Libya and said, “Russia continues to push for a
strategic foothold on NATO's southern flank and this is at the expense of innocent Libyan
U.S. Foreign Assistance and Humanitarian Aid
As of February 2020, the U.S. government had allocated more than $550 million funding for
Libya assistance programs since 2011.115 These funds have supported a variety of stabilization

108 In January 2014, the Obama Administration notified Congress of a proposed $600 million sale to Libya of training
and weapons to support the development of a 6,000- to 8,000-person General Purpose Force for up to eight years. See
Defense Security Cooperation Agency Transmittal 13-74, January 22, 2014; and Missy Ryan, “Libyan Force Was
Lesson in Limits of U.S. Power,” Washington Post, August 5, 2015.
109 U.S. Africa Command 2016 and 2017 Posture Statements.
110 Statement of Gen. Stephen Townsend, AFRICOM Commander before the Senate Armed Services Committee,
January 30, 2020.
111 U.S. Africa Command Posture Statement to Senate Committee on Armed Services, February 7, 2019.
112 LIG-OCO, Report to Congress on East Africa and North and West Africa Counterterrorism Operations, October-
December 2019, February 2020, p. 4.
113 Statement of Gen. Stephen Townsend, Commander United States Africa Command before the Senate Armed
Services Committee, January 30, 2020.
114 U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, “New evidence of Russian aircraft active in Libyan airspace,” June 18, 2020.
115 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Adm. Mark Green’s Trip to Tunisia, February 18, 2020.
Congressional Research Service

link to page 29 link to page 29 Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

and transition assistance programs at the national and local levels. Since the 2014 withdrawal of
U.S. personnel, U.S. officials have administered aid programs from outside the country. Despite
related challenges, the Trump Administration has reiterated its commitment to providing
stabilization and transition support to Libyans.116 As noted above, Libya’s designation under the
Child Soldiers Prevention Act precludes U.S. security assistance and direct commercial arms
sales throughout FY2021 absent a waiver or rescission of the designation.117 President Trump has
requested $21.4 million in foreign operations funding for Libya programs in FY2021 (see Table
. Congress allocated $40 million for Libya programs in FY2020.118
Table 2. U.S. Foreign Assistance for Programs in Libya
(millions of dollars)
Bilateral Foreign Assistance



Source: State Department Congressional Budget Justifications, documents, and estimates.
Notes: Amounts are subject to change. ESF = Economic Support Fund, OCO = Overseas Contingency
Operations, ESDF = Economic Support and Development Fund, NADR = Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism,
Demining, and Related Programs, INCLE = International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, CSO =
Conflict and Stabilization Operations, PKO = Peacekeeping Operations.
Funds from centrally managed programs, including the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and Bureau of
Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) Office of Global Programming also benefit Libyans. State and USAID
also use funds from the Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) and International Disaster Assistance (IDA)
humanitarian accounts for programs in Libya.
a. Includes ESF and ESF-OCO notified to Congress in 2016 and 2018 to support USAID Libya programs,
including programs funded by ESF-OCO funds made available by the Security Assistance Appropriations Act,
2017 (P.L. 114-254, Division B) (SAAA).
Since 2016, the executive branch has notified Congress of planned programs to continue to
engage with Libyan civil society organizations, support multilateral bodies engaged in Libyan
stabilization efforts, and build the capacity of municipal authorities, electoral administration
entities, and the GNA administration. U.S. diplomats engage with Libyans and monitor U.S. aid
programs via the Libya External Office (LEO) at the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia. In February 2020,

116 Ibid.
117 According to the State Department, Governments identified on the list are subject to restrictions, in the following
fiscal year, on certain security assistance and commercial licensing of military equipment. The CSPA, as amended,
prohibits assistance to governments that are identified in the list under the following authorities: International Military
Education and Training, Foreign Military Financing, Excess Defense Articles, and Peacekeeping Operations, with
exceptions for some programs undertaken pursuant to the Peacekeeping Operations authority. The CSPA also prohibits
the issuance of licenses for direct commercial sales of military equipment to such governments.”
118 The explanatory statement accompanying the FY2020 foreign operations appropriations act (P.L. 116-94) directs
not less than $40 million under the Relief and Recovery Fund for stabilization assistance for Libya.
Congressional Research Service

link to page 38 Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

a senior U.S. official said the State Department seeks to reopen the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli “as
soon as humanly possible.”119 In March 2020, the Trump Administration upgraded the USAID
presence at the Libya External Office in Tunis, Tunisia, from a Senior Development Advisor to a
Country Representative.
The United States provided more than $90 million in immediate humanitarian assistance to Libya
in 2011, and U.S. assistance for humanitarian operations in Libya since has responded to
fluctuating needs and conditions on the ground. U.S. funding for humanitarian assistance
programs in FY2019 amounted to $31.3 million. These FY2019 funds included contributions to
the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Humanitarian Response
Plan (HRP) for Libya and programs overseen by the State Department Bureau of Population,
Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).120
The 2020 HRP seeks $115 million in contributions, of which 30.1% was funded as of June
Congress and Libya
The 2012 attacks and deaths of U.S. personnel in Benghazi (see Appendix B), the empowerment
of terrorist actors on Libyan soil, and internecine conflict among Libyan militias have reshaped
debates in Washington about U.S. policy toward Libya. Following intense congressional debate
over the merits of U.S. and NATO military intervention in Libya in 2011, many Members of
Congress welcomed the announcement of Qadhafi’s overthrow, the formation of the interim
Transitional National Council government, and the July 2012 national General National Congress
election. Some Members also expressed concern at that time about security in the country, the
proliferation of weapons, and the prospects for a smooth political transition. The Benghazi attacks
the following month, the subsequent breakdown of the transition process, and the outbreak of
conflict in 2014 amplified these concerns, and the subsequent emergence and strengthening of IS
supporters in Libya compounded apprehension in Congress about ongoing Libya’s instability.
Debate in the 116th Congress
Some in Congress have criticized the Trump Administration’s approach to Libya,122 but the
executive branch and congressional committees of jurisdiction appear to have reached a degree of
consensus since 2017 regarding limited security and transition support programs in Libya.
Section 1272 of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act requires the executive branch to
submit a defense and diplomatic strategy for Libya within 270 days of enactment, including
reporting on the policies of third parties. Versions of a proposed Libya Stabilization Act
introduced in the House (H.R. 4644) and Senate (S. 2934) also would require reporting from the
executive branch on the roles of foreign actors in Libya and authorize various forms of assistance
for Libya programs on different terms. Congress conditionally appropriated funding for limited
U.S. transition support and security assistance programs for FY2020 under P.L. 116-94, and is

119 Senior State Department Official on U.S. Engagement with Libya Special Briefing, Washington, DC, Feb. 28, 2020.
120 USAID, “Libya—Complex Emergency Fact Sheet #2, FY2019,” September 30, 2019.
121 U.N. Financial Tracking Service data, June 25, 2020.
122 E.g., Letter from Representative Ted Lieu et al. to President Trump, June 7, 2019; Letter from Senator Christopher
Murphy to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, February 12, 2020.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

considering Trump Administration requests for additional foreign operations and defense funds to
support Libya-related programs for FY2021.123
The Administration and some Members of Congress are considering options for future
engagement in Libya with two interrelated goals: supporting the emergence of a unified, capable
national government, and reducing transnational threats posed by terrorists and other actors who
have exploited Libya’s instability. The demands of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic may
add further complications. Pursuing these objectives simultaneously presents U.S. policymakers
with complicated choices about relative priorities and the interrelated consequences of a range of
options. Points of active discussion concern
 the nature and extent of U.S. partnership with different Libyans;
 the type, timing, and extent of U.S. assistance;
 the potential utility or costs of sanctions or other coercive measures; and
 the degree of cooperation or confrontation with other outside actors seeking to
influence developments.
These issues will likely shape U.S. policy debates about Libya for the foreseeable future.
Possible Scenarios and Issues for Congress
Given the fluidity of events, the number of relevant actors, and the range of possible outcomes,
Congress may consider the possible implications of different scenarios and approaches for U.S.
national security and legislative prerogatives, including foreign aid and defense appropriations
and authorizations. The potential success of U.N.-led reconciliation could provide a new
foundation for improving stability in Libya, and could create new opportunities for security and
economic partnership between Libya and the United States. The potential failure of U.N.-led
reconciliation efforts among Libyans may present U.S. policymakers with hard choices about
how best to mitigate threats emanating from the country in the continuing absence of a viable,
legitimate national government.
If ceasefire initiatives show promise...
Endorsement of a ceasefire agreement could prompt discussion of specific monitoring and
enforcement arrangements. These could include limited air or naval patrol operations by
individual governments or coalition forces and/or the creation of new U.N.-administered
mechanisms similar to the U.N. Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) in
Yemen. U.N. Security Council resolution 2510 requested that the U.N. Secretary-General submit
an “interim report on the necessary conditions for, and proposals on effective ceasefire
monitoring under the auspices of the U.N., including reporting and dispute resolution
In February 2020, the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council discussed a proposal for a
potential African military monitoring mission to Libya for ceasefire consolidation. As noted
above, the EU has revived maritime security operations in the Mediterranean to support the U.N.
arms embargo. Under the auspices of a new joint naval mission, Operation Irini, EU member state
vessels are patrolling the eastern Mediterranean Sea, where arms shipments to anti-LNA forces

123 In the FY2020 appropriations act (Division G of P.L. 116-94), Congress prohibited the provision of U.S. assistance
to Libya for infrastructure projects except on a loan basis with terms favorable to the United States and without prior
consultation with congressional appropriations committees.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

have transited in recent months. The mission is using air and satellite assets, but it is not yet
evident whether or how it might affect air or overland shipments of weapons to forces in Libya.
The Berlin Communiqué additionally envisions a comprehensive disarmament and
demobilization process followed by the integration of armed groups and unification of Libyan
security forces. Under optimistic scenarios, early security sector efforts might coincide with
national election preparations and efforts to unify bodies such as the Libyan Central Bank.
In this context, Congress might consider what contributions, if any, the United States should
make to security and peacebuilding efforts under various frameworks. Congress may seek
estimates from executive branch officials about the likely duration, cost, and prospects for
success of such efforts. Congress also may consider the potential implications of U.S. decisions
about U.S. and U.N. sanctions and enforcement of arms embargo and asset freeze policies if
Libyans reach consensus on governing arrangement.
If ceasefire initiatives falter and conflict intensifies...
The potential failure of international mediation may present U.S. policymakers with hard choices
about how to proceed. Given newly introduced weapons and forces, renewed fighting could be
the most intense and consequential of the entire post-2011 period, with mass displacement and
casualties if fighting were to occur in or near Libyan cities. Conflict and humanitarian spillover
could impose significant costs and threaten U.S. partners for months or years. U.S.
counterterrorism operations could be disrupted temporarily, although limited U.S. interventions
have thus far been sufficient to reverse and prevent the reemergence of extremists capable of
controlling territory. Further blatant violations of the arms embargo could complicate U.S.
relations with key partners. Should GNA and Turkish forces press their attack eastward and
prompt additional Egyptian and/or Russian military intervention in eastern Libya, U.S. options
for partnering with Libyans could become more constrained, and the actions of U.S. partners in
Libya could have potential spillover effects on those bilateral relationships.
The LNA’s now-failed offensive on Tripoli and counter-mobilizations by the GNA and other
western Libyan forces have directly challenged the stated preferences of the U.N. Security
Council and the publicly stated policies of the U.S. government. International powers appear to
share a desire to avoid the most negative consequences that continued violence could bring but
also have appeared to differ on whether or how to defuse the situation or to hold specific actors
accountable. Some actors explicitly or implicitly support the continuation of military operations
by LNA or GNA forces, despite consensus about the importance of ending the conflict that
ostensibly was reached in Berlin in January 2020 and endorsed by the U.N. Security Council in
Resolution 2010. The imperatives of the COVID-19 pandemic have yet to upend the operations
of parties to the conflict, and parties on both sides are resisting calls from outsiders to end
fighting and allow for unfettered humanitarian assistance and mitigation.
Among Libyans, conflict since April 2019 has reflected a fundamental lack of mutual trust and
some Libyans’ willingness to use force to achieve political objectives or defend gains won since
2011. U.N. and U.S. officials continue to call for a ceasefire and a return to dialogue, but
dynamics in the conflict suggest deeper divisions. The continuation of the LNA operation
following the Berlin meeting indicated that Khalifa Haftar and his local and foreign supporters
were unwilling to accept negotiated limits on their power or to allow for the participation of some
western Libya-based groups in national security and/or governing arrangements. Turkish
intervention has empowered LNA opponents, but Turkey’s introduction of Syrian fighters has
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

galvanized some Libyan and outside actors’ willingness to continue fighting. GNA support of
continued military operations and the refusal of some western Libyan actors to countenance
future talks or reconciliation with LNA supporters suggest that the two sides’ positions may
remain irreconcilable absent compelling changes in conflict conditions or actors’ assumptions.
Prior to the LNA offensive, U.S. and European officials had argued that a relative unity of
purpose among outside actors in supporting U.N. plans had contributed to momentum toward a
negotiated solution. This unity of purpose and Libyans’ self-restraint unraveled with the outbreak
of conflict, casting doubt on the viability of the U.N.’s preferred approach. The U.N. Security
Council has endorsed the Berlin Communiqué but may remain reluctant or unable to impose a
transition timeline or compel spoilers toward compliance, raising questions about the future of
international involvement in settlement efforts. Regional or ad hoc arrangements could form an
alternative to U.N. facilitation, but rival efforts also could contribute to stalemate or further
U.S. policymakers may consider how continued military confrontation in Libya or dramatic
changes in governing arrangements could affect U.S. counterterrorism interests, migration trends,
and the security of Libya’s neighbors. U.S. officials judge that the capabilities of the Libya-based
Islamic State affiliate have been degraded, but they underscore the need to remain vigilant and
conduct strike operations when necessary.124 IS fighters carried out a series of low level attacks in
southern Libya after conflict erupted in April 2019, and widespread instability or enduring
conflict could presumably give IS supporters and other extremists new opportunities.
U.S. officials are calling for a halt to military operations by all sides, but they have refrained from
fully endorsing the conflict-related demands of the LNA’s opponents. If any U.S.-backed
ceasefire and transition arrangements embrace LNA demands more fully, some U.S.
counterterrorism partners and others in western Libya may resent U.S. choices. Alternatively,
more outspoken or forceful U.S. opposition to the LNA’s demands could foreclose opportunities
for cooperation with LNA leaders or their supporters in areas under their present or future control.
Under any circumstances, the involvement of some LNA and anti-LNA forces in documented
human rights abuses may limit U.S. engagement with implicated armed groups that find
themselves integrated into future formal security forces.125
In the event that the LNA had imposed control over western Libya and attempted to assert
national authority, local armed resistance to an LNA-imposed political order could have been
significant and lasting. This similarly applies to the current anti-GNA coalition and the prospect
of attempts to assert control over eastern areas. With the LNA initiative having been blunted and
significantly reversed, maintaining control over areas under its authority in the east becomes more
critical to it and its foreign supporters. Under these conditions, a more lasting division of the
country into de facto areas of influence could set in. Regardless of the outcome of the current
fighting, the continuation of zero-sum political behavior among Libyans in any negotiations could
easily rekindle conflict, particularly if winners choose to exclude their rivals. A negotiated
settlement may be preferable, but appears out of reach at present.
Terrorist threats, Libyans’ divisive political competition, and, since mid-2014, outright conflict
between rival groups have prevented U.S. officials from developing robust partnerships and
assistance programs in post-Qadhafi Libya. The shared desire of the U.S. government and some

124 Director of National Intelligence, Worldwide Threat Assessment, January 29, 2019; and Secretary of Defense Mark
Esper Press Gaggle En Route to INDOPACOM, November 13, 2019
125 CRS conversation with executive branch official, April 2019; and Ryan Goodman and Alex Whiting, “Smoking
Gun Videos Emerge: US Citizen, Libyan Warlord Haftar Ordering War Crimes,” Just Security, September 19, 2017;
Human Rights Watch, “Libya: Videos Capture Summary Executions,” August 16, 2017.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

international actors to empower an inclusive government and rebuild Libyan state security forces
has been confounded by the strength of armed non-state groups, weak institutions, and a
fundamental lack of political consensus among Libya’s interim leaders, especially regarding
security issues. Control over national institutions, territory, and key energy infrastructure
continues to define the balance of power in Libya. To the extent that these factors define the
prospects for governance and economic viability, they are likely to remain objects of intense
Prior to the escalation of the previous round of conflict in 2014, some Libyans had questioned the
then-interim government’s decision to seek foreign support for security reform and transition
guidance. Some U.S. observers had questioned Libya’s need for U.S. foreign assistance given
Libya’s oil resources and relative wealth. During subsequent fighting, some Libyans have
vigorously rejected others’ calls for international support and assistance and traded accusations of
disloyalty and treason in response to reports of partnership with foreign forces. These dynamics
raise questions about the potential viability of U.S. preferences for partnership as a means of
minimizing the need for direct U.S. involvement. As of 2020, some Libyan actors appear to view
offers of external assistance and threats of external sanctions in zero-sum terms, despite
assurances that third parties seek to support inclusive, consensus arrangements.
If the COVID-19 virus spreads widely in Libya, assistance programs and humanitarian access
could become even more limited. Any ceasefire monitoring and security cooperation programs or
exercises also could be further complicated. Additional COVID-19 related costs or effects could
limit the already variable effectiveness of Libyan authorities at the national and local levels.
In some cases where the U.S. government has sought Libyan government action on priority
issues, especially in the counterterrorism sector, U.S. officials have weighed choices over whether
U.S. assistance can build sufficient Libyan capacity quickly and cheaply enough. U.S. officials
also have considered whether interim leaders are appropriate or reliable partners for the United
States and how U.S. action or assistance might affect Libyan politics. In some cases, such as with
the threat posed by the Islamic State, U.S. policymakers have debated whether threats to U.S.
interests require immediate, direct U.S. action or whether they can be managed effectively
through support to partners. With Islamic State forces degraded and rivalries among Libyan
factions persistent, these questions remain relevant to debates about U.S. assistance plans.
Looking ahead, specific policy questions before the United States may include
 whether and when to return U.S. personnel to Libya on a permanent basis;
 what types and extent of assistance, if any, to provide for stabilization and
transition support purposes;
 how to ensure that U.S. aid recipients and security partners have not been and are
not now involved in gross violations of human rights, extremism, or terrorism;
 whether or how to use existing sanctions tools or other coercive measures against
parties obstructing progress under U.N.-proposed reconciliation plans;
 whether or how to continue to intervene militarily against terrorist groups;
 whether or how to respond to the actions of other third parties, including Russia;
 whether or how to leverage or amend U.N. arms embargo provisions to allow for
security assistance to parties in Libya;
 what degree of support, if any, to provide to emergent national security forces
(particularly in the absence of an agreed political framework); and
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

 whether or how to respond in the event of any military clashes between rival
Libyan factions that involve groups that have received U.S. assistance.
Legislative debates over future appropriations and defense authorization measures provide
potential means for Members to influence U.S. policy and engagement with Libyan actors.
Congressional oversight prerogatives also provide opportunities to engage Administration
 to refine the scope and content of U.S. programs proposed to support the
Government of National Accord and other Libyans;
 regarding U.S. responses to interventions by other third parties in Libya,
including the prospect of armed confrontation between U.S. partners such as
Egypt and Turkey;
 concerning plans for U.S. partnership with Libyans if U.N.-backed reconciliation
measures succeed; and
 concerning options if negotiations and diplomacy cannot bring instability in
Libya to a prompt close.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Appendix A. Libyan History, Civil War, and
Political Change
The North African territory that now composes Libya has a long history as a center of Phoenician,
Carthaginian, Greek, Roman, Berber, and Arab civilizations. Modern Libya is a union of three
historically distinct regions—northwestern Tripolitania, northeastern Cyrenaica or Barqa, and the
more remote southwestern desert region of Fezzan. In the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire
struggled to assert control over Libya’s coastal cities and interior. Italy invaded Libya in 1911 on
the pretext of liberating the region from Ottoman control. The Italians subsequently conducted
decades of abuses against the Libyan people and became mired in a persistent anticolonial
insurgency. Libya was an important battleground in the North Africa campaign of the Second
World War and emerged from the fighting as a ward of the Allied powers and the United Nations.
On December 24, 1951, the United Kingdom of Libya became one of Africa’s first independent
states. With U.N. supervision and assistance, a Libyan National Constituent Assembly drafted and
agreed to a constitution establishing a federal system of government with central authority vested
in King Idris Al Sanussi. Legislative authority was vested in a Prime Minister, a Council of
Ministers, and a bicameral legislature. The first parliamentary election was held in February
1952, one month after independence. The king banned political parties shortly after
independence, and Libya’s first decade was characterized by continuous infighting over taxation,
development, and constitutional powers.
In 1963, King Idris replaced the federal system of government with a unitary monarchy that
further centralized royal authority, in part to streamline the development of the country’s newly
discovered oil resources. Prior to the discovery of marketable oil in 1959, the Libyan government
was largely dependent on economic aid and technical assistance it received from international
institutions and through military basing agreements with the United States and United Kingdom.
The U.S.-operated air base at Wheelus field outside of Tripoli served as an important Strategic
Air Command base and center for military intelligence operations throughout the 1950s and
1960s. Oil wealth brought rapid economic growth and greater financial independence to Libya in
the 1960s, but the weakness of national institutions and Libyan elites’ growing identification with
the pan-Arab socialist ideology of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser contributed to the gradual
marginalization of the monarchy. Popular criticism of U.S. and British basing agreements grew,
becoming amplified in the wake of Israel’s defeat of Arab forces in the 1967 Six-Day War. King
Idris left the country in mid-1969 for medical reasons, setting the stage for a military coup in
September, led by a young, devoted Nasserite army captain named Muammar al Qadhafi.
The United States did not actively oppose the coup, as Qadhafi and his co-conspirators initially
presented an anti-Soviet and reformist platform. Qadhafi focused intensely on securing the
immediate and full withdrawal of British and U.S. forces from military bases in Libya, which was
complete by mid-1970. The new government also pressured U.S. and other foreign oil companies
to renegotiate oil production contracts, and some British and U.S. oil operations eventually were
nationalized. In the early 1970s, Qadhafi and his allies gradually reversed their stance on their
initially icy relationship with the Soviet Union and extended Libyan support to revolutionary,
anti-Western, and anti-Israeli movements across Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. These
policies contributed to a rapid souring of U.S.-Libyan political relations that persisted for decades
and was marked by multiple military confrontations, state-sponsored acts of Libyan terrorism
against U.S. nationals, covert U.S. support for Libyan opposition groups, Qadhafi’s pursuit of
weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. and international sanctions.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Qadhafi’s policy reversals on WMD and terrorism led to the lifting of international sanctions in
2003 and 2004, followed by economic liberalization, oil sales, and foreign investment that
brought new wealth to some Libyans. After U.S. sanctions were lifted, the U.S. business
community gradually reengaged amid continuing U.S.-Libyan tension over terrorism concerns
that were finally resolved in 2008. During this period of international reengagement, political
change in Libya remained elusive. Government reconciliation with imprisoned Islamist militants
and the return of some exiled opposition figures were welcomed by some observers as signs that
suppression of political opposition had softened. In exchange for pledges of nonviolence, the
Qadhafi government released dozens of former members of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Libyan
Islamist Fighting Group (LIFG) and the Muslim Brotherhood from prison in the years prior to the
revolution as part of its political reconciliation program. The George W. Bush Administration
praised Qadhafi’s cooperation with U.S. counterterrorism efforts against Al Qaeda and the LIFG.
Qadhafi’s international rehabilitation coincided with new steps by some pragmatic government
officials to maneuver within so-called “red lines” and propose minor reforms. However, the
shifting course of those red lines increasingly entangled would-be reformers in the run-up to the
outbreak of unrest in February 2011. Ultimately, inaction on the part of the government in
response to calls for guarantees of basic political rights and for the drafting of a constitution
suggested a lack of consensus, if not outright opposition to meaningful change among hardliners.
This inaction set the political stage for the revolution that overturned Qadhafi’s four decades of
rule and led to his grisly demise in October 2011.
Political change in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt helped bring long-simmering Libyan reform
debates to the boiling point in January and early February 2011. Libya’s 2011 revolution was
triggered in mid-February by a chain of events in Benghazi and other eastern cities that quickly
spiraled out of Qadhafi’s control. The government’s loss of control in these cities became
apparent, and broader unrest emerged in other regions. A number of military officers, their units,
and civilian officials abandoned Qadhafi. Qadhafi and his supporters denounced their opponents
as drug-fueled traitors, foreign agents, and Al Qaeda supporters. Until August 2011, Qadhafi and
his forces maintained control over the capital, Tripoli, and other western cities. The cumulative
effects of attrition by NATO airstrikes against military targets and a coordinated offensive by
rebels in Tripoli and from across western Libya then turned the tide, sending Qadhafi and his
supporters into retreat and exile. September and early October 2011 were marked by sporadic and
often intense fighting in and around Qadhafi’s birthplace, Sirte, and the town of Bani Walid and
neighboring military districts. NATO air operations continued as rebel fighters engaged in battles
of attrition with Qadhafi supporters.
Qadhafi’s death at the hands of rebel fighters in Sirte on October 20, 2011, brought the revolt to
an abrupt close, with some observers expressing concern that a dark chapter in Libyan history
ended violently, leaving an uncertain path ahead. Developments in post-Qadhafi Libya have
unfolded in three general phases, the third of which is still under way:
1. an immediate post-Qadhafi period (October 2011 to July 2012) focused on identifying
interim leaders and recovery from the 2011 conflict;
2. a contested transitional period (July 2012 to May 2014) focused on legitimizing and testing
the viability of interim institutions; and
3. a period of confrontation and mediation (May 2014 to present) characterized by tension and
violence among loose political-military coalitions, multifaceted conflict between their
members and with violent Islamist extremists, and increasing involvement by third parties.
For more information concerning post-2011 developments, congressional clients may contact the
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

Appendix B. Investigations into 2012 Attacks on U.S.
Facilities and Personnel in Benghazi

Investigations into 2012 Attacks on U.S. Facilities and Personnel in Benghazi
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel were kil ed on September 11,
2012, during an assault by armed terrorists on two U.S facilities in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city. The
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) remains the lead U.S. agency tasked with pursuing the individuals responsible
for the attacks. Other government agencies, including the State Department, the Department of Defense (DOD),
and elements of the intelligence community (IC), support the FBI’s efforts to bring the attackers to justice. Section
1278 of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 113-291) required the Secretary of Defense to
submit to congressional defense committees—within 30 days of enactment—
a report that contains an assessment of the actions taken by the Department of Defense and other Federal
agencies to identify, locate, and bring to justice those persons and organizations that planned, authorized, or
committed the attacks against the United States facilities in Benghazi, Libya that occurred on September 11
and 12, 2012, and the legal authorities available for such purposes.
On September 28, 2012, the U.S. intelligence community concluded publicly that the incident was a “deliberate
and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists,” and said that at the time it remained “unclear if any
group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack and if extremist group leaders directed
their members to participate. However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated
with, or sympathetic to Al Qaeda.”126 The 2016 final report of the Select Committee on Benghazi stated that “the
attackers were a mix of local extremist groups, including the Benghazi-based Ansar al-Sharia, al-Qaida in the Lands
of the Islamic Maghreb, and the Muhammad Jamal Network out of Egypt. Members of al-Qaida in the Arabian
Peninsula, al-Qaida in Iraq, and Abu Ubaydah ibn Jarah Battalion also participated.”
In June 2014, U.S. forces apprehended Ahmed Abu Khattala, a Libyan suspect in the attack and the reported leader
of the Abu Ubaydah ibn Jarah Battalion, in a military operation in Libya. U.S. personnel transferred Abu Khattala to
the United States, and in May 2016, U.S. Justice Department officials announced they would not seek the death
penalty in his trial. In May 2017, Abu Khattala’s defense attorneys challenged the admissibility of statements the
defendant reportedly made while under interrogation fol owing his capture. Jury selection was completed in
September 2017, his trial began in October, and in November he was convicted on 4 of 18 charges that had been
brought against him. Khattala was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison in June 2018.
In October 2017, U.S. forces and Libyan partner forces seized a second suspect in Libya, Syrian national Mustafa al
Imam, near Misrata. Jurors in federal court in Washington, DC, convicted Al Imam of conspiracy to provide
material support to terrorists and maliciously destroying government property in June 2019. In January 2020, he
was sentenced to 19.5 years in federal prison.
The U.S. government is offering up to $10 mil ion through the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program
for information that helps to apprehend and prosecute additional individuals responsible for the 2012 attacks.

Author Information

Christopher M. Blanchard

Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

126 Statement, Director of Public Affairs for the Director of National Intelligence Shawn Turner, September 28, 2012.
Congressional Research Service

Libya: Conflict, Transition, and U.S. Policy

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and
under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other
than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in
connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not
subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be reproduced and distributed in
its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include copyrighted images or
material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder if you wish to
copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.

Congressional Research Service