Military forces allied with Libya’s government in the east say airstrikes hit targets Wednesday near Tripoli, the seat of power for the rival government. And as the United Nations prepares to resume peace talks, analysts warn that even if negotiations succeed, war could continue among militant groups not involved in the peace process.
In some ways, the growth of the Islamic State group has strengthened Libya’s chance at successful peace talks, by creating a common enemy. The United Nations says the increasing numbers of terrorist attacks amid continued fighting has made peace talks the “only option” to resolve the crisis.
As talks continue however, not everyone is hopeful.
Khalifa Haftar leads the military loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government based in the eastern city of Tobruk. He says he is not against a political solution, but if it fails there should be a “military solution.”
The United Nations says progress has been made in talks this week in Algeria and they are set to pick up again in Morocco on Thursday. The U.N. special representative for the secretary-general for Libya, Bernardino Leon, has warned continued violence could derail the process.
“We are concerned, not only because there are human lives that are lost, but also because this has an impact on the dialogue," he said. "The ones behind these killings are not only showing total lack of respect for life, but are also using these killings just to put pressure on this dialogue.”
Chief among those against successful dialogue are extremist groups, including the Islamic State group and al-Qaida, he says. Neither group nor its allies is participating in the talks.
Militant groups flourish
Chatham House analyst Tim Eaton says militant groups have grown more powerful in Libya since the government essentially split in two last year.
“Jihadists have been present in Libya for a long time, but their relative importance and strength have been a lot less than the other militias," he said. "They have essentially profited from the lack of centralized authority.”
It is not just extremist groups that are excluded from the peace talks, Eaton says, and any deal will be difficult to implement.
The two rival government are accompanied by rival militaries, but both militaries are made up of several militias, lacking a single central command. There are other militias unaffiliated with either side as well.
None of these groups can be counted on to simply stop fighting because negotiators say so.
“The big questions will be: what do the militias think of that? What does the leadership of those militias think about it? They are not going to just advocate their own dissipation immediately following some kind of political deal,” said Eaton.
As the chaos in Libya deepens, its neighbors fear the conflict and resulting rise of extremist groups are destabilizing the rest of the region. Arab leaders have called for the creation of an international force to fight the Islamic State militants in Libya, but critics say outside involvement in Libya could just further complicate the war.