• Meet The Virginian Who Raised An Army To Take Back Benghazi

    Living in Virginia for two decades didn’t make him too complacent to return to Libya, raise an army, and bring the fight to Islamic extremists, starting in Benghazi.

    “Benghazi was the main stronghold of terrorism in Libya, so we started there,” Gen. Khalifa Haftar, a native Libyan and one-time CIA-cohort, told Jon Lee Andersen for an extensive write up in The New Yorker. Haftar’s so-called Libyan National Army mainly consists of Gaddafi-era fighters and is supported by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

    In western Libya, there are two main Islamist militias struggling to gain the upper hand, Libya Dawn and Ansar Al Sharia. Since Libya Dawn has control of the capital, Tripoli, Haftar’s focus following the liberation of Benghazi will put him up against them next.

    Libya Dawn is an Islamist militia made up of Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, former Al Qaeda jihadists and others. With backing from Turkey and Qatar, they’re certainly not to be underestimated, but Hafter isn’t either. (RELATED: Libya, Torn By Rival Factions, Struggles To Govern)

    Now in his early seventies, he has fought for nearly every side in Libya’s long and bloody history. In 1969, Haftar helped Gaddafi overthrow the Libyan monarchy. In 1987, Gaddafi appointed Haftar commander in the war against Chad. Haftar and 400 others were taken prisoner and subsequently disowned by Gaddafi. From then on, Haftar worked against him.

    Haftar’s activities in America remain relatively secret, but did include some time working for the CIA. According to France 24, “Haftar’s home, in the town of Falls Church, was just a few miles away from the CIA’s headquarters in Langley.”

    In 2011, Gaddafi fell in the wake of several other toppled dictators during the Arab Spring. Haftar participated in his downfall, but returned to Virginia afterward. Meanwhile, Libya descended into chaos, as various militias vied for control of the country. 

    “People no longer left their houses at night. All of this upset me greatly. We had no sooner left behind Qaddafi’s rule than we had this?” Said Haftar.

    He returned to Libya last year and has been building support to take control of the country. Haftar’s forces launched the so-called Operation Dignity to oust militants from Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city. After Benghazi, Haftar plans to fight extremists in the city of Derna, according to The New Yorker article.

    “We will use all the means at our disposal to exterminate them,” said Haftar.

    Egypt recently launched air strikes against Derna, in response to the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians at the hands of ISIS militants. (RELATED: Egypt Strikes Back Against ISIS In Libya — At Least For Now)

    Many news outlets have made comparisons between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Haftar. Both are military-style leaders, aiming to wipe out what they consider Islamic extremism.

    “They [el-Sissi and Haftar] had a connection before, but ISIS will make that connection much stronger,” said Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

    As for U.S. involvement, Haftar appears to be operating on his own.

    This from McClatchyDC:

    The United States … has been openly dismissive of Hifter, despite his one-time work with the CIA and his long U.S. residency. Among the U.S. concerns are allegations of indiscriminate bombing by Hifter’s forces on Benghazi and his refusal to recognize the internationally recognized Libyan government, which for now has been forced to shelter in Tobruk after a rival government assumed control of Tripoli.

    An article in The Guardian referred to him as the “renegade general” and says Haftar is viewed with reservation by some Libyans for his role in the war with Chad.

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