By Sami Zaptia.
London, 13 February 2019:
The top brass of the Khalifa Hafter-led Libyan National Army (LNA) engaged in a show of power projection at Tamenhint Airbase today.
In a choreographed piece of slick public relations (or propaganda), the LNA’s General Command arrived in Sebha to what it billed as a follow up of its military operations in the southern region.
The LNA’s Military Media Division said they had arrived at the Karama (Dignity) Operations Room in Tamenhint airbase following the orders of LNA’s General Commander, Khalifa Haftar.
The senior LNA commanders that arrived included Air Force Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Saqr Al-Jaroushi, Director of the Special Forces Directorate Major General Wanis Boukhamada, Secretary-General of LNA’s General Command Maj. Gen. Abdelkareem Hadia and Director of the General Commander’s Office Major General Khairi Al-Tamimi.
Speaking at a press conference today, the LNA’s Official Spokesperson Ahmed Mesmari said that the high-level military delegation had arrived in the south to convey a message from the LNA General Commander Khalifa Haftar to the residents of the south.
Mesmari confirmed news circulating in the media that Haftar was supposed to visit Sebha but had to postpone his visit due to scheduled meetings with a number of foreign delegations.
These included delegations from the city of Misrata who had arrived at Benghazi to emphasize the unity of Libyans, Mesmari said.
He emphasised that the military operations in the south came to secure the region, not for its occupation or in aggression.
He saluted the Tebu, Tuareg, Awlad Suleiman and all the tribes of the South, and called on them not to listen to misleading media.
He reiterated that the LNA had now successfully eliminated terrorism in the city of Derna.
The optics projected by the LNA’s General Command’s arrival will send all the positive vibes that the LNA wishes to send out. That is what they were designed to do.
They project the image of a regular army as opposed to a collection of militias forced together by Hafter, that the LNA’s critics insist the LNA is.
The optics will be worrying for the Faiez Serraj-led Presidency Council and Government of National and it’s new-born Presidential Guard.
The images play to and augment Hafter’s narrative that his LNA is effective and has delivered security to the south – something the other anti-LNA forces failed to do.
The implication and the message to residents in the rest of Libya is that only the LNA can deliver security for all of Libya.
The LNA’s projection that it “liberated” the Sharara oilfield for the NOC adds to this image. This is why Ageela Saleh yesterday called upon Sanalla to lift the force majeure on the Sharara oilfield immediately. The east is keen that the LNA gets full credit for returning Sharara to production.
No doubt the LNA hopes these optics will help it project its reach to western Libya and Tripoli itself. Hafter and the LNA have made no secret of their desire and ultimate goal of “liberating” Tripoli and hope these power images will resonate in Tripoli.
However, while the LNA may be basking in its recent projected triumphs in the south, there is no guarantee that it will last. Many of the western-based militias will do all they can to prevent Hafter entering Tripoli – peacefully or otherwise.
Even in the south, the LNA’s victory is still uncertain. The tribal divisions and politics of the south of Libya, the demands and stretch on manpower and assets and logistics for the LNA will he testing. Libyan political and tribal alliances crumble as quickly as they ate formed.