The unfolding violence and chaos in Libya’s second city of Benghazi should be understood as a power struggle between competing factions, each struggling to assert its own authority over the critical commercial center. However, what is purposely omitted from the Western media narrative is the fact that both groups — one a military command led by Libyan General Hifter, the other an Islamist terror group called Ansar al-Sharia — are proxies of the United States, each having received US support through a variety of channels in recent years. Seen in this way, the unrest in Libya must be understood as a continuation of the war waged against that country by the US-NATO forces.
As firefights, explosions, and air strikes become the norm in Benghazi and the surrounding areas, the nature of the conflict remains somewhat murky. On the one hand is Army General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar (also spelled Hifter), a longtime military commander under Gaddafi who fled Libya for the United States where he became a principal asset for the CIA until his return to Libya at the height of the US-NATO assault on that country. On the other hand is the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia organization, led by Ahmed Abu Khattala, which has been implicated in the September 11, 2012 attack on the US-CIA compound in Benghazi which killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens. In examining both the conflict and connections between these two individuals and the factions they lead, the fingerprints of US intelligence could not be more apparent.
However, the situation in Benghazi, and the Cyrenaica region more generally, is far more complex than simply these two factions. There are other important militias which have played a significant role in bringing the region to the brink of total war. From blockading Benghazi and Cyrenaica’s oil ports to internecine conflicts within the militia movements/coalitions, these militias have made the possibility of reconciliation almost unthinkable. And so, despite the fact that the combat phase of the US-NATO war in Libya ended nearly three years ago, the country is still undeniably a war zone.