|Birth name||Khalifa Belqasim Haftar|
|Service/branch||Libyan Ground Forces|
|Battles/wars||Second Libyan Civil War|
Khalifa Belqasim Haftar (Arabic: خليفة بلقاسم حفتر; born c. 1943) is a Libyan marshal and the principal commander of one side in the ongoing Libyan Civil War of 2014. On March 2, 2015, he was appointed commander of the armed forces loyal to the elected, internationally backed government, the Council of Deputies. Transliterations of his name include Heftar, Hafter, Hifter, Hefter, etc.
Haftar was born in eastern Libya. He served in the Libyan army under Muammar Gaddafi, and took part in the coup that brought Gaddafi to power in 1969. He commanded the Libyan contingent against Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. In 1987, he became a prisoner of war during the war against Chad. While held prisoner, he and his fellow officers formed a group hoping to overthrow Gaddafi. He was released around 1990 in a deal with the United States government and spent nearly two decades in the United States, gaining U.S. citizenship. In 1993, while living in the United States, he was convicted in absentia of crimes against the Jamahiriya and sentenced to death.
Haftar held a senior position in the forces which overthrew Gaddafi in the 2011 Libyan Civil War. In 2014 he was commander of the Libyan Army when the General National Congress (GNC) refused to give up power in accordance with its term of office. Haftar launched a campaign against the GNC and its Islamic fundamentalist allies. His campaign allowed elections to take place to replace the GNC, but then developed into a civil war.
Haftar has been described as "Libya’s most potent warlord," having fought "with and against nearly every significant faction" in Libya's conflicts, and as having a "reputation for unrivalled military experience".
Haftar was born in Ajdabiya around 1943, and is a member of the al-Farjani tribe. He graduated from the Benghazi Military Academy and then went on to receive military training in the Soviet Union and Egypt.
Early years in the Gaddafi government
As a young army officer, Haftar took part in the coup that brought Muammar Gaddafi to power in 1969, assisting Gaddafi in the overthrow of Libya's King Idris. Shortly thereafter, Haftar became a top military officer for Gadhafi. He commanded Libyan troops supporting Egyptian troops entering Israeli-occupied Sinai in 1973.
Like other members of the Free Unionist Officers (the junta that toppled the monarchy), Haftar was a secularist and a Nasserist. He was a member of the Revolutionary Command Council which governed Libya in the immediate aftermath of the coup. Haftar later became Gaddafi's military chief of staff. In the late 1980s, Haftar commanded Libyan forces during the Chadian–Libyan conflict, which ended in defeat for Libya.
War with Chad
In 1986, he had attained the rank of colonel, and was then the chief officer in command of Gaddafi's military forces in Chad in the Chadian–Libyan conflict. During the war, in which the Libyan forces were either captured or driven back across the border, Haftar and 600-700 of his men were captured as prisoners of war, and incarcerated in 1987 after their defeat in the Ouadi Doum air raid. Shortly after this disastrous battle, Gaddafi disavowed Haftar and the other Libyan prisoners of war captured by Chad. One possible contributing factor to Gaddafi's repudiation of Haftar and of other captured prisoners of war may have been the fact that Gaddafi had earlier signed an agreement to withdraw all Libyan forces from Chad, and Haftar's operations inside of Chad had been in violation of this agreement. Another possible reason given for Gaddafi's abandonment of Haftar was the potential that Haftar might return to Libya as a hero and thus pose a threat to Gaddafi's rule itself. In any event, Gaddafi's repudiation clearly served to embitter Haftar towards Gaddafi.
In 1986 and 1987 the Government of Chad accused Libya of using toxic gas and napalm against central government forces and against rebel forces. Libya may have used mustard gas delivered in bombs by AN-26 aircraft in final phases of the war against Chad in September 1987. The wind blew the agent back onto the Libyan forces.
Opposition from the United States
Gaddafi demanded Haftar’s soldiers be returned to Libya, but the Americans arranged for them to fly to Zaire instead. There, half of his soldiers decided to return to Libya. By 1988, Haftar had aligned himself with the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, a U.S. supported opposition group. When U.S. financial aid to Zaire was not forthcoming, Zaire expelled the remainder to Kenya. Kenya only provided temporary residence, and the American CIA negotiated a settlement around 1990, enabling Heftar and 300 of his soldiers to move to the United States under the U.S. refugee programme.
Early role in the Libyan Civil War
In 2011, he returned to Libya to support the Libyan Civil War. In March, a military spokesperson announced that Haftar had been appointed commander of the military, but the National Transitional Council denied this. By April, Abdul Fatah Younis held the role of commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, Omar El-Hariri serving as Younis' Chief of Staff and Haftar took the third most senior position as the commander of ground forces with the rank of lieutenant general. Younis was assassinated later that summer.
Haftar did not find a settled position in Libya’s new political structures, and returned to the U.S. for a while.
In February 2014, Haftar appeared in a televised announcement to announce that the controversial Islamist-dominated General National Congress (GNC), which had recently unilaterally extended its mandate, had been dissolved. Haftar called for a caretaker government to oversee new elections. His announcement was soon dismissed with great skepticism by the then acting Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. Haftar's actions were condemned as a "coup attempt" and "ridiculous".
Haftar's strategy was to embark on a series of “town hall” meetings around Libya, and with the support of fellow ex-officers from the military to secretly build an army. Three months later on 16 May in Operation Dignity, Haftar began a combined air and ground assault against the pro-Islamic militias of Benghazi, as well as a sustained heavy weapons attack against the Libyan parliament. At the time of the Benghazi assault Haftar, who had already been the target of assassination attempts, reportedly explained to a friend that he was fully aware of the personal safety risks involved in his actions. On 20 May 2014, four days after the Benghazi assault, the GNC announced that it had finally scheduled the long postponed elections that were meant to result in the dissolution of the GNC and its replacement by a new representative assembly, to be known as the House of Representatives. These elections were scheduled for 25 June 2014.
Later in May, after having been ousted from office by the GNC, Ali Zeidan then endorsed Operation Dignity, along with 40 members of parliament, and the heads of the navy, the air-force, and much of the army. In June 2014, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle at Haftar's residence in Benghazi, killing 4 people and injuring at least 3 others. Haftar was not injured in the attack.
In eastern Libya, Haftar's air and ground forces remained in place, and seemed to be gaining general support. Over the course of May and June numerous pro Operation Dignity marches were held throughout Libya, and in the June 25 elections, the secularists gained a clear mandate over and against the Islamist agenda. Meanwhile, despite its initial denouncement of Operation Dignity in May, Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani's administration has since continued to give no word of any further official endorsement or denouncement of Haftar's Operation Dignity. However, the newly elected parliament branded Haftar's enemies "terrorists".
Haftar remains resolute that one of the aims of Operation Dignity is to completely dismantle the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as what he considers to be any other Islamist terrorist organizations within Libya.
On 24 November 2014 and the following day, warplanes affiliated with Operation Dignity forces attacked Mitiga International Airport in Tripoli, temporarily shutting down of the airport, but also damaging nearby houses. In response to the attack on Mitiga, a court in Tripoli issued an arrest warrant for Khalifa Haftar.
As of August 2016, Haftar has refused to support the new United Nations Security Council endorsed Government of National Accord, which has led the United States and allies to believe he is jeopardizing the stability of Libya. The United Arab Emirates and Egypt continue to support Haftar. Middle East Eye has reported that British, French, U.S. and United Arab Emirates air forces have assisted Haftar's forces, after analysing leaked air traffic control recordings.
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