Basically, Libya is at its lowest and most violent point since the ouster of longtime dictator Moammar Qaddafi in a 2011 civil war.
A rocket struck a 1.5 million gallon fuel tank Sunday, setting the container ablaze and sending flames hundreds of feet into the sky, Reuters reports. Another shell struck the area despite a cease-fire established to battle the blaze.
Rival militias from the towns of Zintan and Misrata have been fighting over the airport for more than two weeks now, and had destroyed more than 90% of the aircraft.
The Zintanis have been in control of the airport, while the Misratans, who are tied to an Islamist militia that was supported by the previous parliament no longer in power, have felt their chances of rising to power are quickly worsening, Frederic Wehrey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told PBS Newshour.
Consequently, The Misratans felt they had to seize the airport from the Zintanis to have any hope of regaining power.
The blaze had spilled over into a second tank at the depot, which contains more than 15.5 million gallons of total fuel as well as potentially explosive liquid gas, Libya’s National Oil Company spokesman Mohamed al-Harari told the New York Times. Italy’s government and an Italian oil group decided they would help the firefight.
Harari added there had been next-to-no progress regarding the fighting in the area: “We don’t have a way to even contact (the militia leaders),” he told the Times.
The U.S. evacuated its embassy, which is near the Tripoli airport, on Saturday. Diplomats were driven into Tunisia with a large military guard that included an escort from American warplanes, Reuters reports. The United Nations and Turkey had also withdrawn from their respective embassies.
The Netherlands, Philippines, and Austria already set plans to evacuate their diplomats on Monday, and Canada announced Tuesday they would be pulling its envoys as well, Reuters reports.
Since fighting at the airport broke out July 13, more than 150 had died through Sunday. However, this below graphic does not include the 30 people killed in Benghazi during fighting just last night.
Fighting in Benghazi continued to rage on Tuesday as government forces fought with rockets and warplanes against Mistratans and Islamist forces who have overtaken the base, according to Reuters.
Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, who Wehrey called a “renegade” to Newshour, partnered with the Zintanis and launched the operation against the Misratans around Benghazi.
“So in this very complex web of dynamics, of alliances, it’s finally arrived to Tripoli, and these Misratans felt like they had to act,” he told Newshour.
He added that the lack of organisation in the nation has only worsened since Qaddafi was overthrown in a U.S.-backed revolution.
“What has happened really is that the provisional government, the transitional government put these militias on its payroll,” he said, adding that the U.S. doesn’t feel there is a side they can partner with at this point.
“They want to help the Libyans, but the Libyans first have to help themselves,” he said. “This is a government that’s in disarray, that is weak. And I think there was just a red line that was crossed where the embassy was caught in the middle of the shelling and they pulled out.”
Amidst all this chaos, Libya was still able to pump out roughly 500,000 barrels per day over the past week, which was actually up from earlier this year when that number dropped to as low as 200,000. However, during periods of peace, the nation is usually putting out 1.4 million barrels per day, Reuters reports.
“The militias are getting funding from Libya’s oil wealth. And they have really mushroomed,” Wehrey told Newshour. “They have become their own entities. They have grabbed the oil ports. They have grabbed the airports. They control armories. There is no mediator, there’s no referee to keep them apart. And this is what we’re seeing right now with the fighting.”
The fighting among the rival militias has led Libya to the state of near disaster that it is in now. Wehrey noted that given how much money it makes from oil, Libya shouldn’t be anywhere near this right now.
This graph shows how Libya’s oil production has fluctuated during times of crisis, such as the recent fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi, as well as where the major pipelines are located:
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