When asked in a 2016 interview about his worst mistake during his presidency, Barack Obama replied that it was the lack of planning for the aftermath of the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
In Obama’s view, the failure to plan for Libya when the man who ruled the oil-rich country for 42 years was gone led to the descent into chaos.
Since 2011, division and anarchy have engulfed the North African country. Today, it’s split in half: one government in the east and another in the west with two rival armies that have stitched together dozens of the armed groups that helped topple Gaddafi, as they supported a popular revolution against his rule and with the crucial help of jet fighters from Western powers including France, the UK, Italy and the US.
The militias have been largely uncontrollable and operate above the law. They have refused to disarm. But starting in 2018, most of these factions have agreed to be bankrolled by the two institutions in the east and west and re-brand with security forces and brigades that resemble regular armies.
Foreign fighters and mercenaries are also operating alongside military and paramilitary factions in the east and northeast mainly to protect the oil, the country’s main industry and economic lifeblood.
The prized asset is largely controlled by the east’s forces led by the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) of General Khalifa Haftar. Oil fields, like the strategic Sharara, have closed and opened several times in the past 12 years, which at some point slashed Libya’s production from today’s average of 1.2 million barrels per day to just 400,000.