On April 4, Khalifa Haftar, the militia leader who controls eastern Libya, launched a large-scale offensive to capture the capital, Tripoli. The attack marked the collapse of negotiations to form an interim government between Haftar and key leaders in western Libya and triggered Libya’s third civil war since 2011.

Frederic Wehrey
Frederic Wehrey is a senior fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His research deals with armed conflict, security sectors, and identity politics, with a focus on Libya, North Africa, and the Gulf.
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Haftar evidently hoped to rapidly gain a foothold in Tripoli, finally establishing himself as the unrivaled ruler of Libya. What happened instead was that armed groups across western Libya mobilized to counter his power grab. For the past month, Haftar’s forces—a coalition of regular military units and militias calling themselves the Libyan National Army—have been stuck on Tripoli’s outskirts, slowly losing terrain to militias nominally allied with Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). More than 500 people have been killed in the fighting and more than 80,000 have been displaced.

International actors, paralyzed by disunity, have made halfhearted calls for a cease-fire and a return to the political process. But Haftar’s offensive has fatally damaged that process. Without a credible new framework for negotiations and a more robust international approach to resolving the conflict, a cease-fire will simply give Haftar and his opponents the opportunity to rearm and regroup. Western powers—especially the United States—should use diplomatic and economic tools to prevent regional powers from fueling the conflict and hasten the emergence of a harmful stalemate between the rival factions in Libya. Doing so will compel Libyans to return to a political process under new terms....

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This piece was originally published in Foreign Affairs.