The last time Libya’s war had the world’s full attention, it was being fought mainly by Libyans.
For much of 2011, young revolutionaries in mismatched fatigues clamored on anti-aircraft guns, and the narrative driving events was the Arab Spring, an uprising that promised to place the power in the hands of citizens long subjugated by despots.
Though Libyans shaped the ebb and flow of battle, they were hardly alone, even then: circling high above were foreign warplanes from the NATO-led coalition that kept at bay fighters loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. And contrary to some official denials, there were also “boots on the ground” in the form of foreign special operations forces and intelligence personnel, from France, Britain, the U.S., the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, who discretely channeled weapons and training to fractious anti-Gaddafi groups. In such meddling, there were already signs of a proxy rivalry that would explode into open warfare years later.