Page 85 - The Chapka 2016
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United Nations Support Mission in Libya
 Ihave been fortunate to work for several outstanding (and fun) senior officers, and Lieutenant Gen Paolo Serra (Italian), the Senior Military Advisor in the United Nations Support Mis- sion in Libya (UNSMIL), was no exception. Our first exchange went something like this: good to have you on the team (it’s a bit dysfunctional). Libya is a mess (understatement) and we are straight into it: Tripoli, Tobruk, Cairo, Istanbul, Skhirat and, of course, Rome (all next week). Do you like Italian food? Love it, but I’m a terrible cook. No matter, we’ve got Warrant Officer De Martino, he’s not bad (he’s outstanding).
My arrival in the mission coincided with the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement on 17 Dec 15. The intention was political unity: a new agreement, a new government and another fresh start for Libya. The reality was a shaky agreement – one that did not enjoy the support of the two rival governments in Tripoli and Tobruk. Martin Kobler, the head of mission, seized the opportunity and sought to implement the agreement despite its considerable shortcomings. The imperatives were many, not least the proliferation of Da’esh, soaring illegal migration and plummeting economic decline. The agreement heralded new leadership: The Presidency Council of the Government of Na- tional Accord (the ‘PC’), initially in exile in Tunis. There was stiff opposition from those already in power in Libya to the en- try of the PC into Tripoli, which made a peaceful transition of power very difficult. A ‘coup’ was therefore necessary, albeit a legal one. In March, the PC arrived in Tripoli on-board a tiny Libyan Navy vessel, and after 48-hours of skirmishing, the Gen- eral National Congress departed leaving just two governments. Sadly, and unlike the Spice Girls, two did not become one and the scene was set for many difficult months. On the security side, our focus was the defeat of Da’esh, securing Tripoli (with
Shuttle diplomacy. The author (right) flying with SRSG Martin Kobler (left) and his team to Al Bayda to negotiate with the House of Representatives
Abu Sitta Naval Base, Tripoli. A visible reminder of the 2011 NATO military intervention in Libya
legitimate security forces), uniting and rebuilding the Libyan Army and its institutions. The ‘human terrain’ in Libya is es- pecially complex and challenging. I deployed for 12-months, which was just long enough to have a grasp, albeit I had previous experience of Libya. Fortunately, UNSMIL has many capable experts on Libya, with contacts and relationships cultivated over many years. We often lack this deep continuity in our typical deployments. I shall not rehearse the detailed challenges here. The headlines were many. Libyan forces, with some external help, defeated Da’esh in Sirte, Derna, Sebratha and Benghazi. The ‘rouge general’, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the Lib- yan National Army, liberated Benghazi and marched on the Oil Crescent and the key oil load ports to wrest control from the Presidency Council. Oil now flows again but not yet at pre-2012 levels. Illegal migration increased with the tragic loss of thou- sands of lives in the Mediterranean in 2016. The diplomatic community began its full-time return to Libya. And lastly, the Libyan economy—a fascinating study in its own right—contin- ues to decline rapidly.
For me, this deployment was among the most interesting, re- warding and frustrating of my career. Rewarding because of the scope and potential to make a difference. Frustrating because of the contested nature of the political accord, the limitations of UNSMIL and the effectiveness of the Libyan institutions. That said, Libya has many reasons to be optimistic if this accord can achieve unity among the key powerbrokers, although there are no quick fixes. So, I have had the great fortune to experience and learn many things over this deployment, not least how to make a great tiramisu. And my parting words from Lieutenant Gen Serra: don’t forget to boil the water before adding the pasta!
(Left) Enfidaville War Cemetery, Tunisia. Major Nix MC prophetic words to another Squadron Leader following the battle’s orders group were, “Goodbye. I shall never see you again, we shall all be killed.” (Right) An Italian World War II battle map of the Egyptian Libyan border found in the Italian Defence Attaché’s office in Cairo

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