Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army group, only recently accepted the authority of premier Abdullah Al-Thani government, and had previously unilaterally announced the dissolution of the former Libyan government and the launch of “Operation Dignity,” a military campaign to oust Islamist groups from the port city of Benghazi.
Operation Dignity has since been endorsed and expanded by the Tobruk-based government led by Prime Minister Thani to include recapturing the capital Tripoli, the base of a rival government dominated by Islamists.
Libya has had two rival governments since June, when members of the former transitional parliament, the General National Council, refused to accept the newly elected government. In August, a coalition of militias known as Libyan Dawn seized control of the capital, prompting the new government to flee to Tobruk and adding to the chaos engulfing the country.
A Libyan minister, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said that the Tobruk parliament is set to announce Haftar’s appointment soon, and added that he will be tasked with reorganizing Libya’s armed forces, which collapsed in the wake of the ousting of the country’s late dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011.
Haftar currently commands the loyalty of a number of armed military units including both ground troops and combat aircraft, but the situation in Libya remains chaotic, with no unified national military or police forces to speak of.
“The decision has been made; the issue is related to when it will be announced. Parliamentary speaker Aqeela Saleh will announce the decision in his capacity as acting commander-in-chief,” the minister said.
The Thani government also lacks a Defense Minister; it is unclear whether Haftar would also take up this position after being appointed commander-in-chief or not.
A professional soldier who served as an officer in Gaddafi’s army, Haftar was captured during the Libyan intervention in Chad in the late 1980s, and formed a group of anti-Gaddafi military officers. He subsequently spent the next two decades in the US, taking American citizenship. He returned to Libya during the 2011 uprising that overthrew Gaddafi, assuming a high-rank in Libya’s nascent post-Gaddafi armed forces.
Since then, he has been something of a rogue element in Libyan politics, declaring the dissolution of the GNC in February in 2014 after it announced it was extending its term in office beyond previous term limits, leading to accusations that he was attempting to carry out a military coup.
Haftar launched Operation Dignity in May, carrying out air and ground attacks on Islamist militias in Benghazi while forces loyal to him also stormed the headquarters of Libya’a parliament in Tripoli.