As we enter the 7th month of Haftar's offensive to take Tripoli, and as we conclude the 4th year of the civil war in Libya, two things are becoming clear: 1) Haftar's LNA forces will not take Tripoli and 2) this is increasingly becoming a foreign proxy battleground.
Even with the increase in foreign support, especially and including Egyptian and Emirati airpower, military advisers and now Russian and Sudani mercenaries, Haftar's efforts were blocked by the loosely organised group of militias backing the GNA. Turkey's entrance on the GNA side, bringing its own airpower and armoured vehicles, and backed with Qatari cash, managed to stave off Haftar as much as did the fact that the LNA itself is likely half comprised of loosely organised militias.
The drone war that has come to characterise much of the fighting over Libya in recent months is primarily not conducted by Libyans, rather by Turks and Emiratis. And as the fighting on the ground is increasingly influenced by thousands of Russian and Sudani mercenaries, especially the much better trained and equipped Russians, we must start asking ourselves, to what end? Are the various foreign powers backing the two sides in Libya really trying to back one party or another? Do they have a positive vision for Libya's future? Do they care about Libya's civilians? Or, what seems to increasingly be the case, are they simply fighting each other for regional influence and using Libya as a football pitch.
The Russians, we know, are all about expanding their regional influence, and gaining influence over regimes that will become beholden to them. And let's not forget about all those lucrative energy and infrastructure contracts. The French and Italians want in on that as well. The UAE is trying to expand its regional presence, supporting anti-Islamist forces, in such arenas as Syria, Yemen and now Libya. Egypt, alongside the UAE, prefers a Sisi-like secularist to help prevent the inflow of Islamists from their west, as they battle ISIS fighters in the Sinai in the east. Turkey also seeks to to expand its regional role, seeing itself, with Qatari money, as the prototype for a successful moderate and modern Islamist regime, and thus props up those elements in the GNA who would like to emulate the Turkish model. And the US? Until now it has remained largely on the sidelines, fighting off ISIS. The State Department seems to back the GNA, and reiterated that recently, but Trump has expressed personal admiration for Haftar. It seems now that the Russians are firmly on Haftar's side, the US might become increasingly involved backing the side that fights him – in this case the GNA.
With all this in mind, it seems the Libyan aspect of the Libyan civil war has long dried up and various regional and international powers are simply fighting each other for influence and each with its own set of goals. The international community must focus its combined efforts to force these various powers to back down and back off. The planned Berlin conference would be an opportune time to clarify this strategy and message. Chancellor Angela Merkel recently noted that "its imperative we do everything we can to make sure this does not escalate into a proxy war". We are afraid, Ms. Merkel, that it is already a proxy war. But that does not make Germany and the international community's efforts less important or timely – quite the opposite.
The upcoming conference must focus on getting the various foreign powers out of Libya and uphold the international arms embargo. It must also push the sides to come to a fair power-sharing arrangement, including and especially regarding oil revenues. If the sides cannot seem to do this, then perhaps other alternatives should be considered for the good of regional stability and the Libyan people.