Opinion

Back in Tripoli, American diplomats watched the carnage in Benghazi with dismay and horror. The assaults had been killing their Libyan interlocutors — together with those that had been serving to examine the 2012 assault.

The violence additionally paved the best way for a would-be savior in Benghazi: a septuagenarian basic named Khalifa Haftar, who had defected from Muammar el-Qaddafi’s military within the 1980s and fled to the United States, earlier than returning to Libya in 2011 in the course of the revolution. Shunned by Libya’s insurgent management, General Haftar took heart stage in May 2014 when he launched an assault on Benghazi’s Islamist militias with a coalition of disaffected navy models and tribal supporters. Operation Dignity, because it was referred to as, marked the beginning of Libya’s civil battle, inviting intervention by competing regional powers and spawning fissures which have but to shut.

Though Washington stored him at a distance, some welcomed his marketing campaign. After all, he’d pitched it as a battle on terrorists who killed Americans. That was true to an extent. When American particular operations forces grabbed Ahmed Abu Khatala, the principal suspect within the assault, outdoors of Benghazi in June 2014, he was fleeing General Haftar’s forces. But the battle strains weren’t as clear as they appeared. His operation compelled extra average Islamists who’d supported the Libyan state to shut ranks with radicals — a course of that was already underway. He focused among the very militiamen who’d helped the Americans the night time of the assault.

One of them was Mr. Obeidi. His militia, Libya Shield, was amongst these attacked by General Haftar, and it ended up on the entrance strains with extra excessive teams. As weapons and funds from outdoors the nation tilted the battle in General Haftar’s favor, Mr. Obeidi fled Benghazi.

When he met me for espresso one night final summer time he was wearing a white prayer robe and carrying tinted wire glasses. He appeared to me then an emissary of Libya’s morass and an emblem of the tangled loyalties that had confounded America’s coverage. Critics have accused the Americans of misplacing their belief in militiamen the night time of the assault. But given the absence of any actual police or military that night time, militiamen like Mr. Obeidi had been the one choice. There was no black and white; solely shades of grey.

American coverage in Libya in the present day is once more confronted by shades of grey and a counterterrorism narrative that tends to flatten and obscure complexities. That narrative continues to be pushed by the aspiring strongman General Haftar, in his dealings with the Trump administration. It suffered a blow when General Haftar was hospitalized in France final week. In reality, his worth as a counterterrorism companion was all the time restricted: His navy coalition has been weakened by tribal and factional fissures and his political ambitions made him a deeply polarizing. His disappearance from the scene would herald a brand new chapter of uncertainty in Libya — but in addition alternatives for renewed American diplomacy.

The diminished American engagement is felt throughout Libya, however particularly in Benghazi, the place folks lament the tarring of their metropolis’s picture with unfavorable portrayals of violence and terrorism. They lengthy for the return of the Americans and for the outreach that was the hallmark of Chris Stevens, the American ambassador killed that night time.

Elsewhere throughout the nation, Libyans who fled Benghazi have related views. When I noticed Mr. Obeidi, he pleaded with me for assist. “We helped you and now you’ve abandoned us,” he stated. And then, to underscore his level, he confirmed me a scan of a certificates that the Americans had given him shortly after the 2012 assault, signed by American diplomats:

“Fathi went above and beyond in order to provide security and facilitate movement for the American Rescue forces sent to evacuate all U.S. personnel in Benghazi. Fathi was committed and professional in every way, he continually risked his life and the life of his men. …”

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