Al-Monitor

The backstory to Hifter's march on Tripoli

Libya has been in a constant state of civil war for five years, and the unique patterns of the Libyan civil war must not be forgotten as we parse its latest developments. The recent march on Tripoli by Khalifa Hifter's forces is more about media optics and projecting power, than about precipitating a blood bath for control of the capital.

An aerial view shows military vehicles on a road in Libya, April 4, 2019, in this still image taken from video. Reuters TV via REUTERS

All Arab civil wars are not created equal. Libya has been in a state of civil war for five years now, yet it hasn’t been a civil war full of massacres or famines like the sectarian wars in Yemen and Syria. Libya’s war has certain highly unusual characteristics: low death tolls, high diffusion of arms, two governments (both of whom claim sovereignty but do not actually exercise it), extreme fragmentation of fighting forces, and the same central bank paying the fighters on all sides.

From a military perspective, the defining characteristic of Libya’s war relates to how territory is captured. Where there have been protracted pitched battles, usually against jihadists, exchange of

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