The growing power of Khalifa Haftar’s sons

Libya

Published on Friday 15 March 2024 Back to articles

Saddam Haftar

In early March the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) held a large military exercise using live ammunition in Sirte and Jufra over several days. More than 25,000 military personnel and 7,000 military vehicles are reported to have taken part in what it described as ‘the largest military manoeuvre in the history of Libya.’  The whole thing was presided over by two of Khalifa Haftar’s sons: Saddam Haftar and Khalid Haftar. 

Saddam, who is Haftar’s youngest son, not only leads the powerful Tariq Bin Ziyad Brigade but also of all of the LAAF’s land forces including its Special Forces. This is a significant position for someone who only graduated from military college in Jordan in December 2016 with the rank of captain. On his return to Libya, he took over as commander of the Tariq Bin Ziyad Brigade and was rapidly rose through the ranks. In 2022 he was given an exceptional promotion and made a Colonel, and then a Brigadier-General. In October 2023, he was promoted to Divisional-General (i.e. Major-General) despite only being in his early thirties. This month he was awarded a PhD in the Philosophy of Military Science from the Egyptian Military Academy and it was notable that a large number of senior LAAF personnel attended his graduation ceremony in Cairo. Saddam has therefore fast become the LAAF’s most senior military commander and now wields significant control and power. 

His brother, Khalid, is not far behind. He took over 106 Brigade in 2016 and it has subsequently grown steadily by absorbing battalions including from Benghazi and Ajdabiya. Like Saddam, he has had a stellar rise through the military ranks, most recently being made Division-General in October 2023. Three months earlier he was appointed as head of a newly created security body that sits above all the LAAF’s security units. Therefore, while Saddam controls all the LAAF’s land forces, Khalid is now in charge of all its security forces. 

Their father has effectively given control of his military and security apparatus to Saddam and Khalid and both are gaining in power.

Meanwhile, Belqasim Haftar is also carving out a larger space for himself but in the political rather than the military sphere. Little is known about Belqasim but he is said to have become his father’s political advisor early on. In more recent years, he has played a more visible role and has led a number of high-level LAAF delegations to foreign states. He has steadily increased his influence in LAAF-controlled areas, including through his close ties to Osama Hamad who is the head of the eastern based parallel Government of National Stability (GNS). Belqasim is believed to have pushed for Hamad’s appointment as prime minister and the relationship between the two is such that some Libyans refer to Hamad as ‘Belqasim’s man.’ 

Equally importantly, Belqasim is now the head of all reconstruction and development in LAAF-controlled areas. He was first appointed to lead the Derna Reconstruction Fund following the Storm Daniel disaster in September 2023. Last month, however, his role expanded when he was made head of the Libyan Development and Reconstruction Fund, which gave him access to large sums of money and development funding. 

…causes resentment in the east

Although Haftar’s other adult children also play important roles, the rise of this trio of brothers — who are considered by some to be vulgar and lacking in skills — does not sit well with many in eastern Libya. This includes some of the large eastern tribes who have become increasingly aggrieved at the space being afforded to Haftar’s offspring. 

While many tribal leaders continue to support the LAAF’s general commander — who they credit with bringing stability and security to eastern Libya — some feel that his sons have too much power and do not use it appropriately. There is a particular resentment at the fact that the sons are poor at understanding and engaging with the tribes. Some influential leaders feel it was the tribes’ willingness to back him and Operation Dignity in 2014 that enabled Haftar to succeed. Now, however, they are being sidelined by the sons who do not have sufficient respect for the traditional bonds and structures that underpin Libyan society. While Haftar may not be anywhere near as good at managing tribal relations as Muammar Qadhafi once was, he is certainly better at it than his children. 

There are growing anxieties in the east, both among the tribes and among other constituencies, that Haftar is creating a dynasty and is gradually handing everything over to his sons. This does not mean that the tribes are about to turn away from Haftar, therefore, because there is no credible alternative so they have no-one else to stand behind. They still believe that Haftar is the best protector of their interests. 

Furthermore, many in the east, and especially the tribes, fear that any problem or serious challenge to Haftar could plunge eastern Libya into conflict and chaos, and further weaken it regarding Tripoli and the west. The tribes will stick with Haftar despite the growing disgruntlement at the rising power of his sons, but this situation does not bode well for what will happen when Khalifa Haftar dies.

This excerpt is taken from Libya Focus, our monthly intelligence report on Libya. Click here to receive a free sample copy.

The March 2024 issue of Libya Focus also includes the following:

Politics

  • Cairo meeting brings glimmer of hope…
  • Implications
  • UN appoints new UNSMIL deputy

Security

  • LAAF stages large military exercise…
  • A new security plan for the west…
  • Zawiya is embroiled in clashes
  • Empowering the FSA or a recipe for uncertainty?

Energy & Economy

  • Sadiq el-Kabir lashes out at Dbeibah’s economic policies… 

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