The Story Behind General Haftar

By Mustafa Fetouri for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Libya Business News.

The story behind the general who will likely shape Libya's future

Gen. Khalifa Hifter's star appears to be rising once again in Libya, and it is only a matter of time before we see him become a figurehead in a country that is lacking any but is eager to have one.

His enemies in Misrata and Tripoli have always questioned his motives and intentions, but it remains to be seen if he will be a uniting leader for a fragmented country or a divisive politician pushing Libya toward even more fragmentation.

During March, Hifter almost completely liberated Benghazi and started moving his troops to retake Sirte in western Libya, where the Islamic State (IS) has been in control for almost two years. Hifter's troops are surrounding the city, awaiting his orders to attack IS, which has launched battles west and southwest of the city, taking more territories and small villages such as Abu Grain and Zamzim.

Hifter's declared aim is to liberate Libya from Islamists, but it is unclear what his next step will be if he takes Sirte. The next big city on the way to Tripoli is Misrata, which has the most powerful local militia in Libya. Misrata is already an enemy of Hifter, which means attacking it will trigger longer, more devastating war in the country.

So who is this man who has been on and off the Libyan political scene for the last 40 years, shifting positions as his fortune changed from a Moammar Gadhafi loyalist to a prisoner of war to Gadhafi's sworn enemy and — most recently — as chief of staff of the Libyan army under the internationally recognized government in Tobruk?

Born to a big clan in the even-larger al-Firjan tribe, dominant in both Ajdabiya and Sirte, Hifter was recruited as a young officer by the late Gadhafi to join the Free Unionist Officers movement inspired by Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. The movement was secretly founded by Gadhafi in the 1960s and used to topple King Idris I of Libya in September 1969 and take power.

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