Bottom Line: While the oil-rich Benghazi region has been in a critical security state for some time, the capital Tripoli should be considered a top threat. Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines have halted all flights to Tripoli and more organized clashes have emerged in the city’s suburbs. These clashes go beyond the smaller-scale skirmishes between a multitude of armed groups roving the country.
Analysis: On 5 February, Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines indefinitely halted all flights to Tripoli, detecting a deterioration of the security situation, which is largely due a shift in militants from the conflict theater in Mali. Lufthansa has halted flights to Tripoli on and off over the course of late 2012, but the situation on the ground in Tripoli indicates that a more significant battle for control is underway. Tripoli’s Ben Ashour district has been the scene of clashes between military forces and unidentified militants groups.
In Sirte a power struggle is underway between forces loyal to a local military commander and forces belonging to the militant Zawiyah Martyrs Brigade. This threatens to evolve into a full-scale armed conflict for control of this venue. The Zawiyha Martyrs Brigade is one of the many groups that is actually tasked by the government with providing security in certain areas. The loyalty of these groups is at best uncertain, and we expect to see a major shift in loyalties with the influx of militants from Mali as a result of the French intervention there. In early January, this same brigade was involved in clashes with government security forces to the south of Sirte.
The second anniversary of the revolution in Libya is on 17 February, and tensions are particularly high.
Security in the country's major oil regions will continue to a be a priority for the government, however they will be unable to guarantee security at sites in the south of the country at least over the coming year, particularly given the levels of instability in areas such as Sabha and al-Kufra, and the general lack of security presence in the country's border regions. The US has extended emergency sanctions on Libya for another year.
Recommendations: All travel to Libya should be postponed in and around the date of the second anniversary of the revolution, and until further notice. Security is being boosted in anticipation of an increased in armed clashes, but we expect this additional security to itself be targeted by militant groups who are not under the control of government forces.