The new UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has based itself in Tripoli. But the GNA has failed to muster an effective nationwide military capability and is rivalled for national authority by the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HOR), which controls the Libyan National Army, Libya's most cohesive armed organisation, as well as Libya's oil ports. Although GNA-linked forces have decimated the Islamic State in and around Sirte, the new government's unsteady hold on Tripoli is vulnerable to HOR challenge.

The capture of Libya's principal oil ports by forces of the House of Representatives (HOR) parliament from a militia allied to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) has changed Libya's political dynamic. The HOR, based in Tobruk, now controls the bulk of the country's oil reserves, the largest in Africa, while the rival Tripoli-based GNA retains the sole right to sell that oil in states recognising it as the country's legitimate government. The ports, serving the central Sirte Basin oil fields, were captured in September by the HOR's Libya National Army (LNA) – a mix of regular army, air force and militia units led by General Khalifa Haftar, one of the country's most controversial figures. Their capture represents a setback to efforts by the United Nations Support Mission for Libya (UNSMIL) – backed chiefly by the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy – to persuade Haftar and the HOR to accept the GNA as Libya's unity government. Instead, it has reinforced Libya's political fragmentation by way of a civil war that the establishment of the GNA has failed to resolve. The escalation of that war has left Western powers concerned about Libya's capacity to contain the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) and stem the flow of migrants to Europe.

The evolution of the GNA

Libya has been in a state of civil war since July 2014, with fighting occurring between two loose militia coalitions: Libya Dawn, which holds Tripoli; and Operation Dignity, concentrated in eastern and south western Libya. Libya Dawn, formed by coalition politicians who lost their HOR majority in June 2014 elections, consists of Islamist and tribal militias. The Islamist militias are principally aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, and have strong ties to support groups in the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey and Qatar. The tribal forces are from parts of Tripoli and western coastal towns, the most powerful and cohesive of which are based in Misrata. In August 2014 Libya Dawn completed its capture of Tripoli and the HOR moved east to Tobruk. Operation Dignity is larger than Libya Dawn. Operation Dignity's most powerful force – and the most cohesive military body in Libya – is the LNA, a combination of regular army and air force personnel and irregular militias in the eastern Libyan province of Cyrenaica, commanded by Haftar. Allies include the militias of Zintan, based 90 kilometres southwest of Libya, and the Warshefani tribe, which holds a belt of territory south of the capital. In late 2014, without ceding substantial military control, Libya Dawn deferred to a reformed rump of the General National Congress (GNC) as its political representative, Operation Dignity to the HOR.

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