Updated: Aug 8
Insurgency Overview The Popular Front for the Liberation of Libya (PFLL) is a Gaddafi-loyalist militia and political party which has emerged as one of the most prominent factions of the so-called “Green Resistance”, which is the wider movement that sympathises with the period of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (under Colonel Gaddafi’s rule). The PFLL itself was founded in 2016 and it remains one of the most vocal supporters of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi – Muammar Gaddafi’s second son – as a presidential candidate in the repeatedly-delayed Libyan presidential election. History & Foundations
The Libyan Civil War began as a series of limited protests and rebellions, soon after escalating to very high levels of violence. However, this violence did not end with the killing of Gaddafi amid NATO’s intervention. Instead, Libya has since become one of the most prominent examples of a ‘failed state’ (1), paralysed by the dominance of armed militias in running and exploiting most of the Libyan economy’s most precious assets (such as oil), while the Tripoli-based, internationally-recognized government struggles to reconcile with the military powerbase of General Haftar’s Cyrenaica-based government. Indeed, the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) are still clashing against each other. In this context, a significant portion of the Libyan population has remained loyal to Gaddafi’s legacy, a trend which is also partially due to the complete collapse of functioning institutions in the post-Gaddafi era (2). Support is particularly high in the territories with historical and tribal ties to the Gaddafi regime (3). The PFLL was established in December 2016 and has since been involved in a number of clashes and political confrontations (4). In early 2016, for instance, Gaddafi loyalists joined the offensive on Sirte (Gaddafi’s hometown) to push back Islamic State in Libya (IS-L) forces from the city, fighting alongside the UN-backed government (5). Since then, though, cooperation with the UN-backed government in Tripoli has been rare. In 2017, PFLL-affiliated militants were seemingly defeated in clashes with other militias in Tripoli (6). In 2018, some PFLL sleeper cells were disbanded in Tripoli (7). More contemporarily, fighters associated with the “Green Resistance” have opted to occasionally fight alongside General Haftar’s Libyan National Army, such as during the 2019 Western Libya offensive (8).
Ideology & Objectives
The PFLL’s official website lists a number of fundamental objectives that the group aims to achieve, some of which include the restoration of Libyan national sovereignty, security, and a moderate approach to Islam (9). Furthermore, the PFLL considers NATO and the UN as the primary instigators of Gaddafi’s (and the Jamahiriya’s) downfall and of the current predicament of Libya as a relatively unstable country (10). Ideologically, the PFLL is thus strongly anti-Western, as well as anti-Zionist (11). One of the primary leitmotiv of the PFLL’s social media campaign is the rehabilitation of Colonel Gaddafi’s rule and of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, as the country was known during most his rule. This is evidenced by the frequent posting of media related to Gaddafi’s political activity. Additionally, the PFLL gives ample coverage to the history of the 2011 civil war and especially to the life of Saif Al-Islam Al-Gaddafi, their current leader. This is significant because Al-Gaddafi's candidacy for the presidency of Libya in an unscheduled election is one of the most important political objectives of the PFLL, if not its primary reason for existence. Accordingly, the Gaddafis' claim to rule over Libya gains continuity and validity through the PFLL’s juxtaposition of Colonel Gaddafi and Saif as historical figures of equal significance. For instance, the former's legacy is projected into the past, implicitly reinforcing Saif's potential future political role.
This Facebook post claims that "Libyan Arab people have declare direct democratic power in the Libyan Socialist Arab Republic, embracing popular sovereignty, socialism, and defence of their homeland." This post also praises the People's General Conference held in 1977, where "the revolutionary vision of Colonel Muammar Al-Gaddafi was solidified".
Political & Military Abilities Given that Libya has not had a parliamentarian election since 2014, the PFLL holds no seat in the Tripoli parliament. The various vicissitudes of Saif Al-Gaddafi, including his trial in absentia, his imprisonment, his release, and the looming threat of trial by the International Criminal Court (ICC) have likely prevented him from effectively leading the PFLL as an effective political force (12).
As a major figure in his father’s regime until the collapse of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (the country’s official name up to 2011), Saif Al-Gaddafi was considered responsible for some of the crimes and alleged atrocities committed during the 2011 civil war. As a result, Saif had to live in hiding due to an ICC arrest warrant and a death sentence in absentia issued in Tripoli.
In 2021, Saif Al-Gaddafi was cleared to run as a presidential candidate (13) and has since then been able to elevate his status as a political figure by actively participating in major political debates (14). The de facto diarchy of the Tripoli- and the Tobruk-based governments has left many Libyans uninterested and disillusioned with politics, but it is unknown to what extent this may favour a Gaddafi candidacy (15). Simultaneously, the PFLL seems to have limited violent undertakings and operations, and this makes a precise estimate of their actual capabilities and equipment difficult.
The PFLL, through Saif Al-Gaddafi’s personal wealth estimated at around 30 Billion USD, is likely to have abundant resources (16).
International Relations and Alliances The leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Libya, Saif al-Gaddafi, is known to have had contacts with members of the Russian PMC Wagner (17). Indeed, the PMC Wagner Group has been known to operate in Libya for years, and prominently in the eastern region of Cyrenaica controlled by General Haftar’s Libyan National Army (18). Their involvement in the region is centred around controlling critical oil and gas production infrastructure, while also supporting the LNA with heavy weaponry and air strike capabilities (including the use of Su-24 and MiG-29 aircraft) and restoring military bases and infrastructure for their own purposes (19). It has also been noted that the LNA itself has little control over Wagner activities (20). In this context, Wagner PMC operates independently with significant influence in Libya. Engaging with them is likely a strategy aimed at securing political space within Libya's fragile context for the PFLL. At the same time, it indirectly puts pressure on the LNA, given that Wagner PMC is situated in LNA's territory.
Regarding the two current major Libyan forces, the LNA and the GNA, the PFLL has varied relations. On the one hand, General Haftar himself has publicly declared no objections against Saif Al-Gaddafi’s presidential run (21). However, relations to the Tripoli-based GNA – which is now formally submitting to the Government of National Unity but still operating independent of it – are difficult to ascertain due to the inherent political instability of Tripolitania.
While Saif Al-Gaddafi was in hiding, absconding from a death sentence emitted in Tripoli, the PFLL repeatedly agitated against the GNA and fought on the side of the LNA multiple times. However, ever since Al-Gaddafi was politically rehabilitated in Tripoli, the PFLL has kept a low profile, possibly indicating an ongoing attempt at détente with the internationally recognised government. For example, Russian operatives suspected of espionage on Saif Al-Gaddafi’s behalf have been released by the GNA (22).
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - Cfr. Hove, M. Post-Gaddafi Libya and the African Union: Challenges and the Road to Sustainable Peace. In: Journal of Asian and African Studies, 52(3), 2015. pp. 271–286.
(2) - Ibidem.
(3) - AA. VV. Demonstrations by supporters of the former regime in Bani Walid, Sirte and Ghat. In: Al Wasat News, 20.08.2020. Available at: https://alwasat.ly/news/libya/292937
(4) - Cfr. Mahmoud, K. Pro-Gaddafi Group Uncovered in Libyan Capital. In: Asharq Al- Awsat, 22.05.2018. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20181006194648/https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1276356/pro-gaddafi-group-uncovered-libyan-capital
(5) - Cfr. Freeman, C. Gaddafi loyalists join West in battle to push Islamic State from Libya. In: The Telegraph, 07,05,2016. Available at: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/07/gaddafi-loyalists-join-west-in-battle-to-push-islamic-state-from/
(6) - Beni Ibrahim, A. Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade fights off Gaddafi loyalists south of the capital. In: Libya Observer, 04.10.2017. Available at: web.archive.org/web/20181006200304/https://www.libyaobserver.ly/news/tripoli-revolutionaries-brigade-fights-gaddafi-loyalists-south-capital
(7) - Mahmoud, K. Pro-Gaddafi Group Uncovered in Libyan Capital. Cit.
(8) - Cfr. Al-Marshahi, E. Tobruk MP claims terrorists from Turkey support Tripoli government against Haftar. In: Uprising Today, 6.7.2019. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20190706203248/https://www.uprising.today/tobruk-mp-claims-terrorists-from-turkey-support-tripoli-government-against-haftar-claims-terrorists-from-turkey-support-tripoli-government-against-haftar/
(9) - Cfr. AA. VV. About us. https://www.aljabhaalshaabiya.org/about-us/نبذه-عن-موعلومات-الجبهة-الشعبيه
(10) - Cfr. Al-Jilani, M. الأمم المتحدة جزء من المؤمراة على ليبيا والليبين. Available at: https://www.aljabhaalshaabiya.org/single-blog/1802
(12) - Cfr. AA. VV. Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi case: ICC Appeals Chamber confirms case is admissible before the ICC. In: ICC, Press Release, 9.03.2020. Available at: https://www.icc-cpi.int/news/saif-al-islam-gaddafi-case-icc-appeals-chamber-confirms-case-admissible-icc
(13) - AA. VV. Saif Al Islam Qaddafi reinstated as Libyan presidential candidate. In: The National, 02.12.2021. Available at: www.thenationalnews.com/mena/2021/12/02/saif-al-islam-qaddafi-reinstated-as-libyan-presidential-candidate/
(14) - AA. VV. Libya: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi unveils initiative to solve political crisis, 6.07.2022. Available at: https://northafricapost.com/58834-libya-saif-al-islam-gaddafi-unveils-initiative-to-solve-political-crisis.html
(15) - Escalonilla, Á. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi emerges as alternative to Libya's two warring factions. In: Atalayar, 13.01.2023. Available at: www.atalayar.com/en/articulo/politics/saif-al-islam-gaddafi-emerges-alternative-libyas-two-warring-factions/20230112182555159762.html
(16) - Trew, B. Gaddafi’s freed son Saif ‘has access to $30bn’. In: The Times, 20.06.2017. Available at: www.thetimes.co.uk/article/gadaffis-freed-son-has-access-to-30bn-n8znm36md
(17) - Assad, A. Report unveils details of meeting between Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Russia's Wagner leaders. In: The Libya Observer, 18.03.2023 libyaobserver.ly/news/report-unveils-details-meeting-between-saif-al-islam-gaddafi-and-russias-wagner-leaders
(18) - Unlacke, R. Libya Could Be Putin’s Trump Card. In: Foreign Policy, 08/07/2022. Available at: foreignpolicy.com/2022/07/08/wagner-group-libya-oil-russia-war/
(19) - Ibidem
(20) - Ibidem
(21) - AA. VV. Haftar says Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi has every right to run for Libya president. In: Libya Express, 15/10/2019. Available at: www.libyanexpress.com/haftar-says-saif-al-islam-gaddafi-has-every-right-to-run-for-libya-president/
(22) - AA. VV. GNA agrees to free Russian spies tied to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. 30/10/2020. Available at: northafricapost.com/44796-gna-agrees-to-free-russian-spies-tied-to-saif-al-islam-gaddafi.html