A FORMER ally of late Muhammad Gadafi, Khalifa Haftar has returned to Libya now wants to lead the country after years of conflict.
Reuters reported that Haftar returned to Tripoli seven years ago from the United States, to join the Nato-backed revolution that ended four decades of one-man rule.
When Khalifa Haftar flew to Tunis in September, the veteran commander and likely future leader of Libya brought masked troops armed with automatic rifles and grenade launchers in a show of force that drew censure from U.N. experts.
In France, Italy, and Tunisia, he also shook hands with ministers and presidents in gilded reception rooms, projecting a different image: that of a man preparing to convert the military gains of his Libyan National Army (LNA) into civilian power.
Haftar calls himself as the person who can bring stability to Libya after years of conflict, ridding the OPEC member of Islamist militants and reining in migrant smuggling to Europe.
Some of those who have worked with him describe him as a divisive military man with little time for politics, who could try to reinstate authoritarian rule and bring more violence to a country where armed groups jealously guard local fiefdoms.
After a protracted military campaign in Libya’s second city, Benghazi, he has promised to “liberate” the capital Tripoli, split from the east since 2014. Elections, which the United Nations says could be organized by the end of the year despite major obstacles, may provide another route to power.
Haftar seems to be hedging his bets. The LNA, he said last month, has “sleeper cells” it could act to take full control of Libya while prioritizing a political solution to avoid bloodshed.
Mohamed Buisier, a U.S.-based engineer who served as an advisor to Haftar from 2014-2016 before falling out with him, said Haftar wanted absolute power.
Among the officers who supported Gaddafi when he seized power from King Idris in 1969, Haftar was disowned by Gaddafi after he was captured leading Libyan forces in Chad in 1987.
He settled outside Washington D.C. in Virginia and returned to Libya only as the revolt against Gaddafi was gathering pace.
“He was there at the beginning with Gaddafi … he was abandoned by Gaddafi, he left Libya for decades. He would like to see the arc of history corrected,” said Jonathan Winer, a former U.S. special envoy to Libya who met Haftar in 2016.
After Gaddafi was overthrown and eventually killed, Haftar dropped from view, resurfacing in February 2014 with a televised statement pledging to rescue a country mired in instability.