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Fighters loyal to the GNA government fight in the southern suburbs of Tripoli. Photo: inhua/Amru Salahuddien via Getty Images

Libya’s UN-backed government is calling on the Trump administration to pressure its Middle Eastern allies to abandon warlord Khalifa Haftar, whose military offensive has stalled in the suburbs of the capital, Tripoli.

Why it matters: The UN has warned of “a long and bloody war” waged with arms flowing in from powers in the region. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt support Haftar, while Qatar and Turkey back the Tripoli government. Both sides have claimed President Trump as an ally.

Catch up quick:

  • Libya has been gripped by violence and instability since the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The Government of National Accord (GNA) holds power in the capital, but militias loyal to Haftar control the sparsely populated east.
  • Haftar shocked the world by launching a surprise assault in April. Ten weeks later, at least 600 are dead and 3,200 wounded.
  • Trump spoke with Haftar in mid-April. A White House readout said the two had a “shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system.” That stunned the GNA, which was scrambling to repel Haftar.
  • Times have changed. The Guardian reports that while Trump once supported the offensive, his “fleeting enthusiasm for Haftar has waned” and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is now “considering a range of options, including a US-enforced ceasefire.”

Between the lines: “The idea of Haftar is attractive for a number of countries — a reliable military figure you can work with against the terrorists and bring order,” Jonathan Winer, U.S. envoy to Libya from 2013-2017, tells Axios. “The problem with Haftar is he can’t build alliances. It’s all about him.”

  • Winer says Haftar was “seeking a very quick victory, a stampede” and banking on support from the Egyptians and Emiratis, who would love to see an allied strongman take control.

Ahmed Omar Maiteeg, deputy prime minister in the Tripoli government, says that while "someone" had clearly been “passing the message” that Haftar was an effective partner, Trump surely realizes by now that he “cannot succeed."

  • Referring to the U.S. as “our main ally,” Maiteeg told Axios in Washington on Friday that the GNA is not seeking financial or military assistance, only “strong diplomatic help and leadership.”
  • He said Trump should “send a clear message” to its allies to “stay out of Libya.”
  • Maiteeg insisted that Haftar lacks the strength to take Tripoli, “but he will have Libya divided. ISIS will be stronger. Our production of oil will be falling strongly.”

State of play: Barring major outside interventions, “it is highly unlikely that either side will prevail,” Claudia Gazzini, a Libya analyst at the International Crisis Group, told AFP.

“Rather than a cessation of hostilities, in the near future we are likely to see an escalation with increased foreign support. The net result would be a proxy war ... with no guaranteed winner.”

The bottom line: "Haftar's dream of a military dictatorship doesn't fit with the reality in Libya,” but the 75-year-old strongman has “no incentive to quit unless his troops desert him," Winer says.

  • A deal to share oil revenues could open a path forward. But Winer foresees a "grinding civil war" if external forces can't "help build a way out."
"This isn't a hopeless situation, but yes it could turn into Syria."

Go deeper

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Sen. Tim Kaine speaks with Sen. Susan Collins. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP via Getty Images

Sens. Tim Kaine and Susan Collins are privately pitching their colleagues on a bipartisan resolution censuring former President Trump, three sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios.

Why it matters: Senators are looking for a way to condemn Trump on the record as it becomes increasingly unlikely Democrats will obtain the 17 Republican votes needed to gain a conviction in his second impeachment.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Anthony Coley to lead Justice Department public affairs

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Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, has tapped Anthony Coley, an Obama-era Treasury Department official, to serve as a senior adviser and to lead public affairs at the Department of Justice, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: As the public face of the DOJ, Coley will help explain — and defend — the department's actions, from sensitive cases to prosecutorial decisions, including the investigation into Hunter Biden.

AP: Justice Dept. rescinds "zero tolerance" policy

A young girl waves to onlookers through the fence at the U.S.-Mexico border wall in San Ysidro, California, in Nov. 2018. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden's acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued a memo on Tuesday to revoke the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which separated thousands of migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, AP first reported.

Driving the news: A recent report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz emphasized the internal chaos at the agency over the implementation of the policy, which resulted in 545 parents separated from their children as of October 2020.