The story of Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter is pretty amazing. Once a darling of Muammar Gaddafi, Hifter had stood with Gaddafi in the overthrow of Libyan King Idris I in 1969. But when Gaddafi denounced and abandoned Hifter and his small force after their defeat and capture in a Gaddafi-sponsored operation in Chad, Hifter abandoned Gaddafi and adopted the CIA.

The CIA under the Reagan Administration trained Hifter and some of his soldiers in Virginia, and turned them loose in Libya with hopes of overthrowing Gaddafi. Back and forth between Libya and Vienna, Va, where the general enjoyed the company of his grandchildren—and, very likely, routine meetings with the CIA in Langley, just ten miles to the east. Hifter gradually cobbled together what would turn out to be a formidable army and gained control of eastern Libya. Al-Monitor’s Mustafa Fetoruri writes, “Hifter lived comfortably in Virginia, relatively close to CIA headquarters, from the earlier 1990s to 2011. He apparently even became a US citizen, but he never forgot his grudges against Gadhafi.”

Now, the State Department sees the CIA’s man as an impediment to the most promising hopes of a unity government in Libya. Foreign Policy’s Tarek Megerisi writes, “In their rush to create a new government that might restore a modicum of stability, Libya’s ostensible friends in the international community overlooked one big obstacle: General Khalifa Haftar and his motley band of Qaddafi-era soldiers and militias known as the Libyan National Army (LNA).”

If that UN-backed peace effort fails, then Libya can expect a growing civil war that would make Libya another hotbed of terrorism and another stain on the Obama Administration’s foreign policy efforts. Hifter, for his part, promises to rid Libya of ISIS, al Qaeda, and other Islamists in the spirit of Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. However, a Washington Post source formerly with the Department of State says, “’Hifter is not interested in democracy . . . . I don’t even think he’s particularly interested in peace.’”


So, State hates him. The CIA’s probably a little embarrassed by him (but looking for redemptive opportunities). And some see him as a hero. Atlantic Council’s Mohamed Eljarh argues, “’In the east, he is a hero . . . someone who was able to take initiative when [others] failed to do so . . . . That is what won him trust, credibility and popularity.’”

Love him or hate him, Post’s Missy Ryan points out, “The United States and its allies can’t figure out what to do about Khalifa Hifter . . . .”

Russia, however, may very well know what to with him. In the wake of Hifter’s trip to Moscow in June, Al-Monitor reported, “Hifter’s reception in Russia was unusually high profile for such a controversial and divisive figure. He was received by the foreign affairs and defense ministers, but most importantly by Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Security Council, a key decision-making body close to the president.” As noteworthy as that visit was and Putin’s interest is, it’s puzzling that Washington Post’s piece doesn’t mention Hifter’s trip to Russia.

It’s a becoming a complicated mess, to be sure. US elections are on the horizon. President Obama is looking to build a foreign policy legacy to hand off to Secretary Clinton. No one can claim success in Syria. Peace in Libya might be an easier win, and with Russia courting Hifter, decisions will have to be made quickly. I wonder if there aren’t decisions being made right now in Washington and Northern Virginia about Hifter’s future in Libya.

A question is whether CIA’s Hifter will be in the equation, or conveniently absent.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.