Tripoli airport clashes in Libya
In mid-January 2018, the Mitiga International Airport (MJI) in Tripoli was forced to close for six days due to military clashes inside the airport. In the days following the airport closure, a series of airstrikes, car bombs, explosions and instability also occurred throughout the country, signalling a continued decline in stability cross Libya.
Libya has been facing an ongoing civil conflict, that has intensified significantly since 2014. Beginning with the collapse of Muammar Gaddafi government in 2011, the absence of a strong state exercising authority over the national territory has led to dozens of rival militias and military factions. They are all vying for control of the nation. Additionally, the involvement of foreign actors has also created a complex social and political landscape in the oil-rich country. Over one million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP) have since been reported; and Libya has also seen a spike of refugees escaping to other countries, mainly in Europe. On the economic front, the ongoing conflict has also plunged Libya into a widespread economic crisis, resulting in widespread unemployment, a large-scale devaluation of its currency Dinar and collapsing health and services, thus creating an immense upheaval in the nation.
The clashes in Tripoli’s MJI airport occurred in a context of protracted political, social and economic crises in Libya. Beginning on 15 January, reports were received of fighting between Libya’s Special Deterrence Force (SDF) and ‘Tajoura’s Brigade 33’ militants at a prison facility inside the airport grounds. This resulted in the immediate cancellation of all flights, and the closure of roads and schools surrounding MJI airport facilitates. Later reports would show 20 casualties and over 50 injuries, and the airport took almost six days to be eventually reopened on January 20. For an incident to have such consequences within a country’s main air-transport hub illustrates just how serious the event was and highlights the growing implications of the Libyan crisis to the region as a whole.
Libya’s instability was further evident in the days immediately following the clashes in MJI Airport.