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Opposing reactions to appointment of unity government’s defence minister

The appointment of Colonel Mahdi Al-Barghathi as Minister of Defence by the Presidency Council has triggered conflicting reactions in the east and west of the country.

In Tripoli, it is reported to have been welcomed by a number of militias that have decided to support the national unity government.

In the east, however, despite the fact that Benghazi-born Barghathi has been commander of the 204 Tank Brigade in the city and joined Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity in 2014, it is being seen with some alarm within the pro-Hafter camp.

The Tank Brigade and Saiqa Special Forces led by Colonel Wanis Bukhamada have been the most successful but also among the hardest hit in the long-running operation against militants in the city. They and their leaders are popular, far more so than Hafter. The two men, moreover, have long been known to have little confidence in the general or his leadership. It is said they tolerate him out of military necessity.

In the case of Barghathi, who was among the very first Libyan officers who joined the rebels fighting against Qaddafi at the beginning of the Libyan revolution in February 2011, he has been noted since joining Operation Dignity for being out in the front with his troops when fighting the militants.

Apart from his popularity, his friendship with Ibrahim Jadhran, the commander of the central region Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) who is an increasingly bitter opponent of Hafter, and the fact that he has the backing of one of the most influential tribes in the east of the country are seen as further reasons for the Hafter camp’s fears.

It reported that Barghathi heard about his appointment yesterday while taking part in military operations in Benghazi’s Hawari district and immediately went into a closed meeting with his senior commanders to discuss the offer.

There have been comments, however, that although he is good at leading soldiers in fighting on the ground, he no experience in running the defences of an entire country.

Nonetheless, he is regarded as totally loyal to the army as an institution and determined to turn it into an effective force.

The appointment of Barghathi prompted deputy prime minister designate Ali Gatrani, a close ally of Hafter, to suspend his membership of the Presidency Council.

The Libyan rumour mill is now full of claims that the Hafter camp will now move to ensure that the House of Representatives does not meet or approve the new government in order to block Barghathi’s appointment. But there has been no substance so far to them.

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