Khalifa Belgassem Hafter is a senior Libyan military official, who defected from the Qaddafi regime following the conclusion Libyan-Chadian war. After spending 20 years in exile in the United States, he returned to Libya in March, 2011, to join the uprising against Qaddafi – which had begun on February 17th.
In the 1960s, Hafter joined the Liberal Unionist Officers corps – established by Muammar Qaddafi – and was among the military officials who helped Qaddafi carry out his revolution in 1969 against King Driss Snoussi. After the success of the 1969 revolution, Hafter became an influential member of the Qaddafi’s Revolutionary Command Council.
Hafter led Libya’s armed forces in 1978 during the war against Chad over the disputed “Ozu” territory. He made the decision to defect from Qaddafi’s regime – along with a number of officers, soldiers, and conscripts – in 1987, and joined the “National Front for Salvation of Libya” opposition movement. In 1988, the, “Libyan National Army,” was established under the command of Hafter as the movement’s military wing. However, the organization was quickly disbanded, and its leaders were sent into exile in the USA.
In March 2011, Hafter was appointed as the leader of the Libyan Army for Liberation. The leadership the rebel army was later transferred to Abdelfattah Younes, due to the rebels’ poor performance on the front-lines against Qaddafi’s loyalist forces. The army was restructured again in November 2011, and Hafter was appointed – through nominations submitted by 150 officers – as the Chief of Staff of the Libyan National Army in recognition of his seniority, experience, and overall contribution to the revolution.
In November 2011, Hafter received criticism for accusing Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Sudan and Mali of being self- interested countries that harbored ambitions to pilfer natural resources from Libya.