Turkish Interest in the Libyan war: Ankara Defends its $25 Billion Investment
TRIPOLI – Libya is on the verge of a new surge in armed confrontation between the two main internal forces – the Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Faiz Saraj and the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Marshal Khalifa Haftar . There are external forces behind the GNA and LNA, therefore, as the Jordanian publication Al Bawaba notes today, May 28, in this region of North Africa, in fact, a new proxy war has unfolded in the territory of the Greater Middle East.
This war has its own geo-economic context, there are business interests of regional powers. Oil companies and their state backers see huge potential in Libya’s untapped natural resources. In addition, interest is expressed in participating in future infrastructure projects in Libyan territory, when peace is established here and the local government has money. In this regard, analysts explain Turkey’s most active intervention in the “Libyan dossier”, among other things, by the fact that Ankara in such a peculiar way “exchanges support for the GNA Sarajah for the recognition of its energy claims in the Eastern Mediterranean and the promise of fulfilling obligations estimated at $ 25 billion frozen Turkish construction contracts in the country, ” notes Al Bawaba.
Tim Eaton , a senior fellow at Chatham House, a UK think tank, says recent events have shown “how much Turkish support for the GNA has changed the balance of power in the field.” The rather high-profile recent military successes of formations loyal to Saraju with strong Turkish support in the form of militants and arms deliveries transferred from Syria to Libya allowed the GNA to focus on ousting Haftar troops from the remaining LNA strongholds in western Libya, for example, such as Tarhuna.
However, Eaton continues, Saraj’s dependence on Turkish military support can be problematic in the long run, fueling historical anti-Turkish sentiment in the Arab world and “further reinforcing the view that the GNA is solely dependent on external support.”
In turn, Federico Borsari an expert on the Middle East and North Africa at the Italian Institute for International Policy Studies (ISPI), believes that Turkey’s more active participation in Libya could spur further military commitments from Ankara’s foreign competitors, portending a dangerous escalation of the armed conflict. According to him, in the current situation of the established relative balance of power between the LNA and the GNA, one of the parties does not have to expect a cardinal military advantage in their favor. At the same time, a force majeure may happen in a torn apart civil war in a North African country, for example, in the form of a deepening humanitarian crisis in the local health system against the backdrop of the global pandemic of the coronavirus Covid-19. According to Barsari, Covid-19 may be the “structural converter of the game” in Libya.
More than 370 thousand people were displaced internally, and 213 thousand civilians remain in the frontline areas. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls Libya one of the countries with the highest risk of uncontrolled rapid spread of coronavirus. The economic situation in the once considered socially prosperous North African country remains extremely difficult against the backdrop of a global pandemic and historical oil price lows. Experts predict that the already vulnerable Libyan economy will decline by more than 12% in 2020, as oil revenues are depleted and the world is entering a period of deep recession.
Recall that in Libya, an absentee confrontation unfolded between Turkey, which supports the formation of the GNA and sent thousands of Syrian militant Islamists, as well as strike systems, to the Libyan front and the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf, among which the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are especially notable. Abu Dhabi supplies the Libyan National Army, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, among other things, combat drones.
Turkey sent thousands of Syrian militants to Libya from the al-Mutasim Division, the Sultan Murad Brigades, Sukur al-Shamal and other groups operating in northwestern Syria. The cease-fire regime established in Syrian Idlib (according to the agreements of Russia and Turkey of March 5), Ankara is trying to use to transfer additional forces from Syria to Libya. In addition to the “Syrian armed opposition” mercenaries and large arms lots (ACV-15 infantry fighting vehicles, 35-mm anti-aircraft mounts, T-155 Firtina howitzers, etc.), Turkey previously deployed a certain number of “military advisers” to Tripoli. According to Arab media, these are officers of the army special forces, as well as a group of employees of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) of Turkey.
Marshal Haftar enjoys the support of Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE. On the side of the GNA, Sarajai is Turkey and Qatar.
Last week, the LNA suffered a series of defeats on the Libyan front, losing, in particular, control over the al-Vatiya airbase 140 km south of Tripoli, where there was an impressive arsenal of weapons and military equipment, including Russian anti-aircraft missile-cannon delivered from the UAE complexes “Shell-C1”. This forces Haftar’s forces to move towards more decisive action against Turkey and the GNA.
The air forces of the Libyan National Army are preparing “unprecedented attacks” on Turkish targets in a North African country. “In the coming hours, you will see the largest air campaign in the history of Libya,” said Sakra al-Jarusha, commander of the LNA Air Force, in a written statement circulated May 21 . “All the positions and interests of Turkey in all (Libyan) cities are legitimate goals for our aircraft, and we urge the civilian population to stay away from them.”
Events in Libya last week developed rapidly. At first, on May 18, Haftar’s troops lost control of Al-Vatiya air base south of Tripoli, hurriedly leaving it under the pressure of GNA formations. On May 20, the LNA command announced the unilateral withdrawal of its forces from the front line along the perimeter of the Libyan capital, where the GNA sits, for 2-3 kilometers as a sign of goodwill before the end of the holy month of Muslims Ramadan (May 23) and the onset of the Eid al-Fitr holiday ( Eid al Adha). However, the truce proposed by Haftar was rejected by Saraj. The GNA said that in this way the LNA commander is trying to cover up his latest military failures.
At the end of last week, Haftar promised to continue the fight against Turkey and its Libyan ally in the person of GNA’s Saraj. The Libyan commander shared his future plans in an address to the inhabitants of the North African country on the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr holiday. The LNA commander said that “the jihad (holy war. – Ed .) Of the armed forces to restore the security and stability of Libya will continue.” He called on his troops to fight “colonization” by Turkey until victory was achieved.
By all indications, after the completion of Eid al-Fitra (May 28), active LNA steps on the Libyan front should be expected.