Libya: The Hate/Hate Relationship


June 22, 2020: The U.S. wants the GNA (UN created Government of National Accord) and HoR (House of Representatives government, the last elected one) to stop fighting and negotiate. That is not happening because the GNA has sold out to, or hired, the Turks who now have to conquer and occupy most of Libya to regain control of the oil production and shipping facilities. The Turks will expect payment and that will probably include oil money or oil itself. The Turks have not had their own oil since 1918 when the victorious British took the Kirkuk oil fields away and made them part of a new Arab nation called Iraq. Kirkuk was long part of the Turkish heartland and some Turks never forgot.

Egypt threatens to send in troops if the Turks continue to advance along the coast. The city of Sirte is the next Turk target. Sirte, a coastal city 500 kilometers east of Tripoli and 560 kilometers west of Benghazi, unexpectedly fell to LNA (the HoR Libyan National Army) forces in early January. The LNA had been trying to subdue Sirte for years. The LNA eliminated the Islamic terror groups that had, since 2016, operated south of the city. Until the LNA took over, most of the Sirte militias were loyal to the GNA, if only because the GNA didn’t try to control what the Sirte militias did That included working with people smugglers and living off the local population. Shutting down this sort of thing is why the LNA has been able to take control of most of the country. At the end of 2019, the LNA was carrying out airstrikes on the Sirte militias and planning a ground offensive as soon as Tripoli was taken. But LNA leaders had also been negotiating with some of the larger militias in Sirte and finally got a key militia to switch sides. The other militias realized that put them at a serious disadvantage and accepted a peace deal that put the LNA in charge of the city. This was a major, and unexpected, loss for the GNA. As a result, since January the UN-backed government only controls two cities; Tripoli and Misrata.

Possession of Sirte gave the LNA an airport closer to Misrata and Tripoli and made it more difficult for GNA forces to threaten LNA supply lines that come from the east. The loss of Sirte was a psychological blow to the GNA because it had come to represent a large portion of GNA popular support. Turkey has said it might consider a ceasefire if the LNA pulled out of Sirte.

Abandoning The Arab League

The GNA is ignoring the Arab League and has apparently agreed to pay Turkey billions of dollars for its help in defeating the LNA. The GNA still has a great deal of control over the Central Bank and the Libyan foreign reserves. That control is limited by UN imposed restrictions to reduce corrupt behavior which has, since 2011, seen much Libyan oil wealth stolen by Libyan government officials, or at least those with access to the oil wealth. In 2018 the LIA (Libyan Investment Authority) was forced to leave Tripoli because of militia threats and violence. LIA set up shop in less vulnerable locations throughout Europe where it can work with foreign governments and banks to safeguard the Libyan sovereign wealth fund ($67 billion of cash and other assets). Since the 2011 Libyan revolution, these assets have been frozen under a UN Security Council resolution and are only accessed for national emergencies. It is still necessary to scrutinize all efforts to use those assets, which remain subject to a lot of scrutiny by foreign auditors and various European courts. The GNA will have a hard time getting money out of the Sovereign Wealth Fund to pay for the Turkish military assistance.

The GNA has made a lot of enemies by signing agreements with Turkey and allowing Turkish troops and mercenaries to enter the country and take control of areas GNA forces had lost control of or had never controlled. In early 2017 officials from the Arab League and AU (African Union) met in neighboring Tunisia and signed an agreement to not send military forces into Libya and instead seek a political solution inside Libya. Most Arab League members support or favor the HoR as do all the neighbors of Libya. At that point Iran, Qatar and Sudan were supplying the GNA with weapons while the HoR/LNA were receiving aid from Egypt, the UAE and Russia. None of these foreign supporters had sent in substantial combat forces. In late 2019 Turkey changed that. Turkey also has little respect for the Arab League or African Union. The official GNA position has now changed to align with Turkish attitudes. Since 2000 Turkey has sought to displace the Arab League as the forum for Arab leaders to meet and decide what is in their best interest. Turkey wants to make those decisions, just like in the good old days of the (Ottoman) empire. Arabs generally oppose that sort of thing, unless the Turks are the only way out of a bad situation.

The Arab League is holding an emergency meeting on the 22nd to decide how to deal with the Libya crisizs and Egyptian calls for military intervention against the Turkish mercenaries in Libya. The GNA refused to attend this meeting and Turkey has long maintained that it is not bound by any Arab League decisions. There is a long-standing hate/hate relationship between Turkey and the Arab League.

The Turks are using Syrian Arab mercenaries backed by Turkish troops providing logistics and air support. Turkish voters are hostile to Turkish soldiers getting killed in foreign wars. The Turkish government presents its Libyan operation as an effort to get Turkey access to oil via offshore oil deposits also claimed by Greece as well as from Libya once Turkish forces have occupied the entire country, or at least all the oil producing areas.

Turkey is technically an ally of the GNA, mainly because GNA officials signed an agreement with the Turks to claim offshore waters that actually belong to Greece. These water areas are believed to contain oil and natural gas deposits. The GNA is not a real Libyan national government and is unable to establish treaties or territorial accords with any other nation. The Turks back the GNA because the GNA approves of the Moslem Brotherhood and many other Islamic radical groups that Turkey approves of. The UN is unwilling to block the Turkish intervention and European nations are divided. Several Arab nations are willing to back efforts to expel the Turks from Libya and that effort is escalating. The LNA has a major advantage because it controls most of Libya including most of the oil production and export facilities. The LNA has shut down oil exports to force the GNA to surrender. Now the GNA is using the Turkish mercenary forces to regain control of the Libyan oil. Turkish military advisors are planning that operation now and expect to start the oil resources reconquest operation soon. First, something must be done to keep the Egyptians out of Libya.

Egypt Versus Turks

Can Egyptian troops defeat Syrian Arab mercenaries working for Turkey? Despite greater numbers, M1 tanks and F-16 fighters, the Egyptian army has not been training regularly, most of the troops are conscripts and the most experienced Egyptian soldiers are fighting ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in Sinai. That’s a small portion of the Egyptian army and most Egyptian army units are of questionable effectiveness in a fight.

Egypt is taking a chance sending troops into Libya. Despite that, this is something the Egyptian military has been studying for over fifty years. Occasionally military exercises were held near the Libyan border. Usually, the Egyptian Navy dominates the area and the Turks would have to move naval forces to Libya to prevent Egypt from controlling the Libyan coast. Egypt and Israel are not friends but they have learned how to get along since the 1980s peace deal and have cooperated to control Islamic terrorism in Sinai and Gaza. Israel and Turkey used to be close until the current Islamic government took over in 2000 and turned Turkey against Israel. The Islamic Turkish government has since developed a peaceful relationship with Israel but that won’t stop Israel from blocking Turkish efforts to dominate the eastern Mediterranean and the Libyan coast. Russia and Turkey are allies in Syria against the Islamic terrorist and rebels but Russia and Israel are also on good terms and Russian officials have openly admitted that Russian and Israeli forces will not fight each other. Egypt has a good chance of setting up and enforcing a naval blockade against the Libyan ports (Tripoli and Misrata) the Turks use to supply and reinforce their mercenary units in Libya.

June 21, 2020: Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain supported Egypt in its willingness to send in troops to get Turkish forces out of Libya. In Sirte, the next Libyan coastal city threatened by Turkish mercs, the local council supported the LNA. The Sirte population do not want a return to militia rule, which is still what passes for local government in Tripoli and Misrata.

June 20, 2020: Egypt threatened to send troops to Libya if Turkey did not get its forces out of Libya. The Turks said they are not leaving as long as the UN approved GNA needs help.

June 18, 2020: American intel (AFRICOM) on Libya estimates that Russia still has 2,000 troops (mostly military contractors) there while the Turks have at least 10,000 Syrian Arab mercenaries, fighting for the good pay and the promise of permanent resident status in Turkey for their families.

June 16, 2020: Turkism mercenaries are 50 kilometers from Sirte and ready to make a final push to take the city from the LNA.

June 13, 2020: Israel is being asked to openly take sides in the Libyan civil war. An official of the LNA made the announcement asking Israel for help. Since 2014 the LNA has been fighting Islamic terrorist groups and later the GNA in Tripoli. By 2018 Egypt was certain that the LNA had pacified eastern Libya up to and including the Egyptian border. That border security is threatened by Turkish control of eastern Libya. The Turks are tolerant of many Islamic terror groups, especially the ones that do not attack Turks but do go after Turkish enemies.

June 12, 2020: Samir al Atrash, a well-known Syrian HTS (local al Qaeda alliance) leader was killed in Libya near Sirte while serving with the Turkish Syrian Arab mercenary force. Atrash was apparently leading some kind of reconnaissance operation.

June 11, 2020: A large Turkish force of warships and military aircraft (F-16s and support planes) held an exercise in the eastern Mediterranean, some of it off the Libyan coast, before returning to Turkey.

June 10, 2020: In Libya, a Russian MiG-29 was spotted over the coastal city of Sirte. That city is under LNA control and threatened by Turkish backed GNA forces. Russian military contractors at the LNA Jufra airbase , 650, kilometers south of Tripoli or Misrata, now include instructors for pilots of MiG-29 and Su-24 aircraft as well as maintainers for both aircraft. Satellite photos show training activity taking place, mainly to impart basic skills to new MiG-29 and Su-24 Libyan pilots who have experience operating older Russian warplanes.

June 8, 2020: In western Egypt, the government sent combat units, including several dozen M1 tanks and about ten AH-64 gunships, to the Libyan border. This is in response to the retreat of the LNA , an Egyptian ally, from western Libya. Egypt supported LNA efforts to gain control over western Libya which had nearly succeeded. Then Turkey intervened. After that Russia reduced support for the LNA and called for discussions with Turkey, if only because Turkey and Russia are sort-of allies in Syria just as they are now sort-of enemies in Libya. Egypt is not “sort-of” about wanting Turkey out of Libya. The Turks apparently don’t care what Russia, Egypt or anyone else wants. Turkey has come to stay in Libya and probably Syria as well.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close