Libya: Poker Face


July 22, 2020: Turkish forces are maneuvering into position for an attack on Sirte. Control of this city makes it easier to advance inland and take control of the oilfields. Because of that it was never a secret that Sirte was the next Turk target. This coastal city is 500 kilometers east of Tripoli and 560 kilometers west of Benghazi and unexpectedly fell to LNA (Libyan National Army) forces in January 2020. The LNA has been trying to subdue Sirte for years. The LNA eliminated the Islamic terror groups that had, since 2016, operated south of the city but were unable to bring order to Sirte itself. 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. The newly arrived Turkish force, which is mainly Syrian Arab mercenaries, pushed the LNA forces away from Tripoli and out of other parts of western Libya.

Attacking Sirte threatens to bring Egyptian forces into Libya. Turkey has been negotiating with Russia and Qatar to try and avoid a clash with the Egyptians. Russia has long backed the LNA while Qatar (and less openly, Iran) have been backing the GNA and now the Turks in Libya. This is all part of the other war between Iran and most Arab oil states, except Qatar. That’s Arabian politics with Qatar's emir quarreling many of his fellow Arabian monarchs. This is more family feud than grand diplomacy, but it does have Qatar financing the GNA while Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE back the GNA opposition (H0R government and the LNA).

Strained Alliances

Russia and Turkey are occasionally fighting each other in Libya but are now more interested in avoiding a larger war and more damage to Libya. Turkey got involved with Libya in return for a signed (by the GNA) agreement giving Turkey the right to drill for oil in disputed waters between Libya and Turkey. In Syria Russian airstrikes have killed Turkish troops while the Turks have killed Syrian troops. Turkey and Russia have backed away from that kind of thing and sought to cooperate more.

Turkey, Russia and Iran continue to pretend they are all friends and allies of Syria but the reality is different and becoming more visible and violent. To further complicate matter the Assad government of Syria has declared itself an ally of the LNA. The Syrians have sent, with Russian assistance, some equipment and weapons to the LNA. This was all a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Turkey does not seem to fear an Egyptian military response to the Turkish invasion of western Libya. The official Turkish view is that Egypt is a wholly owned subsidiary of Saudis Arabia and the UAE who have been backing the anti-Islamic terrorist LNA in Libya for years. Yet Egypt appears ready and able to send troops into Libya. Most Egyptian troops are poorly trained, motivated and led conscripts. It’s a gamble sending these troops deep into Libya to fight experienced Syrian Arab mercenaries backed by experienced Turkish troops.

For the moment the most valuable asset the LNA controls is the Libyan oil fields, pipelines, refineries and oil-export ports. Since January, when the Turkish threat became evident and very active, the LNA has halted all oil exports. The GNA depends on oil revenue to pay for food, medical and consumer goods imports. Without the oil exports the GNA is burning through cash reserves. The LNA oil export blockade will only be lifted if the GNA agrees to a ceasefire and an independent audit of the Libyan Central Bank, which the GNA has controlled since 2016. Much financial misbehavior is suspected and the audit could do more damage to the GNA than anything else.

Since 2016 the LNA has cooperated with the GNA to export oil and use the cash to maintain the welfare state Libyans have enjoyed for decades. One of the many reasons for the wide support the LNA enjoys is a more credible record in dealing with corruption. The GNA has always been more evasive on that issue and the administration of Tripoli has been notoriously corrupt and inefficient. Most Libyans do not want the GNA going nation-wide with that maladministration. Libyans see the Turks as after Libyan oil and that’s yet another reason to oppose the Turkish invaders.

Managing The Syrian Mercenaries

Turkey has worked with Syrian Arab mercenaries for a long time, not just in the last few years in northern Syria, but for centuries before that. Turkey offers acceptable terms and tends to fulfill its agreements. The Syrian Arab mercenaries are sent to Libya work on short contracts (three to six months) and then flown back to Syria where they can sign on for more mercenary service in Syria or, at higher pay, in Libya. So far 15,000 Syrian Arab men have signed up for service in Libya. About ten percent will be killed, wounded, injured or declared missing while in Libya. Turkey provides death benefits and health care for the wounded and injured.

Most of the missing are a few dozen, usually younger, mercs who had arranged to use people smugglers still active in Libya to try and reach Europe. The Turks are trying to maintain a force of 10,000 mercs in Libya and so far, there is no shortage of volunteers. Not all volunteers are accepted and all have to undergo several weeks of special training so they can operate in a more organized fashion than they normally do in Syria. The training also allows the Turkish instructors to weed out volunteers who are not suitable.

July 20, 2020: In Egypt the parliament authorized the government to send troops into Libya to deal with the growing Turkish threat. Like all other North African countries, Egypt was once part of the Ottoman Turkish, which dissolved in the 1920s after having lost control of Egypt during the 1798 French invasion. The French were soon expelled by the British and by 1805 an Egyptian monarchy took over until replaced by a military coup in 1952. Egyptians still remember the Turks as brutal overlords who, in the decades before the French invasion, presided over massive famines that killed over 15 percent of the population. Egypt is the most populous and militarily powerful of the North African states the Ott0man Turks conquered and ruled five centuries ago. None of the North Africans want a repeat.

Turkey has sent, by ship, over a dozen Turkish made MLRS (multiple launch rocket system) and self-propelled 155mm artillery vehicles. The MLRS trucks each carry 40 122mm rockets with a range of 40 kilometers. The tracked vehicle carrying the 155mm howitzer is the T-155 Fırtına. This vehicle was based on the South Korean K9. The T-155 is a 46-ton armored vehicle. The 155mm howitzer has the same range as the MLRS but is more accurate. The MLRS and T-155 are operated by Turkish troops and both weapons have been used in Syria.

July 19, 2020: In the east, near the oil export port of Brega, two local militias aligned with the LNA fought each other briefly. The oil facilities throughout Libya attracted local militias who demanded jobs as guards or simply cash to keep the facilites unharmed. In many cases there were two or more rival militias in play. The LNA sorted a lot of these situations out but the tensions between rival militias remain and occasionally get violent. The LNA has non-militia forces available as well as officers who can negotiate settlements. These QRF (Quick Reaction Force) personnel as stationed near the key oil ports . These include Ras Lanuf (620 kilometers east of Tripoli) and Es Sider/Sidra (20-30 kilometers further east). In normal times Es Sider and Ras Lanuf can ship 600,000 barrels a day . Nearby is t he oil port of Zueitina (220 kilometers west of Ras Lanuf and 180 kilometers southwest of Benghazi). In between Ras Lanuf and Zueitina is the oil port at Brega. Ras Lanuf , Zueitina and Brega can export 800,000 BPD ( barrels per day ) . Max Libyan production is a little over a million BPD.

July 5, 2020: In Libya there was a damaging series of airstrikes on a Turkish airbase, doing a lot of damage. The airstrikes were apparently arranged by Russia, which then suggested that Turkey allow the two Libyan factions, the Turk backed GNA and Russia-backed LNA/HoR, work out a ceasefire and eventually a peace deal. Turley is under a lot of pressure from NATO (which threatens to expel Turkey) and the EU (which is angry at the Turks for a growing number of reasons). A further incentive for the Turks to leave is the Egyptian threat to send troops into Libya to help its old friend the LNA. Other North African nations are angry at Turkey for “invading Libya.” The huge expense of the Libya operations has already caused Turkey to send several thousand of its Syrian mercenaries back to Syria and lower paying jobs.

June 28, 2020: In wester Sudan (Darfur) security forces arrested over 120 people suspected of agreeing to go fight as mercenaries in neighboring Libya. A senior Rapid Support Forces (RSF) officer claimed that 72 of the people arrested were members of the Sudanese Awakening Revolutionary Council, a militant group commanded by the former janjaweed militia leader Musa Hilal, who faces UN sanctions for his actions in Darfur. He is currently under arrest in in the capital (Khartoum). Several of the militiamen arrested face charges of attacking a military post and recruiting child soldiers. Sudan’s transitional government vehemently denies charges that Sudanese forces are involved in Libya’s on-going civil war. Mercenaries are another matter and the LNA has been known to hire reliable and effective tribal militias from Chad and Sudan to help keep the peace along borders and throughout southern Libya.

June 24, 2020: T he last elected Libyan government (called the HoR or House of Representatives group) asked Egypt to intervene militarily if the UN and Turk backed GNA government tries to advance east and take the coastal city of Sirte.




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