Libya may not have an internationally recognized government yet, but one member of Libyan Presidential Council that is leading the effort to hold national elections is already seeking to make lucrative deals with other African governments. Abdullah Al Lafi is a deputy of the Presidential Council and attended a summit meeting of African leaders in Ethiopia on February 19th and discussed Libyan making investments in CAR (the Central African Republic) with CAR president Faustin Touadera. Libya has lots of cash from its oil and natural gas exports and CAR needs some outside investors. Touadera was interested and invited Al Lafi to visit CAR to discuss the matter further. Al Lafi also met with UN officials at the Ethiopia summit. The UN sees Al Lafi as playing an important role in organizing elections to finally form a united Libyan government. This UN support for Al Lafi at the Ethiopian Summit meeting reassured other African leaders that Libya may finally be putting years of internal disputes behind them and forming a stable national government.
Until this new government is actually in power, Libyan unity is still a work in progress. The United States and European countries, as well as neighbors like Egypt and Algeria continue to actively support the reconciliation process in Libya. The primary obstacle to unity is the difficulty in establishing voting rules that will ensure elections accepted as fair by the two main factions in Libya. Both major factions, and several minor ones, fear that an elected government could turn into another dictatorship. The decades-old Kaddafi dictatorship was overthrown in 2011 and creating an acceptable democratic government to replace Kaddafi has been creeping closer to reality ever since. The only agreement achieved so far is to keep the oil and natural gas exports going because that is the main source of income, employment and necessities for most Libyans. The UN backed a 2020 ceasefire agreement that was supposed to lead to national elections by the end of 2021. That failed because the Turks refused to withdraw their forces unless certain illegal conditions were met. These Turkish demands are the reason the Russian Wagner Group still maintains some troops in Libya. Most of the other foreign mercenaries are gone while the Turks remain.
That means the primary obstacle to national unity is the continued presence of Turkish military and mercenary forces in Libya which block efforts to hold national elections and bring an end to over a decade of civil war. They do so to enforce an illegal treaty signed by one of the Libyan factions in 2019. This treaty, backed only by the Tripoli based GNA (Government Of National Accord) faction, granted Turkey some of Greece’s offshore oil and natural gas rights in an area between Libya and Turkey that ignores existing, and internationally recognized, claims on that area. Turkey and Greece are both NATO members and NATO backs Greece in this matter. Turkey won’t withdraw its forces from Libya until a new national Libyan government assures the Turks that the illegal agreement is confirmed by a national Libyan government.
This Turkish interference in Libyan internal affairs is making the formation of a Libyan national government even more difficult. The UN agrees that the Turkish demands are illegal but refuses to do much about it. That is actually normal for the UN. The United States and European governments are demanding that the UN act but the UN refuses without admitting that it is simply impossible for the UN to obtain enough international support to pressure the Turks to get out of Libya. UN efforts in Libya to help establish a national government have failed and are now seen as part of the problem. The UN still considers its efforts as a positive force in Libya. While most Libyans are ready to form a national government, the UN and Turkey remain the primary obstacles to achieving that. There are other obstacles, like Egypt, which has long been a major factor in Eastern Libya politics because the Egyptians want to look after the many Egyptians who work in Libya as well as keeping Islamic terrorists in Libya from getting into Egypt or smuggling weapons into Egypt.
February 21, 2023: Britain is one of the countries where cash from Libyan oil wealth is banked as part of the Libyan Sovereign Wealth Fund. This keeps it away from Libyan money managers who are still notoriously corrupt. Corruption was always a major problem inside Libya. The Annual Transparency International Corruption reports track Libyan corruption on an annual basis. These annual reports have never been good news for Libyans because Libya has been one of the ten most corrupt nations in the world for decades. One of the major problems is the Libyan inability to clean up its own massive internal corruption. In 2018 there was some progress, driven by the increasing poverty caused by years of civil war. That has since reversed as the UN backs the Islamic factions. In 2022 Libya ranked 171 out of 180 nations. That means Libya continued to be one of the ten most corrupt nations. In 2020 Libya ranked 173 out of 180 nations. In 2018 it was 170 out of 180. That’s up from 175 in 2017 and 170 out of 176 countries in 2016. Progress, or lack thereof, can be seen in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index where countries are measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. Libya’s current score is 17, down from 21 in 2021, as Libya began trying to form a new, democratic government. The nations with the lowest score are currently Syria, South Sudan and Somalia with scores of 14 or 15. The least corrupt nations are currently Denmark and New Zealand, each with a score of 88. Most European nations are in the top ten or twenty least corrupt. That has made Europe a relatively safe place to park Libyan Sovereign Wealth Fund cash. That has proved to be the case, but there are occasional problems. That was the recent case in Britain where three bankers were convicted of stealing $8.5 million of Libyan money via a complex scheme that survived annual audits for several years until the theft was finally detected and the guilty parties identified, prosecuted and sent to prison. That rarely happens back in Libya where the guilty will usually find corrupt officials in the judicial system that makes it possible to bribe your way out of a prison sentence. That, along with corrupt practices in general, is less likely to happen in Europe. There is corruption in Europe but it is not as common or blatant as what takes place in Libya and the Middle East in general.
February 11, 2023: Russia is taking advantage of the deadlock in Libya because it presents opportunities to disrupt oil and natural gas exports to Europe, mainly Italy. Without those energy imports, Italy is less interested in opposing Russia in Ukraine. Italy believes Russia has sent operatives to Libya to disrupt oil exports to Italy. Russia is not doing this openly but Russian mischief is seen as yet another disruptive influence in Libya. Russia still has Wagner Group personnel stationed near some Libyan oil fields where there are still occasional disruptions in production. Russia says it will withdraw the Wagner Group personnel once the Turks agree to leave. The Russians enjoy the irony of this because Turkey is a NATO member and technically supports the Ukrainians in their fighting against Russian invaders in Ukraine. The Turks still sell weapons to the Ukrainians and assist in getting grain ships out of the Black Sea. In return the Turks expect some support for their position in Libya.
February 10, 2023: In Tripoli, two local police were wounded when attacked by one of the many armed gangs that continue to operate in the city. Tripoli was long occupied by several local militias that were recognized as local government “security forces.” In fact many of these militias were outlaws themselves and this was more common after the Turks entered Tripoli in 2019.
February 7, 2023: A Day after a major earthquake near the Syrian border, the extent of the Turkish losses became clear. Over 40,000 died and many more were injured. Several hundred Turks were left homeless and the financial cost was estimated at over $80 billion. This disaster puts more pressure on the Turkish government to pull their forces out of Libya. While most nations sent emergency aid to Turkey, international pressure is still on to get the Turks out of Libya. The Turks never had many Turkish troops in Libya because if any of these were killed it would cause a political crisis back in Turkey. The actual combat in Libya took place during the first ten months of 2020 and caused about 2,000 deaths, most of them Libyans. Since then, a handful of Turks and several thousand Arab mercenaries have, at a cost of over five million dollars a year, remain in Libya. With the earthquake, just having these expensive forces in Libya is a problem. National elections in Turkey this year mean that if current leader Erdogan fails to get reelected, that would probably lead to the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Libya. Even before the earthquake, Turkish voters were angry with Erdogan’s economic failures. Maintaining troops in Libya is not only expensive but has produced no economic benefits for Turkey and caused growing international criticism, including disputes with NATO allies and Western economics in general.
February 6, 2023: The British ambassador to Libya met with Libyan officials in Tripoli to discuss British assistance in training Libyan officers and enlisted personnel as part of an effort to unite all the military forces of various Libyan factions. This effort has been underway for several years. If a large enough force of Libyan troops can be created, they might be able to force the Turks out. Most of the Turkish forces in Libya are Syrian Arab mercenaries who are there for the money and are capable enough to intimidate Libyan civilians and irregular Libyan gunmen.
January 21, 2023: Turkish president Erdogan is accused of using Turkish firm SADAT PMC (Private Military Contractors) t0 threatened or otherwise disrupt and weaken political opposition (individuals, political parties or media) to Erdogan in the upcoming presidential elections. Erdogan and SADAT deny the accusations. Nevertheless, Erdogan and SADAT are closely linked. SADAT was founded in 2012 by a pro-Erdogan retired Turkish army general Adnan Tanrıverdi. who saw business opportunities supplying training services for Middle Eastern and other Moslem majority nations. Training, usually conducted by Turks with police or military experience, covered police work, special operations and military training in general. This included weapons training as well as training on the use of just about any weapons. If you could afford the fees, SADAT would take care of your training needs. During the 2016 attempted coup against Erdogan Tanrıverdi ordered SADAT personnel to actively oppose the coup, often with physical violence. After this, Tanrıverdi was appointed a presidential advisor. That led to SADAT getting a lot of government contracts for things like training Syrian Arab mercenaries working for Turkey inside Syria and Libya. The SADAT work in Libya was criticized by the UN for violating military sanctions. Now SADAT is thought of as Erdogan’s private army.
SADAT leader Tanrıverdi was not the first one to found an independent “contractor” that operated in Libya. The first was Major Vladimir "Popski'' Peniakoff who worked for the British, not Turkey and created a special forces unit in 1942 called the No. 1 Demolition Squad. He did this for the British Army in Egypt and was tasked with going behind German lines and attacking their fuel supplies. Peniakoff got the nickname Popski because British telegraph operators had problems spelling or pronouncing his name correctly. All this began after the 42-year-old Peniakoff joined the British army and was assigned to rear area duty in Libya with the Libyan Arab Forces because he spoke Arabic. Bored with his dull assignment, he formed the LAFC (Libyan Arab Forces Commando), which was a small raiding group of British and Libyan troops who successfully operated behind German lines. This was noted by British special forces command in Egypt who asked him to join the LRDG (Long Range Desert Group), which was the first British special operations unit, and carry on his raiding activities as the 23-man No. 1 Demolition Squad to destroy German fuel supply storage sites before the crucial Battle of El Alamein. Without that fuel the Germans were crippled when they lost at Alamein and lost a lot of their mobility as they sought to retreat. Peniakoff continued leading his group and unofficially expanded his Demolition Squad to the point where it became officially known as Popski’s Private Army. The British looked the other way as he added British soldiers and civilians as well as captured vehicles to his unit, and continued to be the scourge of German support units, often attacking at night and constantly sending intelligence reports back to the British 8th Army headquarters. Peniakoff’s small raiding force was the first to make contact with American forces in Tunisia during early 1943. At one-point Peniakoff's force captured 600 Italian troops. Peniakoff then expanded his force to 35 men and could then deploy two raiding parties at the same time. Popski’s Private Army was sent to Taranto in southern Italy to scout the location of German forces and found a gap in the German lines that American troops exploited and caused the Germans to retreat. At this point Popski’s Private Army was organized into three 18-man raiding parties, each equipped with six jeeps armed with .30 caliber and .5o caliber machine-gun. These raiding parties had enormous firepower for such small units, and performed admirably against the Germans, who feared the British special operations units, especially Popski’s Private Army. It never had more than 80 men assigned to it, although that number was often exceeded by adopting useful Russian, Italian and German prisoners of war as well as some local partisans. Now SADAT, a private army led by a retired Turkish general has become a major factor in Libyan politics. At the same time there are still some Russian Wagner Group mercenaries in Libya. Private armies are nothing new in Libya.