Haftar’s Capture of Tripoli: a “Nightmare” for Algiers and Tunis

Algeria and Tunisia have long maintained their neutrality as various have made neighboring Libya into a proxy battleground. They had trouble with their own political crisis and economic difficulties. But now things appear to be changing.

Algeria and Tunisia Have a New Approach to the Libyan War

The two North African countries, both having recently picked new presidents, appear to be leaning towards support of the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (G.N.A.) led by Fayez al-Sarraj. The G.N.A. is increasingly under attack from renegade commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (L.N.A.) troops.

Haftar’s forces – rejoicing in Egyptian and Emirati support – already control most of Libya’s national territory, but are mainly based in Eastern Libya. In contrast, Al-Sarraj’s G.N.A. is based in Libya’s capital Tripoli, closer to Tunisia and Algeria.

In April, Haftar launched an offensive against the G.N.A. in order to capture Tripoli and gain control over Libya as an undivided nation. As his attacks only grow more relentless relentless, Tunisia’s Kais Saied and Algeria’s Abdelmadjid Tebboune have begun taking diplomatic action to prevent Haftar’s offensive and implement a lasting ceasefire that would also limit international interference in Libya.

Tebboune and Saied Take Action

Earlier this month, the two chief executives met in Algiers to reiterate their opposition to foreign interference and arms supply in Libya. Haftar’s forces have the financial and military support of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, as well as of mercenaries from Russia and troops from Africa. The G.N.A. has seen an increase in Turkish backing, receiving weapons and other logistical aid from Ankara, which is also taking action in Syria.

If Haftar captures Tripoli – as Algeria and Tunisia have said – the conflict would only flare up even more drastically and the situation would turn from its current awful state into an all-out “nightmare.” Haftar, whose forces already control most of Libya and its key energy sites are focused on ousting the G.N.A. – their main opponent disputing the rule of Libya – and on seizing Tripoli.

“Tunisia and Algeria Want to Make a Solution for Libya”

The past April offensive has already displaced more than 150,000 Libyans and killed over 2,200 people. Algeria and Tunisia also insisted that the conflict should end with a solution that presented by the Libyan people only with protection “from foreign interference and weapons flows.”

“Tunisia and Algeria want to make a solution for Libya with meetings in Tunisia or Algeria to start a new stage there by building institutions and holding elections,” Tebboune said.

Algeria and Tunisia also said they work on bringing about the ceasefire that the January Berlin talks aimed at implementing.

In late January , Algiers invited Turkish President Recep Erdogan to discuss the growing conflict in Libya. Erdogan, who has been accused of breaking the weapons embargo by supplying weapons and logistics to the G.N.A., also said the conflict will not be solved by military means.

“We have said from the beginning that the Libyan crisis would not be resolved through military means,” Erdogan said in Algiers. The Turkish president also said Ankara was “in intense negociations with the countries of the region and with international actors to secure the ceasefire and facilitate the return to political dialogue in Libya.”

Earlier in January, Turkey, who had sea borders with Libya and energy deals, announced it was sending troops to Libya to fight alongside al-Sarraj’s forces.

Tebboune: Any Foreign Interference Must Be Rejected

During Erdogan’s meeting in Algiers, Algeria’s Tebboune insisted on rejecting “any foreign interference.” The meeting, however, was largely seen by Algerian press as having been done to “boost economic relations” between the nations.

Turkey’s interests are that Tripoli should not fall under Haftar’s control, a commander who has close ties with the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. As Egypt and the Emirates would benefit from economic deals if Haftar is in charge of the capital, Turkey has already oil and gas agreements with Tripoli. This has stained its relations with Greece and Cyprus over the disputed sea borders.

Algeria’s and Tunisia’s Fight Against Terrorism

Algeria has long struggled in the fight against extremist militants. In 2013, a group affiliated to al-Qaeda stormed a gas plant in Ain Amenas (Algeria), near the borders with Libya. The Algerian army intervened and the escalation left all 39 foreign hostages dead.

On Sunday, February 9, an ISIS-claimed suicide car bomb attack against a military base in Timiaouine, near Algeria’s border with Mali, left one soldier dead. The soldier – who was on guard – was killed when he stopped the vehicle from entering the base, Algeria’s Defense Ministry said in a communiqué later on Wednesday. The communiqué denied ISIS’ claim that the attack killed and wounded “dozens” and destroyed “multiple vehicles”. ISIS also claimed a suicide attack against Algerian forces in August 2017, when two policemen were killed in a bomb explosion in a police station in Tiaret, southwest of the capital Algiers.

Tunisia’s tourism, which accounts for 8% of the country’s GDP also took a blow following the 2015 al-Qaeda-claimed attack on a museum and beach resort that left 60 people dead. The number of tourists decreased by 25% that year, causing a fall of 35% in Tunisia’s tourism revenues.

It is clear that both nations have an interest in preventing even worse instability in neighboring Libya and trying to restore order to the region.

Algeria’s Position on Libya

Like Tunisia, Algeria is mostly worried about its borders with Libya. If Haftar seizes Tripoli and the conflict worsens it could directly impact Algeria. However, the nation also has its own share of internal problems. February 22 will mark a year since Algerians took to the streets to protest the ruling élite. The protests are still going on and appear unlikely to stop any time soon.

In January, weeks after Haftar made a new push toward capturing the capital, Algiers declared that Tripoli was a “red line no one should cross.” A conflict near the borders would soon bear down upon Algeria, a country where political prospects are still highly unclear even with an administration that took office in December.

As the situation unfolds it is becoming increasingly apparent that Tunisia and Algeria are no longer content to remain fully neutral on Libya and they can be expected to redouble their efforts to reach a resolution in the coming weeks and months.