Libia Tripoli La Presse

Turkey Prepares to Extend Military Presence in Libya

A proposal for the extension of the deployment of Turkish forces in Libya has been submitted for approval in the Turkish Parliament.

In January 2020, the Turkey’s Parliament approved the deployment of Turkish assets to Libya in support of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord GNA).

Turkey’s Previous Deployment Approval

According to that bill, the Turkish Forces would assist Tripoli for one year, including – but not limited to – logistics coordination, training, intelligence services and shipments of weapons, arms, and provision of technical equipment. The motion for the extension of the Turkish military presence has already raised concerns, as it comes at a moment where a ceasefire is ongoing between the opposing sides and the international community is urging for an arms embargo in Libya.

Ankara has officially announced that the latest moves of General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) are worrying, and a potential restart of the clashes could put at risk the Turkish interests in North Africa and the Mediterranean. It should be noted that Turkey has invested heavily in its Eastern Mediterranean presence and the Memorandum of Understanding with Tripoli has been a crucial and integral part of Turkish foreign policy so far in terms of its 2020 strategy.

Turkey is allegedly seeking the consolidation of the ceasefire agreement which has been in force since late October, under the condition that the GNA will maintain and potential expand its power and control across the country. The motion will be discussed in the Turkish Parliament in late December, and the most probable result is its approval by the majority of the MPs.

The establishment of Turkish assets in the country is fully aligning with my previous conclusions on Erdogan’s long-term plans for Libya.

Recent Incidents That Provoked Ankara’s Wrath

Earlier last week the Libyan National Army seized the Turkish commercial cargo ship Mabrooka as it was en route to the port of Misrata. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has harshly responded to the incident declaring that these are attempts to target the Turkish interests in the region, and such moves come at the expense of any efforts for a peaceful solution to the Libyan conflict.

The vessel was seized on the grounds that it entered a restricted zone, and did not answer to repeated calls from the coastal authorities. The incident came a few weeks after the Merchant Vessel (MV) Roseline A was boarded and inspected as per the standard operating procedures of the EU Operation IRINI; during the search, Turkish authorities rushed to officially deny the right to inspection, prompting the EU personnel to disembark the ship. The incident has been deemed as illegal by Ankara and caused friction between Turkey and Germany, considering that the inspection team operated off the German frigate Hamburg.

Is the Ceasefire at Stake?

While Turkish foreign policy dictates bold moves across Mediterranean and North Africa, the context of the Libyan ceasefire on the ground seems more and more fragile. GNA Defense Minister Salahaddin Namroush has warned that actions of Haftar and teh LNA are putting the ceasefire agreement at stake and could force Tripoli to withdraw.

An attack against a GNA military camp near Awbari last week was attributed to an LNA-affiliated militia. Namroush urged that such moves could trigger a new round of battles in the country. Awbari is located near the Sharara oilfield, one of the most important oilfields in Libya, therefore the latest attack could easily lead to a rapid escalation, without warning.

In the meantime, according to the latest information from the Sirte-Jufra Joint Operations Unit, Haftar is boosting the presence of LNA forces and military resources in the proximity of Sirte and Jufra. Reportedly during the weekend there has been a – possibly Russian – shipment of at least 23 armored vehicles, arms, and ammunition. These indicators raise further concerns for the viability of the current ceasefire deal.

Growing Presence of Foreign Fighters in Libya and Proxy War Scenario

Stephanie Williams, the UN Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, highlighted in her opening remarks on the October agreement, that the immediate departure of all foreign fighters should be a prerequisite for the effective implementation of the ceasefire. More than a month later, Williams sounded the alarm again, stating that an estimated number of more than 20,000 foreign fighters are still in-country.

This fuels a serious crisis and constitutes one of the greatest challenges in Libya at the moment.  Despite the continuous negotiations and attempts for a long-term agreement, the EU and UN efforts for an arms embargo and the progressive monitoring of the situation on the ground, the mercenary numbers in Libya at the moment are growing exponentially and a major military build-up through foreign shipments for both sides is still ongoing.

Despite the random skirmishes and the expansion of mercenaries, the most important factor is essentially the ultimate intentions of the foreign forces involved. The Libyan Civil War has taken on all the characteristics of a proxy conflict over the last two years, the prospects for a stable and peaceful Libya that could go through an institutionalization process undisrupted, are depending on the long-term objectives of the major powers, backing the opposing sides.

A lasting ceasefire and peace would be desirable for Ankara, considering that current GNA elements could ensure their certain win in the elections planned for December 2021, thus prevailing all across Libya. Abu Dhabi and Cairo on the other hand treat this scenario as a catastrophe, considering that such a political outcome could boost the Muslim Brotherhood presence and undermine erratically the regional and domestic security status quo at their expense.

Even though those powers would also like to see stability in Libya, they demand that it should be achieved under their own terms, which means the marginalization of the GNA forces. Finally Russia seems to be benefiting from the extension of the conflict, gaining time and influence in the war-torn country. The combination of these particular circumstances and the conflicting interests of each side could possibly compromise the current truce any time and quickly drag the country back into chaos once again.