Turkish successes in Libya humiliate Russia and the UAE
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NEW YORK, (BM) – Turkish-backed forces won a series of victories this week in western Libya, delivering a powerful blow to the ambitions of ambitious field commander Khalifa Haftar and demonstrating that Turkey has become a decisive player among foreign powers fighting for supremacy in this largest Middle East puppet war.
ANALYSIS: Libya: The next NATO crisis
Libyan combat troops supported by Turkish firepower on Monday captured a large air base west of the capital Tripoli, used drones to destroy Russian anti-aircraft missile systems that arrived in Libya, and continued their offensive on Thursday and expelled Haftar’s troops from a key settlement south of Tripoli.
These victories were a great success for the UN-supported government in Tripoli, which seemed weak and under siege until Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent troops and military drones to help him in January. It was the most assertive and energetic intervention of Turkey in Libya since the fall of the Ottoman Empire a hundred years ago.
“Libya has become Turkish,” reads the headline of a message published by the European Council on Foreign Relations.
A year ago, Haftar launched an offensive to capture Tripoli. It seemed that he was gaining the upper hand in this conflict, giving his foreign sponsors, including Russia, a good opportunity to influence the future of Libya.
But on Wednesday, triumphant soldiers from units loyal to the government in Tripoli drove through the central part of Libya a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile system captured from Haftar, which the United Arab Emirates bought for him. It was a deliberate act of humiliation of the two most influential foreign patrons of Haftar.
Then on Thursday, Haftar’s troops were expelled from the small but strategically important town of Asaba, located 100 kilometers from the capital.
This week, UN Special Representative for Libya Stephanie Williams warned the Security Council that the escalation of hostilities, facilitated by the influx of foreign weapons, the emergence of aircraft and foreign mercenaries, could “turn the Libyan conflict into a real indirect war.”
Turkey’s dramatic success this week seems to have changed the course of the war, but these victories are by no means final. After the overthrow of the former dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, all participants in the Libyan conflict saw many victories and defeats.
On Thursday, the 76-year-old Haftar, once recruited by the CIA, and today wearing the field marshal’s epaulettes, promised to retaliate against Turkish targets in Tripoli. His aviation commander said that it would be “the largest air campaign in Libyan history.”
“All Turkish positions and facilities in all cities are fully targeted by our air forces,” said Air Force Commander Sakr al-Jaroushi.
In reality, Haftar’s next steps will be determined by his sponsors in Moscow, Cairo and Abu Dhabi, who supported the 14-month offensive on Tripoli, killing hundreds of civilians and destroying 400,000 people. The leaders of these countries are urgently trying to decide whether to continue to support this stubborn ally, who has repeatedly rejected political negotiations.
Minister of the Interior from the government in Tripoli, Fathi Bashagha, told Bloomberg on Thursday that eight Soviet-built planes escorted Haftar from Syria to escort Haftar, accompanied by two more modern Russian fighters. One European representative said that he received similar messages, but noted that it is not known whether these are Russian planes or Syrian ones.
Any open military action of Russia will become a significant escalation of tension on the part of Moscow, which until now has exerted its influence in Libya through mercenaries from the Wagner Group. This private army, closely associated with the Kremlin, played a key role last fall in the Haftar forces offensive in Tripoli.
The European representative said that most likely these aircraft are a signal to the Turkish Kremlin that it should slow down the pace of the offensive and sit down at the negotiating table.
Russia did not comment on these reports, but after a telephone conversation between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday morning, the two countries jointly called for an immediate ceasefire in Libya and a resumption of the UN-sponsored political process. This was stated by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
In January, Russia and Turkey made a similar appeal, having done so on the eve of the international conference on Libya. But Haftar ignored these calls. He often annoys his allies, turning them against each other.
When world leaders met at a conference in Berlin on January 19, the UAE’s main ally, Haftar, had already established an air bridge and established secret supplies of military equipment and supplies to eastern Libya. UN officials responsible for monitoring compliance with the international arms embargo on Libya are investigating these cargo flights, some of which were commissioned by shell companies.
The victories won with the support of Turkey provided these forces with air superiority in the sky over Tripoli. Haftar’s troops in the west of Libya have the last resistance knot in Tarhun, which is southeast of the capital.
“The military balance has changed significantly,” said Libram specialist Wolfram Lacher, who works at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “Together, all this can have serious negative consequences for the fighting spirit of Haftar’s forces and for the strength of his alliance.”
Turkey’s success has been an alarm to Egypt, whose autocratic president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is a rival to President Erdogan. In Egypt, any hint that Turkey is able to increase its influence in Libya and secure its permanent military presence there may cause serious concern.
While foreign countries continue their intervention, ordinary Libyans pay their own lives. UN Special Representative Williams said that from April 1 to May 18, 58 civilians were killed during the fighting, and this was mainly done by forces associated with Haftar. “The perpetrators of crimes must be held accountable in accordance with international law,” she said.
But in the world community there is no consensus on Libya, but there are many contradictions, and the chances of calling the perpetrators to justice are practically nil. According to analysts, now it remains to hope that the educated Haftar will finally agree to political negotiations.
Speaking on Wednesday, President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron noted “increased foreign interference” in Libya and “agreed on the need for urgent de-escalation,” as stated in a statement by the White House.
However, in the past, Haftar in such a situation preferred to redouble his efforts rather than enter into negotiations. In April, he publicly refused to implement the Libyan political agreement, which was signed in 2015 with the mediation of the UN and formed the basis of fragile national authorities in Libya. At that time, Haftar’s participation in this treaty was regarded as an attempt to strengthen his position in eastern Libya.
“Europe has fewer opportunities for Libya,” said Tarek Megerisi of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “She needs to act quickly if she wants to remain a barrier to Russian encroachments and prevent another conflict from igniting in the Syrian manner near her territory.”
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