The Libyan front looks bleak for Erdogan, writes Turkish journalist Fehim Tastekin in Al Monitor. Tastekin notes that Turkey is far from achieving its stated objectives in the two wars in which it is currently entangled. In late February, 36 Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib, but Turkey’s response on Syrian forces was not convincing, and Turkey has agreed to a Russian ceasefire.
Tastekin goes on to describe Turkey’s military efforts in Libya as more secretive, with Ankara working to keep the Turkish public in the dark. It is already trying to downplay its losses in Libya to avoid a public backlash, although this does not seem to be working. Only recently did Erdogan acknowledge Turkish casualties in Libya, doing so in an obscure reference that angered many. Erdogan referred to a “few martyrs”, and only after the news of one officer’s death made the rounds on social media. There are further reports from Haftar’s forces of more Turkish soldiers having been killed.
It is also leading to a backlash in the Arab world. Just last week, the Tobruk government signed a series of agreements with Damascus and will reopen Libya’s embassy there instead of the Tripoli government. Haftar is aligning with the Syrian government in Idlib over Turkey. Basically, Turkey’s intervention in Libya pushed Damascus to formalise its alliance with Haftar. Some observes believe it was the UAE and Russia, as well as Egypt who may have pushed Assad to expand his anti-Turkey alliance with Haftar. The UAE reopened its Damascus embassy only two months prior.
All these moves are not occurring in a vacuum and signify a growing isolation and antagonism of Turkey in the Arab world, and with it Tripoli. The viability of Erdogan’s involvement in Libya is also in doubt. Turkey’s assistance, including the Syrian mercenaries, has kept the GNA afloat in Tripoli. But the LNA attacks continue, including over 120 missiles fired in February alone with Mitiga airport having had to be shut down numerous times. Basically, by bringing in Turkey, the GNA created a military balance and an impasse to force Haftar into a dialogue.
But Haftar too has received a surge in foreign support. Air traffic from the UAE to eastern Libya has increased noticeably since January. There are reports of over 3000 tonnes of military material having been sent to Haftar in late January – equivalent to all the UAE’s military assistance throughout 2019.
Turkey has escalated as well. It is said to have sent some 5000 Syrian fighters, with almost 2000 being trained in Turkey. Turkey also sent two vessels off the Tripoli coast, and another Lebanese flagged cargo ship of arms, seized by Italy in early February. To be sure, Turkey’s drones and anti-aircraft guns have denied Haftar aerial superiority over Tripoli, which is why he now resorts to shelling Mitiga from dozens of km away. However, achieving more meaningful results may require a greater military presence, and it is not clear Turkey can commit to such an effort.
But for now, it seems Haftar has the stronger backing to continue escalating as needed. According to one Turkish analyst interviewed, Erdogan seeks considerable economic and strategic gains for his investment and wants to take the fight into Haftar-held territory. However, it cannot commit the requisite force to do so, especially as the Syrian front escalates. Erdogan hoped to achieve a partnership with Moscow over their involvement in both Syria and Libya and used Russia’s militia strategy as well. However, Erdogan didn’t count on Russia having a relatively limited role with greater influence in the hands of the UAE and Egypt.
Algeria has recently taken a renewed interest in Libya, and adopted a far more assertive policy. Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum recently travelled to eastern Libya to meet Haftar. This led to a spike of interest and anger in Tripoli as it offered a measure of legitimacy to the parallel Tobruk government. So what is Algeria’s interest in Libya? And has it changed recently?
Neighbouring Algeria has long worked to establish stability in Libya, working since 2014 on the tribal level to create trust and dialogue between groups. However, a series of domestic upheavals and increased international intervention in Libya took Algeria out of the picture for a time.
In December 2019, Algeria elected a new president who set involvement in Libya as a diplomatic priority. Tebboune’s first international trip was to Berlin to attend the Libya peace conference, and he soon met with Turkish president Erdogan to discuss the matter. So far, Algeria has maintained relations with both sides and continues to position itself as a broker in North Africa.
This position Tebboune is seeking to carve for himself is bound up with domestic challenges to his power. Thus, aside from genuinely seeking to maintain stability in the neighbourhood, Tebboune might use the ongoing crisis next door to distract from demonstrations against the government’s legitimacy while improving his regional stature. The formula is well known – “this is not the time for a new government” and “look how well we are doing”.
Algeria having a key role in Libya is by all means important, and if it aides Tebboune and the current Algiers regime in maintaining stability, then everyone comes out a winner. However, Algeria must be sure not to partake in any risky behaviour to maintain its position as a stabiliser and independent mediator in Libya.
Turkish state-owned TRT World is calling on the US to take a bigger role in Libya in line with Turkey's policy. This means, of course, by fully backing the Tripoli GNA government. The news-site mentions that the GNA recently invited the US to open a military base in Libya in order to counter Russia’s growing influence; Russia backs Haftar and the LNA and has supplied thousands of mercenaries with aerial, artillery and other advanced capabilities.
According to TRT, Washington recognises Libya’s strategic importance and Russia’s increasing attempts to take over the Libyan theatre, in order to gain leverage over Europe and NATO, but does little to enforce its interests. Trump, the news site claims, sees Libya more as a European problem and thus has taken a back seat. This allows Russia to strengthen its presence and exploit the political and military vacuum for its own interests.
TRT calls for Washington to fully back the GNA and use its diplomatic power to oppose international powers – especially Russia and the UAE – from intervening, while pushing Haftar to cease his assault – choosing the “democratic path” over “military dictatorship”.
It is clear that the state-owned Turkish news site has a clear agenda: to convince the US to back its side of the conflict and limit Haftar and his foreign supporters.
Turkey is, of course, half correct. A more concerted American effort to limit ALL foreign intervention would be helpful, including Turkey’s backing of the GNA. The US should take a stronger role in pushing Europe and the UN to clamp down on all arms shipments and mercenary activity in Libya. Although the US is seeking to limit its foreign military interventions, there is much it can do with diplomatic and economic tools without resorting to applying military force. Drying up the foreign assistance on BOTH sides would indeed be a major step to achieving stability in Libya.
On February 28, a senior State Department official (unnamed) offered a press briefing on the US’ engagement in Libya. Following are the key points given, including from the q/a session with reporters, and our take.
The US seeks to help bring an end to the conflict in Libya, and sees the key to this as minimising “toxic” foreign interference. The US seeks to foster a stable, unified democratic Libyan state that will one day partner with the US to fight terrorism and stabilise global energy output.
The US meets regularly with all sides and leaders in its efforts to deescalate, and show that the underlying drivers can best be solved through political negotiations and not war. The front lines have not moved since April, further backing this point. The US is concerned Libya is quickly becoming an out-of-control proxy conflict, as both sides have foreign backers and the war over Tripoli is being taken over by foreign actors seeking to raise their own political and economic clout in the region.
The US ambassador and State Department continue to support the UN efforts to bring the sides together, and coordinate regularly with the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Egypt, the UAE and Turkey. The US is involved in the dialogue process that followed the Berlin conference.
The US calls on Haftar and the LNA to immediately suspend their military efforts in Tripoli, which risk escalating the fighting even further, and in order to give the political dialogue a chance. The US stresses that Haftar can have a role in Libya’s future but needs to achieve this at the negotiating table.
The US will continue to support the UN as it convenes military, political and economic talks, and calls on all sides to support these efforts.
Lastly, the US is determined to reopen its Tripoli embassy as soon as is it safely can, in order to improve its engagement with Libya’s leaders and people. The ambassador has operated until now from outside of the country and has only been able to visit the country a handful of times over the past year.
Questions and Answers – in Brief:
We can learn from this that while the US is keen on acting as a convening figure and supports the diplomatic UN-led process, it has no intention on taking the lead on Libya, preferring to leave this to the Germans or other European powers. We further get a clear sense that Libya remains low on the list of American foreign policy concerns, and certainly has no intention to get military involved, beyond its occasional efforts to take out ISIS, Al-Qaeda or other Islamist terror elements as they regroup. Russia’s increased role may have sparked some interest in Washington in the conflict, but it is difficult to see the US doing much more than it currently is doing.
UN Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame announced earlier this week, surprisingly, he was resigning after nearly 3 years in his thankless position. While the official reason sited was “health concerns”, this was clearly influenced by unending stress and frustration from both sides of the conflict constantly violating the ceasefire reached just weeks ago. The bombing and shelling over the weekend may have been the proverbial straw that broke Salame’s back.
Despite not reaching a concrete achievement, we should not overlook that Salame managed to spark a positive process. The Berlin Conference in January was followed by two meetings of the 5+5 military dialogue, three meetings of the economic dialogue which was far more successful and one less successful meeting of the political dialogue track.
The ceasefire, brokered by Turkey and Russia earlier in January, however, is strained, especially after the high casualties on both sides over the weekend.
The big question now – will all this survive Salame’s resignation? Will his departure collapse the shaky platform built up over the last month? The UN, Europeans, US and especially the regional powers must ensure that this framework holds together while the UN nominates a replacement, and fast. Turkey must press the GNA to hold fire, while the UAE and Russia must press on Haftar to do the same. Salame’s departure is a serious blow for sure. But it doesn’t have to be a death knell to the positive political process that still needs a chance.
is the united states set to increase its involvement in libya? summary and thoughts on senate testimony
Two weeks ago (Feb 12), the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee invited the State Department to address the ongoing crisis in Libya and offer directions for US policy. Testimonies were given by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Christopher Robinson, with opening remarks from Senator (R- ID) Jim Risch from the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senate testimonies on key issues can help gain understanding into the thinking and possible direction of the administration. On Libya, American leadership has been noticeably absent. The overthrow of Ghaddafi by Libyans was facilitated by Europe with American backing. However, as Libya broke down into a civil war that continues to this day, Europe has only recently attempted to return to a productive role in brokering a ceasefire. The US, aside from keeping ISIS at bay, has largely distanced itself from this conflict. This vacancy has allowed Russia, Turkey and other regional powers to step in, pumping arms, cash and mercenaries into the ongoing fighting.
Where is the US? Where is American leadership? Where is the one power that has the weight to balance out Russia and Turkey and help bring stability to the region?
In his opening remarks, Senator Risch referred to troubling developments in Libya that warrant American attention. He points out that months of fighting, referring to Haftar’s renewed efforts since April to take Tripoli, have left the sides in a stalemate. Risch describes the growing foreign influence that is complicating matters on the ground, including the inflow of illegal arms and military training, all of which are in violation of the UN arms embargo, especially Turkey and Russia who are pursuing agendas that run contrary to and at the expense of the Libyan people. He noted Turkey has deployed uniformed troops and now Syrian militia most recently to the fighting.
Risch further points to the burgeoning relationship between the Tripoli GNA and its “troubling” agreement with Erdogan’s Turkey, which granted Turkish military assistance to the GNA in exchange for a rewriting of the exclusive economic zones of both countries in order to lay claim to gas resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. This agreement helped Turkey cement its growing influence in the region.
Russia too has increased its in influence through sending mercenaries in what he called the “Syrian model” to Libya, whereby it floods the arena with arms and mercenaries, and then uses its newly created leverage to take over a UN-led “sham” political process intended only to grant it influence.
The Senator expressed concerns that the growing Russian foothold in Libya will let it leverage the flow of refugees to Europe, will complicate America and Europe’s counter-terror mission and generally sow discord within an already distracted European Union.
Risch noted that the US is concerned with a potential terror threat re-emerging, especially ISIS, an increasingly militarised southern Mediterranean region, an area vital for trade, and the destabilising threats to Europe of migration and terror that Russia could exploit. He further pointed to the importance of Libyan oil to the stability of global markets and how Haftar is currently undermining the supply.
Risch suggested the US continue supporting the GNA and actively work to discourage foreign intervention, while pushing all the sides to resume peace talks, and asked the administration expert witnesses to testify as to what the US can do to further promote stability.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker offered that the best way for the US to help stabilise Libya is to limit the foreign intervention, which has escalated the conflict and is threatening regional order and American interests, through halting the flow of arms, funds and personnel into Libya.
In late January and into February, the UN managed to convene the two sides for ceasefire talks, the first such in nearly a year. A part of this will require the incremental withdrawal of foreign mercenaries active in Libya. For a ceasefire to have any success, it will require a sustained effort by the US to press both sides to engage.
Schenker noted the threat to civilians, infrastructure, commercial aviation and the increased threat to already vulnerable migrants and refugees stuck in Libya. He also discussed the ongoing almost total shutdown of the petroleum sector by the LNA, and stressed that Libya’s National Oil Corporation must be allowed to continue its work for the sake of Libya’s financial stability.
The US must continue to emphasize to all parties involved that there is no durable military solution and continue promoting the UN-led political process. Ultimately, the Libyans themselves must resolve this crisis, de-escalate, honor the ceasefire and focus their energies on the political process.
He suggested that the US can help address the issues driving the conflict, including militias that operate freely, Islamist extremists and helping to push for a reunification and transparency among economic institutions, including the just distribution of economic resources.
The US will continue to push for stability. The US, he pointed out, cooperated with both the GNA and LNA on counter-terrorist missions and is essential in preventing the resurgence of terror groups. The US can continue and enhance its use of sanctions to pressure those threatening stability, however this is not a substitute for diplomatic engagement. The US also has a strong humanitarian role, where it provides health care, food, water, sanitation, hygiene, protection and shelter. US AID has invested over half a billion dollars in Libya since Ghaddafi’s over throw, 164 million in humanitarian aid.
The US’ efforts are complicated by foreign actors, Russia, Syria, Chad, Sudan, the UAE, Turkey and others, who are increasingly fighting proxy battles on Libyan soil in pursuit of their own agendas. Schenker noted that Secretary of State Pompeo told world leaders (in Berlin) “there are things we can do today to foster a stable, sovereign, united country that is inhospitable to terrorists, and one day capable of generating prosperity through its energy resources. … we must support a lasting cease-fire between Libyan parties and not just with words. …end the violence and flow of arms.”
However, the powers gathered in Berlin are not upholding their commitments to a ceasefire, some are deploying fighters, mercenaries and arms to Libya. Schenker made clear the US should help enforce the UN arms embargo, call on all foreign fighters to leave Libya, and ensure those violating the Council Resolutions face appropriate consequences.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Christopher Robinson focused his remarks on Russia’s role in the conflict. He pointed out that Russia employs military power and proxy actors to expand its influence on other countries seeking to assert their independence and sovereignty, offering the Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Syria as examples. Libya now risks being the next such venue for Russia to expand its influence, exploiting conflict to advance its own narrow gains. Robinson pointed to the wider work the State Department is doing trying to counter Russian “adventurism” throughout Africa, which can undermine American interests and lead to instability.
As to Libya, Robinson pointed to Russia’s destabilization, including the deployment of the Wagner Group (mercenaries) sanctioned by the US. He noted that Sec. State Pompeo called out Russia and Wagner’s role at the Berlin conference and is pressuring Russia to abide by the arms embargo. Russia denies it sent Wagner to Libya and seeks to maintain distance from the company. However, Robinson claims that Wagner and other mercenaries are really an instrument of foreign policy that carry low cost and low risk.
Robinson laid the blame for the continued conflict on actors like Russia, who push for continued conflict for their own interests in the region. In this regard, Russia can use its involvement to build a foothold, including military facilities and resources, in Libya.
The US must continue supporting the EU process and work to decrease Russia’s influence in Libya and the region, whether through public pressure or financial sanctions, and continue to press the EU countries to act in a similar manner. All this, to ensure Russia cannot act with impunity in Libya.
If the testimonies offer any indication, it is that the current administration recognizes the greatest challenge to improving stability in Libya at this time is to press both sides to continue talks, while working to limit foreign intervention, especially Russian and Turkish intervention. The testimonies also offer us an understanding that the US sees with growing concern Russia’s and Turkey’s increasing attempt to “take over” the conflict for their own interests.
The US can do much to help improve the conditions in which the two warring sides can come to the table and find a political solution, especially in providing a much needed counter-weight to Moscow and Ankara. It can use tools such as sanctions to help enforce this, along with its influence at the UN. The question is, as we head into the 2020 US Presidential elections, will the White House have the attention span to take on a greater diplomatic role in Libya? Will any candidate want to advance greater involvement in a foreign conflict? Its clear what the US should and can accomplish, the only question is whether it wants to.
According to Al-Monitor, Saudi Arabia seems to be increasing its presence and role in Libya in recent weeks, especially behind Haftar, and could become another potential power broker in a future political settlement.
Much of this stems from Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s concerns about Turkey’s growing engagement, especially as it sends Syrian mercenaries; Saudi Arabia and Turkey are long-time regional rivals. This involvement has been evident in both the diplomatic and military spheres, the website notes.
If this is accurate, then Saudi Arabia’s new and growing involvement would differ from their previous cautious support for Haftar, who is backed by Saudi Arabia’s closest ally the UAE. Saudi Arabia’s role is less visible, including in the military, financial and diplomatic spheres however. There is also another aspect, in which Saudi media, think-tanks and diplomats have worked to delegitimize Turkey’s intervention in the country.
A Saudi foreign policy analyst stressed that the kingdom’s main motivation is to counter Turkey’s growing military and diplomatic presence there and in the region, and prevent Turkey from establishing a North African foothold. Turkey’s moves, tied to its Eastern Mediterranean steps, could be a catalyst for regional instability. Riyadh also seeks to back one of its other main regional allies, Egypt, another major rival for Turkey. The analyst also explained that Riyadh seems to be on Haftar’s side as the LNA controls 90% of the territory that is backed by the elected parliament, and that it is no surprise that Al-Sarraj has to go to Turkey, a non-Arab power for help, while most Arab states back Haftar and the East. He compared Saudi Arabia’s efforts to their similar opposition to Iranian interference in Yemen and Syria. Saudi Arabia is concerned Turkey could move in an Iran-like direction and develop proxies and influence around the region.
One Turkish analyst pointed out that it is Turkey that should be concerned with Saudi Arabia’s alignment with the Madkhali Salafi movement, one of the ultraconservative Islamist militias tied to Haftar. He suggested that Saudi Arabia could try to connect between the LNA Salafist militias and the Misrata Salafists, to expand Riyadh’s presence in Libya.
IN the meantime, we can estimate that Saudi Arabia can be expected to only increase its role so long as Turkey does. Riyadh can only hope that perhaps Turkey will dial down its involvement in Libya as it incurs increasing challenges closer to home in Syria.
Earlier this week, the European Union announced its intention to form a maritime and aerial monitoring program to enforce the United Nation’s renewed arms embargo on Libya. There has been such an embargo in place for the past 9 years, the problem is that nobody enforced it.
Just one month ago, Germany and the EU managed to bring together major regional and international powers to Berlin to jump-start political talks between the GNA and LNA, the two warring sides in Libya. One week before that, Russia and Turkey announced a truce they were brokering, having brought Serraj and Haftar to Moscow with short notice. This was no coincidence.
We observed at the time that Europe’s renewed engagement in the Libya crisis had much to do with a wake-up realisation that they were soon to be edged out by Russia and Turkey, two powers vying for regional influence, energy resources, an access point to Africa and a way to leverage Europe. France and Italy, Libya’s former coloniser, have long had interests in Libya, each for different reasons, and were seen to be among the backers of the rival sides. France has long supported Haftar, especially due to his anti-Islamist stance, while Italy backs the GNA, primarily to halt the flow of migrants into Italy. However, the EU has long been busy with itself, Brexit and other challenges that loom, and ignored the brewing challenge just across the sea. Until now.
The Berlin conference, the Geneva meetings and most recently the announcement of the naval and aerial presence on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, all involved commitments to uphold the ceasefire and arms embargo, as Turkey, Russia, the UAE and others continue defying it. This led the UN Deputy Envoy for Libya to note the “arms embargo has become a joke”.
Europe knows and now admits that the only way to stop the fighting is to stop the foreign intervention. This is beyond arms, Tripoli’s front-lines now have a significant presence of Russians fighting Syrians sent by Turkey, while the UAE and Turkish soldiers are fighting a drone war and Russians and Turks operate air defence systems. The war is quickly being overtaken by foreign parties for foreign interests. Surely Europe has its own interests in Libya – oil, gas, stopping migrants and preventing terrorism from spreading to the continent. However, for the most part, Europe wins when Libya re-emerges as a stable and sovereign country that helps ensure its own stability along its southern shores.
Therefore, Europe has stepped up its efforts and has launched this mission. Ending the fighting and drying up the foreign support will do much to facilitate a political process. The timing has much to do with the emergence of Josep Borrell as the new EU foreign policy and defence chief, who seems intent on reasserting Europe in a meaningful way. “Europe must develop an appetite for power” Borrell said in Munich. He clarified this was not necessarily only military power, but that Europe must be able to act forcefully in securing its interests.
The agreement to launch the naval mission is a victory for Borrell, who did not wait for unanimity among the 27 EU member states. We note that some of the more nationalist countries, like Austria, Hungary and Italy, objected to the mission as the ships could become a magnet for migrants, who could purposefully put themselves at risk near the ships in order to be rescued and taken to Europe. The compromise was a promise the vessels would operate further to the east, and away from human trafficking routes. This rejection is what brought and end to the previous EU Operation Sophia, which focused on rescuing migrants and refugees. Borrell further acquiesced to this pressure, saying the operation would stop if it was seen to be attracting migrants rather stopping the flow of arms.
We have a lot of questions however. The step not only to back the UN arms embargo in word but in deed is a welcom step. But what is next? What happens when an EU vessel or satellite or radar picks up a Turkish vessel or Russian or UAE arms shipment or planeload full of mercenaries? Will the EU risk a military escalation with Turkey or Russia? Just how far is Europe willing to take this? Europe certainly won’t want to risk open conflict with its regional rivals, and Putin, Erdogan and others must surely be aware of this.
Of course, between physically stopping those violating the embargo and allowing shipments to pass, the EU could run to the Security Council and play “name and shame”. Will that be enough? Or will this too simply be a “joke”? Looking forward, the success of this operation will also have a lot of influence on whether the EU becomes less or more assertive in regional security matters. Much is riding on this, and time will tell.
senate dems call on white house to sanction haftar - washington has a major opportunity to unite over libya and play major stabilising role
Leading Democrats in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee are pressuring the White House to leverage existing Russia Sanctions legislation from 2017 in order to sanction Haftar.
Sen. Chris Murphy, (D-CN) at a senate testimony delivered by Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, David Schenker, pressed the administration as to why they weren't applying the mandatory legislation on Haftar. Wagner Group, a main private military contractor reported to be operating in Libya, was sanctioned in 2017 under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act - CAATSA. The sanction's language "mandates secondary sanctions on those who conduct significant transactions with the Russian defence and intelligence sectors". Wagner is believed to have close connections to the Kremlin. Murphy also wrote to Secretary of State Pompeo requesting a "comprehensive summary" of US efforts to counter Russia in Libya, and a "detailed analysis" of Haftar's relationship to Wagner, and whether this triggers CAATSA sanctions.
Schenker deflected the inquiry, noting Haftar was participating in the UN peace talks, and the White House did not want to discourage him. New Jersey Senator (D) Robert Menendez, who drafted the legislation, shot back that "CAATSA, it is not voluntary... it is not discretionary. It is mandatory." Menendez also pushed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who enforces sanctions, on the matter. Mnuchin replied that the decision to activate sanctions is a foreign policy one that must be made by the president, and that he only executes the directive.
Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine accused the administration of sending "mixed messages" on Libya.
Al Monitor reports that Congress' new and aggressive focus are the result of a major GNA PR push in Washington to pressure Russia and Haftar. Mercury Public Affairs, the group leading the lobbying efforts, is placing a spotlight on Haftar's connections to Wagner Group, and pointing to legislation that instructions the Director of National Intelligence to report on Wagner's role in Libya, Syria and elsewhere.
Republican Lindsey Graham (SC) also included Wagner Group in a new sanctions bill on Russia.
Al-Monitor points out, that the Trump Administration has also resisted pressure to sanction Turkey under CAATSA for its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system. The report claims that Secretary of State Pompeo essentially "moved the goal posts further back" in activating the sanctions from Turkey's purchase to when it decides to "operationalise" the system.
The US has been wary to get dragged into Libya, save for efforts to push back ISIS and other Islamic militant groups. Ironically, this is one issue that seems to have Democrats and Republicans united, even if they do not yet realise it. With Democrats pushing for pressure on Haftar and Russia, even if it is due to GNA lobbying efforts, and Republicans working to sanction Turkey, there is a rare opportunity for a divided Washington to come together, and help stabilise Libya in the process.
Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, should demand the White House investigate and sanction any outside actor providing mercenaries to the Libyan conflict. From a variety of international media reports, this most certainly includes the Russians with Wagner Group and others on Haftar's side, but also Turkey's introduction of Syrian militants in the past two months on the GNA's side. Both efforts are egregious violations of UN resolutions and US law.
We have seen from other instances, Iran being the best known, that US financial sanctions can be quite effective. As destabilising regional and international actors aggressively stake their claim on Libya, a stabilising American presence would be more than welcome, especially as the Europeans seem to be faltering in pushing back the Russians and Turks from overtaking the Libyan conflict. Moreover, at a time of great divisiveness in Washington, this could be a foreign policy issue that unifies both sides of the aisle, showing American leadership without dragging the US into another unnecessary conflict.
Algeria and Tunisia seek to exert a greater stabilising influence in Libya. Unlike Libya’s other neighbour Egypt, who has clearly chosen sides, Algeria and Tunisia have chosen a strategy of neutrality and working to limit foreign interference in the ongoing civil war. Tunisian president Kais Saied, meeting his Algerian counterpart Abdelmjadjid Tebboune, stressed the need for a political solution driven by Libyans themselves, and the need to fend off “foreign interference and weapons flows”. According to Tebboune, "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".
Both countries have stayed out of Libya until recently due to their own economic and political challenges. Tunisia has struggled to find stability after it overthrew its long-time dictator in 2011. Algeria remained largely sidelined as its long-time leader suffered a stroke in 2013, who only recently forwent reelection due to growing public pressure. It may be that Haftar took advantage of Algeria’s internal challenges to launch assaults on Fezzan and later against Tripoli.
As we have mentioned on this site, Algeria has a long political tradition of prioritising diplomacy and opposing foreign intervention. It recognises the GNA as Libya’s legitimate government, but at the same time recognises Haftar as a legitimate stakeholder. Until now, Algeria attempted to support bottom-up political dialogue in Libya, but this has failed to win the backing of Libyans.
Tebboune has described “Tripoli” as a red line that “no one should cross”, concerned that if Haftar breaks into the city, he will fail to hold it and only cause destruction, leading to instability that will spill over into his country. Algeria recalls a 2013 Al-Qaeda attack on its oil facilities carried out by Libyan extremists. Therefore, already in his first two months in office, Tebboune has made Libya priority. He has already organised the foreign ministers of North Africa to meet regarding Libya, and attained meetings in Berlin with Turkey’s Erdogan and UAE foreign minister Bin Zayed.
Tunisia holds similar views to Algeria, and the two are intricately linked in each other’s security space and thinking. Tunisia is even more at risk from Libyan instability, fearing an influx of refugees. It’s economy is also heavily reliant on tourism, and was hit hard in 2015 when an Al-Qaeda attack killed 60 at a beach-side resort. Thus, Tunisia as well places a heavy emphasis on maintaining stability.
Neither country wants or will allow a large-scale foreign military involvement in Libya. For now, they will push forward using the leverage of Algeria’s large military and their geographic positioning to “double down on diplomacy”.