French president Emmanuel Macron has come out against Turkish president Erdogan over breaking his promise made in Berlin to refrain from interfering in the Libyan conflict. Macron referenced Turkish naval vessels spotted off the Tripoli shore, as Syrian mercenaries continue to flow to Libya to back the GNA. Macron described Turkey's moves as "detrimental to the security of all Europeans and Sahelians".
Alongside its historic colonial role in North Africa, France has long been active in the Sahel region, which borders on southern Libya, in fighting militant Islamist groups. France maintains around 4500 special forces active in the area.
World leaders committed to cease their foreign intervention last week in Berlin, including France and Turkey. While Turkey directly and openly backs the GNA, France is seen to more indirectly back Haftar and the LNA. In doing so, it has been at the forefront of the split and inconsistency that characterises the EU's policy on Libya, with Italy being seen as the most invested country backing the GNA.
An editorial in the London-based Financial Times calls for the international community to end its hypocrisy in Libya. The editors note that the Berlin conference, which took place a week ago, provided for a “moment of cautious optimism”. However, much like after previous attempts to forge peace between the sides, fighting escalated almost instantly exposing the hypocrisy of those foreign powers who continue to interfere in the conflict.
A recent UN statement called out several of those who participated for continuing to provide arms, although it did not refer to any country in particular. The UAE and Egypt continue to break the embargo in favour of Haftar, while Turkey breaks the embargo in favour of Sarraj, including its latest move of deploying advisory troops and Syrian militias.
The Berlin meeting, the paper claims, was “hastily arranged” to prevent further escalation. Turkey’s increased role and US and European concerns about Russia’s entranced pushed these to come back to the Libya table. However, as Haftar’s forces continue fighting and block Libya’s oil infrastructure, there is “barely a murmur” from the international community, including from those who attended the conference.
The authors note that Haftar can be stubborn and ruthless, and continues to believe a military solution is preferable to diplomacy. However he is heavily dependent on his foreign backers, who increasingly seem to be involved for their own gains and to ensure significant influence for the day after. This is not good for the Libyan people. Europe and the US must take responsibility for their role in Libya’s ongoing conflict and immediately work to cease providing arms or fighters fuelling the war.
The French Le Monde is reporting that Saudi Arabia is behind the financing of Russian Wagner private military contractors said to be operating in Libya on behalf of Haftar’s LNA.
The Le Monde report reveals between 300 and 2000 Russian mercenaries involved in the offensive on Tripoli since Sep 2019 – confirming around 30 have been killed.
Le Monde says Haftar had been courting Moscow for some years to obtain its help, offering lucrative energy and infrastructure projects in exchange. Russia began helping Haftar in 2017, and in late 2019, reportedly stepped up its efforts by deploying Wagner mercenaries.
Russia denies the mercenaries are operating on behest of Moscow.
Similarly, Turkish president Erdogan claims that the Russian mercenaries in Libya are funded by the UAE. In a rare direct attack on Abu Dhabi, who backs Haftar, Erdogan accused the UAE of footing the bill for the roughly 1500 Russian Wagner fighters currently believed to be in Libya. The mercenaries began arriving after Haftar’s renewed push for Tripoli.
Turkey seems content with providing some military support to the GNA. For his role, Putin does not deny that Russian security contractors may be working in Florida, however he insists that they are in any ways connected to the Israeli government.
The Turkish Ahval news site takes us deeper into the world of Syrian mercenaries fighting for Turkey in Libya. The paper claims over 3000 Syrian militia fighters have been deployed to Libya by Turkey in recent weeks.
Following the controversial military cooperation agreement in signed in November, Turkey pledged to increase its military backing for the GNA. It sends military instructors to train GNA forces on advanced arms such as drones, continues to use a private military contractor Sadat and lately, introduced Syrian mercenaries to conduct front-line fighting on behalf of the GNA and Turkey.
The Syrian fighters are recruited by Turkish intelligence working with various warlords in Syria. Brigades of fighters, such as the Al-Hamza brigade, Al-Mutassim, Suqure al-Sham and the Sultan Mourad divisions are mostly comprised of Syrian ethnic Turkmen. Over the last few weeks, there has been a steady influx of planes going between Turkey and Tripoli carrying the fighters and their equipment.
Fighters are paid around $2000 a month, significantly more than the $90 a month they were receiving in Syria. They further receive paid vacation and are compensated $3300 if wounded, or their families receive $10,000 and a home if the fighter is killed. Some have mentioned Turkey is offering citizenship as a recruiting tool.
Fighters interviewed by Ahval said they did not even know where Libya is on a map or why they are being sent. Once there, they are housed in civilian homes and trained by Turkish intelligence before being sent to the front lines. There, they are treated like Turkish military. However, the use of Syrians helps Erdogan avoid the public backlash he would face over Turkish deaths. So far, at least 28 Syrians are aid to have been killed in Libya.
The EU’s lack of cohesion and focus in Libya, combined with the US’ lack of interest have allowed for Russia and Turkey to infiltrate and dominate Libya, according to a recent Le Monde report reported in Al Jazeera.
The Le Monde report further juxtaposes the EU and US’ failure to support the post-Gaddafi transition with regional actors’ growing activism.
The report connects Turkey and Russia’s efforts to the growing ties between the two (despite that they support the opposing sides in Libya), as they are set to launch the TurkStream project, a 930 km underwater gas pipeline from Anapa on the Russian Black Sea to Kiyikoy in Turkey. The pipeline will carry Russian gas for Turkish consumption, while a second leg scheduled for construction will use Turkey as a hub to bring Russian gas to southeast Europe, bypassing the Ukraine and further boosting Turkey’s regional position as an energy hub. The two also recently enhanced their military cooperation after Turkey purchased the Russian S-400 missile defense system the previous year.
erdogan determined to resolve libya crisis - blames haftar's "uncompromising stance" - who only seeks military solution
Turkish president Erdogan is determined to help resolve the Libya crisis and is confident it will come to an end, despite Haftar’s “uncompromising stance”. Erdogan, speaking to reporters while visiting different African countries, said that a “road map” to solve the crisis has been determined and the GNA is abiding by it so far, even if Haftar continues to violate the ceasefire. Turkey is the main backer of the Tripoli-based GNA.
Erdogan stressed that Haftar has to be stopped if peace is to be achieved, referring to Haftar’s spokesman, who said that Haftar went to Berlin not to seek a political solution but to explain the LNA’s case to the world. This gave away Haftar’s real goals, according to Erdogan, who pointed out that Haftar only seeks a military solution and believes he can achieve it.
Erdogan further claimed that Abu Dhabi is financing Russian Wagner mercenaries in Libya fighting for Haftar. He stressed it is essential that al-Sarraj remain in power – as he is the leader showing willingness to cooperate and abide by international decisions while Haftar is the one refusing thus far. If the GNA can take back Sirte, captured weeks ago by Haftar, and maintain a hold on Misrata, this will present a huge blow to Haftar’s plans.
Unverified reports provided by LNA sources claim that hundreds of the roughly 2000 Syrian mercenaries brought to fight for the GNA by Turkey have fled and are trying to make their way to Europe. An LNA general was quoted as saying that the “mercenaries don’t believe they will be returning to Turkey or Syria, so trying to get to Europe most logical option for them”. The general claimed 147 mercenaries have already paid to reach Europe, with at least 41 having made it to Italy. The claims were not verified by the GNA or any other actor involved in the conflict.
Egypt is reported to be losing its patience and withdrawing its support for Khalifa Haftar. According to Algerian sources, and corroborated by Egyptian diplomatic sources, “communication (between Cairo and Haftar) has considerably deteriorated” in recent weeks, backing the claims Egypt is starting to “reconsider” its support for Haftar. Part of these claims are based on al-Sisi moving the “Haftar case” from the President’s office to military intelligence, and that a scheduled meeting between him and Haftar was cancelled, both signs of a downgrade in the connection.
The root of this has to do with Haftar’s failure to take Tripoli, an effort which began in earnest in April of 2019. Egypt is reportedly signalling it would prefer an alternative commander within the LNA.
The sources note that Haftar has had nine months and international backing to take Tripoli and has failed. Were he to have succeeded, Turkey would likely not have intervened. “Instead, the conflict is on the verge of dragging Egypt and Turkey into a regional conflict”, said the source.
The loss of Egyptian support, which has so far been crucial, has led Haftar to seek for support in other places, namely Russia and Greece. Haftar met with Greek officials prior to the Berlin conference, who pushed him to reach a political solution. Greece was not invited to the conference.
However, it may be that Haftar’s turn to Russia will have bigger consequences and that Russia is already replacing Egypt as the dominant foreign power in Libya. In a phone call between Putin and Sisi recently, Putin was reportedly “very short” with Sisi regarding Libya, and demanded Sisi “responds positively to Russia’s pressure for a ceasefire”. Cairo was only informed later and not included in the process.
It seems, at least according to this source, that Egypt and al-Sisi wish to see Haftar replaced with another senior LNA figure. The big question remains, how much influence does Egypt have at this point to make such a move happen. It’s not at all clear.
Summing up the outcome of the Berlin summit, the Irish Times claims that only moderate progress was made toward a durable ceasefire. The conference succeeded in bringing together the two warring factions and the various international powers backing them. That this seems to be the only achievement shows the extent to which the strategic interests of those key powers have become enmeshed in the conflict.
If anything came out of the conference, it is the general acceptance of the need to enforce the arms embargo and to find a political solution. However, the summit did not end with a ceasefire, rather only an agreement to appoint five people from each side to advance permanent ceasefire talks. One of the major challenges will the lack of leverage the EU and US have, especially as Russia an Turkey have increased their involvement.
An exclusive from The Guardian newspaper reports that 2000 Syrian militia fighters have made the trip from Syria, through Turkey and to Libya, or are en-route, according to multiple sources in all three countries.
The fighters are being deployed on behalf of Turkey, who late last month committed to increase its military aid to the Tripoli based GNA. So far, Turkey, which has supported the GNA since its inception, and has provided military support since Haftar launched his offensive in April of 2019, has relegated its support mostly to advisory and technical roles. Even as it committed to an increased military presence, the lack of public support for such a move combined with the Turkish military's logistical limitations have led it to send Syrian mercenaries instead of Turkish combat troops. Turkey has supported various Syrian opposition militias since the civil war began, especially some of the more Islamist elements within the coalition.
A Libya analyst working with the International Crisis Group, Claudia Gazzini, pointed out that the anti-Turkish sentiment in Libya is already strong, and this could drive up Haftar's popularity even more.
300 fighters from the Syrian National army have already been deployed, followed by 350 more in late December. They are currently on the front lines of the battle over Tripoli. Another 1350 fighters moved into Turkey on January 5, in preparation for the deployment. More fighters from the Islamist Sham Legion are considering joining the fight.
According to The Guardian, fighters sign 6-month contracts with the GNA (and not with the Turkish military) and receive a payment of $2,000 a month - significantly more than they earned fighting in Syria. Turkey has also reportedly offered the fighters Turkish citizenship, something it also did with Syrian fighters. Additionally, Turkey commits to paying all medical bills for the injured and to repatriate the dead to Syria. The Guardian confirmed at least 4 Syrian fighters have died so far in Libya.
However, both Ankara and Tripoli continue to deny the presence and use of Syrian fighters deployed to Libya by Turkey, and the fighters in Libya are banned from posting to social media.
Just a month ago, the Guardian reported that 3,000 Sudanese fighters along with around 600 Russian contractors, had been sent to Benghazi to back Haftar and the LNA.