Following the rise of so-called Islamic State (IS) in Libya, France and some of its allies – including the US and the UK – provided support to local forces. Some of these groups were those from the Libyan city of Misrata, who were aligned (albeit belatedly and conditionally) with the GNA, but some support – particularly from the French – also went to the LNA who have maintained a strong stance against the GNA, the internationally recognised government in Libya.
By working with these local groups rather than going through the GNA, these countries weakened the legitimacy of the GNA and emboldened rival groups. They showed how little [the GNA] was actually able to deliver to the forces on the ground in terms of weapons, money or political support. As a result, the GNA has continued to lack any real coalition of political and armed groups backing it and while some militias have mobilised against Haftar, it remains unclear how many will stay allied with the GNA once the immediate fighting has stopped.
Even amidst the recent violence, contradictory national policies have hindered concerted international efforts to stem the violence. France stopped an EU statement, calling for a ceasefire, from mentioning Haftar and the US (as well as Russia) said it could not agree to a UN Security Council resolution condemning Haftar. In fact, according to the White House account of the conversation, President Trump also went as far as to publicly praise the general's “significant role in fighting terrorism.” In doing so, both countries are providing tacit approval for the general’s policies and actively applying diplomatic pressure to prevent international condemnation of his actions.
As the international community seeks to stem the ongoing violence, it must take stock of the devastating impact of French (and to some extent US and UK) policy towards Libya. Not only have these policies stymied progress but they have also exacerbated tensions and instability within an already fragile political situation. Strongmen cannot provide stability in the long-term, the sooner we learn this the sooner we stop perpetuating instability and violence in the places we intervene. The international community must urgently reassess the operations of countries like France in Libya, which have emboldened General Haftar – potentially to the detriment of regional security.
On July 27, two Ukrainian Il-76TDs - UR-CMC & UR-CRP cargo air planes were destroyed at al-Jufrah Air Base in central Libya by a Government of National Accord (GNA) UAV strikes. The drones are believed to be from Turkish origin. The 2 transport cargoes belonged to an unspecified cargo company based overseas and were used by the Libyan national Army (LNA) for logistic support.
These kind of cargo planes are widely believed to be used by the LNA to smuggle armament into Libya supplied mainly by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Haftar forces despite the ongoing arms embargo on both warring factions in the conflict. Both sides are known to be employing drones provided by foreign allies, as evidenced by the widely recorded UAE-supplied drone strikes conducted by the LNA, and in turn, the use of Turkish-made drones by the GNA, with the latest proof being the crash of an GNA support Turkish UAV in Aziziyah, 30 kilometres south of Tripoli on July 29.
These violations to foreign intervention have continued to take place despite the rare statement issued by France, Britain, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the United States and Italy on July 16 calling for an immediate end of hostilities around the Libyan capital.
In the communique they “reiterate their deep concern about ongoing hostilities in Tripoli, call for an immediate de-escalation and halt to the current fighting, and urge the prompt return to the UN-mediated political process. There can be no military solution in Libya. Persistent violence has claimed nearly 1,100 lives, displaced more than 100,000, and fuelled a growing humanitarian emergency. The ongoing confrontation has threatened to destabilise Libya’s energy sector, and exacerbated the tragedy of human migration in the Mediterranean.”
A situation that has produced tensions between European powers amid the Libyan conflict over recent months is the alleged support that France is providing to Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA). In tandem, Libya’s former European colonial ruler, Italy, and other European Union member-states support the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), which Haftar does not see as legitimate.
France and Italy have long competed for influence in the Maghreb, nonetheless, the current situation in Libya has heightened tensions between both countries, leading to rather incendiary statements by Italian officials. While supporting different actors, Paris and Rome ultimately share many interests in Libya’s future. Neither would like to see extremist groups gain a long-term foothold in Libyan and both countries would like for a political settlement in Libya to help Europe deal with the arrival of refugees and migrant workers from African and Arab countries.
Regardless of these common interests in Libya, France and Italy have extremely different strategies for advancing them. Italy believes that France’s pro-Haftar policies have been dangerous and fuel further instability.
In fact, In January, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, argued that France “has no interest in stabilising the situation, probably because it has oil interests that are opposed to those of Italy”. This led to a considerable outcry by French authorities, with Paris summoning Italy’s ambassador and demanding an explanation.
For President Emmanuel Macron, Paris’ alleged support for Haftar has been about countering perceived Islamist terror threats and enhancing France’s prestige on the international stage.
Given the long standoff in Tripoli, experts have grown increasingly pessimistic about the possibility of a diplomatic solution between Libya’s warring factions over the foreseeable future. In light of these circumstances, it is easy to imagine both France and Italy as well as Europe in general suffering from a heightened terrorism threat from Libya, as well mismanagement of migrant arrivals that have been fuelling the ascendancy of far-right views across the continent in recent years.
How the standoff on Tripoli will evolve and the extent to which this conflict might continue eroding the historically strong French-Italian relationship is difficult to predict. Yet the fighting in Libya is unlikely to end any time soon and it is difficult to imagine Paris and Rome finding themselves on the same page regarding the best strategy for the country.
Despite the UN-recognition that the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) currently enjoys, it's no secret that many major players in the region actively prefer their rivals in Tobruk, particularly General Haftar & his LNA - who count amongst their unofficial backers France, the UAE, Egypt and others. Turkey & Qatar have been vocal in their support of the al-Sarraj government, with rumoured backing from Italy - although GNA Minister of the Interior Fathi Bashagha is allegedly not entirely supportive of either.
In this context it's slightly less surprising that Bashagha is supposed to undertake a secretive trip to Moscow in the very near future - the GNA is clearly exploring any & all options as they fight for survival in the face of the current LNA offensive.
What's slightly more surprising is that Russia has been seen as backing General Haftar; the LNA commander has met with the Russian Minister of Defence previously, and supposedly enjoys a relationship with Evgeny Prigozhin, a Russian billionaire with considerable political influence. With the LNA offensive on Tripoli stalling, coupled with serious cracks that have emerged in the LNA alliances amongst western Libyan militias, rapprochement between the GNA & Russia could signal an upcoming, significant policy change from Moscow.
This is a developing story, one which it will be worth to follow closely.
H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, received on Tuesday Dr. Ghassan Salamé, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative in Libya.
The meeting held at the Ministry's Diwan in Abu Dhabi discussed ways to enhance bilateral relations between the UAE and the UN through partnerships in developmental and humanitarian domains.
Sheikh Abdullah praised the role played by the UN in Libya and particularly commended Salamé's efforts in this regard.
Dr. Ghassan Salamé briefed Sheikh Abdullah about the developments in Libya and the UN endeavours there.
Sheikh Abdullah reiterated the UAE's keen support to ensure success to the UN's efforts aimed at addressing differences among the Libyan parties, putting an end to the humanitarian plight there and combating extremist and terrorist groups and armed militias and disarming them.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Libya lauded the cooperation between the UAE and the UN. He also applauded the prestigious status of the UAE regionally and internationally and its vital role in providing humanitarian and developmental aid.
Hundreds of residents of the Libyan city, Benghazi, protested against the “blatant interference” by Turkey in the Libyan affairs.
Pictures of protesters carrying pro-Libyan National Army (LNA) banners, and calling for the unity of their country spread in several media outlets.
Protesters demanded Turkey to stop supporting the forces affiliated with the Government National Accord (GNA) with weapons, arguing it “helps militias strengthen their control on Tripoli.”
A number of Libyan lawmakers, currently meeting in Egypt as part of the Cairo-sponsored discussions between Libyan factions, have called for Egypt to combat the Turkish intervention in Tripoli.
During a Cairo-hosted conference for Libyan powers last month, former Libyan Interior Minister Saleh Ragab accused Turkey and Qatar of smuggling weapons to terrorist groups and militia in Libya to keep fighting against the Libyan National Army (LNA) in Tripoli.
The evolution of the Turkish logistic support of militias in Libya has been discussed in a press statement by the Libyan National Army, referring to the “[Turkish] use of military aircrafts to transport mercenaries, as well as ships carrying weapons, armored vehicles and ammunition to support terrorism in Libya.”
France's defence ministry confirmed Wednesday that missiles belonging to the French military had been found on a base used by forces loyal to Libyan rebel leader Khalifa Haftar but denied supplying them, which would be a breach of a UN arms embargo. The US-made Javelin missiles, found in the rebel camp south of Tripoli, belonged to the French military but were reportedly defective and scheduled to be destroyed.
“Damaged and unusable, the armaments were being temporarily stocked at a depot ahead of their destruction,” a statement from the French ministry of defence said. The missiles were intended for the “protection of a French military unit deployed to carry out counter-terrorism operations”, the ministry added. In its statement, the French ministry of defence also denied the Javelins had been given to Haftar’s forces, and it further reiterated that the arms were not subject to import restrictions because they were intended for the protection of French troops.
“France has long supported all established forces engaged in the fight against terrorism, in Libya, in the Tripoli area and in Cyrenaica (the east of the country), as well as more broadly in the Sahel,” it said. “There was never any question of selling, yielding, loaning or transferring these munitions to anybody in Libya.”
France broadly supports Haftar, regarding his forces as helpful in the fight against Islamist militants. The New York Times reported earlier that the four Javelin anti-tank missiles were recovered last month by forces from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) during a raid on the town of Gheryan, in the mountains south of Tripoli.
Haftar, whose forces hold eastern Libya and much of the country’s south, launched an offensive in early April to wrestle the capital from forces loyal to the GNA. Gheryan was the headquarters for Haftar’s forces as they amassed for the assault. More than 1,000 people have died in the fighting since Haftar launched his offensive on Tripoli, including scores killed in an air strike that hit a detention centre for migrants.
Six Turkish sailors detained in Libya by forces loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar returned home on July 9. Onur Çakir, Mehmet Yilmaz Odabasi, Eyüp Eryilmaz, Necmettin Demirhan, Eren Çakir and Birol Kutlu flew from Libya's capital Tripoli to Istanbul.
“My internet was limited, so I contacted my family as much as possible. I kept saying I was fine. We were fine. We went through a lot of stuff, but I tried not to mention it,” Onur Çakir told reporters. “May Allah be pleased with Mr. President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and our ambassador to Libya. They were really involved in our situation. Our boss in Libya, Mr. Samir, also took care of us. May Allah be pleased with all of them. There is no place like our country,” said Eyüp Eryilmaz.
On June 28, Haftar's spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari announced a ban on commercial flights from Libya to Turkey and said Haftar had ordered his forces to attack Turkish ships and interests in the country.
Following the move, the Turkish Embassy in Tripoli said on its website that its citizens should avoid any steps that would jeopardise their security and safety in the regions under control of the illegal militia loyal to Haftar.