Libya's UN-recognised government signed an agreement Wednesday regarding maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean sea. According to Reuters News Agency, this could create disputes between Turkey and other countries over issues of natural resource exploration. Relations are already tense between Greece and Turkey over Turkish drilling near Cyprus.
Egypt, situated to the west of Libya, described the agreement as "illegal", while Greece pointed out the agreement ignores the existence of the Greek island of Crete, situated between Turkey and Libya. No details were given of where the maritime border would be situated.
The two governments further announced a deal to expand security and military cooperation. Greece and Turkey, long-time regional rivals, have been at odds over Mediterranean energy resources. Egypt has also had tense relations with Turkey, who are backing opposing sides in Libya's civil war, including with military support and arms.
Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte said, in an interview over the weekend, that foreign military intervention would not resolve the ongoing conflict in Libya. He further warned that it might lead to a "humanitarian crisis" and an increase in refugees, including from Libya, trying to make their way to Europe. Conte said that the international community should press all the sides to enter a dialogue to end the fighting.
Libya is a former Italian colony. Today, Italian energy companies are significant players in Libya's oil sector.
Additional Sudanese mercenaries were reported to be heading to Libya in support of Haftar's LNA forces, according to Arabi21 reporting this week. Reportedly, the site obtained an exclusive video showing the Sudanese forces being transferred from Bani Walid to Tarhouna. In July, sources reported that Sudan Liberation Front forces, a paramilitary group formerly known as the Janjaweed, was being used as mercenaries for hire in a number of conflict zones, especially in Yemen and now in Libya, as discussed here on our site.
The US Embassy in Libya announced this week (Nov 24) that a senior delegation, including the US ambassador to Libya and senior administration officials, from the National Security Council, Department of Energy and US AFRICOM, met with General Khalifa Haftar, who is heading the LNAs's opposition efforts in Libya's ongoing civil conflict.
The US stressed its "full support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya and expressed serious concern over Russia's exploitation of the conflict at the expense of the Libyan people."
The discussions with Haftar followed a series of discussions with GNA officials, in an attempt to "establish a common basis for progress between the parties... in the context of moving toward a ceasefire." The US will continue to take action against extremist elements and terror groups, and urged the "parties to seize this opportunity to build a secure and prosperous future for Libya."
The US military command in Africa - AFRICOM - said it lost an unmanned drone over Tripoli last week and is looking into the incident. According to the military, the drone was not armed, and was used by the US military for intelligence gathering purposes in its ongoing counter-terror efforts in the country. The US military has continued to operate against Islamist extremists in Libya as the civil war continues. The US did not disclose details about the drone. AFRICOM conducted several successful strikes against ISIS strongholds in Libya in September 2019.
The US Congress is seeking to sanction Russia for its role in supplying mercenaries to Libya's civil war.
The Senate is set to introduce legislation that would enact financial sanctions to limit Russian mercenary activity. The administration would have to apply visa bans and freeze US property for those involved in arms trafficking, exploiting Libya's oil reserves or human rights abuse. It would also push the administration to work with humanitarian organisations to ensure aid be delivered to appropriate channels.
According to a Russia expert, "Russia is very interested in oil reserves, it is very interested in restoring previous contacts, it will be interested in supporting the side that can deliver that.... it maintains good contacts with this camp and that camp trying to decide where the situation is going."
Former US Africom commander told Congress that Russia's strategy involved invoking Gaddafi-era "relationships and debts to obtain economic and military contracts".
So far - Russia has been little able to affect migrant flow as a way to pressure Europe - since most of the ports are controlled by GNA-linked militias, while Russia currently backs the LNA. This is, as it likely thinks it can have more leverage over Haftar and the LNA.
However, this strategy may have backfired. Haftar has showed he is limited in what he can achieve, as he has not been able to take Tripoli even with Russian help. Moreover, Russia's interference seems to have caused the US to pay attention and reinject energy into the issue as a priority.
The State Department recently reiterated its "support for Libya's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's attempts to exploit conflict against the will of the Libyan people". After what seemed like a shift in US policy to support Haftar, the State Department and now Congress seem to be coming back around to the UN-backed GNA.
Such legislation would also give State Department $23 million to invest in Libyan civil society and elections over 4 years, ahead of the UN backed Berlin conference expected to take place by year end, as well as instruct the administration to appoint a Libya envoy.
The Tripoli-based government said that the two Russians arrested on charges of spying earlier this year are believed to be a part of the Wagner Group, a private Russian military contractor known to be operating in Libya's conflict.
The information was related on a visit by GNA interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, to |Washington last week. He updated that the Russian nationals were suspected of trying to influence municipal elections as well as gather intelligence on GNA military efforts, in favour of Haftar's LNA. Bashagha noted the men had confessed to these charges. The Russian individuals had, reportedly, also met with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who is wanted for war crimes charges by the ICC.
The Washington Post reports that the spying operation and arrests come at a time of growing concerns about Russia's increased involvement in Libya's internal conflict. Russia has denied any knowledge of Russian mercenaries operating in Libya.
American drone strikes against ISIS targets in the south of Libya are proving to be effective. Four strikes were carried out over a 10-day period in September, killing 43 ISIS fighters, or about one-third of the group's presence in Libya currently. According to American officials, the strikes were carried out by Reaper drones based in nearby Niger, as ISIS attempts to regroup in the largely lawless area of southwest Libya.
According to AFRICOM, the US military command in Africa, recruitment is the most important element for ISIS Libya and other extremist groups, especially as it seeks to recover from the recent death of its global leader Abu Bakr al-Baghadi. Terrorism experts noted that the "overall threat from radical Islamist terrorist has not abated, and, in some regions, is growing", as "groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda expand into new areas".
According to one expert, while most of the civil war is taking place in the north, the US strikes on ISIS in the south have kept the group form conducting its usual attacks and operating freely.
The US State Department said it would back Libya's internationally recognised Tripoli government against efforts by Russia to exploit the ongoing conflict.
“The U.S. delegation... underscored support for Libya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s attempts to exploit the conflict against the will of the Libyan people". This was the strongest American warning yet since the LNA's April offensive on Tripoli began and Russia began sending mercenaries to help Haftar's efforts.
New estimates place the number of Russian mercenaries directly involved in combat roles at over 1400 troops - including in infantry, artillery and air support roles. One Western official estimated that there were 25 air force troops, including pilots and support crew, while other sources said the pilots were flying Sukhoi-22 jets belonging to the LNA. Russia denies it had mercenaries in Libya.
US policy ha been unclear on Libya. While the State Department backs the UN recognised Tripoli government and called for a cease-fire, President Trump personally indicated support for General Haftar earlier this year. However, the launching of the US-Libya Security Dialogue with the GNA made clearer Washington's position.
According to a Libya expert at the Middle East Institute, this is more of a reaction to Russia's presence than it is support for the GNA.
A joint statement put out by the US government and Libyan Government of National Accord launched a US -Libya Security Dialogue in Washington DC earlier this week (Nov. 14). The US called on the Libyan National Army to end its offensive on Tripoli and said the new cooperation platform is intended to help prevent "undue foreign interference, reinforce legitimate state authority and address the issues underlying the conflict."
The US delegation also underscored support for Libya's sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russian attempts to exploit the conflict for its own purposes.