Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar warned on Sunday that the forces of Khalifa Haftar and their supporters based in eastern Libya would be viewed as “legitimate targets” if they attempted to attack Turkish forces in the region.
Turkey is the main foreign backer of Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, which for years has been fighting Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). The LNA is backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
In October, the GNA and LNA signed a ceasefire agreement, and the United Nations has been pushing a political dialogue aimed at elections next year as a solution to the conflict.
Russia on Wednesday called for international efforts seeking a peace settlement in Libya to be intensified, Reuters reported.
Speaking during a visit to Turkish troops in Tripoli, Akar said Haftar had recently started making calls targeting Turkish forces in Libya and calling for attacks on Turkish troops.
The minister called on all parties to support political talks instead.
“This war criminal thug Haftar and his backers should know that in the event of any attack attempt waged on Turkish forces, the killer Haftar’s forces will be viewed as legitimate targets everywhere,” Akar said.
“They should get this in their heads. If they do something like this, they will have nowhere to run.
“Everyone should contribute to reaching a political solution here. Any move other than this is wrong.”
Turkish ship searched
Turkey has sent military personnel and equipment to the GNA, helping to turn the tide of the war in Libya, while engaging in talks with Moscow for a solution to the conflict between the GNA and LNA.
Both sides have stopped short of withdrawing forces from the frontline, as demanded by the truce.
Last month, Turkey and Germany traded barbs over the search of a Turkish freight ship by a European Union military mission in the Mediterranean aimed at enforcing the Libyan arms embargo, in a move Ankara called illegal.
This month, the LNA also intercepted a Turkish ship, under a Jamaican flag, heading to the port of Misrata, prompting an angry
Libya’s Khalifa Haftar urges his forces to ‘drive out’ Turkish soldiers
Libya’s eastern commander Khalifa Haftar called on his fighters to “drive out” Turkish forces backing the UN-recognised government, calling Ankara a “coloniser” as talks drag on to end a long-running war in the north African country.
“There will be no peace in the presence of a coloniser on our land,” Haftar said in a speech on Thursday to mark Libya’s 69th anniversary of its independence from Britain and France.
“We will therefore take up arms again to fashion our peace with our own hands… and, since Turkey rejects peace and opts for war, prepare to drive out the occupier by faith, will and weapons.”
His comments came as the head of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, Fayez al-Sarraj, called on Libyans to “turn the page on disagreements to achieve stability”.
Sarraj said the only way for this to be possible was to achieve “solidarity between political forces”.
Libya, a big oil producer, has been plagued by a series of crises since a Nato-backed uprising toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The country is currently split between two rival administrations: the GNA, led by Sarraj, and the House of Representatives based in the eastern city of Tobruk, which is allied with Haftar.
Haftar, backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, has taken over most of the eastern part of the country, and between April 2019 and June 2020, his Libyan National Army (LNA) staged a brutal assault on Tripoli in an attempt to seize the capital from the UN-recognised GNA.
Still, the offensive faltered amid fierce resistance from the GNA and its allies, including Turkey.
A ceasefire signed in October under the auspices of the UN has allowed the rival parties to return to the negotiating table.
Sarraj said elections slated for 24 December 2021 were an “historic opportunity that should not be missed”.
Turkey’s parliament passed a measure this week to extend the deployment of its troops to Libya by 18 months.
Earlier this month, Haftar’s forces intercepted a Turkish cargo ship and towed it to the port of Ras al-Hilal, east of Benghazi, before releasing it following the payment of an undisclosed fee.
In the US, multiple Libyan families have filed lawsuits against Haftar, targeting his properties and assets in the country, accusing him of torture and war crimes.
Haftar gives Turkey a choice – ‘leave or war’
Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar has issued statements to Turkey, giving Turkey a choice between leaving the country peacefully or war, confirming that: “Decisive confrontation between the two sides is about to take place.”
During a ceremony on Thursday in Benghazi, by the LNA’s General Command on the occasion of the 69th anniversary of the independence of Libya, Haftar announced:
“Independence has no value, freedom has no meaning, there is no security and no peace while the feet of Turkish soldiers desecrate the sanctity of our land. The enemy has no other choice, either leave voluntarily and in peace, or we will make you leave by the force of arms and strong will.“
“The era of your colonial illusions is over, and you have to choose whether to leave or fight,” declared Haftar, conveying: “Turkey and its mercenaries are continuing to mobilise for war, in which, if the first bullet is fired, they have to prepare for certain death.“
“There is no peace as long as the coloniser is still here, and with his presence on our land, we will take up arms to achieve peace with our hands and our free will. We will make peace with our heroic army that knows nothing but victory and our soldiers who chased terrorists from Benghazi and the south until they reached our people in Tripoli.“
The army commander called on: “The heroic officers and soldiers and all Libyans to be prepared for war as long as Turkey rejects the notion of peace, in order to expel the coloniser with our robust will and peace.“
Haftar concluded: “The decisive confrontation has loomed on the horizon, as we monitored manoeuvres and mobilisation of Turkish mercenaries and their recruits near the front lines, and the race to accumulate weapons and equipment and build bases and military operations rooms.“
Turkey is the largest external supporter of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) in its confrontation with the Haftar-led LNA, supported by Egypt.
Turkey will consider Haftar’s force a ‘legitimate target’ if attacked in Libya
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said rebel General Khalifa Haftar and his forces will be considered legitimate targets if they attack Turkish elements situated in Libya, state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Sunday.
Akar made an official visit to Tripoli on Saturday to meet with officials from the internationally recognised Government of National Accord following Haftar’s threat to drive out Turkish armed forces from Libya if they did not pull out peacefully.
“This war criminal, the murderer Haftar and his supporters should know that in any attempt to attack the Turkish elements, the murderous Haftar elements will be seen as legitimate targets everywhere,”
Akar told Libya-based Turkish military officials in an address late on Saturday, according to Anadolu. “They will find no place to escape to after making such a move.”
Turkey supports the Tripoli-based GNA in its conflict with the eastern opposition forces led by Haftar, who is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, among other countries. GNA forces, backed by Turkish military assistance, had repelled Haftar’s 14-month-long offensive to capture Tripoli, stabilising frontlines since July.
The GNA’s defence minister Salah Eddine al-Namrush praised Turkey’s role in strengthening Tripoli’s military during Akar’s visit. He said that new training centres were set to open to further build on Turkey’s training mission in Libya.
A delegation from Egypt, which in June threatened military intervention if the GNA and Turkey attacked strategic positions on the frontline, arrived in Tripoli on Sunday to hold meetings with GNA officials, Libya Review reported on Sunday. The delegation includes deputies of the Defence Ministry, Foreign Ministry and the deputy intelligence chief, it said.
The visit was the first of its kind since 2014 by Egyptian officials to Tripoli, Libya Review said.
The GNA and LNA signed a United Nations-brokered ceasefire deal In October, which envisions all foreign fighters and mercenaries to leave Libyan soil within a three-month period and a political roadmap leading to national elections in December 2021.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the settlement was not a ceasefire at the “highest echelons” and questioned “putschist” Haftar’s credibility in the truce talks.
During his visit, Akar met with high-ranking GNA officials, including Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga and head of the Libyan High Council of State Khalid al-Mishri, to discuss political developments and reiterate continued security cooperation between the GNA and Turkey, the Libyan Observer reported on Saturday.
Bashaga praised Turkey’s role in helping the GNA push the LNA back and its contribution “in building the new Libya” away from regionalism, tribalism, and the one-man rule, the Libyan Observer said.
“Libya strives to work with Turkey, according to the principles of mutual respect and in areas of shared interest,” Bashaga said.