Although all indications are that most of the principal players favour a political resolution, the military situation will remain volatile as long as Haftar’s forces are in Sirte and remain in control of the economically vital oil region.

Starting in mid-April 2020, the Government of National Accord (GNA)—the legitimate Libyan government—scored a series of rapid military victories against Khalifa Haftar, the retired general backed by Russia, the UAE, Egypt and France.

After ejecting Haftar’s forces from the western coastal strip and the Tripoli environs, in early June, GNA forces took the key city of Tarhouna, previously the base of Haftar’s operations in western Libya.

In the days that followed, the GNA seemed determined to push eastward toward Sirte and Jufra and then to the oil triangle, but the GNA advance was stopped by targeted airstrikes, likely Russian.

Since then, the two sides have settled into a stalemate, with no decisive military action seen in recent weeks and no tangible progress toward a ceasefire or negotiations, despite some promising efforts.

How long can the stalemate last? What are the factors favouring or militating against a military or diplomatic solution? And where do all the parties to the conflict currently stand, both the Libyan actors and the multiple foreign states involved in Libya?

The GNA’s victories shifted the balance of power and spurred recalculations among the parties to the conflict. The UAE redoubled its support for Haftar, but France distanced itself from the general, denying any military involvement in the country while decrying Turkish intervention on the side of the GNA.

Militarily, Russia appears to have dug in further, shoring up its combat forces in the country. In late May, it reportedly deployed 14 fighter jets to Libya, and in the weeks that followed, dozens of flights were observed between Syria and Benghazi, thought to be carrying Syrian mercenaries recruited by Russia.

Russian mercenaries have also reportedly deployed to major oil and gas fields, and Moscow has informed the GNA that the Sirte-Jufra front is a red line that cannot be crossed. Politically, however, Russia appears ready to abandon Haftar as its partner in Libya, throwing its support instead behind Aguila Saleh, the president of the House of Representatives in the east.

As for Turkey, its backing of the GNA—which was the decisive factor in the latter’s military victories—has been tempered by its wariness of Russia.

Throughout the last month, the GNA has pressured Turkey for additional military assistance to defeat Haftar and his allies in Sirte, but Turkey has held back to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia.

On the diplomatic front, all parties are involved in behind-the-scenes initiatives and informal talks designed to set the stage for a ceasefire and/or negotiations.

Most importantly, Morocco recently hosted both Aguila Saleh and Khalid al-Mishri, the chair of the GNA’s High Council of State.

Surprisingly, Mishri signalled that the GNA was prepared to amend the 2015 Skhirat Agreement to satisfy all parties while reiterating that the agreement remained the foundation for any future negotiations, thereby indicating that Tripoli will not negotiate with Haftar, but is open to talks with Saleh.

Although all indications are that most of the principal players favour a political resolution, the military situation will remain volatile as long as Haftar’s forces are in Sirte and remain in control of the economically vital oil region.

As a basis of negotiations, the GNA is demanding that Haftar withdraw from Sirte, while Turkey seems to be trying to persuade Moscow to have Haftar withdraw from Jufra and Sirte in advance of a ceasefire, followed by negotiations where Saleh—not Haftar—would represent eastern Libya.

Even if Turkey’s efforts do not succeed, in the current circumstances, Turkey would likely not support a GNA offensive against Sirte, since that would bring it into open conflict with Russia. That could change, however, if the US shifted its stance to become more aggressive about countering Russia in Libya and backing the GNA.

Ultimately, although the stalemate may persist for some time, the GNA is in a much better position than it was six months ago. Tripoli is more secure, and the military and political balance of power has tipped its way.

There is still the issue of stopping Haftar from exporting oil from the central and southern oil fields, but provided the general does not make another push westward, goaded by the UAE, Egypt or Russia, there is no real threat now to the GNA and the areas under its control. Although Haftar is not yet done militarily, he will likely not be an important political player moving forward.


Egypt’s Military Is Likely Headed Into Libya (And Turkey Is to Blame)

By Michael Rubin

Egypt is preparing to deploy its army outside its borders for the first time in almost 30 years. At issue is Libya, where Turkey has intervened to support Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, whose Tripoli-based government tilts to the Muslim Brotherhood if not even more virulent Islamist ideologies.

Is Cairo about to make a mistake? 

Egypt is preparing to deploy its army outside its borders for the first time in almost 30 years. At issue is Libya, where Turkey has intervened to support Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, whose Tripoli-based government tilts to the Muslim Brotherhood if not even more virulent Islamist ideologies.

Egypt has long supported Khalifa Haftar, a former Qaddafi-era general with subsequent American citizenship. In theory, Haftar is less tolerant of Islamism (reality is more complicated) but, regardless, he has failed to win widespread international support due to his erratic nature.

The State Department, for example, believes Haftar is too willing to sell out to Moscow, while the Kremlin suspects at best Haftar is too autonomous and, at worst, would just as likely sell Russian patrons down the river as he would Americans.

Turkey’s intervention in Libya has been long and destabilizing. A loose end in the Benghazi tragedy investigation remains whether Turkey knew in advance of the attack on the U.S. consulate which led to the murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens; the Turkish ambassador had just met Stevens and drove out past the gathering Islamist mob but apparently did not forewarn Stevens or his security team.

While Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sympathized with Libya’s more radical Islamist factions, initially took a hands-off approach: Egyptians long considered Libya their own near-abroad, and Erdoğan was willing to defer Libya to Egypt so long as Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood acolyte, ruled in Cairo.

With Abdel Fattah el-Sisi overthrew Morsi, Egypt transformed overnight in Erdoğan’s mind from ally to enemy. Nevertheless, Erdoğan remained more consumed by events in Syria than those 600 miles away across the Mediterranean.

Ideology guides Erdoğan’s foreign policy, but it is not its only pillar. Commerce matters too. Dozens of Turkish businessman accompany Erdoğan on overseas travel. He rewards those who toe his line. He invested more than a billion dollars during Morsi’s year-long tenure in both aid and business contracts, only to lose them upon Morsi’s ouster. The same pattern held true with Sudan.

As the Syrian conflict wound down, Erdoğan again turned his focus to Libya. Not only did Erdoğan see in Sarraj an ideological ally, but he also saw a means to win preferential access to Libya’s vast oil wealth, much of which lies outside Sarraj control.

Surreptitiously at first and then overtly, Turkey began intervening. In January 2018, Greek authorities seized a Tanzanian-flagged ship which apparently was carrying Turkish weaponry to Libya in violation of a UN arms embargo. That was the first in a series of weapons interceptions.

By early 2019, Turkey was flying not only munitions, but also inserting extremists and veterans of the Syrian campaign into Libya. In April 2019, for example, Turkey returned Sami al-Saadi and Khalid al-Sharif, the deputy head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, to the Misrata Airport in Libya.

Later, a Turkish cargo plane flew 45 veterans of the Idlib campaign to Misrata. Turkey next began exporting drones, as Syrian fighters and veterans of the Islamic State continued to pour in with Turkey’s facilitation.

After Haftar’s forces marched on Tripoli, Turkey’s intervention became more pronounced. In November 2019, Erdoğan and Sarraj signed a deal delineating a maritime border between the two countries, a claim as illegal as China’s maritime-territory grabbing in the South China Sea. Sarraj and Erdoğan later agreed on a potential multibillion package for Turkey. In effect, Sarraj seeks to use Libyan oil and gas resources to pay Turkey to maintain him in power.

Loose weaponry in Libya is a problem that predates Turkey’s intervention, although the technology—drones, MRAPs, and missiles—which Turkey now provides an infusion that has given Sarraj’s forces a qualitative edge.

What makes Turkey’s actions in Libya more dangerous, however, is its use of proxies to fight on its behalf. Turkish-backed proxies in Syria are responsible for grave violations of human rights.

While Turkish diplomats say they oppose the Islamic State, Turkey’s embrace of Islamic State veterans to fight on behalf of Turkey’s interests not only in Syria but also in Libya belie their claims.

Then, there is SADAT, an Islamist paramilitary company founded by Adnan Tanriverdi, Erdoğan’s former military advisor. SADAT has provided financial and military support U.S.-defined terror groups like Hamas.

Whereas Turkey openly helps train Somali forces at its base in Mogadishu, SADAT reportedly has also extended offers to Somalis for further training and enlistment to more militant causes.

Now, there are reports that Turkey and SADAT are sending Somali fighters into irregular groups in Libya. While the Somali foreign minister has denied those reports, his government’s own former intelligence chief has said that the Mogadishu government largely subsidized by Qatar, a country that supports and subsidizes Erdoğan’s Islamist campaigns.

This brings us back to Egypt’s looming entrance into Libya. Not only the U.S. government but also the broader international community is scrambling to head off Egypt’s intervention, a move which will destabilize an already volatile situation.

Egypt’s track record is not good: Its intervention in Yemen was a disaster and, more recently, its record in the Arab-Israeli war far less to brag about than Egyptian military museums would suggest, and it has been unable to stamp out an insurgency in the northern Sinai peninsula.

There simply is no guarantee that Egypt will be able to achieve its aims quickly and at a cost the Egyptian economy can easily bear.

But, the time to head off an Egyptian intervention was when Turkey began intervening in 2018. The threats posed to Egypt by the radicals Turkey now imports into Libya from Syria and Somalia pose a real threat to the Arab world’s largest state. Indeed, during both the Obama and Trump administrations, the chief U.S. counter-terrorism complaint has been that Egypt did not pull its regional weight and deploy forces outside its borders to aid the counter-terrorism fight.

Both administrations understood Cairo’s reluctance to involve itself in Yemen, but both Obama and Trump’s teams resented Egypt’s reluctance to aid more directly the counter-Islamic State coalition in Syria.

But Washington cannot have it both ways: After years of international inaction to counter Turkey’s growing terror sponsorship, Egypt is now stepping forward proactively and responsibly. Simply put, Egypt is correct to counter Turkey in Libya.

Frankly, Turkey’s actions and its insertion of Syrian and perhaps Somali radicals into the Libyan theater leave it no choice. It is time for Washington either to reassert counter-terror leadership itself or to back allies who wish to do so.


The National Interest


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