International pressure is growing on Turkey over its military presence in Libya. Turkey deployed hundreds of soldiers and thousands of Syrian fighters in support of the Libyan Government of National Accord in its battle against forces of Libya’s General Khalifa Hafta, who is backed by Russian and Sudanese mercenaries.
Now, with a cease-fire in force and elections scheduled for December, Aya Burweila, a visiting lecturer at the Hellenic National Defense College, says pressure is growing for all foreign troops to quit.
“There has been two UN Security Council Resolutions already for the removal of all foreign presence from Libya, be it Turkish Russian Sudanese, so yes, the political terrain has changed very much,” said Burweila. “There has been an increasing realization that Turkey was building up its presence on the Mediterranean in Libya. So I think the EU as well as the United States had a rude awakening about Turkish intentions in Libya.”
Ankara insists its forces are in Libya at the invitation of Libya’s internationally recognized government. But this month, Libyan Foreign Minister Najla El-Mangoush called for all foreign fighters to leave, including Turkish forces.
Turkey has already established an air base in Libya and Turkish media say Ankara is now seeking to build a naval base.
The growing Turkish military presence has drawn strong criticism from France, which observers say is increasingly competing with Turkey for regional influence.
Analyst Ilham Uzgel, who writes for the Turkish news portal Duvar, says Ankara will likely have to, at least in part, heed to international pressure.
“Turkey will definitely withdraw the jihadists, the fighters that they carried all the way from Syria,” said Uzgel. “Turkey can maintain a small number of liaison officers there, not a combat force, not a tactical force. But Turkey’s military presence there, is a very strong bargaining chip for Turkey.”
A U.S. defense department report last year said Turkey sent thousands of paid Syrian fighters to Libya. Ankara denies any Syrian fighters deployed in Libya have links to Jihadists groups.
Turkey is currently seeking to improve relations with both Washington and the European Union, and Ankara sees cooperation on Libya as leverage.
Turkish presidential adviser Mesut Casin says the government is ready to withdraw if all foreign forces pull out. However, he says the Turkish military can play a new important regional role in Libya.
“Turkey did not want military influence in Libya; we don’t need it,” said Casin. “But Turkey and also European Union maybe work together. Turkey aims to support the Frontex European Union border security. This is not only for Turkey even Italy, and also Malta support this situation.”
Libya is one of the main jumping off points for migrants seeking to enter the European Union illegally, and analysts say the Turkish leadership is looking to use its cooperation on border protection to its advantage in any future negotiations.
Russian Wagner Group’s presence in Libya endangers North Africa
Mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group based in war-torn Libya threaten the security and stability of the whole North Africa region, especially the country’s neighbors.
Security sources said that Wagner mercenaries have infiltrated neighboring Chad, in addition to disrupting the authority in Libya.
Brought to Libya in support of the eastern-based illegitimate forces loyal to putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar in their offensive against the United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and its capital Tripoli, Wagner mercenaries have gained threatening power in the country.
In April 2019, Haftar’s forces, backed by Egypt, Russia, France and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), launched an offensive to try and capture the capital, Tripoli. Haftar’s 14-month campaign collapsed and the fall of Tripoli was prevented after Turkey stepped up its military support of the United Nations-backed government. An October cease-fire agreement that included a demand for all foreign fighters and mercenaries to leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on the transitional government.
With their advanced technology weapons, Wagner mercenaries now pose a major threat to Chad’s stability and security. Chad’s interim prime minister, Albert Pahimi Padacke, recently said that mercenaries have benefited from the instability in Libya and are now targeting Chad through infiltrations.
Sources also stated that the Wagner Group is providing weapons to rebels in Chad.
Formed back in 2014 in Ukraine and owned by businessperson Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group is intensely involved in several conflicts. The group made its presence most pronounced in Syria and Libya, where Russia actively participated in the civil war and reportedly used the Wagner Group as its proxy in the region.
Chad’s deputy foreign minister also warned the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that mercenaries from Libya are crossing into the Sahel and threatening to undermine progress made in fighting terrorism by five West African nations, which could plunge the region into violence that would be difficult to control.
Oumar Ibn Daoud also said a worsening situation in the Sahel would be harmful to Africa as a whole and could turn the continent into “a battlefield and base for international terrorism.”
The incursion of mercenaries from Libya into Chad that led to last month’s death of the Chadian president of three decades, Idriss Deby Itno, “is a perfect illustration of what could happen throughout the Sahel” if appropriate measures aren’t taken by the international community. He said more than 400 people have been killed in attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger since March.
The U.N. Security Council last month held its first meeting on the risk of mercenaries in Libya dispersing to other countries such as Chad.
The closed-door session was requested by members Kenya, Niger and Tunisia, before the death of Deby, who was injured on the front lines of his country’s north, where Chad’s army has been fighting Libya-based rebels.
According to diplomats, there are estimated to be “more than 20,000” foreign mercenaries in Libya, whom Libyan authorities, U.N. officials and world powers have demanded they leave.