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Libyan front looks grim for Erdogan

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Engaged in two wars simultaneously in Syria and Libya, Turkey seems far from reaching its declared goals on both fronts. The Syrian battlefield has intensified considerably after the murder of at least 36 Turkish soldiers in Idlib on February 27, but Turkey's punitive strikes against Syrian forces have resulted in little change on the ground. March 5, when it accepted a ceasefire agreement with Russia. Turkey’s war in Libya has been more secret, with the Turkish public often unaware of field operations.

Turkey's military plans in Libya seem to be stumbling, its presence being increasingly attacked and the diplomatic front is becoming more complex.

The Tobruk-based government, which supports the Libyan national army of General Khalifa Hifter, the opponent of the Turkish-backed forces, sent a senior delegation in Damascus on March 1, aligned with the Syrian government in the midst of the crisis in Idlib. The two parties signed a series of protocols, notably on cooperation against terrorism and foreign fighters, and reopened the Embassy of Libya in Damascus. In a sense, Turkey's intervention in Libya has made Syrian President Bashar al-Assad another ally.

In the eyes of Turkish side"The Assad regime has handed over the Libyan embassy in Damascus to the self-proclaimed government that supports Hifter, the leader of the illegitimate armed forces (in Libya), thus becoming the first administration to recognize this government."

Arab observers believe that the United Arab Emirates and Russia are behind the rapprochement between Damascus and the government based in Tobruk, which amounts to a common position against Turkey. Egypt, which maintains dialogue with Damascus, could also have encouraged this decision. The UAE already had reopened its embassy in the Syrian capital in December.

Ankara could downplay Libyan-Syrian alignment, arguing that the Tripoli-based government of National Accord (GNA) is the one that enjoys UN recognition, but this decision means growing antagonism against Turkey in the Arab world.

The situation on the Libyan battlefield, on the other hand, suggests a dead end as serious doubts arise about the viability of Turkish involvement. At best, Ankara’s military assistance to the GNA helped prevent the fall of Tripoli. However, the Libyan capital – owned by the GNA and Islamist forces – remained under siege and attacks on Mitiga airport continued, forcing frequent closings of the critical facility. In February alone, the airport was closed six times.

Fighting has intensified since January 19 conference in Berlin, which was to pave the way for a lasting truce. Over 120 missiles shootings on Tripoli and Mitiga only from February 28 to 29, according to GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha.

Bashagha believes that Ankara has helped create a military balance that should bring Hifter into dialogue since he started sending Turkish forces and Syrian allied fighters to Libya in January. However, the prospects for negotiation appear bleak. Hifter received foreign envoys while continuing to hit Tripoli. On February 18, his forces shelled the seaport of Tripoli, prompting the GNA to suspend participation in the UN-sponsored talks in Geneva. The talks – which are part of the decisions taken in Berlin to achieve a lasting truce – involve meetings of military committees as well as political and economic discussions. the political track The start on February 29 was chaotic, with some participants having left before the meeting even started. The UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, has since resigned, saying his health "no longer allows this rate of stress."

Libyan observers say the partial equilibrium that Turkey’s intervention has achieved requires more military reinforcement to produce meaningful results.

A Libyan academic who requested anonymity told Al-Monitor: "Turkish drones and anti-aircraft weapons have helped the defense of Tripoli to some extent. Hifter is now unable to use air power, bombing Mitiga Airport at a distance of 40 kilometers (25 miles). "

Recalling the November agreement between Ankara and the GNA on the demarcation of maritime borders, the researcher argued that Turkey envisaged economic gains in Libya, where the main gas fields remain under the control of Hifter at 39; east. "Turkey wants to fight Hifter to take the East. It's all about business. Yet much remains to be done to win the war, "he said, saying that Turkey sometimes restricts anti-Hifter forces. "For example, (anti-Hifter forces) wanted to launch an offensive on Sirte but the commanders of the Turkish forces arrested them, saying that the moment had not come. We do not know why, "he said.

While international factors surrounding the Libyan conflict have made it difficult for Turkey to expand its intervention, Turkish involvement has strengthened the Egyptian and Emirati determination to support Hifter. It is generally believed that new shipments of ammunition to Hifter's forces have been responsible for a recent increase in air traffic from the United Arab Emirates to Libya.

The Turkish news agency Anatolia reported that 40 emirati cargo planes visited Hifter-controlled areas, including al-Khadim Air Base, from January 12 to February 7. According to French publication Intelligence Online, Abu Dhabi has sent more than 3,000 tonnes of military equipment to Hifter’s forces in the second half of January, which would amount to Emirati assistance for the past year.

There are few signs of correspondence from Turkish expeditions to the opposite side. Of them Turkish frigates were spotted off Tripoli on January 28, while a Lebanese flag ship with a shipment of weapons en route from the Turkish port of Mersin in Tripoli was seized in an Italian port on February 3.

With their seemingly increased firepower, Hifter's forces intensified their attacks and Turkey claimed lives. The most controversial attack targeted the port of Tripoli on February 18. Despite the allegations according to Turkish ship hit, neither Ankara nor the GNA confirmed the information. The attack still left dead. The death of a Turkish intelligence officer became public only when classmates attending his funeral shared a reproach message that he had not been given an official ceremony. The media named a second intelligence officer killed in the attack, while reports said three people were silently buried without ceremony.

While Ankara was criticized for hiding victims, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan mentioned "some martyrs" on February 22. "We are (in Libya) with our heroic soldiers and our Syrian national army teams against Hifter, an illegitimate mercenary legionnaire. Of course, we have a few martyrs, but we have in turn neutralized almost 100 legionaries, ”he said. Erdogan's reference to "a few martyrs" sparked outcry for his irreverence, leading him to confirm two dead a few days later.

Erdogan's remarks on February 22 were also an admission of Turkey's transfer of Syrian fighters to Libya. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported in early February that some 4,700 Syrian recruits had reached Tripoli, with about 1,800 others in Turkey for training. The deaths among Syrian fighters, who are said to have salaries of up to $ 2,500, were not included in Ankara's tally.

A spokesman for Hifter's forces said on February 23 that 16 Turkish troops had been killed in fighting in Misrata, Tripoli and al-Falah. There have also been frequent reports of Turkish drones shot down. Al-Marsad, in Libya, for example, claims that up to 20 Turkish drones have been shot down so far. Yet these allegations are often part of the propaganda war and must be taken with a grain of salt.

By sending troops to Libya, Erdogan hoped to achieve a form of partnership with Russia, similar to that in Syria which alternated between collaboration and conflict. Libya thus became the second most important issue in the negotiations between Turkey and Russia, which supported Hifter through the Russian private security company Wagner. Yet Erdogan's expectation that Russia's involvement in Libya will not play in his hands is not true, both due to the reluctance of Russia and of the much more important role that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates play in supporting Hifter.

The GNA, which has lost $ 2.6 billion in revenue since Hifter's forces blocked major oil ports and key pipeline in January, now calls on the United States to establish a military base in Libya to counter Russia. Washington may be wary of Russia's growing influence in the region, but there is no tangible sign yet that it is willing to reopen the Libya file, shelved since 2012 earthworks of the american ambassador. And what Turkey could do in Libya is limited, given its growing involvement in Syria.

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turkish intervention in syria, recep tayyip erdogan, russian influence, turkish involvement in libya, turkish-libyan relations, khalifa hifter, libyan civil war



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