Libya: Turks Negotiating Their Exit Fee


May 31, 2021: The country is still divided with the GNA (UN created Government of National Accord) controlling the least territory while the HoR (the last elected government that disagreed with the formation of the GNA) now busy dealing with the remaining Islamic terrorists and smuggling gangs, as long as the Turkish mercenaries make no threatening moves. Most of the Syrian Arab mercenaries employed by the Turks are fine with the lack of fighting, but they are often moved around a lot, often to confront local militias aligned with the GNA and known more for their rapacity than effectiveness in combat.

This ceasefire made it possible for the two rival Libyan governments to work on a merger agreement. In February Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh was selected to head (as prime minister) the unified GNU (Government of National Unity). Dbeibeh is from Misrata, where he was born in 1959, and was educated in Canadian universities before returning to become a successful businessman in the 1980s. During the 2011 revolution Dbeibeh favored the Moslem Brotherhood but was perceived as doing so mainly to protect his family and business interests. He is known to have used corrupt behavior to keep his businesses going during the decade of fighting but is trusted enough to form the temporary government and attempt to organize the December elections. The main obstacle to holding the elections is the Turks, who are demanding that their presence in Libya be legitimized and the agreements they made with the GNA in late 2019 be recognized as legal.

The GNU prime minister has found acceptable (to GNC and HoR) candidates to head all 26 of the new government ministries. Similar negotiations proceed about moving the GNU capital to Sirte. The LNA forces in Sirte refuse to leave without some guarantees that the Turk mercenaries stationed not far on the coast road that goes through Sirte, will not speed into Sirte and claim to be the new permanent security force. Pro-Turkey media suggest money problems, with at least one of the LNA militias in Sirte demanding a bonus (or bribe) before they will leave

The composition of the GNU security forces is still unsettled, as is the status of foreign troops, especially the hated Turks. A related issue is the legality of the treaty the GNA signed with the Turks in late 2019. This agreement has Libya and Turkey agreeing to claim and exploit offshore oil and gas discoveries in the waters between Libya and Turkey. Even the UN opposes this deal because it violates numerous existing treaties that established rules for how this division of offshore resources is done. The GNA-Turkey deal is similar to the claims China is making in the South China Sea. Greece refuses to negotiate with the Turks over this and is instead appealing the UN and international tribunals that handle such disputes. The Chinese violations of international law in the South China Sea were judged by an international tribunal which declared China was acting illegally. China ignored the ruling and continues to militarize the South China Sea.

Turkey is no China and does not have the means to enforce its claims. The Greeks, and many Turks, know it. The Turks do have the means to remain in Libya because the UN and NATO are unwilling to try and force the Turks out. Most Libyans agree that it is crucial to Libyan unity to get the Turks out of Libya.

The HoR government in the east (based in Tobruk) agreed to support the GNU with the understanding that security would be a priority and that the status of LNA (Libyan National Army) founder and leader Khalifa Haftar be “respected”. The Turks, Islamic militias and GNA diehards hate Haftar and want him gone if not imprisoned. Most Libyans oppose that because Haftar suppressed Islamic terrorism in Libya and nearly united the country under the HoR before the desperate GNA made a deal with the Turks.

To further complicate matters the HoR has long been supported by Russia, Egypt and the Gulf Arabs while the GNA has received support from Iran. The Turks have also worked with Iran in Syria and against Kurdish separatists in general. Both Turkey and Iran support Islamic terrorists when it suits their purposes. The most acceptable solution to the security issue seems to be regional security commands that would put Haftar led forces in charge of security in some regions. The Turks have not been cooperative and tolerate rogue militias as long as Turkish interests are respected. The Turks adopted a similar attitude in Syria, where they are also considered a major obstacle to ending the civil war there. And then there is Somalia, where the Turks have become a major obstacle to peace.

The reality is that the main task of the GNU is to eliminate the independent militias, get the foreign troops out of the country and create a new national army. The HoR already has a version of that with its LNA, which still controls most of the country and would have unified Libya in 2020 had not the GNA brought in the Turks. The current (since 2000) Turkish government is “Islamic” and increasingly unpopular with Turkish voters. This government is facing reverses in upcoming Turkish elections and many Turks fear their government will rig the elections to remain in power and get Turkey involved in foreign wars. These are unpopular with most Turks, which is why the Turks do most of their fighting with mercenaries in Syria, Libya, Somalia and elsewhere. The Turks are increasingly the main obstacle to unity and peace in many trouble spots where they have intervened.

The Turkish activities in Libya are becoming the only obstacle to unity in peace. That is because most of the other problems have been, or are being, solved. For example, at the end of 2020 the Libyan Central Bank changed the official exchange rate from 1.35 dinars per dollar to 4.48 dinars per dollar. This eliminated a major source of corruption involving the Central Bank. The official 1.35 dinars per dollar exchange rate made sense before the 2011 revolution because the value of the dinar was realistic then, meaning there were no opportunities for a black market that offered realistically priced dollars. In any nation where there is a currency black market because of an unrealistic exchange rate for foreign currencies, it is common for central bank officials to take bribes from local firms or powerful politicians or bureaucrats seeking dollars to pay for imports or overseas travel. This unrealistic exchange rate was a major source of corrupt behavior. The NOC (National Oil Company) and the HoR government both cited the exchange rate problem as one of the many reasons the GNA government had to go. Until 2020 the UN was unable to persuade the GNA, which controlled the Central Bank, to curb the exchange rate corruption. The unpopular GNA saw currency manipulation as a major source of income. That changed in late 2019 when the GNA did what it had no legal right to do and signed a treaty with Turkey to obtain Turkish military aid, which included thousands of Arab mercenaries the Turks were using in Syria. The backlash from Libyans, and other Arabs, was sufficient to get the GNA and HoR to finally agree on terms for elections and merging the two governments.

One of the HoR demands, that the UN backed, involved agreement on a long-sought list of anti-corruption measures. These meant reforms on how oil income was collected and spent. Before the late 2020 reforms went into force, the NOC (National Oil Corporation) was refusing to turn over any oil revenue to the Central Bank until the bank installed an accounting system that was transparent and clearly specified who gets the money and how the money is spent. There have been a growing number of complaints about corruption, like with the distribution of dollars obtained from oil sales by the Central Bank, often in cooperation with GNA officials. In 2019 the HoR government complained that the GNA had sought, with some success, to deprive the LNA of much oil income it was entitled to. This was taking place at the time when the LNA had upgraded oil facility security to the point where full production could be achieved. The GNA had never been able to achieve much security anywhere, except in Tripoli. Even with full and sustained oil production there were also continuing problems with corruption in how oil income was spent.

Most of those reforms have gone into effect and have cost many corrupt Libyan leaders and businessmen a lot of money and there are still efforts to get around the reforms. The illegal presence of the Turks is one GNA corrupt action that defies solution because the Turks refuse to leave and no one outside Libya is willing to try and force them. The Libyan people smugglers, unlike those in Turkey, have more options. One of them is to move their departure port operation to neighboring Tunisia. This has already happened but not all the Libya based smuggler groups have been able to make (or afford to make) the move yet.

The UN continues to make futile gestures against the Turks, and the other armed foreigners in Libya. The UN demands don’t work because the UN has no way to enforce compliance. Individual Arab and European countries, especially Egypt and France, are trying to negotiate a deal with Turkey that would get the Turkish mercs out of Libya. That won’t be cheap and the negotiations are mainly about how much it will cost in cash and concessions.

May 27, 2021: The Russian National Oil Company (Gazprom) and a German firm (Wintershall) revealed that they had quietly resumed (in late 2020) oil exploration and extraction efforts in Libya. Several other foreign firms have done the same because they believe the late 2020 ceasefire will continue and that the Turks have shown no enthusiasm for resuming combat. Turkey’s main motivation is to not misbehave as that might persuade NATO or Arab nations to intervene, and do it with UN approval.

This does not mean the Turks have been idle. They have been assisting the existing LCG (Libyan Coast Guard) in stopping people smugglers from getting their clients to Europe. The Turks don’t really care about the smugglers. In part this was because back in Turkey the government tolerates people smugglers arranging (for a fee from the illegal migrant) to get Arabs, Africans or Asians from Turkey to Europe. The Turks found that they seal or unseal their borders and have kept them sealed as long as the EU (European Union) pays the Turks lots (billions of dollars) plus other considerations to keep the border sealed.

The LCG itself is something of a mercenary outfit that is not controlled by anyone in Libya. The LNG was founded and sustained by Italy, which pays the LCG to keep illegal migrants from reaching Italy. That only works if someone, like the LNA, was willing to protect the presence of the LCG near smuggler ports, especially Sabratha (a coastal city 66 kilometers west of Tripoli). The Turks are now in a position to take over the “supervision and support” of the LCG. Initially Turkish Navy warships are actively searching for smuggler boats full of illegal migrants headed to Europe. The Turks seize the illegals and turn them over to the LCG which continues to get paid by Italy for putting those illegals back in Libya, where they are detained until they agree to return to their home countries.

Turkey wants to use the illegals coming out of Libya the same way they have manipulated the movement of illegals (most of them refugees from Syria) in Turkey who want to hire smugglers to get them into Europe. The EU pays Turkey to keep its borders closed but occasionally Turkey will let some get through as a reminder of how badly the EU needs the Turks. Controlling illegals leaving Libya would enhance the lucrative Turkish threat to Europe.

The EU is already spending a lot of money on Libya, mainly to ensure that the national elections are held by the end of 2021. The Turks are already getting more legitimate export business from Libya, with those non-military items imported from Turkey nearly doubling in value in 2021 compared to 2020. Like Russia, Turkey seeks to invest in Libya. But while the Russians are welcomed, the Turks, as former Imperial rulers of Libya, are not.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close